Friday, 25 January 2013

The Man and the Memorial

For over 40 years I have passed the WW1 Memorial in the Nell Fisher Reserve (originally known as Civic Park) and been aware of its changing condition.  At times it has looked neglected, the drinking fountain broken, its bowl filled with cement and the lighting disconnected and the glass globe shattered or non-existent.  Former North Shore mayor Paul Titchener noted in his article in 1982 on the monument that “the passing years have not been kind to it" (Titchener, Paul. Beginnings, vol 6, p.44).

When the new Birkenhead Library was built in 2010, the surrounding park was landscaped  and the memorial was expertly restored, creating a revitalised space. Some of this work is described in a Salmond Reed Architects Limited report. Although drinking from the fountain is no longer an option, the globe light has been replaced and it glows through the park trees, highlighted at night, that surround it.

Ref: B0319, Nell Fisher Reserve Memorial, North Auckland Auckland Research Centre
The memorial is built on a block of rough-hewn grey granite, symbolizing strength. The block is grounded on two tiers of concrete steps.  Four columns of polished red granite on each corner represent duty, service, fidelity, and justice -  important values of the time. Four polished black slabs positioned between these columns bear the inscriptions:

'“Greater Love Hath No Man Than This” In memory of all those who served in the great war
To the glory Of God and in honour of those who fought and in memory of those who fighting fell.
To the imperishable memory of the men who gave their lives in the Great war
Their name liveth forevermore
Pro Patria
“The Great War”
1914-1918
Erected by the Citizens of Birkenhead'.

The bronzed olive leaf branches that crown the memorial are emblems of peace, and they hold four victor’s wreaths. These branches in turn support what has been described in the June 1987 N.Z. Architectural & Building Review as an ‘opal globe enclosing an electric light with burns every evening from sunset to midnight’.  This light was considered a part of the Borough Council’s electric lighting scheme for the illumination of the nearby streets.

The designer of the memorial was Frank Finch, a man of many talents who had been a Birkenhead Borough Councilor from 1912-1914 and who took over the role of Birkenhead Town Clerk and Engineer in the late 1920s. A civil engineer by training, he also designed the gardens around the memorial at Highbury, the layout of the park adjacent to the Birkenhead Wharf, and he also produced a scheme for a crossing for the Upper Waitemata Harbour.

Ref: B0717, Frank Rinch, North Auckland Research Centre
In 1994 when I talked to Frank Finch’s daughters Muriel Bliss and Eileen Smith, they spoke with pride of their father’s achievements and it was obvious from their memories of him that he had been a loving father who made the time to build them playhouses, go on holidays in the bush at Birkdale and create shadow art on the candlelit walls of their Birkdale bach. As the centenary of the war approaches, I know how delighted they would be to know that their father’s legacy, the memorial he designed to honor the men of Birkenhead who left to serve in the First World War, has now been listed as a Category A monument, a restored and respected landmark once more.

This blog post has been put together from the following sources, which will be of use to anyone wishing to find out more:
 Author: Colleen Christie, North Auckland Research Centre

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