Kaitaia's war memorial, in Remembrance Park, has been registered by the NZ Historic Places Trust Board as a Category 1 historic place, marking it as a place of outstanding heritage significance.
Stuart Park, who carried out the research for the registration proposal prior to retiring as the Historic Places Trust's Northland area manager, said the recognition was most appropriate, given that it was one of the earliest WWI memorials in New Zealand, and that it was remarkable, probably unique, in that it bore an inscription in both Maori and English, embracing the sacrifice of both peoples from what was then the Mangonui County.
"Its poetic, bilingual text, its origination by Maori and concern for both Maori and Pakeha and the prominence given to it both by the local community and scholars of New Zealand war memorials make it a special and outstanding place," Mr Park said.
"It is indeed a special place of outstanding heritage significance that speaks to all New Zealanders."
The memorial, unveiled on Friday March 24, 1916, specifically commemorates the sacrifice of New Zealand troops at Gallipoli the previous year. According to one newspaper account, about a thousand people attended the unveiling.
"The main driving force behind the memorial was Riapo Te Ripi Puhipi [Leopold Busby], a leading Te Rarawa rangatira from Pukepoto, who spearheaded the community fundraising initiative," he added.
"Puhipi's son Haimona was serving in the New Zealand armed forces overseas at the time, so the impact of Gallipoli, and the huge toll it took on young New Zealanders, is likely to have been fresh in his mind."
Haimona returned to New Zealand in 1917 and was officially discharged later that year as medically unfit due to a congenital cataract that made him blind in one eye. Puhipi's younger brother Tawhai died of enteric fever in March 1915, shortly after enlisting in the Native Expeditionary Force.
The Kaitaia memorial was literally "straight out of the catalogue, the McNab and Mason catalogue, in fact, described as 'No 103 Italian Marble Monument and Bluestone Base"'. Several angels of this type may still be seen on graves dating back to the early 1900s, including the cemetery at Ripeka Tapu Church at Waiparera, in the Hokianga, with which Puhipi was likely to have been familiar.
The angel was carved from marble from Carrara, in Italy, a British ally during WWI, and consequently an enemy of Germany. The perils of shipping marble monuments through hostile seas, however, did not seem to have been an issue, and the statue arrived in good time for its installation and unveiling.
Although Riapo Puhipi had invited government representatives to attend the unveiling, he faced delaying tactics and a general lack of support from Ministers. His request to erect the memorial in a place of prominence, like the Post Office, was similarly met with a flat "No" from the government. Eventually Allen Bell donated a site on what was then the outskirts of Kaitaia.
The unveiling ceremony reflected the unusual nature of the monument.
"There had been a few Anzac memorials before the Kaitaia memorial, including the earliest WWI monument, erected by the Auckland Harbour Board to commemorate employees who had gone off to war. There had even been a beach near Katikati renamed Anzac Bay, and some memorial trees planted at Eastbourne in Wellington," Mr Park said. "These were nothing like the Kaitaia memorial though, and although the Prime Minister, Governor and Minister of Defence declined to attend the unveiling, others made a point of being there."
They included a "who's who of Maori leadership", including Northland MP Tau Henare and Dr Maui Pomare, both of whom, it seemed, had messages for the crowd.
Tau Henare: "This is one of the first monuments to be erected in the Dominion in honour of men who have sacrificed their lives for you and me, for their country, for the Empire and for the King ... I would like my Pakeha friends to remember this, that our boys left New Zealand like brothers from the one country to fight side by side to uphold the Union Jack."
Pomare was even more direct: "And we in New Zealand - the Maoris, your enemies of yesterday, are your friends of today, and your companions-in-arms of tomorrow. What greater example of British unity; what greater example of fealty could be asked - fighting for the same King and Empire ... Now, I want to say this both to Pakehas and Maoris, What are we going to do? This is your only chance to do your little bit ..."
"There is a real sense of pride in the commitment and sacrifice of Maori that comes across in the speeches that were made that day, and an explicit challenge to onlookers, both Maori and Pakeha, to support the war effort," Mr Park added.
"Sadly, because of the bilingual nature of the memorial and the obviously bicultural crowd, all the newspaper reporting of the day referred to the Kaitaia monument as the 'Maori memorial' commemorating Maori dead. Although obviously incorrect, that view of the monument persisted for a long time afterwards."
After WWII a Shrine of Memories and memorial swimming baths were established in Bank Street, about a kilometre from the original memorial. In the mid-1960s it was relocated, adjacent to the WWII memorial, to form a single complex. Both monuments were relocated in 1995 to form Remembrance Park, where they currently stand.
The English text
In loving memory and in honour of our sons and relations both Maori and Pakeha, dead or living from the county of Mangonui who willingly offered themselves to sacrifice their lives to uphold the honour of the King and Empire and for the Glory of God in this terrible war which began in Europe in August 1914, and has since spread over thegreater part of the world. Splashinghrough the mountainous waves of he Indian Ocean our brave lads uphold the names of your noble ancestors: seek to avenge thedeaths of your relations that have fallen. God will give victory to the righteous.
Cementing the bond
An extract from Dr Maui Pomare's speech at the unveiling of the Kaitaia memorial:
` ... when the Pakehas signed the treaty with us in 1840, then commenced the union of this portion with the rest of the British Empire. We Maoris have recognised that the Treaty of Waitangi was the first tangible and legal bond which bound us to the British Empire.
`And in respect of this I wish to say to my Maori friends that the cause of England going to war today was due to the fact that a treaty between Belgium and the German nation had been violated. And this is where the Maori people come in.
`If we are apathetic and do not respond to the call of the Empire, then we agree that the German method of tearing up treaties as mere bits of paper should also apply to the Treaty of Waitangi.
``But, on the other hand, this monument belies that, and cements the bond between the Pakeha and Maori.''