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Century for Anzac Hall

By Hayley Gastmeier

[email protected]

 

Everyone came dressed in their Sunday best to celebrate the centenary of Featherston’s Anzac Hall.

About 250 people turned out yesterday to pay tribute to the grand old building, including Wairarapa’s own Governor General, Dame Patsy Reddy of Greytown.

The service, arranged by the South Wairarapa District Council, was one of Ms Reddy’s first formal outings in the role since being sworn in last month.

Former South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples was the MC for the event and, once everyone was seated, newly elected councillor Paora Ammunson, of Papawai Marae, opened the ceremony with a mihi.

Then St Teresa’s School Kapa Haka group performed on stage with a variety of numbers including the Haka and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, but sung in Maori.

Ms Reddy said hearing the 1984 classic in Te Reo was a first, and she was honoured to be “on home ground” for one of her first engagements.

She said the hall was “evidence of a caring community”.

“This hall remains a testament to both [our soldiers’] sacrifice but also to our community’s support of those soldiers.”

Chief of Army Major General Peter Kelly said it was incredible that “one hundred years ago the people of Wairarapa had the foresight to see how important it was for soldiers” to have a place such as the Anzac Hall, which offered them respite.

“It was equally a place where they could come and relax and forget the military for a while,” he said.

“It was facilities like this one which gave our soldiers the chance to pause, collect their thoughts and write letters to loved ones.”

Mr Kelly said he was “proud” to see a community which had not forgotten those fallen and “that will remember”.

The hall was rededicated to the community, “and hopefully for another 100 years of service,” Mrs Staples said.

Ms Reddy and South Wairarapa mayor elect Viv Napier unveiled a plaque outside the building which commemorated its centenary.

Honorary Belgium Consul Don Staples said the hall was unique.

“You can still feel the presence of those men who went to fight in the Anzac Hall and it’s a jewel in the crown of New Zealand because it’s probably one of the few buildings left from that era – and in almost pristine condition.”

Lesley Wardle, a member of the Anzac Club Trust, said when the hall was opened 100 years ago on October 16, about 4000 troops and about 400 horses turned out for the event.

“It was built in less than five months and they raised the money within a day,” she said.

“You had to be a pioneering family who had lived in Wairarapa for at least 40 years to be able to donate [to the project].”

Mrs Wardle said back then the Featherston locals were “horrified” to learn “that all those soldiers were going to be camped on their back door step”.

“There was a ‘lock up your daughters’ sort of mentality.

“And then when they met a few of the soldiers they realised they were just like their sons, so they decided to make a place for them to rest and recreation – a home away from home.”

The Anzac Hall also consists of a large supper room and the Kiwi Hall, which was originally a writing and reading room for the officers, Mrs Wardle said.

It was the Kiwi Hall that served as a temporary hospital during the influenza epidemic, and again during World War II.

Anzac Club President Colin Olds said it was thanks to the community spirit that the hall was so well kept.

“I’m delighted the community have embraced this hall as such a valuable asset.”

1 COMMENT

  1. it was a wonderful afternoon, able to attend the Centenary of the Anzac Hall in Bell St Featherston on 16th October 2016.. Perhaps more so for myself as I am researching the soldiers cemetery in Featherston. WW1 Soldiers who had died whilst at Camp, from 1915 to early 1920s.. yes a few died after WW1, most died of influenza in 1918, 150 off them buried at Featherston, some bodies were able to be sent home or buried at Karori Cemetery.

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