Seacliff fire victims’ memorial to be unveiled

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The names of 37 women who died in a fire in a locked ward at Seacliff Mental Hospital in 1942 will be unveiled on a memorial at Andersons Bay cemetery this week.

The memorial will be dedicated with a service on Saturday, December 9, at 2.30pm, marking the 75th anniversary since the devastating fire.

More than 70 family members have indicated they will attend.

Establishing the memorial has been a labour of love for Liz Miller, of Dunedin, and Wendy Hellyer, of Milton – both of whom lost relatives in the fire.

Their efforts have been supported by Dunedin woman Jean Park, who has helped to co-ordinate funding and practical support from the Dunedin City Council, Hopeand Sons, Milton Lions Club, Dunedin Monumental Masons, Mitre 10 Mega, Daphne Henderson and family members.

“For 75 years, there has been nothing to mark the loss of these women,” Mrs Miller said.

The three women believed that the lack of a public memorial until now was due to the stigma around mental illness and the fact that the tragedy occurred during World War 2.

The women who died were mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers, and it was time they were remembered with dignity and respect, Ms Hellyer said.

The women died about 10.15pm on December 8, 1942, when fire swept through the wooden building.

Only two of the 39 women in the ward survived.