Sunday, April 14, 2019

Peace bonfires on Mount Eden, 1919

"Showing a bonfire on Mount Eden for the peace celebrations at the end of the First World War," 19 July 1919. 
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 4-1515C

Above is the second bonfire arranged on the maunga for the peace celebrations. The Mt Eden Borough Council decided in May to spend £100 building a pyre beside the trig station, using bits of gorse etc cut from road clearing operations in the borough. All heck broke loose in the letters columns of the newspapers, criticising the council for effectively proposing to burn such a lot of money, a "wicked waste" and "a useless sin." 

The Mayor defended the decision, saying that the £100 would be defrayed by contributions from the Peace Committee's general funds, but the criticism kept up. On 16 June, it was reported: 

"... the forthcoming peace celebrations is now well in hand. The engineer to the Mount Eden Borough Council, Mr J Rogers, tabled a plan at the meeting of the council last evening showing that the fire column which is octagonal in shape, is 90ft in height and 30ft in diameter. He explained that the column would be lighted from the top in order that it might burn longer, and eight effigies, seven of prominent Germans and one of a Bulgarian, would be hung at the sides, about two-thirds of the way up. These would represent the Kaiser, the Crown Prince Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Von Mackensen, Von Tirpitz, Von Bissing, and King Ferdinand." 

NZ Herald, 17 June 1919 

 On the night of 22 June 1919, however, "mischief makers" set fire to it well ahead of schedule.

"From the summit the spectacle of the blazing pile was a very imposing one. The bonfire had been built within a circle of eight pine saplings, 100 ft high, firmly planted in the ground on the highest point of the mountain. Inside this circle were stacked pine boughs, gorse, fern, and other inflammable matter. Twenty barrels of tar were placed in the centre and large quantities of kauri gum "screenings" were deposited in different parts of the structure. In the centre was a circular draught hole wherein was placed a ladder, to be used for the lighting of the peace beacon. "At first the flames, were confined to one side but with a sudden change of wind to the south-west the entire stack became enveloped. Soon the lowest platform, erected 3ft from the ground in order to create a draught, gave way and the entire upper portion fell with a heavy crash, accompanied by the crackling of the pine boughs, and a faint hissing as the flames penetrated to the barrels of tar. Tongues of fire ran up the sides, and at about 9 pm the bonfire looked not unlike a lofty tower in flames. On one side showers of sparks were borne down with heavy clouds of smoke into the darkness below; on the other lay the mountain crater filled with strange shadows and overcast with a dull smoky glare. Crowds of spectators watched the burning of the pile, some apparently a little disappointed at the premature lighting of the fire, others cheering lustily or shrieking wildly as each support fell sending up a shower of sparks. At 10 pm rain fell, and at midnight nothing remained but a ring of blackened poles, a heap of embers, and a cloud of slowly rising steam." 

NZ Herald 23 June 1919

Some viewing the beacon's premature immolation thought the peace agreement had already been signed in Paris. Uh, no ... 

 Rumours flew around Auckland as to the culprits ...

"The Mount Eden bonfire appears to be getting on the nerves of its promoters. How else can one account for the suggestion that it was lit prematurely by pro-Germans? Why not carry the theory further and suggest that it was started by a German who had received a wireless message about the sinking of the battleships at Scapa Flow? Or why not blame the Bolsheviks, anybody but the bright-eyed Auckland boy or boys who did the deed! Certainly the youthful incendiarist was not pro-German, he was just a healthy New Zealander with a normal instinct of patriotism. He thought he would make sure of a celebration that night, and was relying upon the pride of the Peace Celebration Committee to give him an encore at the right time. The committee has gracefully decided not to disappoint him." 
NZ Herald, 28 June 1919 

So, they rebuilt the pyre. Taking suitable precautions ...

The Mount Eden bonfire is in course of re-erection, and raiding parties, whether they be larrikins or pro-Germans, will this time make a descent — or rather an ascent—against a prepared foe if they should again hazard the adventure of kindling the blaze before the scheduled time. Elaborate defensive precautions have been taken, and the fortifications are now considered to be impregnable. Day and night guards are mounted, and constant vigil is kept over the stack and the inflammable ingredients with which it will be anointed.
For the accommodation of the sentries a temporary guardhouse has been erected, while around the bonfire itself has been built a high barbed-wire entanglement to baffle the invaders should the guards be surprised. In a position calculated to reveal the whereabouts of the enemy, no matter by what direction he approaches or flees, has been suspended a large light, so that any attack other than a strong fighting patrol is foredoomed to failure. Little short of a raid with incendiary bombs or bullets will rob the Auckland citizens of their peace pyre." 

Auckland Star, 15 July 1919 

 Did it finally come off as planned? Yep.

 "The main event for the public on Saturday evening was the bonfire on Mount Eden. The pile was surmounted by a sign-board bearing the word "Kultur," and the skull and cross-bones, and the construction involved so much work that it was only completed at three o'clock in the afternoon. The fire was lit from the top, and burned very slowly at first, but a continuous volume of dense smoke and showers of sparks made a pretty effect. In about twenty minutes the sign-board on the top caught alight, and this was the signal for a great outburst of cheering from the onlookers. Shortly afterwards the superstructure collapsed, and then the fire began to burn vigorously, lighting up the whole of Mount Eden and being visible for miles. The fire was still burning when most people went to bed."

NZ Herald, 22 July 1919

A Pleasant Point Railway Easter

Bryan Blanchard from the Pleasant Point Museum and Railway sent these in the other day, writing: "Easter 2018 with The Silly Old Station Master  & Kiwi who gives the young children who come a free Easter egg, plus free face painting, popcorn & a bouncy castle."

Thanks, Bryan.