Porirua was home to almost 8,000 US Marines. Titahi Bay Camp had 1500 men, Pauatahanui Camp (located on Motokaraka Point) had more than 2000 men, the three camps in the Judgeford area (Judgeford, Moonshine and Haywards) had between 2400 and 3800 stationed there, and Paremata (located on Ngatitoa Domain) accommodated 482. The latter was also used as a supply depot.
The Public Works Department built the camps with many of the buildings pre-fabricated in the South Island and then transported to the camps by the New Zealand Army. The Marines brought their own tents but local carpenters installed wooden floors for them. The tents housed between four and nine men. The huts tended to be used as infirmaries, or for storage of supplies.
Titahi Bay Camp had platoons from the "Special Troops" stationed there, including the Special Weapons Battalion, the Second Tank Battalion, the Second Parachute Battalion and the Second Scout Company who trained on the coasts of Titahi Bay, Porirua and Makara.
The 10th Marine (Artillery) Regiment was stationed at Pauatahanui. The 18th Engineers was stationed at Judgeford. The Amphibious Tractor Battalion was stationed at Paremata. The camps at Titahi Bay and Judgeford were located on sites that had previously been used as golf courses.Marine Camp at Judgeford 1940’s
From January 1943, Marines began arriving in the local camps for ‘R&R’, (rest and recreation), after fighting in the battles of Guadalcanal. Although their "liberty" was mostly spent in Wellington, the soldiers did have contact with the locals.
Pataka Museum's oral history collection includes many interviews with locals who recalled the impact the Marines had on the District. They recall how they livened the place up, especially when they provided their own bands for the local dances – bringing a taste of the big band music epitomised by Glen Miller. The Cabaret in Titahi Bay was particularly popular, for those who could get in.
Many people recall the Marines generosity with gifts of tinned fruit and sugar, chocolates, cigarettes, flowers, and even petrol. The Marines didn't like the smell of mutton, were surprised that they couldn’t find hamburgers and milkshakes and loved the quality of New Zealand ice-cream and milk. Pauatahanui farmers' wives did a roaring trade in sponge cakes. One man recalled how the Marines were the first to eat fish and chips in the street, straight from the packet, something not seen before in Porirua.
People also recalled how young the Marines were. Some were only sixteen or seventeen years old. Marines would be invited into people’s homes for dinner and a night's entertainment and they would often talk about their life back home. Some of the Marines would continue to write letters after the war to people they had stayed with, although many were killed at the battle for Tarawa Atoll in November 1943.
The Marines also boosted the local economy with their use of taxis and local shops. Local women earned extra money by taking in their laundry.
On November 1, 1943 the 2nd Marine Division departed as part of the Southern Attack Force of Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, in particular, Tarawa. They left behind some rear echelon units and equipment.
On November 8 that year, an Upper Hutt-Wellington commuter train derailed on the curve between Andrews and Haywards railway stations. Several carriages toppled on to their sides. Marines stationed at the Judgeford Camp rushed to the scene with mobile cranes and other heavy equipment and US Navy medical staff from Silverstream Hospital attended to the victims of the accident.
When the Marines left the Porirua area, orders were given to dump and bury their equipment in huge pits, large enough to take machinery, jeeps and clothing. The Marines left their property behind if it didn't meet combat standards or wasn’t needed in the tropics. Locals recalled that some of the equipment being buried was brand new and still in the original covers. Kitchen utensils, such as buckets, and wool-lined jackets were particularly prized.
Guards were stationed at the pits but they often allowed locals to take away what they could.
Te Pene Avenue in Titahi Bay and Judgeford Road in Pauatahanui were two of the sites where the pits were located. Once the camps were evacuated by the Marines, they were handed back to the control of the New Zealand Army in 1944.
(Text written by Ruth Barrett, Local History Librarian, Porirua Library)
Bevan, Denys "United States forces in New Zealand" (Macpherson Publishing, 1992)
Dominion Post 20 July 2002 p. F.18 "Wartime invasion that rocked Wellington" by David Famularo
Evening Post 29 June 2002 p.25 "Over here" by Ann Packer
Fordyce, Linda and Kirsten Maclehn "The Bay: a history of community at Titahi Bay" (Titahi Bay Residents & Ratepayers Progressive Association, 2000)
Pataka Museum Oral History Project