The Cenotaph is a memorial to the men and women of Wanganui who died in the First World War (1914 – 1918). The Dawn Parade service is held here each year on the 25th of April. While the idea of the Dawn Parade originated in Australia, Wanganui was the first city in New Zealand to adopt this service in 1936.
The decision to build a war memorial was made in 1919 but there was fierce debate over where to site it. The first proposal was to build a tower on top of Durie Hill but there was an equally strong call for a more central memorial. Both projects went ahead and architects Reginald Ford and Robert Talboys won a design competition for the central Cenotaph memorial.
Local firm Walpole and Patterson constructed the monument from reinforced concrete faced with Coromandel granite. The cross on each of the four faces represents the sacrifice made by the fallen, while the lamp is a symbol of eternal life.
Shell cases were placed beneath the monument containing messages from the then Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Wanganui, and the Wanganui RSA. Other items such as copies of Wanganui newspapers, a set of stamps, coins of the realm and the originals of children’s prize essays from a writing competition about the monument were also included.
The memorial was unveiled on Armistice Day, 11 November 1923, by Colonel Melville, Commanding Officer of the Wellington Military District.