The museum is hoping people with memories of this era will come forward and tell their stories or loan the museum memorabilia for a special exhibition.
Info: email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 09 425 7093.
It is hard to imagine the impact on Warkworth residents when 5000 American servicemen arrived in the district during World War II. Here from 1942 until 1944, the men were part of the 100,000 American troops stationed in NZ to support the counter-offensive in the Pacific during World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
Warkworth was one of the biggest camps outside those in Auckland and Wellington. Significantly outnumbering locals, the army and marine personnel were based in 23 camps in and around Warkworth from Kaipara Flats to the Dome Valley, Matakana, Pakiri and Whangateau. The Warkworth landmark properties Riverina and Little Riverina housed officers, and the Warkworth Hospital camp looked after the sick and wounded.
The impact of so many young men, with cash, energy and resources, on an area which was struggling with rationing, lack of manpower and low morale was immeasurable. Able-bodied servicemen supported the local community, helping farmers with haymaking and other duties, and undertaking public works which had been on hold due to the war. Willing and able, friendly and helpful, they fast became popular members of the community.
The men were highly visible in Warkworth. There were regular parades along Queen Street, and they were seen on manoeuvres and route marches in the surrounding countryside. A movie theatre was opened in the town hall with nightly screenings, and local businesses, including the Warkworth Hotel, prospered.
Judy Waters, a well-known contributor to this column, was aged about seven when the Americans arrived in Warkworth. In a recorded oral history of the time, she describes it as an invasion, albeit a friendly one, recalling that there were “hundreds of Americans everywhere”. She remembers how friendly the servicemen were and their generosity with sweets and chewing gum.
The Americans came to New Zealand for rest and recreation (R&R) from the Pacific battlefield, to recuperate from illness or injuries, and for the new recruits to undergo training before Pacific campaigns. Many people regularly took them into their homes, providing after-church Sunday lunches and a welcome taste of family life. Judy’s family did this and in her oral history she recounts her family later receiving letters from the men “from somewhere in the Pacific” and the excitement of receiving Christmas parcels and letters from them after the war ended. She also recalls that “glamorous American Red Cross ladies” came to Warkworth and organised social activities, as well as American food such as apple pie, hamburgers, doughnuts, coffee, and Coca-Cola. New sports were introduced and gridiron football and softball were played on farms to the amazement of the locals.
Warkworth Museum archives hold several boxes of items and papers from this period, including maps of the camps and letters from the ex-servicemen, several of whom revisited the area after the war. Some photographs by Tudor Collins are held at the museum, with most of his extensive collection digitised by the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Warkworth Museum also has two American army huts, on permanent display in its grounds. Initially, most of the servicemen lived in pyramid-shaped tents in the camps, but soon moved into purpose built wooden huts, prefabricated in the South Island. Recently, the museum’s huts were re-roofed, courtesy of the United States Embassy in New Zealand. The Embassy maintains an ongoing interest in its country’s history and relationship with the area.
This year is the 80th anniversary of the US servicemen’s arrival in Warkworth and to commemorate this, with the support of the US Embassy, the museum is upgrading the interiors of the huts, including a display of soldiers relaxing surrounded by their belongings in one hut and information and photograph panels, including an edited version of Judy’s audio history, in another.