Tangiwai Funeral Service

Tangiwai Funeral Service – 31 December 1953

Seventy years ago, a funeral service was held at Karori Cemetery for the twenty-one unidentified victims of the Tangiwai disaster that occurred on the night of 24th December. The service was held at 10am on a Thursday morning. The burial place had been specially chosen, near the lawn cemetery.

In attendance were over six hundred mourners, including a large number of cabinet ministers, members of the diplomatic corps, service chiefs and civic dignitaries who stood at the 30-yard-long grave. Lining the grave and along its edges were laid punga fronds. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh attended, having flown from Hamilton that morning with the Prime Minister Sidney Holland. The Queen continued her planned engagements in Hamilton alone.

A public address system was installed so that those present could follow the service, which was also broadcast.

The service was conducted by representative leaders of the churches. At its conclusion, the Duke placed a wreath of blue flowers beside the white cross from the citizens of Wellington. He then stepped back and bowed his head for a moment. The Prime Minister Mr Holland followed with his own wreath.

The Duke then passed down a line of mourners, offering a few words of comfort to many of them. Mr Dunbar who lost his cousin in the disaster said ‘His presence here and sympathy was a great comfort to all’.

On 27 March 1957, a memorial service was held and a memorial to the victims was unveiled by the Prime Minister with the names of all who perished inscribed on it. After the service, relatives of the victims were the guests of the government at afternoon tea at Parliament buildings.

By Julia Kennedy

The Duke of Edinburgh attending the mass burial of Tangiwai railway disaster victims, Karori Cemetery, Wellington, Royal Tour 1953-1954. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/4-106737-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23203934