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1918 Influenza Pandemic Memorial Plaque unveiled today

Media release: 6 November 2019

A memorial plaque remembering the estimated 9000 New Zealanders who died in the 1918 global influenza pandemic was unveiled today in Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, Bernadette Cavanagh Chief Executive Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage said.

Dr Geoffrey Rice, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Canterbury and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern unveil the Influenza memorial plaque. Photo credit: Mark Tantrum Photography

“The 1918 influenza pandemic had a devastating effect on this country. In a matter of months it claimed half as many New Zealanders’ lives as the whole First World War,” Bernadette Cavanagh said.

“No other event has killed so many New Zealanders in such a short time.

“Unveiled today by the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, the memorial plaque also acknowledges the service and sacrifice of the health professionals and large numbers of volunteers who cared for the sick, helping to save lives while risking their own.

“The plaque recognises how the tragedy has helped to shape modern approaches to infectious diseases management and surveillance.

“Initiated as a joint project between Manatū Taonga and the Ministry of Health, the memorial plaque is situated in front of the Queen Elizabeth II Pukeahu Education Centre.

“This location was selected for its association with the First World War and its proximity to other sites connected with the pandemic and specifically Pacific Island countries. The Pacific Islands Memorial is set to be unveiled on the adjacent terrace in 2020.  

“The closeness of these two memorials recognises the devastating impact of influenza in the Pacific and particularly in Samoa,” Bernadette Cavanagh said.

Designed by Neil Pardington and Wraight & Associates, the memorial features a graphic representation of the scale of the pandemic’s impact across New Zealand regions from north to south.

The plaque’s zinc appearance recalls the zinc sulphate inhalation sprayers used to treat people during the pandemic. The stencilled form of the text references the labelling on medical supply crates.

Some 50 people attended the unveiling including Dr Geoffrey Rice, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Canterbury and author of the book Black November: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in New Zealand.

The ceremony included a short performance from the play Black November, created and directed by Kerryn Palmer.


Background information

The 1918 influenza pandemic had far reaching impacts:

  • The death rate for males was twice that for females. It struck the military camps hard.
  • Māori suffered losses at a rate at least seven times that of the Pākēha population.
  • Most of the deaths occurred in a short period between October and December.
  • Some 6415 children had one parent die and 135 children had both parents die.

Nurse Isobel Haresnape’s oral history account is on record at Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision website. Here is the link:

Pandemic Planning

The Ministry of Health leads the government’s response in a pandemic. The New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Plan: A framework for action outlines the all of government measures for response to a pandemic as well as an overview of the activities required to ensure New Zealand is adequately prepared for an influenza pandemic.

For additional information check out the listing on New Zealand History:

Contact: Christine Seymour 027 807 9400, [email protected]


Updated on 19th November 2019