Back to normal

A small American party remained to pack up camp and bury surplus equipment while local people scrambled for useful items.

Because building timber was very scarce, a team of workers arrived to dismantle the camp buildings. Many sleeping huts were sold as holiday cottages or farm accommodation. In 1953, the training area to the north was opened to the public as Queen Elizabeth Park. An area south of Wainui Stream became a motor camp. The rest was subdivided for housing, with new streets named for the people of Ngāti Haumia: Henare, Horomona, Aperahama, Paneta, Mira, Miriona, Te Miti, Tangahoe and Haumia. On the camp’s southern boundary a new street was named after the Battle of Tarawa.

The troops who had shared Paekākāriki with its people did not forget their home away from home. Every five years, retired Marines and their families came for reunions to share memories. The number of veterans has now dwindled to a trickle, but on each Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, New Zealand remembers with gratitude the ‘friendly invasion’. This palisade was built to keep their memory alive.

US marines in New Zealand

Jean Andrews welcomes former members of the 2nd Marine Division to her home, 1992. Photo: Evening Post.

I tell my mokopuna about the war years. We go up there to the cemetery and sit there and they say, ‘What’s that concrete slab down there in the motor camp?’ And I’ll say ‘Aw, that’s where Uncle Sid’s hut was.’

When the Yanks left it was dead silence. Back to normal. Back to a population of 500 or so. Absolutely dead. Dead silence. Yeah.