Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 48, September 2004
By Graham Watton (Curator, Paeroa and District Museum)
Each Anzac Day throughout New Zealand, members of the Returned Services Association and country's communities, gather at dawn services and civic ceremonies to pay homage to those New Zealand servicemen and women who paid the supreme sacrifice in the many overseas conflicts that this county has been involved in over the past one hundred years.
In Paeroa there is a dawn service, followed later by a civic commemoration service, where the district pauses to pay tribute to men and women who did not return and to spare a thought for those who did come home, but are scarred for life from the ravages of war.
There are three main memorials erected in the district which stand in honour of those involved in various conflicts, going back to the Boer War in South Africa, 1899 - 1902; the First World War, 1914 - 1918 and the Second World War, 1939 - 1945.
There are other memorials and roll of honour boards throughout the district to mark these conflicts and those of later years, including Malaysia, Korea and Vietnam campaigns.
The first memorial to be erected in the Paeroa district was in 1903, in honour of Trooper George Bradford, the first New Zealand soldier to die in an overseas conflict.
Trooper Bradford was a former Corporal in the Coldstream Guards before he arrived at Karangahake in 1895. He, along with W McPherson, J W Tetley, F T Shaw, P R Hubbard and B R Avery were selected from this district to join the First New Zealand Contingent which sailed from Wellington in mid-October 1899.
To be selected, there were two main criteria: to have a horse and to be a keen shot.
On arrival at Cape Town in mid-November the New Zealanders had little time to become acclimatised before being sent into action on 18 December against the Boers. Trooper Bradford was wounded on his first engagement with the enemy. He was taken a prisoner and he died as a result of his wounds on 29 December 1899.
Within six months of Trooper Bradford's death, a public meeting set about raising funds for a suitable memorial. In August 1902, the foundation stone was laid on Primrose Hill to mark the Coronation of King Edward VII. In May 1903, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Richard Seddon unveiled an impressive monument, a two metre high three-dish fountain, sculptured in Italy and made from that country's granite. This monument stood for more than fifty years, although the fountains never worked because of the lack of water pressure. Vandals in the late 1950s attacked the fountain, smashing the two top dishes, knocking it down and sending the pieces rolling down the side of the hill. The cost of the repairs was prohibitive and the remains were destined for the rubbish dump. However, the late Sam Young, a Hikutaia farmer, himself a returned soldier of the Second World War, recovered the pieces. He restored the fountain and placed it in his garden, where it remained for many years.
The damaged fountain was replaced by a large white quartz boulder from the late Charlie Bradford's White Rocks farm, at Karangahake. The boulder was cemented into the remaining granite dish and it has withstood vandal attacks.
In February 1930, the Bradford Memorial was joined on Primrose Hill by the Cenotaph, as a memorial to those men and women who did not return from the First World War. It is a similar design to the Empire Cenotaph in London and the Auckland Provincial Cenotaph in Auckland.
During the unveiling ceremony, Paeroa's Mayor, Mr W H Marshall said it was not the desire to erect a memorial to war; it must be a tribute to every man and woman of the district who went to the war, and, in particular those who, in the province of God, had been called upon to make the supreme sacrifice. The Mayor said that, following the unveiling, a Roll of Honour on parchment was to be prepared and would be deposited at the Library, which was to be erected as a permanent record of their victorious and heroic deeds. Has anyone seen this parchment?
The third prominent monument in the district is the Paeroa Memorial Hall, which was opened in the late 1950s.
There was a Roll of Honour placed in the foyer, dedicated to the memories of those men and women who took part, and in particular, those who did not return from the Second World War. However, this disappeared and it has been replaced by a commemorative plaque.
There are several lesser known reminders linking the district to the various overseas conflicts.
The Drill Hall, now the Paeroa Baptist Church, was officially opened in 1903 and for some eighty years was the headquarters for the Territorial Forces and the Air Training Corp.
When the first Anzac Day commemoration service was held in the Paeroa Domain in April 1916, the Mayor, Mr W J Towers, planted an oak tree to mark the occasion. Sadly today all that remains is a rotting stump. It was recently identified by Colin Townsend when researching information for his book, "Gallipoli".
In 1919, the Paeroa District High School Headmaster, Mr R J Hamilton, was the driving force behind having a Roll of Honour Board made for the school, on which were recorded all the names of those pupils who served in the First World War. The large board was made by Mr C Clem of Paeroa and inscribed by Mr Chaplin of Hamilton. It was unveiled in the nearby Drill Hall by the Mayor of Paeroa, Mr P E Brennan and then placed in the main block of the school. When the main block was demolished in 1977, the board disappeared and it was found in the rubbish dump in 1985 by Mr Olly Boyd. Mr Boyd, who was at the time the Commanding Officer of the local ATC Squadron, realised the significance of the Board, and rescued it from being buried. Mr Bill Waines, a World War II serviceman, provided the funding to have the Honours Board restored, and it is now on display in the foyer of the Paeroa Memorial RSA Club.
The Hikutaia District has its Alley Memorial Park, which was opened in 1923, to commemorate those men and women from that district who served in the First World War. In 1926 the Memorial Gates, at the entrance to the Park, were dedicated.
In February 1930, the Paeroa Returned Soldiers' Association raised funds and presented a new set of Ceremonial Colours to the First Battalion Hauraki Regiment. The Haurakis have their foundations in Paeroa, being established in 1887, and they have maintained close contact with the district ever since. The replaced Colours, presented to the Haurakis in 1914, were handed to the Paeroa Borough Council for safe keeping. Today they are on display in the foyer of the Paeroa and District Museum.
In September 1946, a grove of trees was planted in the Paeroa District High School's grounds, the present site of the College, as a Roll of Honour to pupils who served in the Armed Forces in the Second World War. Names of those who did not return were attached to the trees, which comprised New Zealand native and several other specimens that had connections to the various countries in which the New Zealanders had fought campaigns. The dedication service was organised by the Paeroa Rotary Club, with the Mayor, Mr Edwin Edwards and Canon W G H Weadon officiating. The School's Girls' Choir closed the ceremony with the singing of the hymn, "For England". Where is the grove today?
The late Mr John Jensen, in the late 1940s, obtained three trees directly connected with the Turkish pine trees which grew on Gallipoli. He planted one tree on Primrose Hill, but it was destroyed by a severe storm in the 1980s. A second was planted in front of the old Public Works Department building at the junction of Waihi Road and Johnson Street. It appears that this tree met its demise in the mid-1960s when the Department, then known as the Ministry of Works, moved into new offices, its old office building being shifted to the Historic Maritime Park and the area was cleared for the first L and P Bottle site.
Fortunately, the third tree is growing on the Paeroa Golf Club's course. It is about forty metres from the No. 2 tee, on the left side of the fairway. Many a golfer has threatened its life with a chainsaw, when their balls land in it. I only hope that this never happens, and that the Club guards this historic tree for ever and a day.
We have an ongoing link with these conflicts through the Paeroa Returned Services Association and also by its special section in the Pukerimu Cemetery, near Paeroa. This organisation was formed about 1918 as the Paeroa Returned Soldiers Association, when the soldiers started to return home from the First World War, many of them recovering from the effects of the atrocious conditions under which they had fought. The Association assisted these men to return to civilian life and to provide for their welfare needs. They had their own club rooms in Wharf Street through the 1920s, in the vicinity of the Wharf and Marshall Streets intersection.
In 1932, with increasing numbers of returned soldiers settling on the Hauraki Plains, the Paeroa-Hauraki Returned Soldiers' Association was born. Apart from substituting the word Soldiers' with Services, this Association continued until 1966. At this stage the Association split into two, Paeroa continuing on their own and Hauraki establishing their Association at Ngatea. These Associations have continued to provide welfare assistance to their members, who now include those New Zealanders who have taken part in the various campaigns including Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam and other peace keeping duties. In the 1970s, the New Zealand Returned Services Association opened the door to those who were involved in Compulsory Military Training from 1949 to the early 1960s.
The most recognisable connection with the overseas conflicts is the red Anzac poppy. During the First World War the red corn poppy grew in profusion over the graves of soldiers and between the trenches throughout the battlefields of France. The Greek legend states that the poppy was created by the God of Sleep. Since 1921 this red poppy has been officially used in the remembrance of the war dead.
It has been almost sixty years since the last worldwide conflict concluded. This prolonged period of world peace, although fragile at times, has been made possible by those gallant men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice and those who returned home with their bodies and minds tarnished with the horrors of war.
I call on today's generations and those in the future, to ensure the preservation of all these memorials in our district as continual reminders of those men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice and those who served New Zealand; but not the wars.