December 1941: This month last century

Seventy one years ago, New Zealand declares war on Japan after the bombing of the US naval bases at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii (8 December 1941)

The bombing of Pearl Harbour set the Pacific War in motion. This event and Japan’s subsequent expansion through the Philippines, Thailand and the Malaysian peninsula, followed by the capture of the strategic British naval base at Singapore in February 1942 and the bombing of Darwin in northern Australia, intensified fears that New Zealand would also be attacked.

Jigsaw puzzle, ’The Riddle of the Pacific’, 1944, New Zealand. J W Ltd. Gift of Alison Hutton, 2008. Te Papa

Jigsaw puzzle, ’The Riddle of the Pacific’, 1944, New Zealand. J W Ltd. Gift of Alison Hutton, 2008. Te Papa

Home defence efforts intensified, while negative attitudes towards Japanese surfaced in benign every day objects, including parlour games, such as the puzzle shown above.

By 1941, the bulk of New Zealand troops had been posted to North Africa, one of the battle fronts shown of this comical map.

Poster, ’Berlin’, 1941, United Kingdom. Maker unknown. Gift of Mr C H Andrews, 1967. Te Papa

Poster, ’Berlin’, 1941, United Kingdom. Maker unknown. Gift of Mr C H Andrews, 1967. Te Papa

The leaders of New Zealand, the USA and Great Britain came to an agreement that they would stay there while American troops were deployed to the Pacific. New Zealand would be used as their base for staging operations as well as training, picking up supplies and ‘R&R’ (rest and recreation) for troops.

Tens of thousands of Americans found themselves living in camps in New Zealand between June 1942 and mid-1944. Crown Lynn manufactured virtually indestructible plates, mugs and bowls, like this one, for the Americans to use while they were there.

Bowl, circa 1943, Auckland. Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd. Purchased 1995. Te Papa

Bowl, circa 1943, Auckland. Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd. Purchased 1995. Te Papa

Many of the camps were located near main centres of population, and troops came into regular with locals who provided home comforts, and hospitality and entertainment in venues like the club in the photo, which was set up by the Red Cross in Masterton. This club’s cafeteria catered to American tastes by adding hamburgers and cheeseburgers on its menu.

American Red Cross Service Club, Masterton, 1939 - 1945, Wellington. Gordon H. Burt, Te Papa

American Red Cross Service Club, Masterton, 1939 – 1945, Wellington. Gordon H. Burt, Te Papa

Romance often blossomed between New Zealand women and the glamorous visitors. Around 1500 women married an American sweetheart. Ada Menzies might have been included this number, except that her American fiancé, First Lieutenant Hugh Leidel, died from wounds at Tarawa in the Pacific in November 1943 – a month after their engagement.

’Sweetheart’ brooch, early 1940s. Maker unknown. Gift of Philip Menzies in memory of Ada Menzies, 2012. Te Papa

’Sweetheart’ brooch, early 1940s. Maker unknown. Gift of Philip Menzies in memory of Ada Menzies, 2012. Te Papa

Hugh may have given Ada this brooch, featuring an optimistic ‘V’ for victory, while they were courting. It remained amongst her possessions until her death.

The influence of the wartime ‘invasion’ by the Americans on popular culture and international politics also continued long after the troops had departed from New Zealand.

Read more about the impact of the USA on 1950s New Zealand on the Slice of Heaven exhibition website.

Find out more about New Zealand at home during WWII on the Slice of Heaven exhibition website.

Go to NZHistory.net.nz which covers the Americans invasion during WWII in detail.

One Response

  1. gpcox

    My own blog, pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com, is about WWII and with all my research I’ve heard very little about N.Z. Glad to finally find a post about them.

    Reply

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