The centennial of WWI has raised awareness of New Zealand’s sacrifices during that ‘Great War’ and subsequent conflicts. In 1994, a local historian, the late Ted Halfpenny, wrote an article recalling WWII tragedies that happened in our district while he was a member of the Home Guard.
The Home Guard was formed in 1940 and initially was desperately short of equipment. Only the perseverance and ingenuity of the guardsmen enabled them to carry out their training. Japan’s entry into WWII meant invasion became a very real threat to New Zealand. Registration for the Home Guard was made compulsory for men of military age not already in the army and men aged 46-50. By May 1943, it was 124,000 strong, equipped with uniforms and weapons.
In 1942, the local battalion camped in Wellsford’s Memorial Park and was involved with building bridges and road blocks in Pakiri, Hoteo North, Dome Valley and Wharehine.
They also dug weapons pits on the surrounding hills.
On June 26, a truck taking men to job sites was hit by a train at the Wellsford crossing. The officer-in-charge, Ernest Schischka, and his driver, Paul Walters, were killed. Eight men in the back of the truck escaped serious injury. A day after their funeral in Puhoi, some men were allowed home for the weekend but were urgently recalled. A truck was sent to collect them. Ted wrote, “When we reached the Memorial gates the boy on guard duty told us we were in quarantine as one of the lads (Don Becroft) had contracted meningitis and been taken to Auckland Hospital.” Don survived the illness but Ronald Browne, 16, was collected by ambulance the following morning after becoming unwell. He died that same evening.
The guardsmen were in quarantine for 10 days and moved from the Agricultural Show building into tents, where they had frost on their beds. Unfortunately, the day the quarantine period expired there was another case of meningitis, so the men were confined for another 12 days.
In December, some of the guardsmen were building an aircraft-spotting post on Prospect Hill, Wharehine. As they were pulling a telephone wire up to the installation, a restraining wire broke and the wire came in contact with a power line. Two men, John Pavlovich of Te Arai and William Parks of Warkworth, were killed instantly. Ted noted that within three months there were five deaths in a group of about 30 men, but these episodes had little or no publicity at the time.
However, their sacrifices have now been recognised, and their names are rightly honoured among other war casualties on the Auckland Museum’s Online Cenotaph: aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph.
Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum