The Te Awamutu War Effort 1939-45 - NZ Herald

2022-04-25 09:37:08 By : Ms. jiaxuan zq

View along a row of surplus Venturas at Rukuhia aerodrome. Photo / Des White / Air Force Museum of New Zealand

The Te Awamutu Home Guard, like so many throughout our land, was formed in 1940 in the hope of fending off any potential German invaders (but after December 1941 it looked more likely that it would be the Japanese who would invade).

Lt. Col J. G. Wynyard was commander of the battalion until October 17, 1941, when he was replaced by Major G. A. Mills; the Battalion Adjutant until October 23, 1941 was Capt. H. A. Swarbrick (later president of the Te Awamutu Historical Society) who stepped down as Adjutant to become second-in-command of the battalion.

His replacement as adjutant was Capt. H. S. Weightman.

These men, and the many platoon commanders under them, oversaw the training of the local Home Guard forces; Albert Park became their training ground and, according to a memo from the time, from July 7, 1941 it was there that the Home Guard were trained in "map reading, field engineering, demolitions, tank hunting, entrenchments, wiring, bridge building, section leading etc" every Monday evening and Saturday afternoon.

Some specialist training would take place at Narrow Neck military camp in Auckland. It was also at Albert Park that on December 6, 1941 the Home Guard held their anniversary parade and practised bomb throwing, signalling, infantry drill and rifle drill, and ran relays before decamping to the Town Hall in the evening for a dance arranged by the Women's War Service Auxiliary Corps.

The Home Guard members were given recipes for molotov cocktails, extra fuel rations to get to and from manoeuvres and training (which included getting to grips with both Lewis and Tommy Guns) and interestingly they were instructed to dull the buttons on their uniforms using sulphur.

Up until May 1942 (when the Battle of the Coral Sea resulted in the pushing back of Japanese forces) the prospect of invasion was a very real one and so the Te Awamutu Battalion found themselves with an increasingly significant role in the defence of Kāwhia.

On December 16, 1941, shortly before he relinquished command of the battalion, Major Mills dispatched a memo to those under his command, in it he stated that "the time for playing at soldiers and regarding parades as social gatherings ... has passed and we must now release that we are responsible for our own defence. If we do not do our job all will be lost ... one and all, we will see it through."

Stirring words to men who must surely have felt invasion was imminent.

Across the country Home Guard forces were eventually disbanded in December 1943, thankfully without the threat of invasion becoming a reality but we must surely be thankful for the many local men who fought to protect us at home while so many others fought for us overseas.

Women's Auxiliary Corps in Te Awamutu

During World War II it wasn't just our local men who were called on to join the military, many local women signed up too — as members of the Women's War Service Auxiliary Corps.

The Corps was founded in 1940 to recruit women, aged between 17 and 45, to fill the vacancies left by the men who had gone to war, whether it be on the farm, or making munitions — the Women's Auxiliary covered it all.

Members of the Te Awamutu Women's Auxiliary Corps were trained in bandaging, stretcher-bearing, driving, mechanical maintenance, physical and military drill, clerical tasks, signalling and much more besides.

They, along with our local Home Guard, were our local defence against the invasion of any German or Japanese forces.

But it wasn't all work and no play, the Te Awamutu wing of the Women's Auxiliary Corps enjoyed arranging "visits and hospitality to the more than 600 servicemen and seamen in this district" and when it was disbanded in 1946 the Te Awamutu Courier recorded that "apart from doing excellent work, the girls also had time for good times ... and a wonderful team spirit existed and the fact that enthusiasm was as keen at the end as when the members first met in the dark days of 1940 proves that an unexplainable "something" existed which kept interest alive throughout".

Princess Elizabeth (now our Queen) carried out similar wartime service once she had turned 18, after which she served in Britain's Auxiliary Territorial Service as a mechanic.

Town's flying aces served with great bravery

Scores of Te Awamutu men took to the skies during World War II and as we remember and honour the service of all who serve and have served in our Armed Forces, there are a handful of stories we'd like to highlight.

Jack and James Menzies Smith, who were both educated at Te Awamutu District High School, were recorded not only for their heroism but for the fact there were only six New Zealand families where two or more sons received "air awards overseas".

In June 1943 James was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying numerous sorties over "very heavily defended targets" and for "successful night raids on Danzig and Le Creusot ... with a high degree of devotion to duty and ... complete disregard of personal danger".

Just 12 months earlier his brother Jack was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his service as a rear-gunner of a Stirling bomber during a raid on Brest, France in 1941, where he shot down a number of enemy planes.

Jack was killed in Germany in September 1942, his brother James was wounded in 1944 but later went on to become a Squadron Leader and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross again in 1945. He passed away in 1983.

Malcolm Bridge of Te Awamutu was one of the 125,000 personnel who served in Bomber Command during World War II.

From May 1942 to August 1943 Malcolm was the captain of a Lockheed Hudson ambulance and transport plane which, the Te Awamutu Courier reported, was "operating in the Western Desert and Tunisia, and more recently in Sicily".

In August 1943 he was promoted from Flight-Sergeant to Warrant Officer, then in March 1944 he was promoted to Pilot-Officer after being "recently transferred under the command in the Eastern theatre where he ... was attached to a bomber squadron". He passed away in 2005, aged 87.

Charles Christopher Reilly was 27 when he fought in the Battle of Britain; he studied at Te Awamutu District High School and then went on to become a hardware assistant.

When war broke out, he almost immediately volunteered for aircrew duties and by April 1940 was on his way to Britain.

As the Battle of Britain raged in the skies over southern England from July to October 1940, Charles would have been one of many fighting to take down Messchersmitts, Dorniers, Heinkels and others before they could empty their payloads on RAF airfields, munitions factories and civilian targets.

In August 1942, the Te Awamutu Courier reported on his promotion to Flying Officer. On October 28 he and his crew were shot down and killed en route to Crete.

Frank Chunn was another of our local born heroes and at just 22 he too took to the skies during the Battle of Britain, as a result of his heroism King George VI personally presented him with the Distinguished Flying Cross at Buckingham Palace.

The Te Awamutu Courier reported that Frank left New Zealand in May 1940 and arrived in Britain in June 1940 shortly after Dunkirk; after fighting in the Battle of Britain he went on to take part in sorties "over occupied Europe, the German Ruhr, and as far field as Turin and Genoa in Italy". Frank died in 2007, aged 89.

Air Force gunner our first casualty

The first Te Awamutu casualty of World War II was Sergeant-Gunner Reginald Brown of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who was killed in action in December 1940.

Prior to joining the Air Force, Reginald Brown had worked at the Te Awamutu Co-Operative Dairy Factory for three years after moving to Te Awamutu from Auckland, at the factory he was in charge of the factory's butter packing department.

During his war service he was part of the famous No. 99 RAF Squadron which flew Wellington Bombers into Germany and during the course of the war destroyed many high value targets — including Nazi warships and their naval bases.

He was remembered in the Te Awamutu Courier as "a very fine type of young man, who was extremely popular with all his fellow workers" and an enthusiastic footballer and tennis player.

During WWII Te Awamutu boys trained to help defend our country and many later fought in the skies of the Asia-Pacific region.

In 1941 the Air Training Corps (ATC) was established to provide the RNZAF with skilled pilots and airmen — the ATC was then aimed at 15- to 18-year-olds, but today entry is open to those aged 13 to 18.

In 1943 Wing Commander Nicholls broadcast an address in which he stated that while the boys would not be able to actively serve in combat until they were 18 it was still imperative that New Zealand did not "take chances ... and relax our efforts now and let up on the training of reserves".

Commander of the Te Awamutu ATC was Pilot-Officer Spence, in the wake of Nicholls' broadcast he organised a parade at the high school where interested boys were able to sign up to join the ATC.

By 1944 the Te Awamutu Air Training Corps became a squadron and continued to operate for some time post-war as the Te Awamutu Air Training Company 56th Squadron.

In 1946 the squadron gained the highest marks in competitions against units from Hamilton, Matamata and Morrinsville.

Te Awamutu RNZAF Station in WWII

During World War II Te Awamutu housed a dedicated storage depot for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, it had originally intended to support US military forces during the war but was deemed better suited for use by the RNZAF and became one of just four RNZAF storage depots in New Zealand (the others were in Te Rapa, Christchurch and Wellington).

The depot was primarily dedicated to serving the airfield at Rukuhia and its almost 200 staff played a vital role in supplying the airfield.

Squadron Leader Poole commanded the station from its inception until 1943 when he was posted overseas.

He was replaced by Squadron Leader Wilson (who served in the RNZAF for 38 years before retiring in 1948), who himself was replaced later by Squadron Leader Jackson and by the time the station was closed down it was under the command of Squadron Leader Pledger. After the war a sale was held by Messrs G.D Shepherd and Co. to clear the station of tools, machinery and other paraphernalia used by the Air Force during the conflict — the Te Awamutu Courier reported that tarpaulins were a favourite of buyers who had travelled from far and wide, with extension ladders, drill benches, electric drills and other tools proving equally popular.

Today Fonterra occupies the site of the former RNZAF station.

Remembering an old graveyard of war planes

From 1942 onward, the Royal New Zealand Air Force operated from a base in Rukuhia, hundreds upon hundreds of iconic World War II planes ranging from Kittyhawks to Corsairs flew to and from that base for any repairs or overhauls needed to help keep them defending the Pacific from the Japanese.

On October 1, 1945 Wing-Commander Manhire who had been commanding the RNZAF Hamilton camp stated that it would be closing later that week and that by within two weeks all Air Force personnel, save for that necessary to man the storage unit at the Rukuhia station, would have been demobilised.

By the end of 1945, row upon row of out-of-service warplanes sat gathering dust on the Rukuhia airfield. At the time it was reported that painted on the nose of just one plane there were 83 little yellow bombs which denoted the number of bombing strikes it had made on enemy targets. Initially the planes had been left exactly as they were when they last took flight, complete with charts, flares and emergency kits, but later they were stripped down to virtually empty shells.

Although many were only provided to the RNZAF under lend-lease agreements only the newer aircraft were intended to return to service, the rest were surplus to requirements in peacetime and despite having so long defended our skies, they either had to be returned to the US who had provided many of them or purchased by the New Zealand Government. In the end, in order to help pay off the lend-lease debt they were offered for sale to the public. Many expectant buyers were excited at the prospect of owning a piece of history but the cost of relocating the planes proved too much and many were sold for scrap and were smelt down over the years, with some planes still sitting on the airfield in the early 1970s.

Today some of their remains can be found dumped in 6ha land surrounding the airfield where they have been left to rust and rot.

The scrapped planes were worth an estimated £14,000,000 ($1 billion today) but sold for just a few thousand dollars, they included Kittyhawks, Corsairs, Avengers, Hudsons, Harvards and Venturas.

Fortunately, some were saved from scrapdealers and fully restored and have subsequently returned to the skies.