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The Auckland War Memorial Museum was constructed in the 1920s with the aid of subscriptions raised by Aucklanders in remembrance of their war dead. In front of the building is the consecrated Court of Honour and the Auckland Cenotaph.
The original Cenotaph, at Whitehall in London, was built out of Portland stone for the first anniversary of the Armistice. Designed by Sir Edwin Luytens, it is a stark, empty tomb on a pedestal without any decoration or religious symbols. Inscribed to "The Glorious Dead", it features the dates MCMXIV (1914) and MCMXVIII (1918).
The cenotaph symbolised the grief of an empire unable to bring home their war dead. Plans for the replica cenotaph in Auckland were sketched from cinema newsreels because copies of the blueprints for the original were too expensive. As noted by the Museum's architects, Grierson, Aimer and Draffin:
The first terrace level...is arranged as a Court of Honour in which space would stand a permanent cenotaph modelled on the noted original in Whitehall, thus recognising the bonds of Empire cemented during the World War. The unity would be still further emphasised by placing within the wreath of the North end of the cenotaph a large bronze replica of that splendid medallion issued by the Imperial Authorities to the next of kin of those who gave their lives in the great struggle.*
Auckland War Memorial Museum and the Auckland Cenotaph were officially opened on 28 November 1929. They are places of remembrance for families and returned service personnel who want to honour their loved ones and fallen comrades.
Function and Use
The Auckland cenotaph has been at the centre of Anzac Day and other commemorative events since 1930. Numerous dignitaries and heads of state have lain wreaths on the cenotaph.
Representing those who never returned, the cenotaph sits on consecrated (holy) ground. As its inscription reads, people should "tread not upon it except in reverence". Thus we ask that the public respect the sanctity of the cenotaph and Court of Honour; they are places reserved for commemorative activities only.
As a memorial to Auckland’s war dead, most of whom still lie overseas, the space is akin to a cemetery site and should be treated just as you would treat the gravestone of a loved one.
* Design brief for proposed Auckland War Memorial Museum: Grierson, Aimer and Draffin's written submission to accompany drawings. Grierson, Aimer & Draffin. 1922. MUS-2009-20-1-9.
Image at right: [Auckland War Memorial Museum cenotaph]. 1920s. PH-ALB-458-2. No known copyright restrictions.