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Bringing Our Boy Home: the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Its Visitors, and Contemporary War Remembrance in New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-10, 07:05 authored by Phipps, Gareth

In November 2004 the remains of an unknown New Zealand soldier from the First World War were brought home from France and placed in the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior (TUW) outside the National War Memorial (NWM) in Wellington. This was one of the largest ceremonial events ever held in New Zealand, and the entire programme was broadcast live on national television. An estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Wellington to watch his casket make its way from Parliament to its final resting place. Why did the return of the Unknown Warrior, some 90 years after his death, have such an impact on the country, and what is the significance of the TUW for visitors today? The aim of this dissertation is to bring together the material culture of war commemoration with aspects of public memory and meaning-making in an examination of visitor interpretations of the TUW. To achieve this, entries left in the NWM visitor books and onsite survey interviews are analysed in the light of the institutional objectives set out in the design and planning of the TUW, and the political and popular motivations that led to its construction. The view advanced by this dissertation is that visitors draw on individual memory, civil remembrance and national commemoration to construct meanings of the TUW. Their interpretations draw on lived experience and personal connections to form connections with the TUW. These are influenced by the impact of 'grassroots' interest in war remembrance, soldier ancestors and an understanding of the experience of war, public ritual and state involvement in commemoration. This provides a snapshot of contemporary war remembrance in New Zealand.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Museum and Heritage Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Davidson, Lee