An 11 year-old’s perspective on World War II in Raumati
By Maurice Perry
My family have very vivid memories of the Marines during World War 11. We had a beach house at Raumati South, overlooking what was McKenzie’s farm, commandeered by the Government as a training ground for the Marines. I was 11 years old at the time and spent many weekends and school holidays following the yanks around while they were on manoeuvres.
After the war in the Pacific started, the government took over farms between Paekakariki and Raumati South to build three large camps: Paekakariki, just north of the town and camps McKay and Russell built either side of the road at MacKay’s crossing. McKenzie’s farm house was used as accommodation for American officers.
By late in 1942 over 15,000 Marines had moved into the area. Their jeeps, trucks, armoured cars, and tanks were a very familiar sight on our roads. Another vehicle, unknown to us before, was the station wagon - often built with wooden side panels and doors and used for officer transport.
One dinner-time, a loud rumbling noise coming from the hills to the east of Dell Road aroused our curiosity and we had our first-ever sighting of military tanks moving about over the farmland. Throughout the following year the sight and sound of tanks became very familiar and offered great entertainment for us locals.
Armoured cars and Jeeps were frequently involved in these manoeuvres. The Marines often set up overnight camps in a park or amongst the trees off Dell or Tennis Court Roads. They often strung phone wires on our power poles and used their field telephones between the different units. In those days, radios were far larger and heavier than today.
Mrs Mitchell, who ran the shop in Poplar Avenue opposite the present shops, made and sold fruit cake, which the marines were partial to and they often asked us to buy them cake and ice-creams. Our two-wheeled cart was used for collecting scrap metal and carting the items we had bought for them at the shop. Meals for the troops came in “the chow wagon”, usually a Jeep towing a trailer from one of their camps.
Once, when they were trying to modify the caterpillar tracks of a tank by fitting extra growsers, it lost traction on the hillside and rolled into a shallow pond injuring two of the crew. They climbed out through the turret but the tank was well stuck. A radio call back to Camp McKay saw a large bulldozer sent up the beach on a rescue mission.
Inflatable landing craft, powered by Evinrude outboard motors, were often used for landing practices, which were frequently in the sand hills where Hyde’s Cutting meets the beach. On one occasion a wave capsized a boat and some Marines were drowned. This cast an atmosphere of gloom for some time, with everyone feeling great sympathy for the families and survivors.
Marines were taken into many of our homes for meals or an evening in a family environment. Throughout 1942 and 1943 their presence touched nearly every family in the district.
We made good pocket money collecting solid brass cartridge cases from their rifles and machine guns, and mortar bomb tail-fins which we sold as scrap metal. Small tins of instant coffee, that formed part of their field ration packs, were also left lying all over the paddocks. We collected them giving them to our parents as their first introduction to instant coffee. American cigarettes; Lucky-strike, Camel, etc. were in plentiful supply and were handed out with great generosity to local families. Many families received gifts like clothing, silk stockings, or U.S.M.C. badges.
Because of the invasion threat we were prohibited from having lights showing out to sea. Waterfront houses had to have all west facing windows blacked out. Occasionally, the ranger on Kapiti Island would radio Paraparaumu that a light was showing and an E.P.S. person would be sent to remedy the problem.
All cars had their headlights permanently dipped for the same reason. Military vehicles had theirs shielded to give just a narrow beam of light. On the north side of the Pukerua Bay Hill Road, a tank trap was built to hinder the movement of enemy vehicles should they land in the area and try to drive south. The inland part of that structure remains today.
The sounds of rifle fire, machine-gun fire and mortar bomb explosions were all familiar to us in those days, likewise the sight of fox holes dug into the paddocks, with camouflage netting over the top. From MacKay’s Crossing north and all along Poplar Avenue there were signs announcing: WARNING - GUNFIRE AT ANY TIME! - KEEP OUT - U.S.M.C.
Once, we were walking down Waterfall Gully Road and passed a troop of Marines walking up hill. We had noticed the odd machine-gun nest, mortar set-up, or communication post being established amongst the trees as we walked. The troop going uphill, were on an observation exercise hoping to spot these. I’m sure we helped their exercise by telling them where we’d spotted each one.
Another time, while on a picnic at the Whareroa stream, we were entertained by tracer machine gun fire overhead landing in the sea - surely the best addition to a family picnic one could hope for! Before long, an officer came running along the beach shouting “you’re in the firing range- GET OUT!” Reluctantly but hurriedly gathered our gear and headed north.
One weekend in 1943 we drove to Raumati but all was empty and quiet at the camps. The U.S. Marines had sailed from Wellington to the Pacific Islands to engage in the war they had been training for. The place seemed very different with no jeeps, tanks or trucks, no sound of gunfire, no Americans to buy Mrs Mitchell’s fruit cake and certainly fewer people around.