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