Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Monday, June 18, 2012
The National War Memorial Carillon
The Bells of Our City
The National War Memorial Carillon is getting
a facelift for its half-century, and with it perhaps a revival of local
When it was being built its 49 bells were
ranked with the world’s best, alongside the carillons of New York and Ottawa.
In 1936, four years after its opening, the Radio Record,
predecessor of The Listener, reported it failed to be
a national memorial, it failed to be a city memorial, it conferred its benefits
solely on a few people at the foot of Mount Cook.
The writer must have been upwind. I recall
hearing the bells clearly across in Kelburn of a Sunday during my student
sixties. We did not appreciate it either, our auscultatory faculties clouded by
the aftermath of eight ounce beer quaffing contests.
It has had to wait until last year for an
architectural student, Stuart Gardyne, to sing the Carillon’s praises, in his
Wellington city survey of architecture between the wars. He finds it an
exemplary concrete and stone structure with faultless proportions and an
elegant and self-assured effect. He rates it ahead of its companion piece, the
museum and art gallery.
When it was built the Carillon towered over
Wellington, its 50 metres a good 13 metres higher than anything else. Even so,
it was seven metres shorter than the original prizewinning plans of architects
Gummer and Ford, and it fell four bells short of the original concept. Reasons
of economy reduced the memorial, museum and gallery by a third.
Things had begun well in 1919, the
Government approving with ‘not a single voice of dissent’ £100,000 for the
memorial to 17,000 dead soldiers.
Dissent about its citing caused the project
to be shelved, its vote reduced by three zeros to £100 in 1921.
The formation and superb fund-raising of the
Wellington War Memorial Carillon Society in 1926 revived the scheme and by 1929
the sky was once more the limit. Horizontally the idea was to landscape a
broad, tree-lined boulevard all the way to Courtenay Place.
The memorial pamphlet hailed the Carillon as
the ‘greatest instrument in existence for the cultivation of the folk-song and
national and religious airs’ which would ‘rekindle among New Zealanders the
love of old England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales and of their own land, and
the ideals for which so many New Zealanders died – the triumph of right over
wrong, the establishment of peace and goodwill among men.’
This was not quite to be, but the Turnbull
librarian, Johannes Andersen, wrote a magnificent dedication ode for its Anzac
Day launching. One of the 13 stanzas reads:
Death has sown the war-fields,
Yours the harvest-home –
Passchendaele and Cambrai,
Baghdad and Bapaume;
Not a name but treasure
Now to memory yields –
Suvla Bay and Jutland,
Flers and Flanders Fields.
This ode could stand reviving.
Gardyne suggests Gummer and Ford’s
assistant, Gordon Wilson, may have designed the Carillon. Wilson was government
architect when Gummer and Ford were called back to design the Hall of Memories,
finished in 1964, commemorating 26,800 New Zealanders killed in South Africa,
the Great Wars and Korea, and those men and women who served in these wars.
It is a chaste memorial of white Ashburton
stone, with suitable plaques, flags, inscriptions and heraldic details, leading
up to a Lyndon Smith bronze statue of mother and two children, holding the
family together while husband and sons serve abroad.
Without are inscribed Lawrence Binyon’s
words: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of
the sun and in the morning We will remember them.