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Local history launch soldiers on

A keen crowd of Wairarapa bookworms braved wild weather to celebrate a new local history book – including two special guests from Wellington.

On February 17, Masterton District Library hosted the launch for Our New Zealand Home: the story of the United States Marine Corps [USMC] servicemen stationed in Masterton during World War II.

Our New Zealand Home, by Wairarapa archivist Mark Pacey, explores the relationship between the Masterton community and the USMC soldiers, who camped at Solway Showgrounds in 1943 while on leave from combat in the Pacific.

The book, published by Pacey’s label Gosson Publishing, comprises anecdotes sourced from oral history recordings – digitised by the Wairarapa Archive – which recalled the Americans bringing vibrancy and youthful hijinks to “a town darkened by years of war”.

Despite Cyclone Gabrielle and the ominous weather conditions, close to 50 people attended the launch, among them two representatives from the Embassy of the United States: Office of Defense cooperation chief Major Tom Adams [USMC] and defense attaché Colonel Matt Sova [US Army].

Pacey admitted “not many people would host a launch in the midst of a cyclone” – but the date set for the event was significant, as it was 80 years to the day since the first USMC servicemen arrived in Masterton.

He said it was “heart-warming” to witness the community’s support for Our New Zealand Home and its recognition of the USMC’s role in New Zealand history: To protect the country from hostile advances while our own own troops were fighting overseas.

“The Marines’ stay in Masterton is a small part of their history, but an essential one,” Pacey told the audience.

“It is important we know who these men were, where they came from, and what they did for our country.

Our New Zealand Home aims to bring their story back into public knowledge. It has been an honour to walk in their footsteps and tell their stories.”

Between 1942 and 1944, there were between 15,000 and 45,000 American servicemen stationed in New Zealand – including the USMC’s Third and Fourth Defense Battalions based in Wairarapa.

As Pacey’s book makes clear, Masterton locals largely embraced the Americans: Inviting them for Sunday roasts and to help with pest control on farms, helping iron their uniforms, and setting up a community watering hole, the American Red Cross Services Club.

Pacey said he received great support from members of the current USMC while writing and researching Our New Zealand Home – and was heartened to have Major Adams and Colonel Sava attended the launch.

“The special guests from the US Embassy were very friendly to everyone. They were even asked to sign a few copies of the book,” he said.

“One of the main points of the book is to show the bond that was made between our two countries during the war. It’s very touching to see that that bond still going strong.”

Pacey is the author of several local histories, including The Lost Wrecks of Wairarapa inspired by his popular local shipwrecks series, printed in the Times-Age.

Our New Zealand Home is available at Hedley’s Booksellers and Paper Plus in Masterton and can be ordered online at gosson.co.nz

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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