Rare war memorial highlighted
The significance of an unusual war memorial has been highlighted in an inventory of World War I monuments carried out by Heritage New Zealand in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty region last year.
The inventory identified Te Poi War Memorial Hall as being one of the oldest war memorial halls in the country – and something of a rarity.
‘‘The hall is unusual in that it bucked the national trend for World War I memorials.
‘‘After the war, purely ornamental memorials were favoured over more functional memorials like halls and libraries,’’ Heritage New Zealand’s lower northern manager Ben Pick said.
‘‘The philosophy of the time – reinforced by the then Minister of Defence, James Allen – was that war memorials should be non-utilitarian, artistic structures capturing the idea that the Great War was fought to preserve idealistic and spiritual values. Only about five percent of all of New Zealand’s First World War memorials were halls.’’
Constructed in 1922, the hall memorialised nine local men – two of whom were killed in action in the First World War.
‘‘The local Sunny Park Co-operative Dairy Company gifted the site for the hall along with £50 towards the building of the hall itself, reflecting the importance of dairy farming in the community,’’ Pick said.
‘‘The dairy company recognised the need for a place to hold public meetings, and the Matamata County Council – perhaps also convinced of the need for such a facility – contributed £75 towards the hall.’’
Local people got behind the project, raising money for the hall as well as gifting their labour, which included making hundreds of cavity concrete blocks.
‘‘The result was a building that disguised its humble concrete origins with some styling from classical architecture – which included an entrance portico flanked by two impressive columns representing strength and stability,’’ Pick said. Inside, the hall featured stained rimu beams, a stage, dressing rooms, a supper room and a marble memorial tablet.
The memorial hall was opened on August 11, 1922 by the chairman of the Matamata County Council. In 1947 the community decided to extend the hall as a memorial for Second World War servicemen.
The modern style addition was opened in 1957, with 30 Te Poi Returned Soldiers Association members forming a guard of honour for the 400 locals who attended the ceremony. Today the Te Poi War Memorial Hall continues to be used for public events and meetings.