Wairarapa War Camp memorial to be unveiled as part of Armistice Day

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

Tomorrow a memorial paying tribute to the Featherston Military Camp, which trained 60,0000 men for service in World War One, will be officially unveiled in the Wairarapa town.

Featherston Camp Sculpture Trust chair David Kernohan said it took sculptor Paul Dibble 18 months to make the nine column, bronze metal piece.

“I think to begin with it seemed a very far fetched idea but with a tremendous enthusiasm from local people and actually indicating how much of a national memorial it is has allowed us to expand our range for fundraising, even overseas.”

The $620,000 sculpture has been paid for by the community and grants.

“This camp was the largest camp in World War One and it’s a national treasure in that sense and has a long history,” he said.

Featherston Camp historian Neil Frances said the sculpture is important as the camp grounds were completely demolished by 1930.

“This really represents a visible commemoration of what took place out there,” he said.

Mr Frances said while overseas efforts feature extensively in WWI history, the role of Featherston’s training camp and others were forgotten.

He said the camp had an impact on most New Zealanders, with men training at the camp from around the country.

One side of the sculpture has information about the camp and quotes from locals about the impact on Featherston, along with symbols of war.

Featherston’s population was 700 when war broke out and grew to 3500 residents when trainee numbers at the camp peaked.

The other side of the sculpture has etchings of soldiers, some riding horses, marching towards Remutaka Hill; the crossing made by many Kiwi soldiers heading to war via Trentham Camp.

The columns are angled towards Remutaka to reflect the journey made by soldiers.

The memorial is based on Paul Dibble’s New Zealand war memorial in London’s Hyde Park.

Also taking part in this weekend’s commemoration’s are representatives of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment and Australian Seventh Light Horse Gundagai Troop.

Both troops rode together in World War One and will ride side by side a century later in a march through Featherston.

Seventh Light Horse Gundagai Troop President Wes Leseberg said trying to make the public remember the light horse soldiers role in WWI through representation is humbling.

“We operated right through Sinai and Palestine together… and at the end of the first World War One, we were actually redeployed together back to the Gallipoli peninsula to oversite the Turkish forces there, that they were complying with the new armistice between the Ottomans and the Commonwealth and also to find the bodies and rebury our troops from Gallipoli,” Mr Leseberg said about the connection with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles.

He said while the New Zealand mounted rifles fought as hard as the Australian light horse troops, they’re often forgotten.

“We just had Beersheba Day, everyone remembers the charge of the Fourth and the Twelfth light horse brigades but without the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, that charge would have never happened,” Mr Leseberg said.

Hawarden-based Terry King of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles representatives said horses didn’t volunteer to go to war but followed their masters and riders, building an unbreakable bond.

“It is very important for us as a number of the troop are ex-servicemen but we’re trying to keep the history of the mounted rifles, especially the horses.

“We do a lot of commemoration on the soldiers and the events but for me we are not really honouring the horses as well,” Mr King said.
Mr King described the fact 10,000 horses went to WWI from the country and only four returned home as “so heart-breaking” and “really emotional.”

“I remember my great grandfather’s diaries, he just said the only time he cried was at night by himself with his horse so no one else could see him,” he said.

Mr King said people often cry when they see the group’s horses being ridden as part of war commemorations around the country and in Australia.

Most of the horses have travelled with Mr King from the South Island for the Featherston Armistice centenary, with Kiwirail subsiding transport costs for the troop on the Interislander.

“It is a very huge undertaking… The financial burden on all us volunteers is overwhelming, it’s very hard to keep this but we’re passionate about it,” he said.