NZ Railways at war

Page 6 – Railways war memorials

Railway workers honoured the service and sacrifice of their colleagues in numerous ways, both during and after the war. Mostly these efforts mirrored commemorations in the wider public service, which acknowledged the fallen through messages of sympathy and motions of condolence, rolls of honour in official publications, obituaries published in unofficial journals, honour boards made of timber or stone, and a memorial bell at the National War Memorial. There were, however, two particularly distinctive railway memorials: a commemorative flagpole and a steam locomotive.

The first of these memorials was constructed relatively early in the war. On the first Anzac Day in 1916 – by when, it was claimed, up to 2000 New Zealand Railways (NZR) staff had enlisted and at least 37 had died – a memorial flagpole was unveiled outside the Petone railway station and workshops. Flags were exchanged with Hornsby railway workshops in New South Wales, where a similar ceremony took place. Made from kauri and Australian hardwood, the Petone flagpole was intended to symbolise ‘the unity of Australian and New Zealand railwaymen in peace and war’.

Some years after the war came a more unusual, mobile and thoroughly utilitarian memorial – the Passchendaele steam locomotive. Built in 1915, AB 608 was the first of 18 locomotives of this type constructed at the Addington workshops during the war. In 1925 it was given the name Passchendaele by Railways Minister Gordon Coates, himself a decorated war veteran, and fitted with nameplates ‘in memory of those members of the New Zealand Railways who fell in the Great War’. AB 608 was retired in 1967, but was recently restored at Paekākāriki in time to take part in First World War centenary commemorations.