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Drill Hall memorial unveiled

The long-anticipated Drill Hall memorial on the corner of Lincoln Rd and SH2 Chapel St has officially been unveiled, and with it comes a new and hopeful relationship with the New Zealand Army base at Linton.

The memorial serves to commemorate the 17th Ruahine Regiment, 9th Wellington East Coast Mounted Rifles Regiment [WECMR] and the long-gone Masterton Drill Hall they once used.

Representative for the New Zealand Defence Force and New Zealand Army, Major Steffan Wuts, attended the unveiling of the memorial on 29 August.

Wuts commands the Wellington East Coast Squadron [WECS] in the reformed Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles at Linton. The WECS is the successor unit to the WECMR.

Wuts’ military history spans over two decades, and he has served on deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq since he enlisted in 2001, where he began his military career as a Trooper.

Wuts also commanded the NZ Combat Team that took part in Exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia earlier this year.

During his speech at the unveiling of the memorial, he acknowledged that he and his unit are “merely custodians of the long and proud history of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles units and all [they] can try and do is add somewhat of [their] own honour and mana to that history”.

The hall, built in 1886, was once the hub for military activity in Wairarapa, and when the Territorial Army was formed, it became the army office in 1911.

Wuts recognised the significance of the memorial location and said it was nice to know there was a place they “can come back to, to reflect and remember those who have served in the past”.

With the memorial also comes a physical and tangible tie to Wuts’ unit, and he said “it would be nice to be present for an ANZAC service” or any other ceremonies that commemorate his unit and our lengthy military history.

Soldiers from Wairarapa serving in the World Wars went to the Drill Hall to sign their recruitment papers. Thousands of men started their journey in the armed forces in this building during the World Wars.

Men who fought in the Ruahine Regiment and WECMR took part in some of the most famous and bloody battles during WWI: including Gallipoli, the Somme, Messines, Ypres, and Passchendaele.

After WWII ended, the Drill Hall became home to the Masterton Amateur Theatrical Society before it was eventually demolished in 1981.

Despite it surviving for almost 100 years, very few photographs of the hall remain.

Local historians, Alan Fielding and Neil Frances found eager encouragement in the community for the memorial project.

Former Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson was happy for the memorial to be erected at the Lincoln Rd site as part of the garden feature there.

Mayor Gary Caffell cut the ribbon as responsibility for the memorial was handed over to the Masterton District Council before reverend Merv Jones blessed the site.

Both Fielding and Frances had ideas for a WWI memorial in Masterton before connecting several years ago to collaborate on this project.

During the small ceremony with local government officials, historians, archivists, and Major Wuts representing the NZDF, Frances admitted that their ideas for the memorial were originally very different.

“[Fielding] wanted to remember the two units that trained here on the formation of the Territorial Army in 1911”, he said.

“My idea really was to remember the drill hall.”

The Drill Hall memorial recognises both men’s ideas and commemorates the strong history of the region.

Frances wanted to acknowledge and thank the donors and contributors to the project.

“A lot of local businesses, organisations and individuals have donated freely to this project”, he said.

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