I didn't start out to include information on the site about the U S Marines or US Army in New Zealand
during WW11 but as I have read more about the
development of the Jeep and the reason for its "being" I couldn't help but
develop an interest in those men and women who came down to my
part of the world and in the case of the Marines in particular, the area in which I now live
on the Kapiti Coast and one
of the vehicles that has become synonymous with those "American
boys", the Jeep.
I have taken the following
information from a number of different sources but as I understand it these men and
women came to New Zealand to not only establish a
"presence" in this part of the world in the dark days of 1942
as a deterrent to the Japanese, but to also establish base's for
training and the later deployment of troops into the bloody Pacific theater
of war most notably .
These camps were also used for R
& R for the battle weary men who took part in the Guadalcanal
battle and the other bloody fights that followed their redeployment as they
fought their way through the
Pacific to help give us the freedom that we enjoy today in New
Zealand. Many paid the ultimate price for that freedom and
it is a debt we
will never be able to repay.
The Arrival of the Troops
The first American soldier to set
foot on New Zealand soil at the start of the "American
Invasion" was Sergeant Nathan E. Cook one of the soldiers
of the 145 Regiment of the 37th US Army Division, who arrived in Auckland
on June 12 1942.
Two days later the Marines arrived
in Wellington,. These arrivals were the famous 1st Corps Marine
oldest, largest (active duty), most decorated division in the United
States Marine Corps. Nicknamed "The Old Breed",
these troops arrived on board the USS Wakefield
and were greeted by a band playing the Marine Corps hymn "'From the halls of
Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.", it was Sunday morning June
The 1st Division was soon joined in New Zealand and more particularly at Paekakariki
by the "Indian Head" 2nd Marine Division giving a combined
standing of three Infantry Regiments, the 2nd, 6th and 8th.
Paekakariki consisted of two large Camps, Camp Russell (now Queen Elizabeth Park)
the other side of the State Highway, Camp McKay. Close by were further camps
at Pauatahanui, Judgeford Valley (now the New Judgeford Golf Course) and Titahi Bay. where
in excess of 21,000 men were able to be accommodated within the
The separation of the two groups at
two widely different locations - Army units or
"doughboys" in the Auckland area and the Marines or 'leathernecks' to
the Paekakariki Wellington area was to remain the pattern over the next two
years and at any one time from mid June 1942 until May/July 1944 there were as
few as 15,000 and as many as 45,000 American servicemen in camps through
out New Zealand in preparation for or immediately after the horrors of
Tragedy at Paekakariki June 20,
There was strict press
censorship of the American presence in New Zealand. The newspapers
were not allowed to write about their arrival until November
1942, and even after that the news was heavily controlled.
episode that was never reported concerned the drownings of marines on
the rocks beside the Centennial Highway just south of Paekakariki.
It was almost exactly mid winter - June 20 to be exact - the marine units
were engaged in practising landings from the sea in preparation for
the fighting that was to come.
All went well until the third practice, the weather had deteriorated, a
swell had developed and it was 2030hrs on a very dark night. The very last
LC to come in grounded on a sand bar, a large wave created by the
swell swamped the boat and
men and equipment were thrown into the pounding surf.
Marines pulled some survivors
from the water and while official reports say one officer and eight men
drowned and their bodies were washed ashore. Rumor
has it that many more than this may have lost their lives that night.
Camp life must have seemed basic to say the least, landing directly from the United States (some soldiers were no
more than 17 years old), At first most of the Americans lived in pyramid-shaped
but increasingly they moved into two, four or occasionally
eight- man huts. There was often no electric light or heat, and the louvered
windows let in the cold and the damp. Men brought up in the
central heating of American suburban homes found New Zealand winters
Soldiers lined up with their own
mess gear at the cookhouse and ate in mess rooms with tables of bare
wood. Food was plentiful, and cooked as far as possible in a traditional
American style. But the local staples, especially fatty lamb
('god-damned mountain-goat'), were less easy for the visitors either to
cook or to eat. All the larger camps had stores where American products
- cigarettes, Coca-Cola - could be bought. The camps did their best to
make the men feel at home amid the bush and the sandhills.
Picture left - Marines at the "PK" at Paekakareiki
The first bugle call was at 6 am
and the men were at physical drill 10 minutes later. The subsequent
routine depended on where you had come from and where you were headed.
Those arriving fresh from the United States were here to be trained for
battles on Pacific islands. There were few ceremonial parades in full
dress uniform, although all stood to attention at sunset when 'Old
Glory' was hauled down. There were long route marches to toughen up
young city slickers and scouting missions in the Tararua Ranges to get
the men used to tropical jungle; artillerymen learnt how to fire under
camouflage; landings on Pacific beaches were practised on the Petone
foreshore, at Eastbourne, and more ambitiously on Mahia Peninsula near
Gisborne. When reality finally dawned at Guadalcanal and Tarawa, these
practices must have seemed innocent and pleasant in the extreme.
R & R and Hospitals
Some of the troops returned to New
Zealand to recover from the horrors of the Pacific war, some came simply for
"R & R" a period of good food, good times and peace in which the body could
recover and the mind let go its nightmares. Others, less fortunate,
returned on stretchers. Some were wounded, more came back suffering the
fevers of malaria. 19 hospitals were set up to take these 10,000
patients, Cornwall Park in Auckland and Silverstream in
Wellington were the sites of major institutions. To provide care and the
human warmth of a familiar female accent, a considerable number of
American nurses came to New Zealand.
Men worked at providing the
backup support for a modern army. The most important were the
Quartermaster Corps, who took over large warehouses and areas of the
wharves, procured local goods, and packed them off to the war zone in
the Pacific. New Zealand conditions added certain difficulties to these
tasks. Wet winters, periodic disputes with the 'wharfies', and the
restricted range of vegetables available were not the least of the
problems. Locals at times muttered about the Americans' fondness
for machinery , but all were
impressed with their efficiency and thoroughness.
*An interesting note is that the American forces are credited with
the introduction of fork-lifts to New Zealand
Campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal (Japanese:
was fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943 in the Pacific theatre
of World War II. This campaign, fought on the ground, at sea, and in the air,
pitted Allied forces against Imperial Japanese forces, and was a decisive
campaign of World War II. The fighting took place on and around the island of
Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon Islands and was the first major offensive
launched by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.
On August 7, 1942, Allied forces, predominantly composed of
forces from the United States, initiated landings on the islands of
Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida in the southern Solomons with the objective
of denying their use by Japanese forces as bases to threaten supply routes
between the U.S, Australia, and New Zealand.
(Right - Marines on Guadalcanal 1942)