Heritage Festival excitement building

Celebrations marking the 170th anniversary of European settlement in Warkworth will culminate in two big weekends next month.

Over the past year, many groups in the area have recognised milestones that have been celebrated under the umbrella of the 170th anniversary. These have included the 140th anniversary of the Warkworth Brass Band, the Warkworth Bowls Club centenary and the 50th anniversary of the Warkworth Theatre Group.

This theme will continue on Armistice Day, Saturday, November 11, when the town remembers the presence of thousands of US servicemen who were stationed in the Mahurangi area during World War II.

The day’s programme will include a wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph, followed by a military display in the town centre, the likes of which has not seen since the war.

There will be a march past by representatives of all three services – army, navy and air force – as well as representatives of US marines and local veterans. Military vehicles will be on display and there will be a flyover by vintage aircraft.

On the following Saturday, November 18, celebrations will move to the Mahurangi River, where there will be a Founder’s Day celebration and a re-enactment of John Anderson Brown’s arrival in the town he subsequently named.

Organisers are grateful for the generous sponsorship from G.J. Gardner, Mason Containers and Warkworth Oaks, as well as a number of other local businesses.

Keep an eye out for a special feature on the Heritage Festival, which will appear in our November 6 issue.

The US Army’s 103rd Infantry 43rd Division parading through Warkworth on Anzac Day 1944. Photo courtesy, Warkworth Museum.

In the period 1942 to 1944, 100,000 American soldiers came to New Zealand as a consequence of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the resulting conflict in the Pacific. At any one time, there were between 15,000 and 45, 000 Americans in New Zealand. They came here to prepare for forthcoming battles, recover from injuries, and for rest and recreation. New Zealand also served as a source of supply or goods that the Americans needed.

Around 7000 American servicemen spent time in Warkworth. There were from a variety of companies including the 21st Regiment, 12th Artillery Regiment, 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion, 43rd Division of the Army, 169th Field Artillery Battalion, 169th Infantry Battalion, 152nd Field Artillery Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment, 103 Field Artillery Battalion and the 25th US Army Division.

Camps were setup around the area with many located on farms including a large encampment in Anderson Road in Matakana, the Warkworth Showgrounds, Whangateau Domain, Goatley Road, Kaipara Flats, the Knoll, Wech farm at Woodcocks Road, Beresford’s, Cleggs at Carran Road, Wylie Road, Perry Road and Falls Road. The American headquarters were at Riverina in Wilson Road.

The American servicemen were housed in basic two-man or four-man huts, which were not particularly comfortable, especially in winter. Regular route marches were a feature of the life of the soldiers while stationed here. Adjusting to New Zealand’s way of life and food must have been difficult things to overcome. While pleased to be given meat and vegetables, the Americans described the meat as being like goat.

The soldiers valued their down time, as it meant that they could leave camp. A popular place to visit was the ‘Hut’ in Warkworth, a recreational facility run by the American Red Cross. Weekly dances were held there, as well as at many of the country halls. Drinking was a favourite pastime, as was playing baseball and grid iron. Many men went fishing or shooting fowl. Well known resident Tudor Collins, as well as taking photos of the Americans, also entertained them at barbecues. Dances, films and patriotic balls were another feature of the town during this period.

On 3 April, 1943, 60 convalescing marines from Auckland Hospital arrived in Warkworth to further their recovery. They were treated to home cooked meals, horse riding and dances. In July of that year, Colonel Ames presented a United States flag to the town board.

A total of 1400 New Zealand women married American servicemen and went to live in the United States after the war. Their partner had to pay for their fare and had to be employed on his return home and the New Zealand women’s families were visited by American authorities who investigated whether the women were suitable for American citizenship. When the Americans departed, they left behind communities that had been significantly affected by their visit. Warkworth was indeed one of those communities.