The Ōtāhuhu Methodist Memorial Sunday School

The fine brick-and-tile Ōtāhuhu Methodist Memorial Sunday School is a rare but impressive example of a Methodist war memorial building. It stands behind the Ōtāhuhu Methodist church in Fairburn Road.

Ref: Bruce Ringer, Ōtāhuhu Methodist Memorial Sunday School, 2013.

The foundation stone, inset into the footing of the building’s southern wall, reads:

“Ōtāhuhu Methodist Memorial / Sunday School / - / This stone was laid / to the glory of God / by Revd. E. Drake, President of Conf. / on Feb. 28th 1920 / - / Feed my lambs”.

Four other stones, set at a higher level, were laid by mothers and friends of former members of the Sunday school who had been killed during the first World War: Mrs Agnes Mary Muir in memory of John D. Muir (d. France, 4 July 1916) and Robert C. Graham (Gallipoli, 1 May 1915); Mrs Anna J. Whiteley in memory of Burton W. Whiteley (France, 11 October 1918) and J. Dinsdale (Belgium, 4 October 1917); Mrs Sarah Fothergill in memory of Frederick James Fothergill (France, 27 March 1918) and Harold Olds (France, 12 October 1917); and Mrs Mary Irvine in memory of Joseph Sinclair Irvine (France, 28 March 1918).

Ref: Bruce Ringer, Row of memorial stones, Ōtāhuhu Methodist Memorial Sunday School, 2013.

The building was formally opened on 4 December 1920. The Ōtāhuhu Methodist Sunday School roll of honour, unveiled inside the building, lists 33 young men who saw active service during the war, and one woman. It includes the seven men listed on the memorial stones outside, thirteen others who were wounded, and four who were invalided home.

Ref: Bruce Ringer, Ōtāhuhu Methodist Sunday School roll of honour, 2015.

Also on display is a wooden memorial shield giving the names of members of the Ōtāhuhu Methodist Gymnasium (a boys’ club) who served during the war. One of them, Corporal T.H. Stringer presented the shield to the church in July 1919, and it was unveiled in the old Sunday School building on 23 July 1919.

Ref: Bruce Ringer, Ōtāhuhu Methodist Gymnasium roll of honour, 2015.

The military records of most of these men can be accessed via the Auckland Museum’s Online Cenotaph: He Toa Taumata Rau. Photographs of many of them in uniform can also be found in the Auckland Libraries Heritage Images database.

We can also trace a few related images from civilian life. A group portrait of young members of the Ōtāhuhu Methodist Gymnasium taken in 1908 includes at least five of future servicemen: R.P. Knight (front row, fourth from left); T.H. Stringer (second row, third from left); William Sloggett (third row, first from left); O.R. Montgomery (next to Sloggett); and G.K. Hall (top row, right). Stringer was wounded, and both Sloggett and Knight were invalided home. There may be others, since it has not been possible to identify everyone in the photograph.

Similarly, a photograph of the Ōtāhuhu Methodist church’s choir taken in 1913 includes several future servicemen: W.H. Fothergill, who is in the back row, fourth from left, was killed in action; next to him are J.A. West and P.A. Spurdle, who were both wounded; while T.H. Stringer appears again in the next row down, second from left.

This is the fourth in an occasional series about significant Auckland First World War memorials. Bruce Ringer, Team Leader at the South Auckland Research Centre, will be giving a talk on New Zealand’s war memorial tablets entitled ‘Calling the Roll’ at the Central Library at 12pm on Wednesday 26 August, and another, ‘Memories of Angels’, about war memorial churches, on 30 September.

Author: Bruce Ringer, South Auckland Research Centre.