A Neoclassical Gem for a Grieving Nation: Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
April 18, 2021 Updated: April 19, 2021

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 Honorakin to a graveyard for all those who have fallenand 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.”

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Auckland War Memorial Museum. (Ricardo Barata/Shutterstock)
Auckland,,New,Zealand,-,January,30,,2019:,Inscription,With,Flowers
Traditionally, the ANZAC Day dawn service concludes with the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen,” which is inscribed on the above plaque: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old/ Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn/ At the going down of the sun and in the morning/ We will remember them.” (Dan Campbell/Shutterstock)
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The Auckland Cenotaph is a replica of Sir Edwin Luyten’s design of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. The blueprints for the London Cenotaph were expensive, so one of the Auckland architects spent hours patiently watching movie theater newsreels, waiting for the London Cenotaph to appear, and sketching the design. (ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)
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An inscription on the Auckland Cenotaph. (Ricardo Barata/Shutterstock)
ANZAC Day
ANZAC Day: Every year on April 25, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate their fellow countrymen who died at war. In Auckland, New Zealand, soldiers gather for the dawn service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. (Auckland War Memorial Museum-Tamaki Paenga Hira)
Anzac Day Commemorated In New Zealand
People surround the Cenotaph for the Dawn Service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on April 25, 2017. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Anzac Day Commemorated In New Zealand
A veteran watches the dawn service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on April 25, 2017. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Anzac Day Commemorated In New Zealand
Poppies are placed on the Cenotaph following the dawn service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on April 25, 2017. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Auckland,,New,Zealand,-,April,07,,2018:,War,Memorial,Museum
On April 25, 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in Turkey. For eight months, they fought fiercely against the Ottomans, who were Germany’s allies. (Ricardo Barata/Shutterstock)
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Scenes from World War I run along the frieze at the top of the façade on the Auckland War Memorial Museum. (Bjankuloski06en/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Auckland,,New,Zealand,-5,Aug,2018-,View,Of,The,Landmark
Neoclassical architecture and native art can be seen throughout the Auckland War Memorial Museum. In the center, a frieze decorated with repeating Koru, an unfurling silver fern frond, can be seen. The silver fern is a New Zealand native and a motif that is traditionally used in Maori art to represent peace, growth, and strength. (EQRoy/Shutterstock)
Auckland,,New,Zealand,-5,Aug,2018-,View,Of,The,Landmark
The leadlight ceiling in the Auckland War Memorial Museum represents the coats of arms of all British dominions and colonies during World War I. (EQRoy/Shutterstock)
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The stained glass in the World War Two Hall of Memories commemorates New Zealanders not represented in the memorial, such as nurses, and women who served in the Navy, Army, and Air Force. Also included are the elderly, women, and children who stayed at home. (ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)