Damned Marines…

Still picking up kiwi girls in Wellington after 60 years!

United States embassy marines have ambushed Paraparaumu author Joan Ellis on the way to a marines reunion in Washington DC and presented her with a string of pearls.

The gift, presented at the embassy in Wellington yesterday, was a tribute to her efforts in writing A String of Pearls – a book detailing the memories of US Marines in New Zealand during World War II.

Ellis, Joan.
A string of pearls : stories from US marines & New Zealand women remembering WWII / Joan Ellis. – Wellington, N.Z. : First Edition, c2006. – 282 p. : ports. ; 21 cm.
ISBN 9781877391903 (pbk.) : $35.95; 1877391905
1. World War, 1939-1945–Personal narratives, New Zealand. 2. World War, 1939-1945–New Zealand–Personal narratives, American. 3. World War, 1939-1945–Women–New Zealand. 4. Man-woman relationships–New Zealand–History–20th century. 5. Marines–New Zealand–History–20th century.

If you can find anyone who is actually SELLING it or will even admit it exists you’re doing better than I am.

UPDATE: For those of you visiting from the Marine linkage here’s a little bonus for the aniversary of the Guadalcanal landings earlier this month from something wrote back in 2005.

Sands of Paekakariki

On the 4th March 1942 the New Zealand government – having been left hanging in the breeze by Churchill – formally requested US assistance in the defence of New Zealand from the Japanese.

On the 10th March 1942 the orders were cut for a Marine Divison to be moved to New Zealand (Paekakariki).

The US did not attach any provisos to this substantial deployment. This move was of no strategic value to the US.

When the Japanese fleet moved to invade Port Morsbey the US Navy enaged in a battle (Coral Sea) they had every expectation of losing. As it was they were badly hurt but succeded in turning back the Japanese fleet.

This battle also did little to help the US strategic position but it did turn back the Japanese expasion at sea and provide protection to New Zealand and Australia.

During the period that US forces were based in New Zealand the Marines were established at a number of camps just north of Paekakariki around McKays crossing. Other forces were located in Papakura in Auckland with a tent hospital set up in Cornwall Park and another hospital at Silverstream in the Hutt Valley. 

After only six weeks training at Paekakariki (including the infamous march to Foxton and back in one day) the Marines landed in Guadalcannal and engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war facing and defeating a determined and confident enemy.

Valuable training time was lost when the Marines were required to load their own ships as the New Zealand waterfront workers (a protected “essential industry”) decided to strike for “danger money” when loading munitions. They felt that being on four times the rate of pay of a front line Kiwi infantrymen wasn’t enough. Their leadership was largely made up English union activists all of of them being exempt from the wholesale conscription taking place.

For many American Marines, sailors and soldiers New Zealand was the last friendly country. Many came here and never got home again.

Although friendly was sometimes not the word. The Ruapehu Draft with the first men from the 2NZEF to come home discovered that life had very much moved on without them and after years of fighting in Creece, Crete and North Africa they felt unapriciated and alienated. The Americans became a focus of their disatsifaction and a number of “incidents” occured peaking with well known but offically hidden “Battle of Manners Street” when New Zealand soldiers ambushed US servicemen as they were leaving the pubs at closing time (6 pm, known as the 6 o’clock swill).

The Ruapehu Draft later mutinied demanding that they not be sent back to serve again until other able bodied men had served at least once. Many of the men were discharged without benefits and lost their medals.

However by and large the efforts of many to foster good relations including a visit by Eleanor Roosevelt were succesful… possibly too succesful with several hundred women returing to the US after war as wives and numerous children born to American fathers.

A plaque on the Wellington forshore from the first Marine Divison comemorates their stay here and the battles they fought in the Pacific in defence of the region and the freedom of others. It incudes the words “If you need a friend you have one”.

The sentiment was not entirely recipricated by the New Zealand Labour Party government who in thanks chose to “nationalise” all the Marines heavy equipment meaning that the NZ government wanted to tax the Maines to remove anything larger than a jeep from the country to the tune of its total value as defined by the NZ government. Ledgend has it that the Marines faced with option A. Leave all the cool toys for the ungrateful kiwis option B. give them lots of money to take their own gear home decided on an option C. They buried the whole damned lot and its all still out there somewhere under the dunes. 

As a final ironic footnote the US forces while in New Zealand offered to undertake a range of engineering works including such things as a tunnel through to Wainuiomata and a four lane highway to improve access to the Manawatu from Wellington via a place known as earthquake gully.

More information on US forces in New Zealand during the war can be found here. Warning, this is a sanitized presentation of events. 


3 Responses to Damned Marines…

  1. krm says:

    My Marine dad “visited” NZ on that big government sponsered tour in the 40s. He realy liked NZ (never mentioned the local ladies though).

  2. Murray says:

    I see.

    So…. should I be looking for your long lost sibling?

  3. Joan Ellis says:

    I’m the author or A String of Pearls which has been revised and self-published by myself. I’ve just published a second book titled Follow Me Back in Time Both can be purchased from PublishMe website

    Joan Ellis

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