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.