Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1998
Memories Of Nelson Aerodrome In World War II
When the machines used in land clearing in Murchison were withdrawn, the two caterpillar D 8's were railed from Glenhope to Nelson. One was shipped north to Kaitaia and the other was held at Nelson aerodrome to tidy up odd corners that had been left when Downer and Co had moved out. There were dispersal pits to be built in various places, where planes could be parked and camouflaged to hide them from view. There were dummy mockups parked in the open all over the place, to give any enemy spies the impression that there was a larger force available and to draw any enemy away from the real scene.
Some dispersal pits were built along Annesbrook Drive in vicinity of Maire Street but they were never used. After several houses at the corner of Parkers Road had been removed to allow the planes to be towed to the pits, it was discovered that they could not be manoeuvred along Bolt Road and out of the gate because the guard house on one side and a large workshop on the other prevented it. A section near Maire Street was levelled and palatial quarters built on it to accommodate the WAAF personnel, but they flatly refused to occupy the facilities. The outcome of this was the purchase of a large residence in Stoke, in the vicinity of Whareama, which sported a swimming pool. This apparently suited their requirements and they occupied the house for the duration.
Other dispersal pits were constructed around the perimeter of the aerodrome and on the verge of the golf links. Some of these were roofed with camouflage. There was a battery of Bofor guns alongside Bolt road, and there was to be a battery of anti aircraft guns just north of a sandhill ridge between the aerodrome and the golf links. A bunker had been built in the sandhill ridge and work progressed in constructing solid mounts for the guns when they arrived. A senior officer with much red and yellow adornment about his uniform arrived and was taken to see the preparations. On being asked his opinion, he replied "Very good, but the bloody guns are on wheels and this will be no use."
I was duly sent with my bulldozer to destroy the whole scene and cover it up with sand. I had no sooner done this man trucks arrived with top soil for me to spread over the exposed sand, and it was then sown with grass seed, all in the space of a few hours. The grass seed had not had time to germinate before the guns arrived with solid mounts. These guns could operate from solid mounts, forward area mounts or from wheels and there was a scramble then to get them into operation. The Anchor Foundry was engaged to make four sets of forward area mounts from the blueprints which had been supplied.
An area of Tahunanui beach known as Hounsell's Circle had been levelled and grassed among the sandhills to provide a picnic area. It covered about half an acre and was approximately where the skating rink now is. I was sent to this area to enlarge it to its present size so that the anti aircraft battery could be set up on forward area mounts. Sand page 28hills and pine trees disappeared with gay abandon with not a conservationist in sight. Pits were dug and filled with hard filling from Dixon's pit at the corner of Nayland and Quarantine Roads. The fill was continually watered and rolled to give a solid foundation for the guns.
At the same time work was proceeding up on the cliffs at Moncrieff's. Two gun emplacements were built of concrete to accommodate two six inch guns, but only one of them arrived. It was branded 1903 and was duly installed, with the help of the D 8 that I was driving, and was test fired at half charge. The other never arrived except for a wooden dummy that occupied its position.
A bunker was built in the hillside up Arapiki Road to serve as a control centre for the aerodrome in the event of enemy action. I never went inside this structure, but assisted with the placement of Tahuna sand around the outside to deaden the effect of bombardment. I was told by some of the other workers that there was an exit tunnel into the plantation up behind it. I have often wondered what became of that bunker. Several of the dispersal pits on Annesbrook Drive were eventually sold for building sections.
No photographs were ever taken of these activities, as cameras were prohibited and would have been confiscated if they appeared on the scene and the operator would probably have been interned for the duration. There were guards at all times to prevent entry to the aerodrome and each worker had a pass that he had to show to be let in. A high barbed wire fence ran from the golf links along through the camp ground, past the modellers pond and across the front beach to the low tide mark. The fence excluded entry to the anti aircraft guns. The personnel to operate the guns were largely made up of WAAC's who were accommodated at the southern end of the camp ground in army huts, with suitable ablution blocks built nearby. There was no unauthorised entry beyond this fence, which meant that most of the front beach and all of the back beach was out of bounds.