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Century crossed at Anzac bridge

In 1922, a bridge was erected south of Eketāhuna: On which would eventually be etched the names of nine local servicemen and women, lost in battle.

In 2022, their families came “from far and wide” to attend the bridge’s centennial celebrations – which incorporated an important relic from its original opening.

On December 3, 150 people attended a service to mark the anniversary of the Anzac Memorial Bridge at Kaiparoro – opened to the public on the same day 100 years ago.

The bridge, designed by Eketāhuna engineer Alfred Falkner, serves as a monument to those from the area who fought and died in World War I and II – including Falkner’s own son, killed at Gallipoli.

The centenary event, organised by the Friends of the Anzac Bridge [FOAB], featured a re-enactment of the bridge’s 1922 opening ceremony – which included a speech from then Masterton MP George Sykes, and a ribbon cutting by Kaiparoro resident Mary Hansen.

At this month’s celebration, the ribbon was cut by Hansen’s granddaughter Fay Paku – with the same sterling silver scissors her grandmother used in 1922, and had kept as a family heirloom.

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty [a relative of Private Margret Olive McAnulty, memorialised on the bridge] also participated in the re-enactment, delivering George Sykes’ original speech, and driving over the bridge in a 1920s Buick.

The event also included a blessing from Eketāhuna kaumatua Warren Chase, a reading of the Ode of Remembrance in English and te reo, and a wreath-laying.

The ceremony was followed by the launch of local history book Anzac Memorial Bridge: A Century of Service, compiled by FOAB secretary and treasurer Glenys E Hansen, at the Eketāhuna Community Centre.

Hansen said relatives of the nine recorded on the bridge travelled from all over the country to attend, including from Auckland, Wellington and Dargaville.

She said the centenary was an opportunity to recognise the “tremendous effort” from the community to restore and maintain the landmark for future generations.

“The family members said it was amazing to see the bridge still standing and in good condition,” Hansen said.

“[The centenary] was a beautiful event, dedicated to our own special little bridge – it means a lot to the Tararua District.

“On Anzac Day, we see young people wearing their grandparents’ war medals – and they want to find out more about their stories. So, it’s very important that we preserve and record our local history, especially for the next generation.”

The bridge was originally designed in response to demand for a safer crossing over the Makakahi River – and was built for 800 pounds, using local labour.

Engineer Falkner was devastated when his youngest son and nephew were killed in WWI, and the bridge was declared a memorial to his family upon its opening.

The bridge was well-used until the 1950s when the more modern Bailey Bridge was constructed.

The Ministry of Works planned to blow up the Anzac Bridge, but community outcry ensured it remained.

Restoration of the bridge began in 2006, thanks to funds raised by FOAB, and it was registered as a Category 1 Historic Place by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga in 2010.

Hansen said A Century of Service has been gaining “a lot of interest” from locals keen to read about the men and women immortalised on the bridge, including her uncle-in-law, Pilot Officer William Edward Kewley, killed in action over Germany in 1944.

The book also records “key moments in the life of the bridge”: Including a 1918 article from the Wairarapa Daily Times about three men whose car became stranded in the Makakahi Stream, cementing the need for a bridge.

Anzac Memorial Bridge: A Century of Service is available at Aratoi and Paper Plus in Masterton. To order a copy, email [email protected]

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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