Hunt­ing down Home Guard’s his­tory

Re­search pro­ject turns up pure gold in the story of North­land’s men role in the war at home

The Northland Age - - Local News -

Not a shot was fired, but the Home Guard was North­land’s first line of de­fence in World War II, and now a pro­ject us­ing the skills of vol­un­teer re­searchers to iden­tify places as­so­ci­ated with the war in North­land is turn­ing up gold.

Only a month or two since it be­gan, the her­itage in­ven­tory, which is over­seen by Her­itage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, is shed­ding light on some of the unique places and per­son­al­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with war de­fences in the North.

“North­land was iden­ti­fied as the most likely point of at­tack from the Ja­panese dur­ing the early years of World War II,” vol­un­teer Her­itage New Zealand re­searcher Jack Kemp said.

“It was be­lieved they would in­vade from the north and push south to take Auckland. As a re­sult, much of New Zealand’s de­fence prepa­ra­tion fo­cused on North­land, and it’s this that we want to learn more about.

“We’ve had a tremen­dous re­sponse so far from peo­ple who have been very gen­er­ous with their knowl­edge about the net­work of de­fences in the North, as well as the per­son­al­i­ties who served.”

One of these peo­ple was 102-year-old Kaitaia man Tom Trigg, who clearly re­mem­bered his part in the war. As a farmer he was in­el­i­gi­ble to serve over­seas, so in­stead, he and oth­ers in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions served in the Home Guard.

With Tom look­ing af­ter the farm, his younger brother Eric was per­mit­ted to serve with the 2nd New Zealand Ex­pe­di­tionary Force over­seas.

At the age of 20, Tom lived at Pe­ria, and like many lo­cals was a skilled horse­man. Be­cause his pla­toon was the Mounted Ri­fles, show jump­ing, hur­dles and car­ry­ing am­mu­ni­tion were all part of his training, along with mas­ter­ing his reg­u­la­tion .303 ri­fle.

“I re­mem­ber trips to the fir­ing range at Kaitaia, where training in­cluded fir­ing over wa­ter to ap­prox­i­mately 200 yards,” he says.

“We would fire 10 rounds at rapid fire, which was done so many times I had a sore jaw af­ter­wards.”

The Pe­ria camp con­sisted of a hall and a cook­house at the rear, with stretch­ers placed around the walls for sleep­ing, and a mess ta­ble down the cen­tre for din­ing.

When­ever Tom was ab­sent on horse­back treks for the Home Guard, which could last two to three days at a time, his wife Bertha had the job of milk­ing, with as­sis­tance from Tom’s fa­ther. The treks some­times took Tom and his com­rades as far as Kawakawa, Okai­hau and Kaeo, with his pla­toon stay­ing in wool­sheds or other build­ings that might be avail­able along the way.

“Although there is noth­ing left of the Pe­ria camp, cap­tur­ing this in­for­ma­tion from Tom has helped fill in gaps in our knowl­edge, and has pro­vided ad­di­tional in­sight into the high level of com­mit­ment and skill of the Home Guard men,” Mr Kemp said.

“Tom was also able to share a number of in­ter­est­ing de­tails high­light­ing the rel­a­tive in­for­mal­ity of rank within the Mounted Ri­fles. On join­ing the Mounted Ri­fles, for ex­am­ple, he used his own sad­dle, although he was later is­sued with the cor­rect mil­i­tary sad­dle. This was later swapped for an of­fi­cer’s sad­dle, even though, strictly speak­ing, Tom was still a pri­vate.”

Although Mr Trigg’s du­ties in­volved many mo­not­o­nous hours of ob­ser­va­tion and car­ry­ing mes­sages, it wasn’t all hard yards. He recalls an in­ci­dent af­ter a visit to the Kaeo tav­ern in which his pla­toon was rid­ing up the hill when some wag fired a shot­gun, star­tling the horses — and the troops. The lo­ca­tion was called Shot­gun Hill af­ter that.

An­other of his tasks was to man the ob­ser­va­tion post at the mouth of the Taipa river.

“There were usu­ally four of us ros­tered on duty to ob­serve any lights of the en­emy out to sea. Many a night was spent in the bush, re­lay­ing mes­sages from Kaitaia to Kaeo,” he says.

“One night two of us bor­rowed a dinghy from Jim Tay­lor, who lived near the bridge, and man­aged to catch 18 snap­per by the cockle beds there.”

Dances were also com­mon, with Mr Trigg, who was no slouch on the dance floor, a reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pant.

For him the end of the war came in 1946, when he was for­mally dis­charged in Kerik­eri, and he recalls a good time be­ing had by all fol­low­ing the of­fi­cial dis­missal, but next day he was back on the farm and straight into milk­ing cows again.

Mr Kemp de­scribed Mr Trigg’s story, and the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided about the Pe­ria Camp, as pure re­search gold.

“It’s great that peo­ple like Tom and many oth­ers have been able to share their sto­ries and in­for­ma­tion, but we’d love to hear from even more peo­ple,” he said.

“Our fo­cus is to cap­ture this in­for­ma­tion and per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions from peo­ple con­nected with these World War II camps.” ■ Any­body with any in­for­ma­tion about mil­i­tary bases in North­land dur­ing World War II, or other re­lated in­for­ma­tion, is in­vited to con­tact Bill Ed­wards on bed­[email protected]­itage.org.nz, or (09) 407-0471.

PIC­TURE / SUP­PLIED

MEM­O­RIES: Tom Trigg, now 102, has fond mem­o­ries of his Home Guard days.

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