• Tairāwhiti WW2 Memories: Armed Forces

Tairāwhiti WW2 Memories: Armed Forces

7 May, 2020     SHARE:

Tairāwhiti WW2 Memories: Armed Forces

Following the declaration of war on the 3rd September 1939, a recruiting office was set up in the Abercorn Hall in Ormond road.  Scenes recalling the experience of 1914, when on the opening of lists for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force scores of men of the Gisborne district flocked to register their names at the Defence Office, were witnessed this morning at the Abercorn Hall, when lists for the special volunteer force for service within  New Zealand or abroad were opened….Throughout the morning a queue was forming more quickly than the volunteers could be handled by the clerical staff on duty, and a notable feature was the presence of several Maori youths, no less eager than their European friends to enlist in the special force.[1]

Gisborne Army staff outside Army Hall, 1940s

At the end of December, Troops of the First Echelon of the Second New Zealand Division, who were on final leave, prepared to depart for their camps.  The co-operation of the Gisborne Borough Council and the Poverty Bay Electric-Power Board has been given freely to the Provincial Patriotic Council, which undertook the organisation of the farewell ceremony. This co-operation has made possible the decoration of Peel street with bunting and coloured lights, and the provision of a platform from which addresses in honour of the district’s representatives in the First Echelon will be delivered…..Before the departure of the service cars, each man of the contingent will receive a parcel of gifts prepared by the women’s committee, and as the cars move off, veterans of the Great War will form a guard of honour for their comrades of the new division.[2]

Public gatherings were also held to mark other departures, such as those of the Second and Third Echelons[3] and members of the Māori Battalion. In March 1940,  the march of the 132 members of the Maori Battalion from Poho-o-Rawiri meeting house to Peel street for the official function prior to their departure for Wairoa this afternoon was an impressive one. The column was led by the W.E.C.M.R. Band, which played suitable airs. At the Hirini street intersection of Wainui road the Maori troops were joined by ex-servicemen, members of the Second Echelon, and the cadets of the Gisborne High School. In several cases Maori women joined in the parade and linked hands with their husbands or boyfriends. This has been a feature in the marches of all Maori troops when they have been leaving Gisborne for their camps.[4]

At the beginning of 1940 enlistment was still voluntary, but still some members of the community took it upon themselves to send white feathers.  These instances were reported unsympathetically.

Showing the degree of discrimination which usually characterises such types of activity, a white feather “crusader’’ in Gisborne—the first whose efforts have become public—has selected Mr. A. Brown, a member of the Kaiti freezing works staff, as the recipient of a message. “Why don’t you enlist? Are you a coward?” was the text of the message, crudely printed upon a greasy portion of a page taken from a cheap writing pad. A white feather accompanies the note. Mr. Brown has little need to worry about the obviously spiteful curiosity of the sender for he enlisted in Gisborne before Christmas, and recently passed a medical examination for admission to the infantry battalion of the Third Echelon.[5]

In June, it was thought that the despicable action of sending white feathers to men of military age had died out in Gisborne, but it was learned this morning that another feather had been sent to a wrong address.  In this case too, the recipient had already enlisted.  Since the beginning of the war the Herald’s attention has been drawn to three such letters sent in each case to men who had volunteered and were awaiting the call.[6]

Conscription was introduced in July 1940 and the first ballot was drawn at the end of September, with names of the local men selected published in The Gisborne Herald.[7]In an article headlined “Few Conchies” it was noted that the proportion of appeals based on conscientious objections to military service is almost negligible….. Undue hardship arising from family responsibilities or trade qualifications furnish the basis of the great number of appeals.[8] There were 168 appeals lodged against the second ballot, only eight or nine of the appeals are based on conscientious objections to military service, and these will be dealt with by a special authority.[9] Although some of those who objected felt that their beliefs would not allow them to serve at all, others were prepared to accept non-combat roles such as ambulance work.[10]

Once soldiers began to return on leave local groups took it upon themselves to arrange entertainments, such as the first function arranged by the Bartletts Social Club for the entertainment of the soldiers on leave took place on Tuesday evening in the Y.M.C.A.. Hall. A most successful dance was held and this was interspersed with concert items.[11]

At the end of November 1940, a Soldiers’ Service Club was established by anonymous sponsors in Lowe Street.  There was no doubt that such an institution would be of the greatest value to troops passing through or spending their leave in Gisborne, said Mr. Hall. One of the less satisfactory aspects of leave periods for soldiers was the difficulty the men sometimes found in filling their time profitably. Their natural impulse was to get together, and if they had a place of their own, as he believed this club was intended to be, they would use it and benefit by its facilities…..The qualification for admission would be simply that the man must be in the King’s uniform. It was intended, also, that the soldiers should have the privilege of bringing lady friends into the club-rooms…[12]  A 1944 review of its activities showed that the club had provided facilities for the entertainment and relaxation of thousands of servicemen. The cafeteria had served some 44,000 servicemen and their friends with refreshments at all hours of the day and night. The Friday night dances had always been a popular feature. A particular welcome had been extended by the club to visiting servicemen and billets had frequently been arranged for those wishing to spend a few days in the district….  perhaps the section of the armed forces which had made most use of the club were members of the R.N.Z.A.F. who had been stationed in the Gisborne district.[13]

In 1942 Gisborne briefly hosted a group of  men of the United States Marine Corps who arrived at Gisborne by railcar last night to spend a short period of leave here. The Marines had seen action in the Solomon Islands and were convalescing in New Zealand. They were given a civic welcome, where the Mayor assured them that every citizen of Gisborne will vie with one another in making your stay amongst us both pleasant and agreeable… The committee of the Soldiers’ Club has thrown open the doors to you and other social clubs have done likewise.”[14]

In 1943 a civic welcome was held for returning servicemen, the reporter making note that among them there were several men with crutches or sticks for support.[15] These functions continued as the troops gradually began to return home.

The problems to be expected when servicemen had to readjust to civilian life were the subject of a talk to the Rotary Club in 1943.  Those who would be settling in new homes immediately after the war would be, generally speaking, those girls who married men just before the men left for war service and those who were engaged to soldiers, Mrs. Hall said. Those people might have to face many difficulties in attempting to settle down because of the difference of the outlooks of the wives and husbands, changed by the circumstances of the war….The returned servicemen would come home with a completely altered outlook, liking the company of his cobbers, for whom he would do anything, and alienated from civilians. It was important that these facts should be realised, especially by girls whose task it would be to make homes for the men.  Mrs Hall suggested that in order to prepare the girls for the task ahead of them, talks should be given to small groups of girls, possibly by the Women’s R.S.A.[16]

Another person who anticipated future difficulties was Mr Thomas Todd, who gifted the Gisborne Returned Services’ Association £6OO to be placed in trust for 20 years.  Mr Todd explained that he was “leaving the money in this way because so many of those who came through the last war apparently little the worse for it are now cracking up prematurely, and in many cases are finding it impossible to convince the authorities in charge of pensions that their sufferings and disabilities are really due to war service,”[17]

Arrangements for the establishment of carpentry training centres, with one to be located in Gisborne, began in 1944.[18] Thirteen returned servicement began training under the Rehabilitation Department’s scheme in April 1945.  The training school was in Awapuni Road, and was fitted out with up-to-date wood-working equipment and the necessary tools and benches. After four months of preliminary training, all had qualified for the second stage of the course and are now engaged in erecting a double-unit State house in Collin street. [19] In 1946 a hostel was set up at Poho-o-Rawiri to provide accommodation for the eight carpentry trainees from the East Coast and other outlying districts who were attending the school.[20]

For some years prior to the beginning of the war the RSA, in association with the New Zealand Blind Institute,  had operated a basket factory in premises on Read’s Quay.  This successful joint venture came to an end in 1946, due to the retirement of the supervisor, and the lack of basket willow supplies.[21]

Land settlement and housing were the chief topics of interest at a meeting of the Waikohu RSA in 1947.[22] These issues were gradually addressed over the following years.  In November 1948, a sale just approved will give title in the Hexton area to 10 servicemen. This sale, approved by the Gisborne Land Sales Committee on Thursday, marks the initial success in a Gisborne project that is the first of its kind in the Dominion. The sale was arranged by the Gisborne Returned Servicemen’s Small Farms Settlement Group, and it is hoped that it will be the forerunner of others.[23]

The settlement of returned servicemen on farms was ongoing : In 1950 Three Gisborne district returned servicemen were successful in a land ballot conducted this morning for dairy sections in the Ruakakaka and Opou blocks, situated approximately seven miles from the nearest dairy factory and representing highly desirable dairying units….. The Rehabilitation Department will erect dwellings, cowsheds, implement sheds and piggeries oil each of the sections, and it is anticipated that the buildings will be ready for the start of the new milking season.[24]

Housing continued to be an issue – in December 1950 there were still 50 returned servicemen in the transit camp  However, the number awaiting allocation outside the camp have shown a considerable decrease during the past year and that was mainly due to the keen interest being shown by exservicemen in buying and building their own homes with the increased loan available,” said a Rehabilitation Department officer.[25] 

-Christine Page, Museum Archivist

[1] The Gisborne Herald 12 September 1939

[2] The Gisborne Herald 27 December 1939

[3] The Gisborne Herald 8 January 1940, 10 August 1940

[4] The Gisborne Herald 28 March 1940

[5] The Gisborne Herald 2 February 1940

[6] The Gisborne Herald 1 June 1940

[7] The Gisborne Herald 2 October 1940

[8] The Gisborne Herald 15 October 1940

[9] The Gisborne Herald 20 November 1940

[10] The Gisborne Herald 2 July 1941

[11] The Gisborne Herald 9 August 1940

[12] The Gisborne Herald 20 November 1940

[13] The Gisborne Herald 18 December 1944

[14] The Gisborne Herald 24 December 1942

[15] The Gisborne Herald 26 July 1943

[16][16] The Gisborne Herald 16 March 1943

[17] The Gisborne Herald 9 June 1943

[18] The Gisborne Herald 3 May 1944

[19] The Gisborne Herald 11 April 1945, 22 September 1945

[20] The Gisborne Herald 27 June 1946

[21] The Gisborne Herald 26 March 1946

[22] The Gisborne Herald 9 August 1947

[23] The Gisborne Herald 29 November 1948

[24] The Gisborne Herald 7 July 1950

[25] The Gisborne Herald 8 December 1950


Newsletter Signup

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.