US Marines Back

1943 … a big year for Kapiti!

The Kapiti U.S.Marines Trust says this year it’s focusing on 1943 — which was the second year of the ‘friendly invasion’ of some 100,000 American servicemen (and women) into New Zealand during World War II.

On Monday 27 May, the centre-piece will be Kapiti’s traditional Memorial Day ceremony at Queen Elizabeth Park, starting at 10 am. The trust says all are welcome to this colourful and moving ceremony at the Marines Memorial.

Retracing the route march

Other Salute 70 events include an event on Sunday May 26 when people can run or walk while retracing the old route march in the foothills behind Mackay’s Crossing. The afternoon offers a concert of 1940s jazz with Roger Fox in Paekakariki memorial Hall at 2.30.pm.

“We’re delighted to be working with enthusiastic community partners and look forward to sharing the remarkable story of the American Armed Forces encampment in Kapiti,” says Trust Chair Jenny Rowan.

“This was a time when Americans out-numbered locals by about 15:1 and ‘business as usual was far from usual.’

Survivors return — injured and maimed

“Our troops were away in Italy and the Middle East and while the Americans were protecting us against a possible Japanese attack we started to see their men return here injured and maimed,” she says.

“We learned of the tragic loss of 1732 Americans and 1900 Japanese in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Later in the year thousands more were killed and wounded in the Battle of Tarawa – many of them lived on our land and had become friends.

“By 1943 the camps had been built, relationships and friendships were growing, locals were working in and around the camps supplying services and food, and American culture had started to take root in our country.”

Ms Rowan adds: “Locals were fascinated by the overwhelming presence of the Marines in the district as they practised manoeuvres in the park, on the beach, and in the bush.  Some were also present during the landing tragedy on Paekakariki beach when 10 seamen from the USS Legion lost their lives (June 20, 1943)

Eleanor Roosevelt visits Paekakariki

“Another highlight was the surprise visit of American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who came to visit the American forces. She stayed in Wellington from August 28-30 and visited Marines in the Paekakariki Camps.”

Last year, the Trust won two community awards for its work with a wide range of national, regional and local organisations hosting the highly successful Salute 70 festivities celebrating the arrival of the American forces in New Zealand. (June 12 Auckland and June 14 Wellington)

Between 1942 and 1944 about 100,000 American servicemen were stationed in New Zealand, which became a rear-base for the Allies’ counter-offensive against Japan.  About 15,000 Marine infantrymen lived in the Kapiti district – Camp Mackay (Whareroa Farm), Camp Russell (Queen Elizabeth Park) and Camp Paekakariki.

At Queen Elizabeth Park on Monday 27 May, we remember these men and what they gave to our people, especially in this district.

Key Events:

  • A Fund-raising Quiz Night at Monteiths Kapiti Junction on Sunday May 19 at 7pm.  For tickets phone 904 9970
  • In the Footstep of the Marines on Sunday May 26 retraces the old “route march” in the foothills behind Mackay’s Crossing. Walkers start at 9 am and runners at 10 am. For registration, phone 902 1754.
  • A Mulled Wine Concert featuring Roger Fox and his Jazz Band at 2.30pm on Sunday May 26 at the Paekakariki Memorial Hall. Tickets from marygow@gmail.com.
  • A Memorial Day Service of Commemoration at the Marines Memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park at 10am on Monday May 27.