The top floor of the Museum is dedicated to the memory of fallen soldiers and is known as both the World War I Sanctuary and the World War I Hall of Memories.
New Zealand sent more men to fight in World War I, per head of population, than any other nation. 18,166 New Zealanders died from a country of only one million.
The grieving was made harder for New Zealand families because nearly all those killed were buried overseas. 5,325 New Zealand soldiers – almost a third of all those killed - have no known grave. Families therefore had nowhere to focus their grief and say goodbye to their loved ones.
For this reason, a large number of war memorials were built around New Zealand, which acted as symbolic graveyards for grieving families. But New Zealand was also very proud of the bravery of our diggers and wanted to celebrate their heroism. Thus war memorials came to fill an uneasy dual role, at once glorifying war as heroic and yet bemoaning the waste of human life.
The spectacular stained glass lead light ceiling directly above the entrance foyer shows the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during World War I. From the north east corner clockwise they are: (east wall) Gibraltar, Kenya, South Africa, and New Foundland, (south wall) Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia, (west wall) India, Ceylon, Malaya, and the Straits Settlements, and (north wall) Channel Islands, Fiji, Jamaica and Malta.
Underneath the skylight are golden badges of the units, regiments and corps in which men and women from the Auckland Province served. British badges acknowledge those who joined British units.
On the wall opposite the altar is a world map showing the principal engagements of the war. At the foot and the top of the maps are rows of Coats of Arms of British dominions and colonies, and of the allied nations.
The altar in the World War I Hall of Memories shrine was designed by the architects Grierson, Aimer and Draffin, A bronze wreath of kawakawa leaves, (a symbol of mourning), with olive, poppy and rosemary surmounting a bronze tripod, was designed and executed from the architects’ drawings by the sculptor Richard O. Gross. The inscription reads Kia Mate Toa, meaning ‘be strong in death’. The bronze sculpture sits on a dais of blue Belgian marble (a black marble veined with white). Symbolising remembrance, pots of rosemary have been placed around the walls.
The flags around the shrine represent some of the Allied Nations during World War 1.
The World War I Roll of Honour is engraved in white Sicilian marble slabs on the wall encircling the top floor. The letters have been cut into the face of the marble and inset with bronze leaf. The marble used for the Roll of Honour was imported in rough hewn, unfinished blocks in order to provide employment for New Zealand workers – and save on duty tax.
The Roll of Honour is also kept in book form in the World War I Sanctuary. It is contained in two large leather-bound volumes on either side of the altar, the pages of which are turned daily. The leaves of these volumes are made of vellum. Whereas only surnames and initials were used in the engraved Roll of Honour, the book form contains the Christian name of each man, his regimental number, unit, rank, honours, and next of kin. Major P. B. Greenhough painstakingly handwrote the Roll.
The Roll of Honour lists the names of all the servicemen and women killed who registered in the Auckland Province. Aucklanders who registered in another province will be represented on that province’s war memorial.
The spectacular stained glass lead light ceiling shows the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during World War I.