Ger­man spies on Mana Is­land?


Metty Vella’s fam­ily con­nec­tion with Plim­mer­ton and Mana Is­land runs long and deep, even if her brothers were ac­cused of be­ing Ger­man spies be­cause they op­er­ated a ra­dio trans­mit­ter early in World War I.

Metty was born in Pare­mata in 1898 and died in 1991. She is buried in St Joseph’s Church ceme­tery, Pau­ata­hanui.

She was the old­est daugh­ter of Mar­i­ano and his se­cond wife, El­iz­a­beth. Mar­i­ano was born in Croa­tia, then part of the Aus­troHun­gar­ian Em­pire.

He came to New Zealand and lived first in Is­land Bay, then in 1885 moved to Pare­mata, where he was a fish­er­man.

Mar­i­ano mar­ried his first wife, Mary, daugh­ter of an­other Pare­mata fish­er­man, in 1886 and they had four chil­dren. Mary died in 1889.

In 1894, Mar­i­ano re­turned to Croa­tia and mar­ried El­iz­a­beth, be­fore re­turn­ing to New Zealand.

In 1886 he was awarded the lease for Mana Is­land and be­gan to farm sheep. The fam­ily con­nec­tion to Mana was ter­mi­nated only in 1953.

Metty Vella was raised in Sta­tion Rd, Pare­mata, go­ing to Pau­ata­hanui School be­fore trans­fer­ring in 1904 to the new Plim­mer­ton School.

In 1909 she and her par­ents re­turned to Croa­tia for a hol­i­day, while her older brothers, An­drew and Wil­liam, were left to man­age the Mana Is­land farm.

At the out­break of war in 1914, An­drew and Wil­liam faced sus­pi­cion, as did many for­eign­ers, and their use of a ra­dio trans­mit­ter was viewed in a let­ter writ­ten to New Zealand’s De­fence Min­is­ter as a pos­si­ble ‘‘un­found wire­less plant’’.

Metty was ed­u­cated at an Ital­ian lan­guage school and a Ger­man board­ing school.

On the fam­ily’s re­turn to New Zealand, they bought a prop­erty in Steyne Ave, Plim­mer­ton. The house, ‘‘Sokol’’, is still owned by the fam­ily.

In late 1915, large num­bers of sick and wounded were be­ing shipped back to New Zealand and there was a need for nurses. Metty joined the Vol­un­tary Aid Divi­sion and was based at Tren­tham Hos­pi­tal.

In Novem­ber 1918, Plim­mer­ton was in the grip of Span­ish in­fluenza, and all the Vella fam­ily be­came ill. Jack was moved across the street to a tem­po­rary hos­pi­tal in St An­drew’s Church. He was one of three men who died there within the week.

Metty re­mained with the Vol­un­tary Aid Divi­sion un­til 1922, then re­turned home to care for her par­ents.

Dur­ing World War II, Metty was the sec­tion leader for the Red Cross from Tawa to Pukerua Bay and was later awarded the Red Cross Medal­lion of Hon­our.

The Vella name is re­mem­bered through Vella St in Ti­tahi Bay.

Metty Vella un­der­go­ing in­fluenza train­ing in Welling­ton in 1919. She con­tracted the flu the year be­fore and sur­vived, but her brother Jack died.

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