Topic: Tauranga WWI Memorial Stone (2015)

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In October 2015 the WW100 Tauranga Committee contributed a Memorial Stone to the New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company Memorial Wall project in remembrance of the Tauranga men who served with the Tunnellers during the First World War. Photos: Fiona Kean.

The memorial stone is a large piece of obsidian with a plaque attached and was organised by the WW100 Tauranga Committee with help from Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby.

Tauranga WWI Memorial Stone (2015)

The people in the photograph in front of the Tauranga Memorial Gates are Des Anderson – President of the 6th Hauraki Association & WW100 Tauranga Committee Member, Heather McLean WW100 Committee Member, and Peter Moss – Mount Maunganui RSA and President WW100 Tauranga.

The obsidian is thought to have originally come from Mayor Island. It was found on the Otumoetai foreshore (obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass that forms when molten rock cools rapidly). In days past, it was prized for its use in cutting and scraping. The Māori name was matā, and obsidian from Mayor Island (Tūhua) was known as matā tūhua. Te Whānau A Tauwhao consider themselves the guardians of the island’s resources and prohibit the unauthorised removal of the jet black glassy stone.

Tauranga WWI Memorial Stone (2015)

The obsidian used for the Tunnelling Company memorial wall was blessed at the same time as other items from the Otumoetai Pa site were deposited at the Tauranga museum storage facility.

The matā tūhua is a very special and fitting piece to remember the Tauranga men who served with the NZ Tunnellers. These include Tauranga's Sapper Michael Tobin who is believed to be the first NZEF soldier to die on the Western Front. He was a Public Works miner. Although Tobin is listed on the Memorial Gates as having died in 1915, before the Tunnellers arrived in France, he actually died on 15 April 1916.

Michael Tobin was reported as leaving Tauranga for Avondale with Tunnellers 4/1640 Thomas Charles Tomsett, Tauranga Borough Council Blacksmith; 4/1619 Harold Higgins Te Puke Public Works Department Miner; 4/1224 Lt John Dudley Holmes Civil & Mechanical Engineer and 4/1636 James Shea, born in Tasmania and working in Matata as an Engine-Driver.

The stone provides a remembrance rock for these men and others from this area who would join them as Tunnellers. It was created in response to a call from Waihi Heritage Vision for the New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company Memorial Wall which will be built in time for a dedication on Friday 22 January 2016. The New Zealand Governor General will attend the dedication. The Memorial Wall will be placed directly behind the New Zealand Tunnelling Company main sculpture.

Places as well as individuals who have links with the Tun Coy story have been asked to contribute a named rock. The wording on the plaque is up to individuals and contributing organisations. Preferably, the rock should have a resonance with the tunnellers, for example have been taken from a quarry/river bed/mine etc which relates to the men from that area.
Waihi Heritage Vision currently has received rocks from Ireland, the Cook Islands and France. Indications are that rocks from other areas and countries are on their way. 

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Tauranga WWI Memorial Stone (2015)