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Wellington marks 70th anniversary with sister city in UK

Pou-whenua in the Harrogate New Zealand garden ( Picture courtesy-Wellington City Council)

Venu Menon
Wellington, May 12, 2023

Wellington is marking 70 years of its relationship with its sister city in the UK, Harrogate.

Last month, a commemorative bench was placed in the newly refurbished New Zealand Garden, set in the Harrogate Valley Gardens in North Yorkshire, UK.

The wooden bench, made by a local Yorkshire craftsman, was donated by the Wellington City Council.

Harrogate is also the site where four Wellingtonians are buried for their service in WW2.

The relationship between Wellington and Harrogate was established in 1953 when Wellington City Council donated plants for the Harrogate Borough Council’s Valley Gardens. This led to the creation of a New Zealand Garden, which officially opened in 1954.

The same year, Harrogate Borough Council presented Wellington with a gold mace crafted by a local jeweler. The mace is still used at Wellington City Council meetings and on ceremonial occasions.

That gesture was reciprocated in 2010 when a Pou Whenua (ceremonial carved post) was gifted to Harrogate by Wellington City and iwi partner Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust.

The latest refurbishment of the New Zealand Garden, set in the Harrogate Valley Gardens, was carried out this year to commemorate the 23 New Zealand soldiers, including the four Wellingtonians, who died in action during WW2.

“My heart went out to those mothers who hugged their sons, waved them farewell, and told them how brave they were, knowing they might never see them back home again,” said Kate Moira Spencer of Harrogate International Partnerships (HIP), on whose initiative the New Zealand soldiers buried in Harrogate were honoured by a wreath-laying ceremony on Anzac Day.

New bench in the New Zealand Harrogate garden ( Picture courtesy-Wellington City Council)

The placement of the bench, while marking 70 years of Wellington’s relationship with Harrogate, also commemorated the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) airmen buried nearby.

“Harrogate and the Friends of the Valley Gardens are delighted and honoured to receive the gift,” Kate said.

It was Harrogate’s first Anzac Day commemoration.

“I joined Harrogate International Partnerships (HIP) in 2020, two years after arriving in North Yorkshire,” she recalled.

“It’s a twinning association and I became responsible for the twinning between Harrogate and Wellington. This twinning has been in place since 1953 to honour 23 of our Royal New Zealand Air Force crew who died in England during WW2.”

Kate said the soldiers were buried in Stonefall Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery (CWGC) in Harrogate, which holds more than 1000 soldiers, mostly airmen. “We have Canadians there, 97 Australians and 23 Kiwis.”

Kate discovered the graves of the four Wellingtonians on a visit to the cemetery in Harrogate. Shortly afterward, HIP adopted their graves.

She also discovered that there had never been an Anzac ceremony to honour those fallen soldiers.

“When in New Zealand, I decided to find out more about these airmen and it turned into a small book,” Kate said.

She arrived in New Zealand last year and travelled to Wellington where she met [then] Mayor Andy Foster and presented him with gifts from the mayor of Harrogate.

“I presented my book to Mayor Foster in Wellington,” Kate reminisced.

She also met International Relationships manager Tom Yuan of the Wellington City Council and discussed the 70th anniversary of the twinning of Wellington and Harrogate.

Kate returned to England in January and organised the Anzac ceremony which was held at Stonefall Cemetery in Harrogate on Sunday, 24 April 2023.

“It was Anzac Day, April 25, on the other side of the world.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington.

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