United States Marine Corps

During World War 2, Queen Elizabeth Park was the site of the largest United States Marine Corps camp in New Zealand.  The camp housed more than 20,000 men in and around the present park boundaries




During the war the threat of Japanese invasion was great.  While many of our armed forces were engaged in battle in Europe and North Africa, people feared the worst.  With a commitment to freedom, President Roosevelt promised Winston Churchill that the United States would protect allied countries.

For the first time in history New Zealand was to become host to the troops of foreign ally.  Camps were set up throughout New Zealand for forces to use as bases for recuperation, training and preparation before embarking for battle.

To recapture life at the camps and to recognise the aid the United States Marines gave to our region, the Wellington Regional Council has erected a commemorative plaque, flags and interpretation panels at Queen Elizabeth Park.

In April 1942 the Public Works Department, already busy with its own works, were given six weeks to build and set up camps to house 1st and 2nd Divisions of the United States Marines.

Prefabricated buildings were shipped up from the South Island , and all available plant and machinery was pressed into service with up to 150 tradesmen on the site at one time.

Temporary building were set up on private land at Paekakariki to house services such as cleaning and pressing, florists, milk bars and a bake house.  Large sheds were erected at Paekakariki Railway Station store supplies and a brig (jail) was built at Mackays Crossing.

By the time the Americans arrived, roading, streets, paths, water supply, electric power, vehicle parks and a sewage plant were completed.

The first Marines arrived in Wellington to a tremendous welcome on the 14 June 1942.  After berthing at Aotea Quay, equipment was sorted and a parade quickly organised before the trip to the camps at Mackays crossing.

Camp Russell, located within Queen Elizabeth Park adjacent to the Mackays crossing entrance, housed the 2nd Infantry Regiment.  Camp Mackay, located across the main highway, now Whareroa Farm, housed the 6th Infantry Regiment, and camp Paekakariki, at the southern end of the park, housed the 8th Regiment.

The Marines were put through their paces with intensive artillery training, marches and exercises in the surrounding countryside.  Some of them were at the camps for barely a month before heading off to battle again.

In June 1943, marine units in the Wellington area began a series of practice landings on the beach in the vicinity of Whareroa Stream.  A reinforced regiment conducted a full scale landing exercise with opposition made up from other units of the 2nd Marine Division.  The exercise involved live firing of machine guns and field artillery.

During the day the weather deteriorated with a heavy swell and breaking surf making conditions difficult.  Several landing craft broached before and after grounding.  Once all troops were ashore, the ships' crews and boat crews proceeded to recover the disabled craft.

By dusk all except two landing craft had been unbeached.  As these craft began to return to their ships, LCVP-6 grounded on a sandbar.  The tank lighter, LCM-1, a larger and more powerful craft, attached a heavy manilla line to the stern of the grounded boat six.  After considerable effort both boats got underway but, before unbroken water was reached, a large wave swamped boat six and washed a number of Men overboard into heavy surf.  In the darkness, LCM-1 was not aware that boat six had swamped and kept on towing. Another large wave washed the remaining Men off boat six.

Lifejackets thrown to those in the water allowed most of the Men to be washed ashore.  Twelve men and one officer were able to reach the beach safely, but one officer and eight men drowned.  US Marine were not among the casualties, all these being US Navy men.

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