On April 25, 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. Their mission was to capture the Dardanelles, a strait in the northwest of the country, from the Ottomans, who were Germany’s allies.
For over eight months, soldiers on both sides suffered greatly: 87,000 Ottoman Turks and 44,000 Allied forces, including 8,500 Australians and 2,779 New Zealanders, were killed. One in six of the New Zealanders sent to fight in Gallipoli died in battle.
Today, April 25 is ANZAC Day, a national day of mourning for Australians and New Zealanders to gather and commemorate their fellow countrymen who died to ensure peace for future generations. In New Zealand, one of the ways people honor their war heroes is by gathering for dawn services, the time when ANZAC troops landed in Gallipoli. The ceremonies held throughout the country are based on a traditional military funeral. In central Auckland, people gather outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum on the consecrated ground of the Court of Honor—akin to a graveyard for all those who have fallen—and the Cenotaph, an empty tomb.
Originally, the Auckland War Memorial Museum was created in 1929 to honor those who died in World War I, but now it’s a monument to all New Zealanders who have lost their lives in conflicts.
The People’s Memorial
The Auckland War Memorial Museum was built for the people by the people. The building funds came from Aucklanders who donated after World War I in remembrance of their war dead.
In 1922, the Royal Institute of British Architects ran a competition for the building design, and the Auckland firm Grierson, Aimer, and Draffin won. The winning neoclassical design echoes a Greek or Roman temple. The building’s colonnades are nearly an exact copy of the Parthenon’s in Greece.
The original building has been extended twice, first in the 1950s and then more recently over the past two decades.
The decorations evoke an appreciation of patriotic valor. On the original building’s façade, scenes from World War I run along a frieze. And engraved above each window are battles where New Zealanders once fought.
And above the columns, engraved on the north façade entablature, is an excerpt from the profound funeral oration by the ancient Greek statesman Pericles, which was part of the annual public funeral for the dead of the Peloponnesian War. It states:
“The whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men. They are commemorated not only by columns and inscriptions in their own country. But in foreign lands also by memorials graven not on stone, but on the hearts of men.”