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Heritage recognition for Wairarapa military site

11 March 2015

Heritage recognition for Wairarapa military site

A Wairarapa farm site with a strong military connection to two world wars has been recognised as a Category 1 historic place by Heritage New Zealand.

The Featherston Military Training Camp was a prominent feature in the area from 1916 to 1918 when more than 60,000 men passed through the camp before seeing active service. In World War II it was used as a prisoner of war camp, and was the site where 48 Japanese prisoners and one New Zealand soldier were killed during a riot in 1943.

Its inclusion on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero underlines the outstanding historical, cultural and physical significance of the site, says Heritage Advisor Blyss Wagstaff. In 2011 parts of the camp were declared an archaeological site, while memorials and plantings in the council reserve opposite the camp’s main entrance include international links with Belgium – where Featherston has a twin city relationship with Messines – and Japan.

“It is fitting that this recognition comes as the country commemorates the Gallipoli landings 100 years ago that essentially marked our nationhood internationally,” says Blyss.

“Sites such as this are rare in detailing New Zealand’s war efforts; it’s a physical reminder of what otherwise might be consigned to history’s pages. This is a special site in so many ways.”

In World War I the wider camp covered an area of over 750 hectares and took over 1000 workers just under a year to build accommodation for 6,500 men and stabling for 500 horses. The finished camp included chapels, commercial shops, a post office and extensive medical facilities.

“About two-thirds of New Zealand’s troops in World War I were trained at the Featherston and Trentham camps, so many New Zealanders will have a personal connection to the Featherston Camp through ancestors who served in the war. Sadly during the 1918 influenza pandemic at least 163 deaths were reported there among soldiers and medical staff.”

The prisoner of war camp in World War II was built to accommodate over 800 Japanese soldiers and military personnel. It was the first camp in the British Commonwealth to hold such a large number of Japanese prisoners, and was the largest of the prisoner of war camps in New Zealand.

Today one of the most visible structures associated with the camp is the 25-yard rifle range wall which was built in 1918 and still bears pock-marks from live training. The surrounding fields contain many ruins including building foundations, a number of capped wells, the remains of an ammunition store and four incinerators, and the horse lines.

“An aerial view gives a fuller understanding of the scale of the camp, with much of it clearly outlined from the imprints and foundations left in the ground.”

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