As the train whistled and Private Ted d’Auvergne headed off to serve in World War 2, Waihao Forks Hotel publican George Provan put a bottle of beer on the shelf behind the bar, saying “we’ll have this one, Ted, when you come home again”.
But the Waimate soldier never returned, killed in action in Crete in 1941, and the bottle of Ballins XXXX green-label beer remains behind the bar to this day.
Eighty years later, patrons at the Waihao Forks Hotel can now share a beer with Pte d’Auvergne, who has been immortalised in bronze as a sculpture on a railway seat outside his local.
The life-size sculpture, designed by former Oamaru artist Don Paterson, was officially unveiled on Saturday afternoon at a special ceremony attended by more than 400 people, including Pte d’Auvergne’s descendants, and special dignitaries.
The Waimate Pipe Band paraded the official party to the seating area to begin proceedings, the Waimate Scouts were on hand to raise the flag and Waihao Downs School pupils performed poignant renditions of Hallelujah and E te Atua
The unveiling ceremony drew to a close with a moving performance of the Last Post by Harvey Wood and a gun salute.
“Ted’s story has enabled us to personally depict a memorial to tens of thousands of soldiers who left their farms, their families, and communities and never returned home to carry on the family farm, or their family name,” Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley said at the unveiling.
“[The sculpture] will be a talking point in this community and I’m sure many people will come out and share a beer with Ted.”
Mr Rowley, who also chaired the Ted d’Auvergne Sculpture Project Fundraising Committee, thanked everyone who had supported the project.
“We’ve been humbled by the way so many people, both within the Waimate district and further afield, have supported this project.
“We raised over $50,000 – a figure which at the start was quite daunting for just five people with a dream.
“I am proud . . . of the way we have all come together to provide this and future generations with such a beautiful piece of art that no doubt will feature in many tourist and visitor photograph albums and social media pages in the years to come.”
Once the final payments had been made, Mr Rowley expected about $6000 would be left over and said the Waimate District Charitable Foundation would retain and administer it on behalf of the fundraising committee. The money would be used for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the district’s war memorials.