WWI centrepiece marks Featherston military camp
Reminiscent of a procession of soldiers marching off to war, a new $600,000 sculpture in Featherston is a powerful reminder of the town’s important role in history.
The Paul Dibble sculpture, designed to remember New Zealand’s largest ever military camp, has just been unwrapped and is now on display in the town’s centre.
Dibble said the concept represents the soldiers’ marching from the camp through Featherston and up and over the Remutaka Ranges before leaving for the front. ‘‘The slanted pillars give the impression of a line of forward movement. Many of the soldiers were young men from farming backgrounds, they are depicted in relief in shorts and rolled up sleeves.’’
Although the artwork is part of the wider national WW100 project, its creators are adamant it is not a memorial to war casualties, but a commemoration of their town’s historic role.
Featherston Camp Sculpture Trust chairman and driving force behind the project, the late Dr Bernard Jervis, said before he died that they did not want a monument to war.
‘‘Nor soldiering, nor the fallen. Rather, we are looking for a concept to present a positive image of a small town doing its bit in a time of global crisis,’’ Jervis said. ‘‘The camp brought out the best of most of those who passed through it, and involved a provincial town in a national contribution.’’
A large cenotaph further down the road was the town’s memorial to its fallen soldiers.
Today – the day before Armistice Day – a dedication ceremony was planned to include a march from the camp’s original site 3km east of town to the sculpture installation on Fitzherbert St.
Associate minister of arts and culture and heritage Grant Robertson, South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier, Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith and representatives of the army, will attend.
Napier’s grandfather and two great uncles trained at the camp and she will help cut the ribbon. ‘‘I think it will be something that will be recognised locally, regionally, nationally and internationally because it will link people to the camp, which was such an important part of our history. A lot of people in New Zealand don’t know about it.’’
Trust secretary treasurer Jean McDowall has spent the past four years bringing the money together to finance the project. The largest donation was $350,000 from New Zealand Lotteries.
Featherston resident Tim Watson stopped to check out the sculpture yesterday just after the bubble wrap was removed. ‘‘I think it’s neat. You can see the soldiers in shorts and uniform and it makes you think of them going past right here and some of them would not be coming back.’’
Featherston Military Training Camp was built by the Public Works Department in 1915 after the outbreak of World War I and was the training base for 60,000 soldiers.
The Featherston Camp Sculpture by Paul Dibble occupies a prominent spot in the middle of town.
A close-up of the Wairarapa town’s new artwork.