Memorial to beacon fires, Mt Maunganui

Memorial to beacon fires, Mt Maunganui

Peace memorial fire Peace memorial fire

The main image is of a postcard depicting a memorial erected atop Mt Maunganui in September or October 1919 to commemorate beacon fires lit on 16 prominent sites across Bay of Plenty during the peace celebrations on 19 July 1919. At Mt Maunganui the beacon fire was placed on the summit of Mauao (273 m above sea level). To build the beacon fire, locals carried Australian hardwood and 70 tar barrels up to the summit. Rockets were fired at 7.30 p.m. and the pyre of wood and tar barrels was lit half an hour later.

A memorial made of New Zealand marble was carried up to the site by the same group that had lugged the material for the beacon fires. The inscription reads:

On this spot on July 19th 1919 a beacon fire was lit to commemorate PEACE. Answering signals were received from Otanewainuku, Pawherangi, Omanawa(2) Kati Kati Heads, Whakamarama, Motiti Isd. Te Puna Point  Maketu, Omokoroa, Otamarakau, Matakana Isd. Pikowai  Athenree Paengaroa.

Many communities lit a single large bonfire, as on Mt Eden in Auckland (see other images). Dunedin was another area where several bonfires were lit at once. The burning of effigies of the Kaiser was popular in the South Island: in Amberley his effigy was ‘blown to pieces’, while in Ellesmere it was ‘burnt to a cinder’.

Peace bonfires

New Zealand's bonfires may have been influenced by a British plan for a chain of beacons and bonfires across the Empire. The idea appears to have originated with the Boy Scouts’ Association in February 1919, and soon afterwards a parliamentary committee was established to coordinate bonfires for peace celebrations. The ‘Central Committee for Beacons and Bonfires’ called for the Scouts’ cooperation, so rather than leading the event they ended up assisting the government, alongside local committees and the Overseas Club and Patriotic League. The parties worked together smoothly and the bonfire plan was a great success. Between 11 p.m. and midnight on Saturday 19 July, the British countryside was ‘aflame’ with bonfires from John o’ Groats in the far north of Scotland to Land’s End, the south-west tip of England.

Community contributions

2 comments have been posted about Memorial to beacon fires, Mt Maunganui

What do you know?

Jamie M

Posted: 27 May 2019

Hi - thanks for this. We sourced our image from the Cooke family, their photos offer a slightly different view than those found in the Auckland Libraries collection (if you search bonfire here you can see them:


Posted: 24 May 2019

Hi, The image on this page showing a bonfire is incorrectly attributed. It is of a bonfire erected at Mount Eden for Auckland's peace celebrations. See Auckland City Libraries, 4-15158. Thanks.