The American Invasion

… of Warkworth, New Zealand

When Japan successfully struck downtown-Honolulu in December 1941, they effectively brought about the end to their own imperialistic fantasies. Because, whatever the Americans’ involvement in the Second World War had been up until that point, after Pearl Harbor they were Officially At War. It may have taken the Allies another couple of years to turn the tide, but before long, it became clear that Japan was losing the War in the Pacific. We all know the rest—the atomic hellfire being the final two nails in the Nippon coffin.

With Japan and the United States situated on opposite sides of the mighty Pacific Ocean, the United States required an outpost closer to the action, where it could station its troops before and after going in to battle. Early in 1942, New Zealand was mooted to be the ideal peaceful situation.

And so began the American Invasion, as it was known.

New Zealand’s population size at the time was comparable to the city of Detroit, Michigan during its most populace days. New Zealand’s population was a tiny fraction of America’s 130 million citizens. So it certainly must have felt like an invasion, when towns around Wellington and Auckland played host to the thousands of American doughboys and leathernecks. In Auckland Domain (a bit like Central Park in New York) alone, temporary barracks blocks, hospitals and offices sprung up like a mini-city. Other large parks, such as Western Springs Domain and Andersons Park were similarly adorned with huts and tents.

US troops march along Queen Street, Auckland, NZ.

For the most part, these visitors were very welcome. Families opted to billet US soldiers during weekends. Romances blossomed. The “invaders” brought new ideas, a different culture, youth, single men, and a minor economic boom to the country.

American Invasion of Warkworth
Do you know this WW2 serviceman?

The American’s, however, struggled with NZ’s limited leisure-time activities. The result being that they recreated their own entertainments—tweaking the culture of their host country forever. Doughnuts, coca-cola, hamburgers, forklifts, ice-skating, basketball and swing bands, were just a slice of American culture that the Kiwis gobbled up. [edit] it has been pointed out to me that forklifts are not a form of leisure. Wait, really?

It wasn’t just leisure time that required considerable adjustment. Life in New Zealand was hard for ‘fresh off the boat’ recruits. In one sad incident in 1943, ten US Navy personnel were drowned off the coast north of Wellington before they’d even had the chance to get near battle. Those returning from the tough conditions of the Pacific battlegrounds for R & R were quicker to appreciate New Zealand and it’s fair to say that most took away favorable memories.

Amicable American Invasion in Warkworth

My hometown, Warkworth (northern most end of Auckland) was one of the towns which hosted USA Marines, American Army, Navy, and civilian employees of the USA Forces between 1942-1944. Recently a haul of photographs depicting American servicemen in Warkworth have been donated to Auckland Museum. The museum is currently seeking to identify the men in the 800+ photographs, which can be viewed here.

A random portrait of US servicemen in Warkworth, NZ
A random portrait of US servicemen in Warkworth, NZ

 

If you know somebody whose WW2 father, grandfather or great-grandfather was in the US Army stationed in the Pacific, then there is a good possibility that they spent at least some time in New Zealand: training, recuperating or working. Please take a look through the photographs and see if you can recognize anybody. Share this blog and help in the search to identify these US servicemen.

 

 

 

portraits chosen at random © Auckland Museum CC (licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International)
and (top photo) courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of NZ 

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