Tomb of the Unknown Warrior – Pukeahu Park

Bronze and marble tomb set into concrete steps with park in the background

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is a symbol of remembrance for all New Zealanders who did not make the journey home after fighting overseas.

Nearly 30,000 New Zealand military personnel have died during wartime, and almost one-third of them have no known grave. On the second anniversary of Armistice Day, 11 November 1920, the remains of an unknown soldier were re-interred in Westminster Abbey as a memorial to members of the British Empire who died during the First World War. A year later, William Jennings, the member of Parliament for Waitomo, asked Prime Minister William Massey whether Cabinet would consider ‘the advisability of bringing [home] the remains, preferably from Gallipoli, of one of our unknown boys.’ After some deliberation, Cabinet decided not to act on this suggestion. The idea resurfaced after the Second World War, and again in 1999, when it gained the support of the government. In 2002 agreement was reached with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to repatriate the remains of a New Zealand soldier killed in the First World War.

It was decided that the National War Memorial was the most appropriate place for the tomb, which should be outside to allow ready public access. In 2004 the contract to design and construct the tomb was awarded to Wellington’s Kingsley Baird design team. In November 2004 ceremonies were held in France and New Zealand to repatriate and inter New Zealand’s Unknown Warrior.

Who was the Unknown Warrior?

The Unknown New Zealand Warrior lost his life in France sometime between April 1916 and November 1918. He died on the Western Front, a vast arena of misery and suffering in which New Zealanders were killed in unprecedented numbers.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries dot the countryside of northern France. The Unknown New Zealand Warrior was buried at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery near Longueval, in the region where the Battle of the Somme was fought. The soldier’s name, age, rank, race, religion and other details are unknown. His was one of many unidentified graves in the area. His simple white headstone carried the words, ‘A New Zealand soldier of the Great War known unto God’.

Robert Ian (Bob) Jones, who served in the Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam campaigns carved the kauri casket which holds the Unknown Warrior. It is one of three caskets made, one of which was donated to the National Army Museum at Waiōuru.

The design of the tomb

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was designed by sculptor Kingsley Baird. It was constructed in marble, granite, pounamu (greenstone) and bronze. It was inspired by the Southern Cross constellation, which guides the warrior on his journey back to Aotearoa New Zealand.

The base of the tomb is black granite inlaid with light grey Tākaka marble crosses. The crosses represent the companions he leaves behind, who also died in the service of their country. They are also symbolic of a star-laden sky, signifying the distance he has travelled.

Engraved around the base of the tomb is text of a karanga (call of greeting), in both Māori and English, calling the warrior back to his homeland. A cloak of bronze, decorated with four inlaid pounamu crosses, alludes to the New Zealand flag.


Te mamae nei a te pōuri nui
Tēnei ra e te tau.
Aue hoki mai ra ki te kainga tūturu.
E tatari atu nei ki a kou tou
Ngā tau roa
I ngaro atu ai te aroha.
E ngau kino nei I ahau aue taukuri e.

The great pain we feel
Is for you who were our future.
Come back, return home.
We have waited for you
Through the long years
You were away. Sorrow
Aches within me.

Further information

1916: Armentières and the Battle of the Somme – NZHistory

Known unto God – NZHistory

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