unknown warrior lying in state

The Unknown Warrior lying in state in the Legislative Council Chamber of Parliament Buildings.
Credit: Photograph by New Zealand Defence Force

The return of the Unknown Warrior

The return of the warrior and his interment in the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was a significant event for New Zealand.

In November 2004 an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Wellington to watch his casket make its way from Parliament to its final resting place. The ceremonial programme was broadcast live on national television.

Handover ceremony

On the morning of 6 November 2004 the remains of the Unknown Warrior were returned to the care of New Zealand. The remains were taken from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission office at Beaurains, France, where the remains had been prepared, to the mairie (town hall) at Longueval, where the casket was draped in the New Zealand flag.

Arrival in Wellington

On the morning of 10 November the Unknown Warrior was welcomed back to New Zealand soil with a short ceremony at the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Rongotai. The New Zealand Defence Force accorded the Unknown Warrior full military honours on arrival, in the presence of the New Zealand delegation that had accompanied him home from France.

Arrival at Parliament and lying in state

At 12 noon a cortege arrived at Parliament grounds, where the Defence Force formally handed the Unknown Warrior over to the nation. He lay in state in the Legislative Council Chamber until the next morning. Wreaths were laid by Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright on behalf of the Queen, and by Prime Minister Helen Clark on behalf of the government and people of New Zealand. Members of the public also paid their respects during the vigil.

Memorial service

A memorial service honouring the Unknown Warrior and all New Zealand war dead was held at the Anglican Wellington Cathedral of St Paul at 11 am on 11 November (Armistice Day).

Funeral procession

Following the memorial service, the Unknown Warrior was processed through the streets of Wellington, which was lined by thousands of people, to his final resting place at the National War Memorial.

guard of honour at tomb of the unknown warrior

A New Zealand Defence Force bearer party prepare to lower the casket of the Unknown Warrior into the sarcophagus.
Credit: Photograph by New Zealand Defence Force

Interment ceremony

The interment ceremony was led by Andrew Renton-Green, chairman of the National War Memorial Advisory Council. Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright gave a eulogy, and poet Vincent O’Sullivan read his specially commissioned poem ‘Homecoming – Te Hokinga Mai’. National War Memorial kaumātua (Māori elder) Sam Jackson sang a karakia (prayer), and a blessing of the tomb given by Colonel Julian Wagg, principal defence chaplain.

Dignitaries placed flowers and samples of soils from around the country and from France in the sarcophagus. The public were allowed to pay their respects before the sarcophagus was finally sealed.

Works commissioned for the events

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage commissioned four new works for the ceremonies to acknowledge the special nature of the events.

Funeral march

Staff Sergeant Dwayne Bloomfield, deputy bandmaster for the New Zealand Army Band, was commissioned to write a special funeral march for the funeral procession. Entitled ‘Fernleaf Headstones’, the march was performed as the funeral procession moved from the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul to the National War Memorial.

Listen to ‘Fernleaf Headstones’, by Dwayne Bloomfield [MP3, 3.4MB, 2min 56sec]


Vincent O’Sullivan wrote his poem, ‘Homecoming – Te Hokinga Mai’, to read at the interment ceremony.

Homecoming – Te Hokinga Mai

The figure at the paddock’s edge,
The shadow in the football team,
The memory beside the hedge,
The notes behind a song that seem
Another song, a different dream –
The past we harvest that was yours,
The present that you gave for ours.

The life in places once your own
And left behind, and what was said
To husband, father, lover, son,
Are stories that were lost instead,
That ran to darkness where you bled –
Are what we owe you, we who say
See morning in its usual way

Moving along the ridges, the bright
Day broadening on the river,
The warmth of cities wakening, the sight
Of roads ahead and doors forever
Onto families, friends, whatever
Life allows us, one another –
What we have and you do not, our brother.’

Solemn the speeches and the drum
That draw you to the unguessed tomb,
But more than these, the sounds that come
To us as once to you, from
Bach and backyard, from marae and town,
Our standing where you too have stood
‘Now and forever, home is good.’

Listen to Vincent O’Sullivan read ‘Homecoming – Te Hokinga Mai’ [MP3, 1.8MB, 1min 32sec]

Choral commemoration

Timothy Hurd, the national carillonist, wrote music for the words of the karanga that appears on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Entitled ‘Memento for an Unknown Warrior’, the four-part choral composition was sung by members of Tudor Consort ensemble at the interment ceremony. Hurd also wrote 'A Simple Elegy' for carillon, which closed the interment ceremony.

Listen to ‘Memento for an Unknown Warrior’, by Timothy Hurd [MP3, 3.9MB, 3min 22sec]

Listen to ‘A Simple Elegy’, by Timothy Hurd [MP3, 7MB, 5min 57sec]


Piper Sergeant Murray Mansfield of the Royal New Zealand Airforce wrote ‘Lament for the Unknown Warrior of New Zealand’. It was first played at the Handover Ceremony at Longueval, France, and was also played as the casket was placed on the gun carriage following the memorial service.

Updated on 23rd July 2015