WHY A FRENCH MEMORIAL IN NEW ZEALAND ?
The First World War was a major traumatic experience for France, New Zealand and the entire world. More than 100,000 New Zealand men served overseas. A total of 18,500 New Zealanders were killed or died because of the war, 12,500 of them on the Western Front. More than 7,000 bodies were never repatriated.
On its side, by the end of the war, France had mobilised more than 8 million men, of which about 1 400 000 were killed and 4,25 million wounded. A large swath of the North East part of the country was utterly destroyed, and an entire generation had been lost.
But the war was also an occasion for people of different nationalities to meet and exchange, and for countries to forge bonds that would last beyond the atrocities.
During the summer of 2012, in view of the commemoration of the beginning of the First World War, New Zealand authorities announced the creation of a new precinct, the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, where foreign countries would also be invited to build their own memorial. The park is located just above the Arras Tunnel, named after the French city where New Zealand tunnellers excavated a network of galleries in preparation for the 1917 Battle of Arras.
The invitation was formally confirmed by a June 2014 letter from the New Zealand Minister for Culture and Heritage inviting France to erect a monument in the park, following the official visit of the French Secretary of State for Veterans and Remembrance in November 2013. The official response from France came in October 2014, proposing that the French memorial, built with the financial support of the French Ministry for Defence, would be inaugurated in 2018. Further meetings and exchanges of letters confirmed that a creative dialogue between representatives of the two countries ought to be a priority in relation to the design of the monument. This arises from the strong belief that a memorial representing the relation between the two nations should have its main characteristics and purpose designed collectively, through a collaboration uniting French and New Zealand representatives from civil society.
"Known at the time as the Great War and later as the ‘war to end all wars’, the First World War is the most traumatic event in New Zealand’s history. It involved a national effort unprecedented at that time, and it proved more costly, in terms of lives lost, than any other war New Zealand has fought. Of the 104,000 men and women who left New Zealand’s shores to take part in the war, nearly one in five did not return – a huge price for a country that at the time had just under a million inhabitants. The war had a far-reaching impact on New Zealand’s society and culture, but it also enhanced New Zealand’s sense of identity within the British Empire." (The Encyclopedia of New Zealand)