Waitakaruru war memorials

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The Waitakaruru Community Centre on SH25 displays two marble war memorial tablets on its exterior wall. These give the names of four local men who died in the First World War and five who died in the Second World War. Three wooden memorial tablets are also on display in the community centre’s foyer: a First World War roll of honour listing 29 names; a Second World War roll of honour listing 45 names; and a combined wars ‘Honours List’ listing the names of the deceased from both wars.

A few yards along the road, at the entrance to the local rugby club, are brick memorial gates with a tablet that also lists the deceased from both wars.

The story of the various memorial tablets and rolls of honour is a complicated one. In July 1922 Methodists living in the Waitakaruru area decided to build a church as the local First World War memorial. The Waitakaruru Memorial Church was opened on 2 October 1924. A district roll of honour listing all who had served was later unveiled inside the church. In 1937 a marble memorial tablet was also unveiled inscribed with the names of the four local men who had made the supreme sacrifice: John French, William A. McLean, William Stretton and Frederick J. Torr. On 20 November 1949, during the church’s 25th anniversary service, a similar Second World War memorial tablet was unveiled, this time inscribed with five names: Gordon F. Beaver, Esbert E. Heenan, Herbert W. Jesen, Cyril J. Redmond and Thomas Wyllie.

After the Second World War the community redeveloped the Waitakaruru Domain as a war memorial, adding new playing fields, a small multi-use sports pavilion and a set of memorial gates. The domain was officially reopened as the Waitakaruru War Memorial on 26 November 1956. The names of the fallen from both wars were inscribed on a plaque affixed to one pillar of the gates. It is unclear when the Second World War roll of honour―listing all who served―was compiled, and whether it was displayed in the old Waitakaruru hall, the church, or the pavilion.

In 1968 the fine new Waitakaruru community centre was opened to replace the old district hall (built in 1914). At this time the Second World War and combined wars rolls of honour were presumably installed in the community centre.

A few years later the memorial church fell into disuse. In March 1976 the church building was sold. The following year it was moved to a rural site to the north of Thames for conversion into a house. The First World War roll of honour and the marble memorial tablets were then (if they had not already been) also transferred to the Waitakaruru Community Centre.

Sources: ‘Waitakaruru War Memorial Opened’, Thames Star, 27/11/1956, p. 1; Hauraki Plains Story, ed. Rufus E. Tye, Paeroa, 1974, p. 163; Hauraki Plains Union Parish, Ngatea, 1974, [p. 10]; Ken Clover, Waitakaruru: The District, the School, and the People, Waitakaruru, 1977, pp. 70-3, 85-6; Ken Clover, Waitakaruru School: The School and District Centenary, Thames, 2002, pp. 32-3; Ken Clover, John Mounsey, pers. comms, 27/3/2014.

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