Friday 19 April 2024

ANZAC Day Remembrance 25 Apr 2024 - The Winton and District War Memorial Gates

The Winton & District War Memorial Gate
Taken Apr 2024
[From my own collection]

The 25th of April 2024, known as ANZAC Day, will again mark that rare day each year when the two sovereign nations of Australia and New Zealand both commemorate those servicemen and servicewomen who have; 

"served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations and the contribution and suffering of all those who have served."

Having been brought up in the rural district of Heddon Bush in Central Southland, being located at the southern end of New Zealand's South Island, I always found it curious that unlike many other country districts, even neighbouring Drummond, there was no "brick and mortar" War Memorial. The only reference to those who served in World Wars One and Two is a wooden "Roll of Honour" board installed in the local hall, but this only commemorates former pupils of the school so the names of many local servicemen were omitted. 

For many years I had felt that perhaps, after the misery and heartbreak of the First World War years, an absolutely crippling slump in post World War One farm returns, and also constant and prodigious wartime fundraising, that there had simply been a desire to "move on" and that the will to raise further funds had simply run out of steam. There had also been very generous monetary and personal gifts to the district's Returned Servicemen who had definitely not been forgotten. But then I became aware of the fact that the Winton War Memorial Gates in Central Southland represent not just Winton but also "District[s]".  

A Pillar of the Winton
War Memorial Gate
[Source NZ History]

A plaque on one pillar of the memorial gate does in fact read; "Erected to the Memory of Those of Winton and District" while a plaque on the other pillar reads; "Who Suffered and Died in the Great War". But which districts the Memorial Gates represent is lacking and i'm sure that if asked, most people who pass here now would have no idea that the memorial related to anywhere else other than Winton. At least I now know that those Servicemen from not only Winton but also a number of districts in the area, and who gave their lives for King and Country, were in fact not forgotten. Perhaps it was felt that with a wider geographical area a broad commemoration without names would not only be more cost effective but also a tidier option with less chance of innacuracies or omissions. Had names been added there would unfortunately have been a great many and I daresay a much larger memorial would have been required.

A Pillar of the Winton
War Memorial Gate
[Source NZ History]

Winton and surrounding districts had in fact been actively commemorating ANZAC day in local Churches from the 25th April 1916. A movement to commemorate the landing of the ANZAC Forces at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 had started in Brisbane, Australia in early 1916, quickly spreading to New Zealand where the Premier was asked, and agreed, to declare a National half-holiday so that Memorial services could be held. 

Heddon Bush School children
commemorating ANZAC Day, April 1917
[Watson Family collection]

From the above photo we know that in April 1917 children at the rural Heddon Bush School commemorated ANZAC Day, being photographed with a large blackboard reading "Brave ANZACS's" with a New Zealand flag.  ANZAC Day would also commonly be commemorated annually at all Winton and district churches, district schools, at Moores Hall and / or the Army Drill Hall in Winton, and in various local country halls.  

On the 3rd February 1920 Winton unveiled Memorial Plaques at the Winton School, with wreaths being laid each year thereafter. But as with the Heddon Bush School Memorial board, this only commemorated Servicemen who had been former pupils of the School. The Winton Presbyterian Church also put up a "Roll of Honour" (and later also for World War Two) for all Church members who had served in the forces.

But from late 1920, and right througout the Dominion, the "War Memorial Movement" was "being taken up by the public with great enthusiasm". That today almost every township in New Zealand has a public war memorial indicates the success of the movement and the desire to honour not only the fallen but all who had served their King and country.

Various proposals for a Southland Memorial were informally put forward, with Mr Henry R. Wilson of neighbouring South Hillend (died 1972 aged 99 years) writing to "The Southland Times" in March 1920 with some radical but interesting thoughts and suggestions of which this is only an excerpt:

"At Thursday last’s meeting of the War Funds Association, eleven country districts being represented, little sympathy was shown to the idea of the proposed [Invercargill] memorial. Can townspeople wonder why ? The wishes or sympathy of rural residents was neither asked for nor considered. ... A tablet at school or athenaeum in a country centre is very well from the local point of view to keep in memory the brave fallen, but the frittering away of, in some cases, several hundred pounds, and enthusiasm in small inadequate effigies of troopers and small monuments, seen by but few, is injudicious and to be deplored. ... If country people are to subscribe they must see something tangible as the outcome. ... failing a general Southland monument, the bulk of the country people might erect one on Forest Hill,...which is Crown lands and easily seen from Riverton, Otautau, Nightcaps, Winton, Morton Mains and elsewhere.... "

It now transpires that the rural community of Heddon Bush had in fact initially desired a memorial of their own. But in early March 1921, and after having invited Mr Walker, the Mayor of Winton, to speak to the residents, there was a quite surprising development;

“…it was unanimously decided to fall in with the Winton scheme. Winton has decided to erect a clock tower, upon which will be inscribed the names of fallen heroes from the district. The proposed site is on the Railway reserve, which would be beautified and provide a suitable environment for the structure. The cost of the memorial (without the clock) would be about £1500.”   

Choosing to join with Winton was perhaps not surprising. Being only 21 kilometres from Heddon Bush, Winton had a suitable and very visible site readily available at no cost, was undoubtedly the primary commercial rural centre for most Heddon Bush residents, a proposed railway line from Winton to Heddon Bush had been fully surveyed as long ago as circa 1875 and was, even at this late date, still expected to be constructed, and more importantly, it meant being able to share the cost of a rather more substantial War Memorial with not only Winton but other rural districts which all made perfect sense. Likewise, neighbouring South Hillend only put up a World War One "Roll of Honour" board in their local school as late as June 1936 so appear to have quickly fallen in with the "Winton scheme" - hopefully with Mr Wilson's blessing! 

The Memorial Weeping Wych Elm tree in the
Winton Oval, planted to commemorate the
ANZAC Day Landings, circa 1915.
Taken Autumn, Apr 2024
[From my own collection] 

After the initial momentum, fund raising for the Winton War Memorial appears to have progressed rather slowly. The first published reference to active fundraising and plans for the Winton War Memoral is this report dated the 5th February 1924; 

"At a public meeting in Winton to discuss the form of Soldiers' Memorial to be erected, it was stated that nearly £200 was on hand for the purpose. It was unanimously decided to erect an arch-gateway, and plant memorial trees in the vicinity." 

But it appears that there was already a "memorial tree", a weeping wych elm, in the Railway Reserve, having been planted by Mr Robert Wilson, the Mayor of Winton from 1914 to 1915, to commemorate the ANZAC Day landings on the 25th April 1915. So the weeping elm (which is now a "listed" tree) can only have been planted in 1915 unless the term "Mayor" was used retrospectively, i.e., that he was Mayor at the time of the landings although this seems rather unlikely.  

As to why a "Clock Tower" did not eventuate is unknown and we now have an "arch-gateway". The local newspaper, "The Winton Record" would have kept residents well informed of developments and Winton Borough Council business but this valuable publication has not (yet) been digitized.

A report from the 20th March 1924 states that canvassing for donations had commenced and that; 

"a generous response has been forthcoming. It is more than likely that the memorial will take the form of an arch gateway leading to the railway reserve, which will be beautified by the Town Council".

Over a year later, we note that during a meeting of the Winton Borough Council in August 1925, Councillor Gullick; "brought up" the matter of the Soldiers' Memorial. It was then; "...left in the Mayor’s hands to arrange a meeting of the collectors in order that some finality be arrived at." So obviously, plans for the memorial had still only progressed slowly.  

The Winton Memorial Gates in their original
pre-2009 location fronting the Bowling Green.
[Source : NZ History]

By March 1927 a "Sub Committee" had been constituted under the auspices of the Winton Borough Council, then meeting to discuss amended plans by Invercargill Architect Mr Edmund R.F. Wilson ;

"which provide for handsome memorial gates with two imposing stone pillars.... The gates are to be erected on the site at the stone steps leading to the railway reserve. " 

Exactly why an "arch-gateway" was no longer considered is unknown, perhaps just a modification suggested by the Architect in his "amended" plans, although the wrought iron gates when closed form an arch. The concrete pillars themselves would be substantial, each weighing between 6.5 to 7 tonnes. Interestingly, and I am sure by accident rather than by design, the chosen Architect, Mr Edmund R. Wilson, is in fact a brother of the afore-mentioned Mr Henry R. Wilson. 

The official unveiling and opening of the Memorial Gates on Great North Road, Winton, took place on ANZAC Day, being Thursday the 25th April 1929, with the ceremony being carried out by Chaplain Lieutenant-Colonel Dutton of Dunedin, a veteran of both the (2nd) Boer War and First World Wars. The Rev. Dutton had, in fact, a proud military heritage, being the son of a soldier and a Grandfather who fought at Waterloo. Dutton gave a long speech approriate to the occasion, only part of which includes these comments;     

"These tablets [of memory] will serve to tell future generations of the great sacrifices made by the young men of this generation. It has taken some years to complete the erection of the memorial at Winton and I am sure we are all very pleased that it has now been accomplished. The gates, walls and fences have been erected entirely by voluntary contributions and I wish to thank all those who have so liberally contributed to the fund....”

The Winton War Memorial Gates, taken looking west
and framing the Winton Water Tower, Oct 1958
[Photo credit : William Dykes] 

The Memorial Gate was erected with a decorative low concrete wall next to Great North Road, giving convenient access to the Winton Bowling Club grounds. Where the road curves round between the Memorial gate and the former Post Office was the 1902 Band Rotunda (in its original position beside the road before demolition in 1954 due to being a "traffic hazard"), being built to commemorate the 1899-1902 Boer War and the Coronation of King Edward VII. But in later years, with the gate being situated next to a now busy main road this proved inconvenient for ANZAC Day parades and gatherings and of course the band rotunda was long gone by then. Thus, as recorded by local Historian, the late Vince Boyle  ;

"The concrete 14 tonne twin pillars with an ornate iron gate were cut off at their bases and transported to Anzac Oval (80m south on Great North Road) and re-sited there on new foundations in time for Anzac Day 2009 at a cost of $35,928."

The Winton War Memorial pillars being moved,
January 2009
[Photo credit : Robyn Edie]

The new site further south on Great North Road is situated oblique to the road almost adjoining the former 1905 Winton Post Office building and with steps now leading down into the "ANZAC Oval". This is a small park with the centrepiece being not only the ornate Band Rotunda but also the afore-mentioned spreading Elm tree.  

And in fact, the historic old Winton Railway Station dating from 1871 (sadly demolished in 1983) had been situated at the north east corner of the park fronting a short access road, being an eastern extension of Brandon street which now leads to a soul-less car and truck park. Troops would be farewelled here prior to leaving for camp and military service overseas, many never to return. As, previously noted, which rural districts are represented by the Gates is not recorded but this was no doubt deliberately left open to include the area in general. Likewise, the amount raised by each district is not recorded and being a community effort, may never have been itemized in such a way. Comparing the photos from 1958 and today, I note that the dates "1914" and "1919" are no longer highlighted in a darker colour but otherwise the Memorial has been faithfully restored to how it was originally built. As to "1919", this was actually then considered the official end of the war as the Treaty of Versailles was only signed in June 1919. If you look closely at the wrought iron gateway (in the uppermost photo) when closed you will also notice that it also forms a Celtic style Cross.

The Heddon Bush School 
War Memorial Roll of Honour
[Photo credit : Vicki-Lynne Hubber]

And the "deficiency", if you would even call it that, of the Heddon Bush District not having their own War Memorial this was, as previously noted, partially rectified when a wooden Roll of Honour board was placed in the Heddon Bush School after World War Two but lists only those Heddon Bush School ex-pupils who had served and died in both World Wars. This board was paid for using the £39.8.0 profit from the 1949 Heddon Bush School 69th anniversary celebrations. Yes, an odd date for a celebration but as some first day pupils were still living the community wished to celebrate the occasion with them. The board would later be transferred from the school to the old Heddon Bush hall and is now in the new hall opened in 1964. I recall it hanging high up on the wall, where it still hangs to this day, but I personally never took much notice of it and I do not recall at any time that it was given any particular official ANZAC Day recognition. As to South Hillend, their school closed some years ago and they no longer have a local hall so am unsure of the location of their World War One & Two Rolls of Honour for former pupils. Unfortunately the Kia Mate Koa roll of Southland War Memorials and locations is no longer available online.

But I now know that the service and sacrifice of those from not just Winton, but also from surrounding Districts, are commemorated by the Winton & District Memorial Gates so these now hold a deeper meaning for me. Winton has, in fact, a number of war related Memorial Rolls of Honour and plaques, some being viewable in public areas. 

Last but not least, I must acknowledge the work of the late Ann Robbie (died Jan 2023) for documenting not only these but in fact all of Southland's War Memorials (around 420) as well as her work in restoring a number of memorial boards and rolls of honour. The late Iain Davidson (died Nov 2023), another Southlander, also deserves equal recognition for his work in researching and documenting the lives of a great many local servicemen as well as his invaluable and tenacious work in identifying servicemen in old photographs. I am aware that Andy Macdonald is now progressing Iain's work.    

Any further information is welcome and my email link appears in the right hand menu bar. As to which "Districts" the Winton War Memorial gates represent most likely includes the following (being districts in the immediate area who do not have their own district War Memorial) :

- Lochiel
- Oreti Plains
- Heddon Bush
- Dunearn
- South Hillend
- Kauana
- Otapiri
- Hokonui
- Springhills
- Tussock Creek

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old :
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

From "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon (1914)

All Rights Reserved 

Sources & Acknowledgements:

- Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand  
- New Zealand History, NZ Ministry for Culture & Heritage 
- "Tales of the Turi 1984 - 1984", by M. Cairns & F.H. Plunkett
- The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts] (held by the writer)
- Invercargill Public Library Reference Library (and their very helpful Librarians).
- Watson Family History, 2022 (held by the writer)
- Watson Family photo collection (held by the writer)
- Dykes Family photo collection (held by the writer)
- Personal photo collection
- Vicki-Lynne Hubber