Arawa war memorial, Rotorua

Arawa war memorial, Rotorua

Detail of memorial Detail of memorial Detail of memorial Detail of memorial Detail of memorial Detail of memorial Detail of memorial

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The Arawa war memorial in the gardens at Rotorua. The sculptor was W.H. Feldon, who also sculpted the Matakana memorial

On 28 February 2019, more than 250 people attended a moving ceremony during which the restored Te Arawa Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled, 92 years to the day after it was originally unveiled. Several aspects of the restoration unveiling service replicated those of 28 February 1927, including the singing of the hymn, ‘Aue e Ihu’. Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick spoke and a bugler played the Last Post and Reveille. The last two rows of images above show this unveiling ceremony.

About the Arawa memorial

The Arawa war memorial, situated in the Government Gardens in Rotorua, commemorates Te Arawa men who fought and died in the First World War. The Duke of York (later King George VI) unveiled the memorial on 28 February 1927. 


Te Arawa began planning a memorial once the war ended. Key figures in the process were Arawa District Trust Board Chairman Tai Mitchell and Captain Gilbert Mair, a veteran of the New Zealand Wars. In 1919, Mitchell wrote to the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts to secure the site for the memorial. Later that year, the sculptor, English migrant and returned soldier W.H. Feldon, created an initial design. Mair and Mitchell wrote to the hapū of Te Arawa in 1920, urging them to donate money – £3000 was needed (equivalent to nearly $300,000 today). In 1926, members of the Trust Board wrote to Prime Minister Gordon Coates requesting that he ask the Duke of York to unveil the memorial during his tour of New Zealand the following year. Te Arawa had presented the Duke’s elder brother, the Prince of Wales, with a model of the memorial during his visit six years earlier. Contractors began laying the foundations in December 1926.


The elaborately designed gothic-style memorial is made from Sydney gritstone (a hard sandstone) and Belgian marble. The names and ranks of 35 Te Arawa men who died in the First World War are inscribed on two of the eight black granite panels. According to the souvenir programme issued at the unveiling, 39 of the 500 Te Arawa men who served during the war died. Pita Tairua, Timi Awiti, Hori Huriwaka and Eru Rihari are named in the programme but not on the memorial. The reason for their omission is unclear.

The memorial depicts key events in Te Arawa’s history. Four graphic panels display:

  • The beautiful Te Kuraimonoa awaiting her celestial lover Pūhaorangi. Te Arawa people trace their descent from this union. Rehua, the star that guided the Arawa waka from Hawaiki to New Zealand, is carved above Te Kuraimonoa.
  • Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson signing the Treaty of Waitangi. According to the souvenir programme, Hobson is watched by Tupara Tanira, who is described as Te Arawa’s only signatory. (Claudia Orange in The Treaty of Waitangi says that no Te Arawa representatives signed the Treaty.)
  • Reverend Thomas Chapman, the first Christian missionary to Te Arawa, preaching.
  • Traditional Māori war weapons, including tewhatewha, patu and taiaha.

Below the four panels are busts of Edward VII, Victoria and George V, two white crosses, and portraits of a Red Cross nurse and servicemen from the army and navy. This section of the memorial also depicts the Maori Contingent’s badge. A sculpture of King George V wearing coronation robes adorns the top of the memorial. Feldon also sculpted the Matakana war memorial statue of George V. A statue of Rangitihi, taiaha in hand, formerly stood on the stone block depicting the Arawa waka at the base of the memorial. Rangitihi was an influential chief and great-great-grandson of Tamatekapua, captain of the Arawa waka. The words ‘Te Upoko / I Takaia Ki / Te Akatea’ (‘head wrapped in vines’) are inscribed on the block. This is a reference to a battle in which Rangitihi sustained a serious head wound. After his head was bandaged with vines he returned to the battle and was victorious. The statue was vandalised in 1936 and later removed by the Arawa Trust Board.

Twelve wooden tekoteko surround the memorial. These replaced the original eight tekoteko representing Rangitihi’s eight children – Rātōrua,Tāuruao, Rangiaohia, Rangiwhakaekeau, Rākeiao, Kawatapuarangi, Apumoana and Tūhourangi. The siblings are known as Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru o Te Arawa – the Eight Beating Hearts of Te Arawa. The hapū of Te Arawa are descended from these siblings. The phrase ‘Te Arawa / E Waru / Pu Manawa’ is inscribed around the four graphic panels mentioned above.

A Krupp field gun sits next to the memorial. In 1919 Mair wrote to General A.H. Russell requesting war trophies for the memorial. Mair assured Russell that the memorial would be ‘worthy of the cause for which the Arawa Digger Boys gave their lives.’ The Krupp field gun is believed to have been captured by the Pioneer Battalion at Le Quesnoy in northern France. It was cast in 1898 and is engraved with Kaiser Wilhelm’s insignia. The gun spent many years in storage at Te Amorangi Museum before being restored in 1998.


Two to three thousand people attended the memorial’s unveiling by the Duke of York. The royal party was accompanied by Prime Minister and Native Minister Gordon Coates, while Cabinet minister Sir Māui Pōmare presided over the event. The unveiling included a religious ceremony conducted by Reverend Frederick Bennett, who was assisted by the Reverends Eruini Waaka and Maniahera Tuinatai. The Duke made a short speech, stating, ‘I unveil this memorial in honour of the brave dead who gave their lives for their King and Empire. I desire to pay a tribute to the loyalty, devotion, and self-sacrifice of the gallant men whose memory will be forever preserved by this monument.’


By The
Arawa Tribes
In Perpetual
Of Their Sons
Who In The
Great War
Loyally Upheld
The Cause Of
Their God,
Their Country,
And Their King.

A.P. Kaipara 2nd Lt.
Alfred Pinker Pte.
Albert P. Anaru Pte
Charles Hall Pte.
Charles Savage Sgt.
Dick Happy Pte.
George R. Rewa L/Cpl
Hami Grace Lt.
Hohepa Herewini Pte.
Horomona Kanapu Pte.
Hohepa Marino Pte.
Hoani Ngamu Pte.
Hone T. Raponi Cpl.
Kapu Haira Pte.
Kauwhata Gordon Sgt.
Matene R. Duff Sgt.
Manu Tuki Pte.
Nikora Te Tuhi Pte.

Pona Marunui Pte.
P. Tamati L/Cpl
P. Te Otimi Pte.
Reone Pirimi Pte.
Robert Tapsell Pte.
Ratapu Te Moni Pte.
S. Robinson Reg Sgt MJ. D.C.M.
S. Taiwhanga Pte.
Tango Kokiri 2nd Lt.
Tarei Kahukore Cpl
T.W. Nicholls Cpl. M.M.
Tupu Poata St/Sgt.
T. Whare-Raupo L/Cpl
Wiremu P. Houia L/Cpl
W. Natanahira Pte.
Waretini Rukingi Sgt.
Wetini Te Muera Pte.

2019 restoration

The project to restore this significant piece of Te Arawa military history was commissioned by the Rotorua World War One Committee in 2016 after it received funding from the Lotteries World War One Commemorations, Environment and Heritage Fund, New Zealand Community Trust, the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust and the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute (NZMACI).

The project included several phases, the first being repair and conservation of the stonework on the memorial. Experts from NZMACI restored the original eight wooden tekoteko and four ‘wheku form’ pou that originally surrounded the memorial. Then they used 3D scanning and wax moulds were made of the carvings prior to bronze replications being cast. 

The final step in the project was to replicate the stone statue of Te Arawa ancestor Rangitihi, which had been badly damaged and removed from the memorial in 1936. Local master carver Rakei Kingi was chosen to carve Rangitihi and used Hinuera stone, sourced from a quarry near Tīrau.

Further information

  • Captain Gilbert Mair – Letter to General A.H. Russell, 1919, MS-Papers-0148-078, Alexander Turnbull Library
  • Memorial to Fallen Soldiers at Rotorua, Tourist and Publicity Department (AECB), series 8615, 235/, 116/1/49, Archives New Zealand 
  • Maoris’ Welcome’, Auckland Star, 28 February 1927, p. 10
  • Maori War Memorial’, Evening Post, 1 March 1927
  • The royal visit to Rotorua, N.Z: souvenir and programme, Rotorua Chronicle, Rotorua, 1927
  • Roger Steel, ‘Arawa Soldiers’ Memorial’, in Paula Savage, The Government Gardens, Rotorua District Council, Rotorua, 1980, pp. 29–32

Community contributions

3 comments have been posted about Arawa war memorial, Rotorua

What do you know?

Jock Phillips

Posted: 28 Apr 2010

In my research on war memorials I came across a letter to the Minister of Defence, Sir James Allen, from W.H.Feldon in January 1919. He wrote: 'I have been in this beautiful Dominion for seven years, and find that if such work is commissioned it is usually obtained from Italy or London and it seems very difficult to get known. I should be delighted to carve a bust of yourself - entirely at my own expense - as a proof of my Art... It has been a struggle to keep going and my slender resources are nearly exhausted. I have a wife and six children and for their sakes I must succeed'. He had come from England and had written to every county chairman and mayor of the country offering his services to build a local war memorial. He won only two commissions - the Arawa memorial and one at Matakana. Both interestingly featured a portrait of the King.


Posted: 26 Apr 2010

According to a page at, St Paul's Church (Anglican), 28 Symonds Street, Auckland features the "fine carving of the capitals and label stops completed by William Feldon in 1910-11". W.H. Feldon is also mentioned in a couple of historic newspaper articles online at If you do a search using 'Feldon', two relevant articles include one from the Poverty Bay Herald, 27 July 1920 and the Evening Post, 6 May 1914 appear in the listing. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage was recently supplied information by John Feldon about W. H. Feldon.

Andrew Feldon

Posted: 24 Apr 2010

Hi there, i was wondering if have any other details on what other sculptures etc W.H Feldon may have done. He was my Great Grandfather, and would love to track down any other work he may have done that we dont know about. Thanks Andrew