Remembering the US Forces

There were long route marches to toughen up young city slickers and scouting missions in the Tararua Ranges, which stood in for tropical jungle. New Zealand History online

A weekend of activity and reflection

By Roger Childs

Marines 1940sFrom Saturday 24th to Monday 26th May, The Kapiti Coast will be remembering the important part played by Americans servicemen and nurses in our history. The recent visit by US veterans to the area is a timely reminder that thousands of their countrymen in the army, navy and marines lived in the Paekakariki area from 1942 to 1944.

To celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the first arrival of the Americans there will be a Memorial Day Service, two concerts and a walk/run. (See details below.)

The Kapiti Camps

Marine campsThe first Marines, on the USS Wakefield, arrived in Wellington on 14 June 1942, at a time when the Japanese dominated Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, and posed a significant threat to Australia and New Zealand. At any one time, between 15,000 to 45,000 American servicemen were scattered in camps from Whangarei to Wellington.

There were three major camps on the Kapiti Coast
~ Camp Paekakariki
~ Camp Russell
~ Camp Mackay.

There were also 200 Marines signalmen stationed south of the airport in northern Raumati Beach off Wharemauku Road.

About 20,000 American navy, army and marine personnel passed through the Paekakariki camps from 1942 to 1944 and had a major impact on life in the area.

Tragedy off the Paekakariki coast

Frank ZalotAnd that next wave was big: we were immediately capsized and dumped into the frigid, angry sea. We were about ½-mile from the ship when we capsized. Navy signalman Frank Zalot Jr

The landing craft exercise in pitch darkness on 16 June 1943 was a disaster. Ten sailors were drowned, but because of tight censorship and concerns about the effect on morale, the story did not emerge until much later.

In 2012, a special memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park was dedicated to the sailors who died. Frank Zalot was there on Memorial Day to honour his lost comrades. (You can read Frank’s full account of the tragedy at http://marinenz.com/Ten+die+in+tragic+landing+exercise )

!cid_47EACA30-07CB-4926-93C2-97BB94D2F074United States Memorial Day Service

This is now an annual event on the Kapiti calendar. In 2012, on the 70th anniversary of the arrival of Marines in Paekakariki, the Kapiti US Marines Trust, chaired by Jenny Rowan, decided to have a series of events to mark the occasion: Salute70.

A highlight was the Memorial Day (America’s Anzac Day) Service.  It was attended by over 300 people including local iwi, the governor general, American Embassy officials and marines, veterans from the camps, the mayor and other local body leaders, school children  and the general public.

2014 Memorial Day Service: Monday 26 May: Marines Memorial, Mackays Crossing, Queen Elizabeth Park. Arrive at 8.45 am for a 10,00am start.

 

All happening in Paekakariki

Paekakariki campsMy mother told me she was in the village shopping as a convoy of trucks rolled out. When they stopped at the crossing she watched in amazement seeing Prince sitting up in the front seat of one of the trucks. She rushed out to the truck and asked the driver for her dog. “No Ma’am” he replied, “he is coming with me. I found him”.  Paekakariki resident, Lesley Varcoe recalling an incident from the early 1940s. (They got the dog back!)

In the early 1940s the American presence in the area had a huge impact on the small seaside village. There was a track that weaved through the Paekakariki Camp to Camp Russell further north.  This is now remembered as the signposted Yankee Trail through Queen Elizabeth Park from the north end of Tilley Road to the Marines Memorial.

Servicemen beat a path along the trail to take advantage of services and amenities in Paekakariki

  • buying goods in shops
  • worshipping at churches
  • dating local girls
  • going to dances
  • entertaining children
  • and some visiting houses of ill repute.

Roger FoxThe trendy music of the time was jazzy and went with a swing and the 2012 celebrations included dances and a mulled wine concert.

2014 Mulled Wine Concerts:  Rodger Fox Jazz Ensemble with guests Ray Woolf and Erna Ferry. Saturday 24 May at 4pm and Sunday 26 May at 4.30pm: Memorial Hall, Marine Parade, Paekakariki. Adults $25,students $15 Contact:  marygow@gmail.com

In the Footsteps of the Marines

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Fall in, goddammit, on the double!’
We were off on our first hike in New Zealand. A half mile to the camp gate, then two miles down the highway and a right turn up the slowly winding dirt road. It twisted in a slow rise for nearly four miles. We called it the Little Burma Road. From the top, fifteen hundred feet up, we could see the rolling green hills, small dotted farms, and in the distance the ocean.
Leon Uris “Battle Cry”

Uris was stationed in Paekakariki during the early 1940s and in his novel gives a vivid description of life for the American servicemen at the time. His account of a route march in the hills behind Camp Mackay inspired local historian, Anthony Dreaver, to propose an event to follow the course.

Kapiti Joggers and Walkers took up the challenge and in 2012 over 140 walked or run a 13.4km course that roughly approximated the march described in Battle Cry.  Last year there were 70 walkers and 90 runners.

2014 In the Footsteps of the Marines: Sunday 25 May – 13.4 km: race walkers 9.00am, social walkers and slower runners 9.30am, competitive runners 10.00am.  Starting and finishing at Whareroa Farm (Camp Mackay) off SH1. $20 entry fee, $25 on the day. Information at www.enteronline or www.marinenz.com

If you want to read more on the Americans on the Kapiti Coast in the early 1940s, go to the excellent Kapiti US Marines Trust website: http://www.marinenz.com

According to my mother who remembers the arrival of the marines vividly, they were mostly from small town america not big cities.