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Business backs Wanganui memorial
A chance encounter on the morning after Anzac Day 2010 sparked Jim Clarke into leading the way to a new memorial to the 376 Wanganui soliders killed in World War 2.
The Wanganui RSA member was at the city’s Remembrance Lawn early that day to prepare the 376 crosses – each of which bore the name of one of the dead - for storage. Since 1966 the crosses – which had made by cobbers and colleagues of the dead – had been displayed over the Anzac Day period on the lawn beside the War Memorial Hall.
An American tourist came along and said to him: “Is this the way you show your gratitude to these brave men and women.?” He said yes, but before he could elaborate, she continued: “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, these men and women should have their names etched in stone”. And she walked away.
Jim Clarke could see there was a lot of merit in what she had said, and felt this was the time to do something about it.
The crosses were showing signs of wear and needed refurbishing (the estimated cost was close to $4000). It was a labour-intensive job each year to place and return them to storage. It was also a hard task for the RSA’s women’s section to place a poppy on each cross. At Anzac Day 2009 the dedicated few who placed the crosses had discussed the possibility of a permanent memorial.
“We all knew it would be quite a task and the cost could be prohibitive,” says Clarke. “Even before this, it had been mentioned by others that something had to be done. Another factor was now emerging. The guys who were placing the crosses were also getting older and wearing out, and we knew there was no back-up crew.”
So, Jim Clarke was receptive to the American’s comments: “It was long overdue. A permanent memorial could be achieved for these men and women by Anzac Day 2011. My mind was made up, even if I had to pay for it myself.”
The idea of a permanent memorial was discussed by the group of vets who placed the crosses, and. within a few days, they had the go-ahead to investigate the cost.
Clarke came back with a design and it was agreed he should drive the project over the next 10 months Next he sought prices for black, granite panels. Karen, of Wanganui Headstones, responded by telling him she had been waiting for this opportunity for years: “Now, I can do something for the RSA. They did so much for my father many years ago, and now I can say thank you by trying to get as low a price for you as possible.”
The price for the plaques was $4190. Clarke had expected they would be $10,000-plus. He met a similar response at Emmetts Precast Concrete Division about the support wall for the plaques. It was clear that local businesses were prepared to get behind the project.
The black granite panels – seven for the names and one for the RSA badge – were ordered from China. The 376 names were transferred from the Book of Remembrance into a computer, attended by multiple proof-reading checks. The plaques arrived in early November.
By the end of November, the documents seeking consent were ready to go to the Wanganui District Council. The councillors approved the memorial with the proviso the Historic Place Trust was informed, underground services were checked, a geological survey was done, and a letter of approval was obtained from the architects.
Approval was eventually confirmed on January 31, and the next day, Emmetts had the final requirements for two concrete components to be ready by the end of March.
Jim Clarke believes two factors “really helped our cause”. Architect Eddie Belchambers endorsed the design, material choice and site, and commended the RSA on its approach and detailed consideration to the project. Alison Dangerfield, the Historic Places Trust’s chief architectural adviser, also endorsed the design and site, and offered advice and recommendations.
Former Wanganui RSA secretary-manager Bill Campbell agreed to refurbish 44 crosses, naming the places where those on the plaques died. These crosses will be displayed next to the memorial every Anzac Day period.
The concrete support wall was poured on March 3. followed a week later by the foundation slab. Both components looked really good. “The surface finish was exactly as we wanted. We could not have wished for better.”
Jim Clarke says that for the rest of March, he seemed to be attending to something every day. Then into April, “there was a real sense of urgency”.
The weather co-operated for the unveiling on April 15 – 10 months after getting the project off the ground. The formal ceremony was followed by a gathering and luncheon at the RSA clubrooms. However, the rain did come on Anzac Day.
“It was a pity really as I particularly wanted to see the memorial being looked at mainly by the relatives of those whose names were on those black granite plaques,” he says. “The memorial looked just as I had envisioned it right from the start – with 44 crosses in place and more than 300 small flax crosses, each having a sprig of fern and a poppy, adorning the concrete immediately in front of the plaques. I collected those small crosses and dried them, hoping that they can be used again in 2012.”
But Jim Clarke had yet one more surprise in store. No invoice arrived from Emmetts for the cost of the concrete components, transportation and crane usage, so he went to check. He was told by Adrian there was no charge.
“I thought he was joking. We had a wee discussion about it and he was very adamant there was definitely no charge, and Emmetts was giving the RSA the two components.
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