Just how did the flag of the U.S. Marine Corps end up in this Wellington church? All Larry had to do was ask, and the story was revealed.
By Larry K., 10-time traveler & 2-time Vacation Ambassador from Rocklin, CA
While in Wellington on O.A.T.’s New Zealand: Natural Wonders North & South adventure, I saw evidence of the presence of U.S. Marines in the country in 1942. That year, starting in May, the Second Marine Division was near Wellington before the Battle of Guadalcanal, and for R & R (Rest and Recuperation) afterward. Early in the day as our group strolled along the beautiful sunny waterfront, I noticed plaques along the quay commemorating the presence of the Marines and their gratitude to the people of New Zealand.
Later in the day, we visited Old Saint Paul’s, a historic Anglican church that had also served as an Anglican Cathedral in its early years. It is a magnificent Gothic building of rich wood from the New Zealand forests. The interior is warm, tranquil, and quieting. When I entered, I immediately noticed a Marine Corps flag flanked by an American flag and, across the aisle, the flag of the city or diocese and the flag of the Commonwealth of New Zealand. I asked one of the volunteers about the Marine flag.
He told me the story: In 1942, the Second Marine Division was training near Wellington for the major battles to come in the South Pacific—Guadalcanal and Tarawa, principally—and others. Also, thousands of Marines came back after the battles for R&R in that part of the country. The volunteer also told me how the flags came to be in this holy place of peace.
The Marines, he said, took quite a fancy to the young ladies of New Zealand (and apparently the “feeling” was mutual among some of the Kiwi ladies). The young men of Wellington did not take kindly to the Americans’ attentions toward their women, and many scuffles and fights broke out between Kiwis and Marines in the dance halls and bars. The tension built until one night the Marines and the Kiwis met in huge numbers in the middle of one of the main streets of the city. All hell broke loose. It took the local and military police three hours to stop the fighting and restore order.
No count is available of how many people were injured during the fight, but to be sure the number of broken bones and blackened eyes must have been high. As a result of this bloody affair, the Commanding Officer of the Second Marine Division, the prelate (perhaps a Bishop) of the church, and city officials got together and worked out a plan to stop the ongoing violence and bad blood between the Kiwis and the Yanks.
Strict orders came from the Commanding Officer and from the city government and clergy about the future behavior of the two groups of combatants. Nursing their black eyes and broken bones, the Marines and the Wellingtonians agreed to fight no more—or at least not on that scale. A contingent of Marines led by the Division Commanding Officer and a large group of Kiwis attended a special ceremony at Old St. Paul’s, where papers were signed and the flags of the USMC/United States and the City of Wellington/New Zealand were raised ceremonially at the church. They are still there—more than 74 years later—proudly hung by two groups of men who got back to fighting their common enemy instead of each other as the Pacific war ground on for three more years.
It was a bit startling to enter the church—a place of peace, contemplation, and repose—and see the Marine Corps and U.S. flags displayed along with those of Wellington and New Zealand. The fighting spirit of Marines and the heroic actions of New Zealand troops in World War II would go on to help conquer and subdue the forces of Imperial Japan, although many Yanks and Kiwis were lost on Pacific Islands, along the River Kwai, and at other sites in that part of the world.
And so, a place of peace and reflection played a role in restoring calm and mutual respect for a group of Marines, who were thousands of miles from home and locked in a bitter battle against the enemy. An engraved Biblical quote inside the Church seemed, somehow, to be part of the solution that drove away anger and hostility and brought peace to Wellington in those far-off and frightening days: How amiable are thy dwellings.
All of our little group in the church that day, I think, felt the calmness and sensed the role the Church had played for peace in the midst of war.
Visit Wellington, New Zealand, and learn about the city’s military history, with O.A.T. on Pure New Zealand and New Zealand: Natural Wonders North & South. Discover the other sights that await on New Zealand’s North Island with travel expert Rudy Maxa in this film:
Produced by Small World Productions