War Memorials and Plaques at St Aidan’s Church

St Aidan's Church War Memorial Cross. Anzac Day 25 April 2024

For Anzac Day, an interesting article by John Priestley on the history of the war memorial cross and plaques at St Aidan’s Church

As Anzac Day 2019 approaches, readers might be interested in the effect which two global conflicts had on the fabric and grounds of St Aidan’s Church.

The impressive granite war memorial standing just inside the Remuera Road boundary of St Aidan’s has an interesting history. On it are inscribed the names of 35 men who were killed in the First World War (1914-1918). Shortly after the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), 48 further names were added. All the names are carved into three sides of the base of the cross – the Second World War names being below those of the First War.

The memorial, consistent with the Celtic saint, St Aidan, is a Celtic cross constructed from Australian granite approximately 19 feet (5.79 metres) high. Affixed to the cross in a vertical position is a large bronze replica of a sword (similar in style to a Crusader sword).


Sy Aidan's Church War memorial cross Anzac Day 25 April 2024

Sy Aidan's Church War memorial cross Anzac Day 25 April 2024

Sy Aidan's Church War memorial cross Anzac Day 25 April 2024

The church grounds were very different when the memorial cross was designed and constructed in the early 1920s. The current hall did not exist. A path curved down to the north door of the church from Remuera Road. There were planted gardens. The memorial cross was erected on a scoria rock base approximately 10 metres from the wall of the church. Additionally, large palm trees were planted, donated by Sir Edwin Mitchelson, former mayor of Auckland, member of parliament, and president of the Auckland Racing Club, the grounds of which had been planted with similar palms.

When the new church hall was constructed in 1967, the entire cross was moved closer to Remuera Road. In the late 1970s, the cross was rotated through 90 degrees to its current position and the inscribed names were cleaned and restored.

Around 1920 the vestry set up a committee to decide what names would be eligible for inscription on the memorial. The final criteria were men of the parish who had died in the war or those who had subsequently died of wounds, who were either actual members of St Aidan’s or the unmarried son of a member of the church at the date of death. The specific link with St Aidan’s might explain why the memorial, although by far the largest and grandest in the Remuera district, has not in recent times been the site of public Anzac Day commemorations. Many of the names inscribed on the memorial appear on other memorials in schools and halls in Auckland, and of course on the interior wall of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The memorial cross was unveiled by New Zealand’s then Governor-General, Lord Jellicoe, on 23 April 1922. Lord Jellicoe as an Admiral commanded the Royal Navy fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, fought in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark. Many British newspapers were disappointed by the outcome of the Battle of Jutland, which they considered was not a naval triumph like the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. The British fleet had lost more ships than the German High Seas fleet, largely because the new class of battle cruisers carried insufficient armour to prevent exploding German shells from detonating the magazines. Nonetheless, Lord Jellicoe, both then and now, can be regarded as a hero, since the outcome of Jutland was that the German fleet disengaged and sailed back to port, never again to emerge.

23rd of April 1922 was a Sunday. Lord and Lady Jellicoe attended the service at St Aidan’s on that day. The Auckland Star described the church as “filled to overflowing”. The preacher was the Bishop of Auckland, the Right Rev Dr A W Averill. He concluded his sermon by saying:

This morning we are specially commemorating St Aidan’s noble sons and thanking God for their devotion and faithfulness unto death, and may the lych gate and memorial cross so suitable as memorials ever remind the present and future generations of the price for their freedom.

The Governor-General, unveiling both the memorial cross and the lych gate, said:

Alas, they are not unique in their signification, for throughout the length and breadth of this Dominion countless memorials have been erected and unveiled to the memory of those who in the call of duty and in a righteous cause came to the assistance of the Empire in the great war for the preservation of civilisation and the protection of the weak.

The lych gate on the Remuera Road-Ascot Avenue corner is an unusual design and is said to be a near copy of an early 18th century lych gate at St George’s Church Clun in Shropshire. Our lych gate was funded by the Hudson family in memory of Lieutenant Evan Gibb Hudson, whose name appears on a brass plaque on the roof beam. The plaque refers to both Lieutenant Hudson “and those others who gave their lives in the Great War for civilisation…. Their name liveth forever more”.

For many years a lych gate fund appeared in the annual St Aidan’s financial statement. Approximately 15 years ago, the capital of that account was amalgamated with St Aidan’s funds, the parish, of course, assuming the obligation to maintain the lych gate.

During the tenure of the Rev Jo Kelly-Moore, the two gates were removed from their hinges and disappeared. They were never recovered and one must wonder who the perpetrator of such a targeted theft might be. Replica gates were eventually manufactured and the lych gate generally restored and repaired.

Vice-regal association with St Aidan’s continued after the Second World War. The eight stained glass windows on the north wall of the church honour both men who were killed during the Second World War and the contribution of women in the war effort.

The first four windows were unveiled by the then Bishop of Auckland, the Right Rev R J Simkin, in December 1947. On Anzac Day 1949, the Governor-General, Sir Bernard Freyberg VC, who commanded the New Zealand Division throughout the Second World War except when he was commanding larger Army formations, unveiled the other four windows. The plaque marking the windows, immediately beside the door leading from the church into the gathering area, states:

These four windows are a thank-offering to Almighty God for his mercies during the Second World War and in honoured memory of the men of this parish who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom and whose names are inscribed on the cross in the churchyard.

A significant memorial inside the church is the hanging red-globed sanctuary lamp. This memorial was gifted by Mrs Stapleton-Cotton, whose son Henry was a server at St Aidan’s. Henry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his part in bomber operations over Germany. He was killed in action in July 1942 whilst serving with the Royal Air Force in the eastern Mediterranean, and is buried in a war cemetery in Haifa. Mrs Cotton is said to have melted down her jewellery and incorporated the resulting gold and precious stones in a memorial plaque. It appears this plaque was subsequently stolen. A replacement brass plaque, inscribed with Pilot Officer Cotton’s name, and carrying the RAF badge, is fixed to the church wall immediately to the right of the door leading from the sanctuary into the vestry.

There are other plaques and memorials inside the church commemorating parishioners in both World Wars. On the back wall of the church is a Roll of Honour to the St Aidan’s Scout Group, listing 66 names of former scouts who fought in the Second World War, of whom four were killed. The wooden font cover, seldom used now but capable of being raised and lowered on a chain, was dedicated by Bishop Averill in April 1919 in memory of Lieutenant Paul Clark.

Other brass memorial plaques are grouped together on the wall immediately behind the pews against the south wall of the church. These plaques memorialise H J Innes-Walker, J S Dagg, E W Boucher, A F Boucher, and G S De M Cheeseman, all of whom who were in the Army during the First World War and who, with the exception of Major Cheeseman, were killed in action or died on active service. The ages of these soldiers at their deaths range from 23 to 25. Major Cheeseman, wounded at Gallipoli, who survived the war, died in 1927 at the relatively early age of 34.

Captain H J I Walker AWNS_19150506_48_2

Innes-Walker medallion found in Belgium

A poignant story surrounds the death of Henry Innes-Walker. Henry had been a distinguished student at King’s College, which then occupied the site on Remuera Road where King’s School now is. When he left school, he was commissioned into the Territorial Army and subsequently sailed to Britain, where he was commissioned into the Regular Army as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. This regiment was part of the British Expeditionary Force engaged in France at the outset of the war.

On 25 April 1915, the same day as the Gallipoli landings, Captain Innes-Walker was fatally wounded in his stomach at the First battle of Ypres during an early morning attack on the German lines. His dead body was seen in a shell crater but was never retrieved. In 2016, over a century after his death, his body was uncovered during the course of an archaeological dig in Belgium and was identified. He was re-buried with full military honours at a war cemetery in Belgium in the presence of family members.

It is not possible in this article to deal with the war records of the many names inscribed on the memorial cross and inside the church. However, military records and details can be retrieved from the very helpful website of the Auckland War Memorial Museum (www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online/cenotaph/search).

These various memorials at St Aidan’s were of huge importance to parishioners and bereaved families. They remain as history amongst us.

John Priestley

Footnote: In preparing this article I have been helped in part by A Time to Remember, T R Everall (1980); From Royal Mail to e-mail, Angela Caughey (2005); St Aidan’s Church. Memorials, Remuera, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/st-aidans-church-memorialsremuera;

and the Papers Past website containing reports of the 1922 dedication service. A Google search will lead to many pages and videos relating to the discovery of Captain Innes-Walker’s remains in 2016 and burial in 2018.