Skip to main content

Lowering flags and motions of sympathy


During the First World War staff of the East Town railway workshops in Whanganui held a ceremony in the workplace whenever they learned that one of their workmates had died. They gathered around their flagstaff, the flag was lowered to half-mast, and someone read a eulogy and passed a motion of sympathy to the family. After a period of silence the flag was returned to full-mast.

A few weeks after this ceremony the man’s family was invited to the workshops and presented with an enlarged photograph of their loved one. At one such service in honour of carpenter Leonard Ahern (pictured) who was killed in action in 1917, a long-serving member of staff, John Peyman, spoke:

Fellow workmen,- a few short weeks ago we assembled around the flag we so love to honour, to express our sorrow for the death of one of our brave comrades, the late estimable Len. Ahern, and to pass a vote of sympathy with his parents in their bereavement. I was requested by you to voice that expression of sorrow and move that resolution, and I can assure you it was with a great deal of pain I did so. Today we are again bought together with the object of practically demonstrating the esteem in which we hold the parents of our late noble comrade, by presenting them with an enlarged photo of their brave boy; and I am more than pleased that you have entrusted to me the making of this presentation on your behalf … Mr and Mrs Ahern have had more than their share of sorrow, having lost two sons in this fearful carnage. But we hope that time, the great healer, will to some extent soften the terrible blow they have received, and that in the near future they will be able to point to this photograph and say ‘This was one of my sons, who died doing his duty to his country and his God’. [1]

Eight men from the East Town railway workshops lost their lives during the war:

Six of these men were listed on the East Town roll of honour board when it was unveiled on Anzac Day 1918. Bannerman, who died in 1915, and Turner, who died in 1919, are not listed.

Other workshops held similar ceremonies. For example, Petone staff lowered the flag on the flagpole they had erected as a war memorial on Anzac Day 1916 to honour carpenter Leonard Falla in November 1916 and labourer Robert Watson in October 1917. 

[1] Wanganui Chronicle, 8 August 1917, p. 7 


Auckland Libraries 
Sir George Grey Special Collections 
Reference: AWNS-19170726-40-6

How to cite this page

Lowering flags and motions of sympathy, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated