On her whistle stop tour of the Pacific, America’s First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt touched down in New Zealand on Saturday, August 28, 1943. In a surprise broadcast to the New Zealand people, she explained that the reasons for her visit were threefold. She was here to see US troops, to inspect the work of the American Red Cross whose uniform she wore, and she wished to study the contribution New Zealand women were making to the war effort.
In Auckland, she visited military hospitals where local volunteers worked alongside of the American Red Cross nurses, service clubs and even made an appearance at the American Red Cross dance at the Auckland Town Hall, where Artie Shaw and his band were in full swing. She declined an invitation to join the dances as there was no room on the floor to waltz and her only other dance, the Virginia Reel, was rather outdated.
In Rotorua, she met nurses, land girls and Guide Rangi who she described as witty and intelligent.
If the First Lady had been able to come to Warkworth in 1943 she would have found the American Red Cross was also active here. A Service Club was operating in the Patriotic Hut in Mill Lane, run by the American Red Cross with the help of local women. Dancing was a popular activity with the troops and as there were no night clubs in New Zealand in the 1940s, so the clubs provided a venue to socialise. Music was provided by local bands and talented marines who were stationed here.
On one occasion, 60 convalescent US marines from the 39th General Hospital in Auckland were entertained at the Warkworth Club. Ladies from the Warkworth Sub-Centre of the NZ Red Cross provided the food and one soldier remarked that he had enjoyed his first home-cooked meal in three years
In April 1944, 150 guests were invited to the club for a variety show of entertainment. While supper was served, presentations were made to local women by Miss Leota Kelly, Area Superintendent for the American Red Cross. She thanked the ladies on behalf of the mothers, wives and sweethearts back home in the US.
Warkworth Museum has an American Red Cross badge presented to Mrs Lill Davie-Martin of Falls Road, Warkworth. She is remembered as a great cook and tireless worker for the groups to which she belonged.
So who were the other women who were presented with awards in 1944? They should not be forgotten. Museum volunteers would be interested to know if other similar badges or other relics from the years when American forces were stationed here lie hidden among family memorabilia.