Residents fight for memorial

ALANA DIXON
Last updated 15:53 23/04/2012
Southern war memorials
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
NEW: The Katea War Memorial was rebuilt from scratch.

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Once, a memorial adorned with a soldier stood at the intersection of Hunt Rd and Katea Rd. On the hill overlooking it was a schoolhouse, and on the corner opposite was the Katea Hall.

Just a wee way down the gravel road, Tucks Creek still meanders under a bridge on its way to the Owaka River.

But the school and the hall are no longer there, and when talk about pulling down the ageing memorial started, locals were determined the township would not lose that as well.

Gavin Landreth's family have farmed at Katea for four generations.

Although the face of the district has changed – farms are bigger now, with most of the houses that once sat on the hillside surrounding the memorial torn down, and the nearby cheese factory once so integral to Katea's livelihood no longer in use – it was still important for people in the area to have their own memorial.

"People certainly didn't want to have just one in the area at Owaka. Otherwise, where's Katea?" he said. "We wanted to keep a memorial for the Katea people, in Katea."

One of those people was his grandmother's brother, Tom Fraser. The only son of Thomas and Robina, of Cherry Farm in Katea, Tom's strapping farm-boy frame attracted some unwanted attention.

"He went to war when he was just 16," Gavin said. "He got presented with a white feather. He was a big, strong lad, and they thought he was of age ... rather than be thought of as a coward, he went to war."

On November 15, 1916, Private Tom Fraser left New Zealand as a member of D Company in the 19th Reinforcements, Otago Infantry Battalion.

Not quite a year later, he – like so many others – fell at Ypres, Belgium. He died on October 4, 1917.

His name was one of those engraved on both the original and new memorials, alongside WH Banfield, HW Blackie, and TCW Henderson, who also died in World War I, as well as that of RJ Taylor, who lost his life in World War II.

Clutha District Council communications co-ordinator Jamie Shaw said the memorial at Katea was one of the last to come under the council's restoration project of war memorials throughout the district, which began in 2006. The council restored 30 memorials, including the total replacement of those that stood at both Katea and Kahuika, also near Owaka.

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The total cost of the repairs came to $83,500, about half of which was covered by grants received from the Trusts Charitable Foundation, Otago Community Trust, and Veterans Affairs, while the district council funded the rest.

At the start of the refurbishment project, the Katea memorial was deemed beyond repair, Mr Shaw said. It was disintegrating, he said, and structurally unsound, so it was rebuilt from the ground up by local monumental stonemason Doug Nesbit, at a cost of $17,000.

The soldier that once stood on top of the memorial was donated to the Owaka Museum, while other remnants of the original memorial were buried under its replacement, Mr Shaw said.

The restoration project had a great significance to those in the district, and received very positive feedback, he said.

"Many of our communities were changed significantly due to the loss of young lives during the two world wars. The restoration project strengthened the sense of community in the district, and ensures the tremendous sacrifices made are not forgotten," he said. – Sources: Gavin Fraser, Jamie Shaw from the Clutha District Council, Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database.

KATEA WAR MEMORIAL

The Clutha District Council does not have a record of when the original memorial at Katea was built or unveiled.

The memorial was rebuilt completely, and was unveiled at a rededication ceremony on April 4, 2009. It has the names of four fallen soldiers from World War I and a fifth from World War II on it.

The district council is responsible for the memorial's maintenance.

- The Southland Times

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