Porirua was home to almost 8,000 United States Marines during World War II. A camp housing 1500 military personnel was built in Titahi Bay on land that had previously been used as a golf course.
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 Officers' Mess was in the building today used by Titahi Bay Library.
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
Pataka'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. 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 boosted the local economy with their use of taxis and local shops. Local women earned extra money by taking in their laundry.
When the Marines left the Porirua area (c1943), 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 was one 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.
(Information provided by Ruth Barrett, Local History Librarian at Porirua Central Library.)
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