Utilitarian memorials of the First World War

Utilitarian memorials of the First World War

Most of the memorials to New Zealand's war dead were purely ornamental in nature. In the immediate post-war years, a number of communities and groups called for the construction of utilitarian memorials. While shafts of granite and statues of bronze may have artistic merit, some people questioned whether they could they adequately express the debt of gratitude society should pay to its soldiers. Living memorials, they claimed, had lasting social value and were seen as enriching the positive human ideals for which the sacrifice was made. Advocates of symbolic memorials countered that utilitarian memorials were derogatory to the idealism of war service. By the early 1920s the symbolic memorial had triumphed, but a significant number of utilitarian memorials were constructed.

The most common utilitarian memorials in New Zealand were community halls, of which more than 20 were constructed. Other structures included libraries, bridges, churches, a hospital, the Auckland War Memorial Museum and even a women’s rest.

Many new streets or avenues were named after wartime events, people or places, and some existing ones were renamed. France and Belgium were well represented – in the years immediately after the war, Messines, Verviers, Louvain, Menin, Somme and Mons were written into the New Zealand streetscape. More recently Passchendaele, Le Quesnoy, Flanders and Ypres have been added to the list.

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