The Ōhinehou / Lyttelton War Memorial may be the most often moved cenotaph in the country. Originally called the Fallen Soldiers Memorial, it was built in 1923, when many similar memorials were being erected nationwide as New Zealanders sought to pay respect to those who had lost their lives in World War I. The ‘Great War’ was sometimes referred to as the ‘war to end all wars’; a well intentioned idealistic phrase originally coined by H G Wells. The slogan came to have a tragic irony given that World War I sowed the seeds for World War II, which resulted in the greatest loss of life of any conflict in history.
The 7.9 metre tall cenotaph was designed by Reverend Canon Coates, vicar of Holy Trinity from 1891 to 1913. With a base of Halswell bluestone and the main body made of locally quarried Rāpaki stone, it features six Scotch granite panels bearing the names of Lytteltonians who lost their lives in war. The two wreaths and crosses on the faces of the structure were carved by Mr James Hood.
The Memorial was officially unveiled in front of a crowd of about 2000 by Lord Jellicoe, Governor General (formerly British Admiral of the Fleet, who commanded the Royal Navy at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916). The parade was led by the Lyttelton Marine Band and along with many other dignitaries in attendance were Major General Sir Andrew Russell, Commander of the New Zealand Division on the Western Front, and Minister of Defence Sir Heaton Rhodes (you can read about this highly regarded man and the Marine Band in earlier posts).
Erected at the intersection of Oxford and London streets in front of the Lyttelton Borough Council building the location soon proved to be problematic (the monolithic 1875 Lyttelton Borough School, demolished in 1941, is also visible in the top left of the picture). As motor vehicle traffic increased in the late 1920s and early 1930s it became a hazard and the decision was taken to move it to the small park at the eastern end of Simeon Quay.
The second photograph shows a well attended ANZAC Day parade in 1962 on Simeon Quay, bathed in some welcome sunshine. Tucked away as it was here, below the spur of the Bridle Path ridge, there were issues – it was mostly shady and caught the bitter easterly and southerly winds. As port activity and Lyttelton’s population increased and Simeon Quay saw more traffic, access also became a problem, especially parking for elderly visitors. By the mid nineties, attendance was limited to just a few dozen people each year.
The earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 caused significant damage to the structure; it was protected for several years before the opportunity to relocate and repair it became available with the development of Albion Square on the corner of London and Canterbury streets. Christchurch City Council, having bought the site of the old Albion Hotel in 2012, helped lead the creation of this multi-use civic space with the Lyttelton Community Board, in consultation with the Lyttelton community and the RSA.
Albion Square was officially opened in November 2014 to coincide with the centenary of New Zealand’s entry into World War I. The main entrance through the carved waharoa (gateway) was designed in consultation with Ngati Wheke; called Ōhinehouroko (the name of the earliest Māori Pa site in the town area), it can be translated as ‘establishing a place of new peacefulness’. The restored Cenotaph graces the quieter upper lawn, alongside a children’s play area, seating and community art works.