Panels explain memorial oaks

Former Waitaki mayor Alex Familton unveils an information panel at the North Otago memorial oaks...
Former Waitaki mayor Alex Familton unveils an information panel at the North Otago memorial oaks war memorial in Oamaru yesterday. Photo by Andrew Ashton.
The first of seven new information panels intended to bring more attention to what is believed to be New Zealand's largest war memorial was unveiled yesterday in Oamaru.

More than 400 oaks were planted across North Otago in 1919 as a memorial to the region's fallen soldiers and wooden crosses placed with them. Memorial Oaks Committee secretary-treasurer Rob Douglas said the information panel revealed beside the tree dedicated to Victoria Cross recipient Donald Forrester Brown would help keep the sacrifice of local soldiers in the public mind during the approach to the centenary of World War 1.

''Since the oak trees can be found on the roads from Oamaru to Kurow, Oamaru to Livingstone, Maheno to Windsor, and Oamaru to Katiki, it can justly be said that this is the largest war memorial in New Zealand.''

Mr Douglas said the information panel was funded by the Colin Jones Trust, but a $7000 grant received from the Lottery Grants Board in July would also be used to erect six more panels across North Otago. The Lottery grant would also be used to restore deteriorating name plaques on memorial oaks, many of which are planted on the southern side of Oamaru, on Severn St.

Although about 220 trees remain, Mr Douglas added that the committee would try to replace lost trees ''where appropriate''.

However, over the years records had been lost and it had not always been easy to replace dedicated trees, he said.

This week, the Hampden Presbyterian Church Steering Group was also given a Lottery grant of $3005 for an exhibition and play based on local WW1 experiences, as part of the latest Lottery Grants Board funding round aimed at supporting WW1 commemorative projects.

The New Zealand Lottery Grants Board has set aside over $17 million to fund such community initiatives and projects, which will take place from 2014 to 2018.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said she was pleased to see projects in the wider electorate had also benefited from grants in the latest funding round.

Mrs Dean said Alexandra's Central Stories museum received $9976 for an exhibition of WW1-related stories, while the Warbirds over Wanaka Community Trust has received $43,250 to provide a free public aviation show of WW1 planes complete with commentary and land-based displays.

Applications for the final funding round would close on November 20, with decisions announced in April 2014, and Mrs Dean said she would encourage local community groups to put forward their project proposals before the deadline.

''Communities around New Zealand are all coming together to commemorate the sacrifice our nation made almost 100 years ago. The commemorations will provide an opportunity for us all to reflect on World War 1's impact on our families, our character, our identity and our sense of place in the world.''


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