The Story of the Hut
In March 1942, Prime Minister Peter Fraser makes James Fletcher ‘Commissioner of Defence Construction’ with power to call on all resources.
In April the NZ government is warned that thousands of US Marines will land in Wellington in six weeks. Fully-serviced camps must be built rapidly.
The Government Architect draws up plans for prefabricated buildings. New Zealand builders drop all other jobs to prepare for the ‘invasion’.
Prefabricated panels, made in Canterbury, land on Aotea Quay.
Materials are railed to Paekakariki and trucked to the camp sites. (The specially built goods shed in the rail yards is still there.)
On 6 May, Lt.Col. Merrill B. Twining of the US Marines Corps arrives to select camp sites, helped by two officers of the Royal NZ Engineers. Paekakariki land, chosen as an infantry training area, is leased from its owners. Public Works Department prepares the sites.
Camps Mackay and Paekakariki, each holding about 5000 men, are built first. By February 1943 Camp Russell is also ready for 4850 men of the Second Marine Division.
Porfirio Navarro was a member of the mapping unit. He sent many drawings home to his family, including this glimpse of daily life in a ’15 x 8 feet sleeping hut’. Our display is based on this image.
On 1 Nov. 1943 the Second Marine Division sails from Wellington to the Battle of Tarawa, and the camps fall empty.
When peace comes, all buildings are dismantled for their timber. Huts are sold as accommodation for farm workers, as beach cottages or tool sheds. Two huts are made into this house for a returned soldier at 59 Tiromoana Road, Raumati South.
In 2016 the house is donated to Kapiti US Marines Trust to be returned to Camp Russell (Queen Elizabeth Park). Members of Menzshed Kapiti dismantle and rebuild it to the original design. The hut is dedicated and opened to the public on 29 May 2017, America’s Memorial Day.