Mark Pacey of the Wairarapa Archive meets the historians behind the new memorial to two Wairarapa regiments and their military headquarters.
Eagle-eyed Masterton locals will have noticed something has changed on the corner of Lincoln Rd and Chapel St.
In an area flanked by a pair of seats, a memorial has gone up. Commemorating two military groups and the long-gone Masterton Drill Hall they once used, the new installation recognises an important part of our history.
The memorial is the result of a huge effort. The idea was originally conceived by Mastertonian Alan Fielding in 2016 as a memorial to the 17th Ruahine Regiment and 9th Wellington East Coast Mounted Rifles [WECMR] – in which many men from Wairarapa served during World War I. The project grew when Fielding chatted with historian Neil Frances who had a similar idea: A memorial to the regiments’ official headquarters in Masterton.
“Alan had the original thought about the regiments, whereas my idea had been to memorialise the Drill Hall. I think we realised that, effectively, they memorialised the same thing,” Frances said.
The Drill Hall was built in 1886 and originally housed the local volunteer militia units, and was also used by the community for public events. In 1911, it became the Wairarapa headquarters for the New Zealand Territorial Army.
If you were called up or volunteering for service in Wairarapa during both World Wars, you went to the Drill Hall to sign your recruitment papers. Many thousands of men during these two conflicts started their journey into the armed forces in this building.
The men who fought in the Ruahine Regiment and WECMR took part in some of the most famous and bloody battles during World War I: Including Gallipoli, the Somme, Messines, Ypres and Passchendaele.
After World War II ended, the Drill Hall was replaced by a new building and the original was used by the Masterton Amateur Theatrical Society until 1979. It was demolished in 1981.
Today the car park of Waiata House sits where the Drill Hall once stood. Despite it surviving for almost 100 years, very few photographs of the hall remain.
Fielding and 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. WBS was the first organisation to pledge funding for the project, followed by Masterton District Council’s Masterton Arts Fund and property developer and builder David Borman.
Fielding and Frances were inspired by the Remutaka Crossing Memorial, designed by Wairarapa artist Niko Thomsen. On request from the historians, Thomsen completed the silhouette designs for the soldier and horse – which were incorporated into the memorial layout by Sign Factory manager Matthew Bain.
Various organisations and individuals assisted with building the memorial, including Calibre Consulting, Graham McClymont, Tick to Dig, Higgins Contractors, and stonemason Mike Dunn. Bain was the project manager for the site, and Borman also provided building assistance.
“It was a network of local people and local knowledge that allowed the threads to come together,” Frances said.
Now it has been completed, what do the two historians think of the memorial?
“The idea with this type of memorial is to get away from a slab of stone or concrete,” Fielding said.
“What I was trying to do here, and I think we have succeeded, is to produce something visually interesting, that it hits you immediately.”
“The figures look good, the sign looks good, it has enough information without going into screeds,” Frances added.
“If someone stops at the sign, reads it in a minute or two, looks at the figures and moves on, they have done what we hoped the monument would do. They have looked at it, thought about it and learned something.”