Quid non pro patria: Bridge of Remembrance, 1924

“The most historic bridge in Christchurch”

The iconic stone arch which spans over Cashel Street bridge – linking Cambridge with Oxford Terrace is “a visible symbol” which expresses the gratitude and enshrines the memory of those from Canterbury who took part in the Great War 1914-1918.” [1]

The idea for a bridge was first suggested by a lady in her letter to the Christchurch Press on July 24th, 1919.  She believed that an appropriate memorial should be erected on the Cashel Street bridge “on account of it being the bridge all our soldiers have passed over, therefore the most historic bridge in Christchurch.”  In her view “the design of the stone arch and bridge need not be too ornate. But I sincerely hope they will not omit to hew in rough stone on the arch “The Bridge of Remembrance.” [2]

The Bridge of Remembrance, Cashel Street Bridge, Christchurch. [3]

Press Peace Memorial Survey
Press Peace Memorial Survey enabled subscribers to vote for their favoured memorial. [4]
Her idea was embraced by the general public after the Press conducted a survey to glean ideas from the public.  Out of the nine schemes put forward, hers was overwhelmingly the most popular.

Memorial Controversy

The question of a war memorial had been foremost in the minds of the citizens of Christchurch for a considerable time. Returned soldiers were also keen to see a hall of memories be erected. This was not favoured by some, who banded together under two separate projects; one promoting the Bridge of Remembrance, the other a cenotaph in Cathedral Square. Negotiations with the Citizen’s Committee followed and the scheme for the hall of memories was dropped in favour of the other two projects. [5]

Initially it was difficult to raise finance to fund the memorial. The City Council believed the money for the projects not be raised through taxes but by voluntary effort. Committees were soon formed to begin fund raising and with the City Council’s support, the funding to build the under-structure of the Bridge of Remembrance was raised by 1921.

First Prize £100

A design competition for the bridge was held in 1922 with a first prize of £100 offered. [6] Twenty four entries were accepted. The entry from the Auckland and Wellington architectural firm of Prouse and Gummer was chosen for its beautiful and perfect embodiment of the values the young soldiers fought so valiantly for and gave their lives.

The foundation stone was laid by His Excellency, Admiral of the Navy, Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa, on Anzac Day, April 25th, 1923, following the announcement of a grant of £1000 from the Government in March.[7] The photograph below shows Lord and Lady Jellicoe walking past a guard of honour as they make their way to the bridge. The blessing was made by His Grace, the Archbishop of New Zealand, Archbishop Julius.

Lord and Lady Jellicoe passing the Guard of Honour, foundation stone ceremony, Bridge of Remembrance on 25th April, 1923. [8]
Struggling to find a site

With work on the bridge underway, the committee in charge of the Memorial Column were still struggling to secure a site. By July 1925, the council had refused permission for the column to be erected in Cathedral Square four times. [9]

Messrs D. Scott & Son of Christchurch were the successful construction company responsible for building the Bridge of Remembrance. Their tender of £16,078 was accepted and the work began on site on January 23rd, 1923. The sculptural relief on the stone was carried out by Welsh born artist and carver, Frederick George Gurnsey and his young assistant, Lawrence Henry James Berry [10]. Gurnsey was responsible for such notable New Zealand works as the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo and the Christ Church Cathedral reredos (altar piece). [11] His own son Frederick William, who had served as a private in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, had been severely wounded in October 1917. [12]

The bridge was opened by Lord Jellicoe on Armistice Day, November 11th, 1924.  A pamphlet provided at the opening, explained the object of the bridge’s purpose from extracts taken from the address by J. Wyn Irwin, M.A. Hon. Secretary, Bridge of Remembrance Committee.

“A Memorial to possess an enduring significance must have an idea which will appeal to the highest side of human nature. It should be an inspiration, not only to the present generation but to generations yet unborn.

The object of a Memorial is too great, too sacred a thing to be bound up with the physical necessities of human existence; yet in the Bridge of Remembrance we have a Memorial in which the spiritual and symbolic element is not hampered in the least, but rather heightened by its association with the utilitarian  feature – the necessity of bridging a stream.

In this respect Christchurch is very fortunate, and in this respect the Bridge of Remembrance will always be an individual memorial.” [13]

Bridge of Remembrance, spanning the Avon River, at Cashel Street. Carrying the wording, in Latin, ‘Quid Non Pro Patria’, the brain child of the Bridge Committee. For some time an argument over the wording had been raging between the Committee and the City Council, who preferred ‘Nulla Dies Memori Vos Eximet Aevo’ (Remembrance of you shall ever be cherished). [14]
The River Avon flowed at an angle of approximately 30 degrees to the axis of Cashel Street, which provided the basis of the design’s plan and elevation. All the planes in the bridge and overhead arch were designed at an angle either of 30 degrees to the direction of the bridge or at a multiple of 60, 90 or 120 degrees. The plan was built up on angles representing the hexagon, whose forms were used throughout the arch and the bridge’s smallest of details.

“The Bridge, a symbol of the span from earth to life, supernal, the Arch with cross supreme the everlasting arms and Hope eternal.”

As a bridge, spanning the banks of a river,  “…should remind us of the brief span of human existence and of the Great Beyond.”

The arch suggests endless activity and has always been a symbol of victory as in the arches of Greece and Rome. This arch with the inscription Bridge of Remembrance should be a reminder of the noble sacrifices made that Justice might triumph over tyranny.

The cross in the centre of the arch, is the ever used symbol of life, but when enclosed inside a circle which has no beginning or end, is the symbol of life everlasting. In our era it is an emblem of sacrifice and in position, with its downward stem forming the keystone of the Arch, conveys the idea that the spirit of Sacrifice is after all, the basis of human character.

The pylons on either side of the main Arch carry up lifted torches typifying the everlasting remembrance of all that the names of the chief battle fronts on the panels above stand for. These names are;-  Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, France, Belgium. Above each of the minor Arches spanning the footways are panels in which are inscribed the British Coat of Arms and the Canterbury of Coat of Arms.

His Excellency the Governor General performing the ceremony. [15]

Terminating the buttresses in which the minor Arches occur is a further symbol of the Empire, namely the British lion depicted fresh form conquest, with one foot pawing the honourable spoils of conquest, but with the rest of the body in full readiness for further action.

On the parapets of the bridge are laurel wreaths in honor of the Victors.  In the central panel of the arch spanning the river is the Latin inscription strong in its brevity, “Quid non pro patria” – “What will a man not do for his country”.

Beneath is the bound bundle of reeds (fascines) denoting UNION IS STRENGTH and symbolising the strength of UNION of the British Empire.

Surrounding this is the decorative treatment of the Rosemary plant. This decoration is also found on the inside of the minor arches surrounding a panel containing the words, “There’s rosemary and that’s for remembrance.”

Observe also the position of the arch. It faces east and west; the east, the dawn of life, the dawn of  christian faith; the west, the evening of life, the end of our earthly journey.

The cross which forms the keystone of the arch will reflect the first rays of the rising sun and also the last rays of the sun as it sinks in the west.

In the memorial there is none of the simplicity of regular sized, square shaped stones and the work of the masons has, therefore, been and it is my happy position to know that the masons and especially the foreman, have entered into the work and carried it to completion with all the enthusiasm, care and craft required to imbue it with the living quality it should possess.

Time the contract has certainly taken, but my Committee has felt that this Memorial is to speak not only for and to the is generation but to countless generations yet to come and that the few extra months spent upon the work are as nothing compared with the result it is hoped to obtain. [16]

The Territorials cross the Bridge of Remembrance on the way to King Edward Barracks  [25 Apr. 1926]  View more information  File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0052
The Territorials cross the Bridge of Remembrance on the way to King Edward Barracks (25 Apr. 1926) [17]
The Bridge of Remembrance also commemorates the memory of the soldiers who fought in World War II and subsequent conflicts in Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam. Thousands of soldiers crossed the Bridge of Remembrance as they made their final walk from King Edward Barracks to the Christchurch Railway Station. There they alighted trains to the port of Lyttelton and onwards to destinations overseas.

Second War Memorial opens 13 years later

It was not until 1937, thirteen years after the opening of the Bridge of Remembrance, that the Memorial Column was unveiled outside the Christchurch Cathedral in Cathedral Square. [18] The advocates of the memorial had persisted in their efforts and had managed to have the statue of Godley shifted from the immediate Cathedral grounds further into the Square’s centre. This allowed an application to be lodged with the Cathedral Chapter to use the site for the column. [19] The 50 foot cross emblazoned with heroic symbolic statuary was designed by  the Christchurch architectural firm, Hart and Reese and stonemason ,Mr. W. T. Trethewey.

With simple dignity Christchurch’s second war memorial – a column in the Cathedral grounds was unveiled this morning by Colonel Nicholls, Officer Commanding the Southern Command, in the presence of Archbishop Julius, clergy, and military. [20]

The road across the Bridge of Remembrance was closed to cars in 1962.  In 1977, Captain Charles Upham, VC and Bar, reopened the bridge as part of the Cashel Street pedestrian precinct.

  1. Christchurch War Memorial. Bridge of Remembrance. History and Symbolic Features. Extracts from an Address by J. Wyn Irwin, Hon. Secretary, Bridge of Remembrance Committee. Christchurch City Libraries.
  2. Press, 24 July, 1919. Papers Past.
  3. Source: Canterbury Libraries Reference PhotoCD 10, IMG0073
  4. Press, Volume LV, Issue 16608, 22 August 1919, Page 7. Source: Papers Past.
  5. Auckland Star, Volume LI, Issue 140, 12 June 1920, Page 12. Press, Volume LVI, Issue 16778, 9 March 1920, Page 6.
  6. Auckland Star, Volume LII, Issue 210, 3 September 1921, Page 6.
  7. Evening Post, Volume CV, Issue 52, 2 March 1923, Page 8.
  8. Source: Canterbury City Libraries PhotoCD 15, IMG0024.
  9. Auckland Star, Volume LVI, Issue 158, 7 July 1925, Page 6.
  10. Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database & New Zealand Electoral Rolls.
  11. Gurnsey, Frederick George, 1868–1953, Carver, art teacher, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  12. Sick and Wounded, Hospital Report. Evening Post, Volume XCIV, Issue 8, 2 October 1917, Page 8; Auckland War Memorial Museum, Cenotaph Database.
  13. Christchurch War Memorial. Bridge of Remembrance. History and Symbolic Features. Extracts from an Address by J. Wyn Irwin, Hon. Secretary, Bridge of Remembrance Committee. Christchurch City Libraries.
  14. Image: Frederick George Radcliffe, circa 1920-1929. Source: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R319.
  15. Source: Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 3 May 1923 page 35. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19230503-35-4.
  16. Christchurch War Memorial. Bridge of Remembrance. History and Symbolic Features. Extracts from an Address by J. Wyn Irwin, Hon. Secretary, Bridge of Remembrance Committee. Christchurch City Libraries.
  17. Christchurch City Libraries. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0052.
  18. Auckland Star, Volume LXVIII, Issue 136, 10 June 1937, Page 15.
  19. Auckland Star, Volume LXIV, Issue 143, 20 June 1933, Page 5.
  20. Evening Post, Volume CXXIII, Issue 135, 9 June 1937, Page 4.


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