Featherston Military Training Camp

State Highway 2 (Featherston-Greytown), Featherston

  • Featherston Military Training Camp. 25 yard rifle range wall. February 2011.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: A Dodd.
  • Featherston Military Training Camp. Ref. No. 1/2-104281-F. Part of Tyndall, Arthur (Sir), 1891-1979 :Photographs relating to road and building construction (PAColl-0866). Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
  • Featherston Military Training Camp. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Licence. Image courtesy of Archives New Zealand (Ref AEGA 18982, PC41593, R18288348) .
    Copyright: Archives New Zealand.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9661 Date Entered 18th March 2015

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes all of the land described as Sec 571 Featherston SBRN (CT WN891/11), Sec 575 Featherston SBRN (CT WN35A/749), Sec 1 SO 31482 and Lot 1 DP 80365 (CT WN47A/102; NZ Gazette 2006, pp. 4849-4850), and part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 16154 (CT WN823/94), Lot 2 DP 375572 (CT 345170), Lot 1 DP 427608 (CT 509235), Lot 1 DP 319740 (CT 77818) and Lot 2 DP 29316 (CT WN6A/537), Wellington Land District. It includes the brick rifle range wall on the boundary of Sec 571 Featherston SBRN and Lot 2 DP 161154, and the memorials located on the south side of State Highway 2. It includes the land designated as legal road, comprising the adjoining parts of State Highway 2 and Camp Road. It includes the water races which follow the alignment shown on Featherston Camp General Plan PWD42440 located on the sections described above, but does not include the water races outside this area (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

South Wairarapa District

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Sec 575 Featherston SBRN (CT WN35A/749), Sec 571 Featherston SBRN (CT WN891/11), Pt Lot 2 DP 16154 (CT WN823/94), Lot 2 DP 29316 (CT WN6A/537), Lot 2 DP 375572 (CT 345170), Lot 1 DP 427608 (CT 509235), Lot 1 DP 319740 (CT 77818), Lot 1 DP 80365, Sec 1 SO 31482 (CT WN47A/102; NZ Gazette 2006, pp. 4849-4850), Legal Road, Wellington Land District

Location description

Featherston Military Training Camp is located between Featherston and the Tauherenikau River, approximately 1.3 kilometres east of the town boundary. The camp extent comprises approximately 80 hectares of land on both sides of State Highway 2. The former prisoner of war camp is identified as 1313 State Highway 2, but the majority of the remaining lots that make up the military training camp have no street number.

A central grid reference, given on the NZAA Archsite record is NZTM E1797924 N5445439.

Summaryopen/close

The site of the Featherston Military Training Camp (1916-1918) and Prisoner of War Camp (1942-1945) in the Wairarapa is of outstanding historical significance. The construction of the Military Training Camp was an undertaking unparalleled anywhere in Australasia, and its scale embodies the extent of New Zealand’s commitment to fight in an overseas war. The camp is rare as one of the few locations in New Zealand used as both a Military Training Camp and a Prisoner of War Camp, and few places can lend themselves to telling the story of New Zealand’s war efforts in such detail. The physical remains of the camp are of high archaeological significance, reflected by the 2011 declaration of parts of the camp as an archaeological site. The symbolic and commemorative values are demonstrated by the memorials and plantings in the council reserve opposite the main entrance to the camp, which include international links with Belgium and Japan.

Human settlement of the Wairarapa dates from the mid-fourteenth century. Featherston was the site of a small Māori settlement known as Paetumokai, and the establishment of the Featherston township dates from 1856. Shortly after the start of World War One, it became apparent that additional soldier training facilities would be required, and a site near the township was chosen. The wider camp covered an area of over 750 hectares. Over 1000 workers supervised by the Public Works Department took under a year to construct accommodation for over 6,500 men as well as stabling for 500 horses. The finished camp included chapels, social facilities, commercial shops and a post office, as well as extensive medical facilities. Over 60,000 men passed through Featherston Camp, and the Featherston and Trentham Camps combined trained approximately two-thirds of New Zealand’s embarked forces in World War One.

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, Featherston Camp was one of the worst afflicted areas in New Zealand. The 163 reported deaths included trainee soldiers and medical staff. The camp was reused in World War Two as New Zealand’s largest prisoner of war camp. It became notorious in February 1943 when New Zealand guards opened fire on Japanese prisoners, resulting in 49 deaths, including the only death of a soldier on active service on New Zealand soil.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Featherston Military Training Camp is of outstanding historical significance as one of the largest World War One training facilities established in New Zealand. It was instrumental in preparing over 60,000 recruits for service on the Western Front. It is also historically important as the location of the deaths of 48 Japanese prisoners of war in an event that would later be known as the Featherston Incident, and as the location of the only military casualty to occur during active service on New Zealand soil during either World War.

Archaeological Significance or Value

The Featherston Military Training Camp was declared an archaeological site under the provisions of the Historic Places Act 1993 in recognition of its archaeological significance. The significance of the in-situ remains lies in the potential for recovering information about activities not represented in historical documents, such as the daily lives of the men who lived at the camp. There is also potential for archaeology to confirm or contradict received knowledge from the archival records and oral history, and thereby provide for an improved understanding of the events that took place at the site.

Technological Significance or Value

The size of the camp and the speed at which it was constructed was a significant technological achievement, which at the time was reported as being unrivalled anywhere in New Zealand or Australia. The hospital buildings in the camp were also technologically significant for their incorporation of opening sides which allowed for open air treatment which was considered beneficial for sufferers of respiratory illnesses. The octagonal designs for military hospitals adopted at Trentham and Featherston were unique to New Zealand and influenced subsequent military hospitals at Rotorua (1915) and Hanmer (1916). The 25-yard rifle range wall, constructed in 1918 and built on the ‘sealed Hythe pattern’, was also considered to be of the latest design at the time.

Cultural Significance or Value

The memorial reserve on the south side of State Highway 2 is culturally important for its links with Japan, and includes a Japanese remembrance garden and small memorial dedicated to the Japanese prisoners that were interned at the camp in World War Two. The Aleppo (or Gallipoli) pine is native to Turkey, and the tree planted in the south-western corner of the reserve is one of many that were planted around New Zealand to commemorate our contribution to World War One.

Social Significance or Value

The Featherston Military Training Camp is socially significant for its associations with both World Wars, and this is reflected in the RSA plaque mounted in the Council reserve. It also has close links with the ANZAC and Kiwi Halls, in Featherston. The camp remains a focal point for the local museums, and has been instrumental in shaping the identity of the town, as evidenced by the two ‘twin town’ relationships it has entered into with other cities also affected by the world wars. Prior to the establishment of the training camp, Featherston had a population of around 675, and this skyrocketed following the opening of the camp in January 1916. The camp provided a significant financial boost for the local economy and the constant presence of soldiers and civilians involved with the camp were a significant change for the town.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

World War One had a massive impact on New Zealand society. The Featherston Military Training Camp contributed substantially to the war effort, and the majority of the New Zealand embarked forces for World War One were trained there. For thousands of men, Featherston was their last place of residence in New Zealand prior to being transported to fight on the Western Front. The place is able to reflect this history as, although the buildings have been removed, it has remained relatively undeveloped and the layout of the camp is still discernable with the assistance of historic photographs and archival plans. Remnants of the camp include foundations, drainage, roads and an intact rifle range. After the armistice, many soldiers were afflicted by the 1918 influenza pandemic, and casualties were particularly high in places where large numbers of people were living in densely occupied accommodation. Between trainee soldiers and medical staff, there were at least 163 influenza deaths at Featherston.

The northern part of the Featherston Military Training Camp was reused as a Prisoner of War Camp in World War Two and some remnant foundations are still visible. The internment of prisoners of war and suspected spies, who were often merely expatriate nationals of foreign countries with whom New Zealand was at war, was a historically important aspect of New Zealand’s wartime response in both world wars, and reflects the suspicion inherent in government and wider society at the time.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

Featherston Prisoner of War Camp is of special significance as the site of the February 1943 Featherston Incident where 48 Japanese prisoners of war were shot during a protest against forced labour. The incident also resulted in the only recorded death of a New Zealand solider on active duty during World War Two on New Zealand soil. This event was of importance in New Zealand’s history and would later lead to the Featherston Prisoner of War Camp being used as an example in a New Zealand Red Cross booklet, Incident at Featherston. The publication of the booklet was in response to New Zealand’s obligation towards dissemination of information on humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention.

Featherston Military Camp is also associated with ideas of importance in New Zealand’s history. The hospital facilities at the Featherston Military Training Camp were also an important application of contemporary medical practice during the early twentieth century with sides that could be opened up to provide open air treatment for patients with respiratory illnesses.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

The Featherston Military Training Camp has archaeological potential and artefacts discarded during its occupation can provide information on aspects of the camp that are not well documented historically. This includes information on the day to day lives of the occupants, and the commercial activities that took place on the south side of the road. Archaeological investigation of the physical remains of the camp may provide additional information pertaining to the differences between the ‘as built’ camp and the ‘design specifications’, but also information about the conversion from Military Training Camp to Prisoner of War Camp. Controlled excavation of any archaeological deposits which remain in-situ would also reveal important contextual information.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

There is high public esteem for the Featherston Military Training Camp. It was the place where many soldiers spent their last months in New Zealand before embarking for war, and also the point of return, once they arrived back in the country prior to their eventual discharge. The descendants of those men will have connections to the place in their family histories. It has been the subject of several books, theses, articles and plays as well as providing thematic material for art exhibits, demonstrating the high level of esteem the public have for the place. Oral histories have been compiled from former guards, prisoners, Red Cross delegates, interpreters and chaplains. The camp was the subject of research by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage in the lead up to the centenary of the First World War, and a book on the camp has been published by the Wairarapa Archive.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The Featherston Camp has outstanding potential for public education regarding the role of New Zealand in both World Wars. The presence of recognisable foundations and earthworks along with the memorials in the Council reserve provide an outstanding opportunity for public education around the extent of military training preparations for World War One. Because of the impact of influenza on the camp, and returning veterans, Featherston is a powerful location for disseminating information about the 1918 pandemic. The centenary of the construction of the camp will occur in January 2016, and this will provide an opportunity to engage the public while there is heightened media focus on New Zealand’s World War One history.

The Featherston Incident has already been used in Geneva Convention educational material prepared by the New Zealand Red Cross. At present, interpretation is limited to what is inscribed on the various memorial plaques, and could usefully be expanded to incorporate recent historic research.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The technical accomplishment associated with the Featherston Military Training Camp was the speed and scale of construction. Initial construction was completed in under a year, and proceeded at a rate unparalleled in Australia or New Zealand before that time. The plans were based on the Trentham designs with improvements for drainage and hospital facilities. The open air rotunda hospital design was influential in future hospital designs at Rotorua and Hanmer.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

Featherston Military Training Camp has commemorative value as a site to remember the impact of both World Wars on the lives of people in New Zealand and overseas. The South Wairarapa District Council reserve on the south side of State Highway 2 contains a number of commemorative features, including some with international links with Belgium and Japan. It contains war memorials with plaques dedicated to the camp and the men who trained there. Another plaque supplied by the RSA acknowledges men who died for their country, and a third acknowledges the role New Zealand troops played in the liberation of Messines, in Belgium. The reserve contains a Japanese garden and plaque from the Japanese Embassy commemorating the deaths of the Japanese prisoners of war. The reserve is also the location of a Gallipoli (Aleppo) pine planted in commemoration of troops that served in World War One, and a cross and plaque dedicated to Private Walter Pelvin. The commemorative value of the Featherston camp is also demonstrated by the annual wreath laying service at the memorial reserve.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Featherston Military Training Camp is rare as one of a small number of World War One training camps that were built in New Zealand, and is the only training camp in New Zealand to be subsequently used as a Prisoner of War Camp in World War Two.

Of the World War One army training camps built in New Zealand, Trentham and Featherston were by far the largest, and Featherston was also the largest of the Prisoner of War Camps. The scale of the camp makes Featherston rare. Featherston Military Training Camp is distinctive as the location of a violent clash between New Zealand guards and Japanese prisoners of war in February 1943, and is the site of the only New Zealand military casualty to occur during active service on home soil.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area

The Featherston Military Training Camp is part of a landscape of military training sites which extends from the Hutt Valley to the Wairarapa. It was contemporary with the Trentham Military Training Camp at Upper Hutt, which is still in use. Together these two camps trained the majority of New Zealand’s army personnel to serve overseas in World War One. In addition to the infantry training provided at Trentham, Featherston also provided training for artillery, signalling and for mounted troops. These activities took place on several of the surrounding paddocks (not included in this List entry), and covered a combined area of around 753 hectares. Remains of satellite camps are also located nearby at Tauherenikau and Papawai. The training for the 60,000 infantry at Featherston concluded with a march over the Rimutaka Hill before embarkment onto troop ships. There are several related sites nearby as many of the buildings and structures associated with the camp were sold and relocated following its closure. A number of these still survive in the wider area, such as ANZAC and Kiwi Halls, Featherston War memorial, Kaiwaiwai Hall and the former conning tower at Longwood.

Summary of Significance or Values

Featherston Military Training Camp has outstanding importance as the site of one of the few Military Training Camps and Prisoner of War Camps erected in New Zealand. Combined, Trentham and Featherston camps trained the majority of the total embarked forces during World War One. The camp is also historically significant for the high number of deaths associated with the influenza pandemic of 1918, which was particularly devastating among soldiers accommodated in crowded military camps after the war. As a prisoner of war camp during World War Two, Featherston achieved notoriety on account of the shooting of Japanese prisoners in February 1943, and this event also claimed the life of the only soldier to be killed on active duty in New Zealand during either World War. The site is special in New Zealand as a location at which wartime themes of military infantry training and prisoner of war internment converge, and has international significance on account of the memorials dedicated to the lives of Japanese prisoners of war and New Zealand soldiers who fought and died during the liberation of Belgium. There is high community esteem for this place which is historically important to the identity of Featherston, and has been inspirational for numerous publications and a variety of media.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Holmes, Robert West

PWD Engineer-in-Chief

Hiley, Colonel E. H.

PWD Works Branch director for camp construction

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early inhabitants of the Wairarapa area were Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe, and Te Tini-o-awa. Following the migration of these earlier iwi to Te Waipounamu in around the sixteenth century, the area was occupied by various hapū of Rangitāne, Ngāi Tara, Ngāti Ira and Ngāti Kahungunu. By the late eighteenth century, the land around Featherston was occupied by the Ngāti Kahukuraāwhitia and Ngāti Moe hapū of Ngāti Kahungunu. An incursion into the Wairarapa led by Te Wharepōuri of Te Āti Awa resulted in a short term occupation of the Featherston area in 1834, but this was expelled by Ngāti Kahungunu. The land on which the Featherston township would later be established was known to Māori as Paetumokai.

The area around Featherston was also known for a short period as Burling’s. Henry Burling had negotiated with Te Mānihera and Wi Kingi Tu-tepakihi-rangi to settle in this location, and in 1847 supervised the cutting of a track across the Rimutaka range. He ran cattle and established an accommodation house known as Burling’s Bush Inn in 1849. His licence was revoked in 1852 because of poor standards of accommodation.

Featherston was part of the Owhanga Block which was purchased by the Crown in December 1853. The township was established in 1856, and named after Dr Isaac Featherston, first superintendent of the Wellington Provisional Government. The town developed slowly at first, but the completion of the Rimutaka railway link with Wellington and the Hutt valley in the 1870s greatly contributed to settlement of the area.

World War One

World War One army training camps were located at Trentham and Featherston in the lower North Island, Narrow Neck at Auckland, and Burnham near Christchurch. By far the largest of these were Featherston and Trentham.

The requirement for an additional Training Camp in the Wairarapa to complement the existing facilities at Trentham had been identified in early 1915. Between May and July 1915, 27 recruits died at Trentham during an outbreak of respiratory diseases, measles, and cerebro-spinal meningitis. The Defence Department needed to improve the primitive facilities at Trentham Camp and open a second large camp to prevent future death and disease from overcrowding.

The land for the Featherston camp was purchased by the Defence Department, with additional paddocks to be used for the canvas camp and training grounds leased for the duration of the war. The camp was constructed by the Public Works Department, and initial works took place between July 1915 and January 1916. What was originally planned as a canvas camp to accommodate 2,000 soldiers in training had by August expanded into a permanent camp with hutments to accommodate 3,500 men and 120 officers, including hospital facilities.

The Evening Post reported ‘[f]rom what has been said, it will be seen that the undertaking is a huge one, and hundreds of men will be required to complete it in the time specified. The Public Works Department accordingly is seeking carpenters and labourers from all parts of the Dominion, and will employ as many as it can get’.

One of the first tasks was to construct a railway line to the camp. This was completed by September 1915 and allowed for the direct transport of materials and labour. Construction of hutments and cookhouses on the north side of the road commenced shortly after, initially hampered by the lack of available men. By late September, only a few buildings had been completed: 4 hutments, 2 huts, a dining hall, a cookhouse, a wash up and a latrine. Between October and December the number of men on site increased from 150 to over 1,000, and the rate of work increased markedly. By November 1915, the plans for the camp had to be enlarged a second time to accommodate 4,500 men. This required an additional 28 hutments and a canvas camp on the south side of Tauherenikau Road (now State Highway 2).

Will Lawson, a journalist who wrote about the camp in a series of articles a year after its construction, commented that ‘the Featherston Military Training Camp was built at a rate which has never been equalled in New Zealand or in Australia; it is doubtful whether such a place has been constructed so rapidly and substantially in the southern hemisphere’. The camp was transferred to the Defence Department for occupation on 26 January 1916. First to arrive were 1,400 men from the nearby Tauherenikau camp comprising the 10th, 11th and 12th Mounted Rifles as well as part of the 13th and 14th Mounted Rifles. At this time, approximately 300 men were still at work on the camp. By the beginning of February 1916, Featherston was at full capacity accommodating 6,500 people, 2,000 of whom were accommodated in tents in the canvas camp located to the southeast of the main hutment camp.

Camp buildings

The completed camp included 252 buildings: 90 double huts for trainee soldiers, sixteen officer cubicle huts, sixteen dining halls, six cook houses, seventeen shops, a canteen, picture theatres, three billiard rooms, a hospital compound comprising 31 buildings, a dental ward and a post office.

The loss of life, expense and embarrassment caused by the epidemic at the Trentham training camp in 1915 meant that the Defence Department prioritised health and hygiene at Featherston. The hospital buildings were among the first to be constructed on the southern side of Tauherenikau Road, and these were handed over to the Defence Department in advance of the rest of the camp. Initially these comprised a single distinctive octagonal hospital rotunda and a medical inspection block accompanied by additional buildings for accommodation and storage. The design of the complex was based on the recently constructed Wairarapa ward of the hospital at Trentham. Construction of the first rotunda began in mid-November 1915 and was completed by December 1, with the second built in early 1916. The hospitals could accommodate up to 160 men each, and were built with sides that could open up to provide for open air treatment - considered particularly beneficial for respiratory illnesses. The rotundas were timber buildings constructed on pile foundations laid out in a grid pattern with a central ring of sixteen 6 x 6 inch (15 x 15 centimetre) support beams on sole plates. On each of the rotundas was a rectangular annex which included additional wards, treatment rooms, an operating theatre, bathrooms, rooms for orderlies and storage.

The distinctive octagonal design used for the hospital buildings at Featherston was adopted from the design used at Trentham, which reflected the initial use of a rotunda building for this purpose. The octagonal design used at Featherston and Trentham was successful and in turn influenced the design of other hospital facilities for soldiers. Similar designs were used as the basis for the design of the King George V Hospital at Rotorua (1915), which in turn was used at the basis for the design of the Queen Mary Soldiers’ Block at Hanmer (1916).

The hospital compound included special external wards for overflow patients, an administrative block, nurses’ quarters, officers’ quarters and New Zealand Medical Corps quarters. A 'sick hut' was located at the entrance to the main hospital and from there, men were directed to receiving rooms, treatment rooms, dressing rooms for surgery or the dispensary for medical treatments. Infectious cases were treated away from the main ward, and an isolation camp for quarantine patients was located at the Tauherenikau camp.

Other buildings within this part of the hospital compound included the Medical Inspection Block with attached ‘inhalatorium’ (where men with throat complaints received special vapour inhalation treatment), the Principal Medical Officer’s hut and nurses’ quarters, motor vehicle shed for ambulances, cook house, ladder stores, fumigation room, and a building for medical stores.

Water was supplied via two separate systems. Drinking water was obtained from wells located to the north of the main hutment section of the camp, whereas water for ablutions and latrines was supplied via the water race which ran down the western side of the camp. All water from ablution stands, cook houses and showers discharged into the Tauherenikau River via a central drain. The hospital had its own septic system to deal with medical waste to prevent contamination of the river. Overhead cables delivered power so there was no trenching for underground services.

A group of buildings for the dental corps occupied the south-western corner of the hospital compound. Lawson commented: ‘[t]he surroundings are being made gay and methodical by the laying out of gardens of flowers, and even vegetables, and both officers and men lend their help and interest towards making the grounds attractive’. Lawson also observed that most men arriving at the camp had dental problems and the dental corps was one of the busiest parts of the hospital.

The southern side of the main road was also the location for entertainment buildings and religious institutes. Featherston Camp had four church institutes. The first three, built to similar designs in late 1915 or early 1916, were associated with the Church of England, the Salvation Army, and the Catholic Federation. A fourth, the United Institute, opened in May 1916 and catered for the combined needs of the YMCA, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and the Church of Christ. Each institute had a chaplain to attend to the men’s religious needs, but they were also spaces for socialising and entertainment, and provided libraries and stationery for writing. Along the main road there were numerous shops, including bootmakers and military outfitters, which paid rent to the Defence Department.

Soldiers’ clubs were erected by the Wairarapa Patriotic Association and United Institute, both of which incorporated large concert halls, games rooms and reading and writing rooms. There was also a picture hall which could accommodate up to 400 men for movies which screened every evening. The United Institute comprised two large halls, a writing room, library, private devotional room, and quarters for the chaplains. The largest hall could accommodate 900 men, the smaller 350.

By 1917, the camp had to be expanded to accommodate up to 8,000 men at one time and this required substantial alterations to infrastructure, particularly for water and sewerage. Because of the ever increasing strain placed on the drainage system, the entire system was remodelled in 1918.

Life at the camp

The camp accustomed recruits to the communal nature of military life. They trained, ate, washed and slept at close quarters and in large numbers.

The camps at Trentham and Featherston trained all infantry reinforcements with the exception of the Maori Contingent, Medical Corps and New Zealand Tunnelling Company. The infantry course included drill (such as marching in formation with weapons), physical training, bayonet-fighting, musketry, combat training, and night training. Featherston was also used for the more specialised training of the mounted rifles, signallers, artillery, machine gunners and Army Service Corps. Due to the thousands of recruits being trained at once, much of this training took place in the neighbouring paddocks, rather than in the confines of the camp itself.

The men slept in huts divided into two 24-man sleeping compartments and each man had a wooden stretcher lined with a straw-stuffed mattress. Six cook houses catered for the men, who were able to be served in a single sitting at the eight dining halls which had a combined capacity for 4800 men. Recruits washed in a single shower block situated in the south-western corner of the hutment camp. Separate cooking, dining washing and latrine facilities were available for the officers and civilian workers.

As previously noted, the men socialised in the on-site church institutes and Soldiers’ and Officers’ Clubs. Recruits could also apply for leave from camp on certain evenings and weekends and a special train carried men to Masterton on Wednesday evenings, Saturday afternoons, or for the weekend, and another took men to Wellington for the weekend.

Closure and influenza pandemic

Featherston Camp closed soon after the news of the armistice arrived in New Zealand on 12 November 1918. The camp continued to be used as temporary accommodation for soldiers returning to New Zealand, but was largely evacuated by the end of November.

Complicating the evacuation of the camp was the arrival of the Spanish Influenza pandemic in New Zealand. Featherston Camp was among the worst affected areas, and of the 8,000 men accommodated at the camp between 28 October and 11 December 1918, 3,220 were hospitalised and at least 163 deaths have been attributed to the outbreak. The predicament was made worse by a severe storm on 7 November which levelled a number of tents, forcing many to seek shelter in already overcrowded huts and institute buildings.

By early December, the only men remaining at the camp were those either afflicted by the disease or providing treatment to the sick and dying. Despite the concerns of the local community it was announced by the Defence Department that Featherston would accommodate patients suffering from sexually transmitted diseases (previously treated at Quarantine Island), and 300 German prisoners of war (transferred from Matiu/Somes Island).

After the war ended, the buildings at Featherston were no longer needed and the Defence Department decided to sell them. In October 1920, the first of the buildings were put up for sale and this continued until August 1922. Buildings were typically purchased for use on farms and as community halls in the surrounding district. The water supply system was left in place for the benefit of local farmers. The Kahutara Hall Committee bought the soldiers’ club for £300 and divided it into two portions which were then used as community halls at Kahutara and Kaiwaiwai.

World War Two

When the military reoccupied the camp during World War Two, it was as a prisoner of war camp, although the extent was largely limited to the hutment portion on the north side of State Highway 2. The prisoner of war camp was built to accommodate over 800 Japanese soldiers and paramilitary personnel. Construction took place over three days in September 1942 and utilised a few of the remaining concrete foundations from World War One buildings. It was the first camp in the British Commonwealth to hold a large number of Japanese prisoners.

The camp initially comprised four small buildings used as quartermaster stores, with temporary cooking and ablution facilities erected nearby. Water was transported to the site in tanks until the World War One water and sewerage systems were reactivated. Prisoners were accommodated in tents within barbed-wire compounds, and a canvas camp was re-established for the guards. Temporary camp accommodation for both guards and prisoners was eventually replaced with wooden huts, but this was not fully realised until over a year later in November 1943.

The first group of 450 prisoners arrived at the camp on 11 September 1942. These were mostly Japanese civilians, members of the Imperial workforce assigned to construct airport facilities at Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. These men were held separately from the next group of 248 predominantly naval personnel who arrived in November 1942. Many of the men in the second group were in poor health, and several of the officers were suffering from the psychological effects of senjinkun, a Japanese military code which held that to be captured was a disgrace that could only be atoned for by death.

The Featherston Incident

The Featherston Incident occurred only five months after the camp was established. Prisoners were expected to work manufacturing furniture and concrete products, commencing on 22 February 1943. Some of the military prisoners refused, partly through a desire not to ‘aid the enemy’ but this was also compounded by the dishonour of being a prisoner of war. Another contributing factor was the social hierarchies being established in the camp. The civilian Japanese had set up a council with rules reflecting their status as tradesmen and professionals, whereas the Japanese military internees felt compelled to maintain military discipline.

Matters came to a head on 25 February 1943, when some of the prisoners refused to parade for work. Toshio Adachi, who was spokesman for the Japanese, demanded to speak with the camp commander, Donald Donaldson. Donaldson refused and when guards attempted to seize Adachi he was defended by other prisoners who threw stones at the guards. The camp’s adjutant, James Malcolm, fired a warning shot and then fired again injuring Adachi. The Japanese prisoners then rushed on the guards, who opened fire. Thirty-one Japanese prisoners were killed, and the same number was injured in the shooting. An additional seventeen Japanese prisoners later died of their wounds. One New Zealand guard, Private Walter Pelvin, was killed by a ricocheting bullet during the incident. The incident was investigated by a military court of inquiry which exonerated the New Zealand guards and ruled that the shooting could not have been avoided.

The Featherston Prisoner of War Camp was later used as an example in a New Zealand Red Cross booklet, Incident at Featherston, the publication of which was in response to New Zealand’s obligation towards dissemination of information on humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention.

The final layout for the camp, completed in November 1943, was influenced by the Geneva Convention (1929), but also adapted to the cultural needs of the Japanese prisoners of war in light of the Featherston Incident. Featherston was also the largest of the prisoner of war camps in New Zealand. Other camps were located on Motuihe in the Hauraki Gulf, Matiu/Somes in Wellington Harbour, and Pahiatua, with small numbers of prisoners held on Ripapa Island in Lyttelton harbour and at North Head in Auckland.

Post World War Two

At the close of the war, the prisoners were repatriated to Japan and the camp was again dismantled. The majority of buildings were removed, including the conning tower which was decommissioned and taken to Longwood and used as a water tower. A small number of buildings remained and were used between 1951 and 1955 by workers on the Rimutaka Railway tunnel.

In 1975, Featherston entered into a twin city relationship with Messines in Belgium in recognition of the link between the training camp and the role New Zealand soldiers played on the liberation of towns on the Western Front.

The last of the buildings were removed in the 1980s, and the land on which the prisoner of war camp was located was sold into private ownership in 1989.

A memorial peace garden was first proposed in 1992. Juken Nissho, a Japanese-owned forestry company, purchased land adjacent to the council-owned war memorial reserve and donated it to the council. Local opposition to the proposal hampered progress, and in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two there was renewed opposition from the Returned Service Association. The planting for the peace garden was eventually carried out in 2001, by which time some of the opposition had abated. Featherston had in the meantime entered into a twin town relationship with the Australian town of Cowra, which also had a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp during World War Two.

Since its closure, the Camp has proved a popular subject for research and has been the subject of several books, theses and articles; as well as providing thematic material for art exhibits and plays. Researchers have also compiled oral histories from people associated with the camp - former guards, prisoners, Red Cross delegates, interpreters and chaplains.

Physical Description

The Featherston Military Training Camp is now largely devoid of its original buildings, with the exception of the 25-yard (23 metre) rifle range wall, and the reservoir for the camp water supply. The camp site is currently on several privately owned separate titles, with a small portion owned by the South Wairarapa District Council as a memorial reserve. Concrete foundations for many of the buildings still remain in-situ as does some of the camp infrastructure. In many areas the layout of the camp is still discernable with the assistance of historic photographs and archival plans.

The section on the north side of State Highway 2 where the Prisoner of War Camp was situated contains many of the most recognisable features. Drainage channels which ran parallel to the roadways enclosing the former hutment sites are still readily visible. Initially constructed for the Military Training Camp, the drainage channels were reused for the Prisoner of War Camp, and the lines show up clearly on aerial photographs from the 1940s before and after the establishment of the Prisoner of War Camp in 1942. In some areas isolated pine trees have caused the concrete drainage channels to be displaced and broken. Underground chambers, possibly water reservoirs for firefighting, dot the site. In one of these, copies of the Evening Post dated 18 January 1916 line the ceiling.

In other places the original road surface is also preserved, and where it is hidden beneath grass the roadways reveal themselves in season, as the grass on those routes browns earlier than the rest of the site. Near State Highway 2, the concrete pad foundations for the coke shed, power house and disinfecting shed can still be seen. To the north of these on the western side of the camp are the foundations for the ablution block.

To the north of the intersection of Camp Road and State Highway 2, the concrete horse lines and a large square pad nearby are still visible, and comprise a striking remnant feature of the original military training camp. Features directly associated with the 1942 Prisoner of War Camp include the concrete perimeter foundations of the joinery workshop, the foundations of one of the conning towers (at the State Highway 2 fenceline), concrete posts for barbed wire containment fences, and brick and concrete remains of the motor transport shed and fuel tank stand. Layers of history are visible in many places, for example where a World War One-era drain extends underneath the foundations of the World War Two joinery workshop. Ephemeral remains are also present, in the presence of barbed wire scattered around the site, and in a rectangle of snowdrops that grows in the middle of the grass of a paddock, perhaps signalling the presence of a former garden plot. Other pathways and garden edging are still marked out with rows of river stones.

The most visible structure associated with the camp is the 25-yard rifle range some 500 metres north of the main camp. The rifle range was built in 1918 according to the ‘sealed Hythe pattern’ with an eighteen-foot (5.5 metre) buttressed brick wall built behind it to catch stray bullets. The scars of these bullets pock-mark the base of the wall on the southern side. Also in this paddock to the southeast of the range are a number of wells, now mostly capped with concrete or filled in, the remains of an ammunition store and the brick remains of four incinerators.

Approximately 600 metres from the rifle range, on the property to the northeast, is the camp reservoir and settling tank. This is a 50 x 100 foot (17 x 35 metre) concrete reservoir which is still connected to the water races which flow through the camp.

On the south side of the road there are few visible remains of the canvas camp; this area was of light construction, and the tramway and stone edging around the tents and pathways have been removed. Still visible are a small number of concrete foundations related to the permanent structures, such as the cookhouse, and the underground networks for water and sewerage.

Much of the area to the west of Camp Road has been ripped in rows two-metres apart to facilitate the planting of a commercial Christmas tree business. This has resulted in many of the concrete foundations being broken or displaced, but the camp layout is still visible, and debris from the hospital rotundas and cookhouse buildings are still recognisable. Parts of the underground pipe network have survived beneath the level of the ripping, as have the underground water storage tanks for fire-fighting, and these are still used for this purpose. Surviving features of the isolation ward include a gully trap for the cookhouse and a septic tank for the orderlies’ quarters. As with the other parts of the camp, the drainage system remains largely intact. West of the memorial reserve little remains of the officers’ club, but some brick rubble and a plum tree are visible, as is the former course of the now redirected water race.

The area which the memorial reserve now occupies was previously the location of the canteen and a number of commercial shops. There are few visible remains of the camp in this area, but there are various memorials scattered through the reserve. These include memorials to the New Zealand soldiers who fought to liberate Messines in Belgium. The short access road through the reserve is named Messines Way in commemoration of this. Another memorial notes the location of the military camp with the words:

‘Featherston Military Camp WWI officially opened 26.1.1916. One time 5th busiest Post Office in New Zealand. This area immediately opposite the main camp entrance was known as Canvas Town. It served for a hardening up process and departure point prior to the inevitable Rimutaka route march and embarkation.’

To the east of Messines Way is the Japanese memorial garden planted in mature cherry trees. A memorial plaque at the entrance to this garden bears an inscription with the words ‘behold the summer grass; all that remains of the dreams of warriors’. The reserve also contains a cross and plaque memorial to Private Walter Pelvin. His grave is located in Geraldine. A single Aleppo (Gallipoli) pine is also planted in the reserve in commemoration of the troops who fought in World War One.

In addition to the visible surface remains, the camp retains potential for buried archaeological deposits. Amateur excavations by local historical society Heritage Featherston in the 1990s recovered some artefacts which are presently in the collection of the Featherston museum. A number of smaller broken ceramic and glass fragments were noted in the vicinity of the staff canteen and bakery during a site visit in 2011, and it is likely that some artefacts will have found their way into underground cavities following the successive decommissioning of the camp in the 1920s, and 1940s.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1915 - 1916
Designed and constructed

Modification
1917 - 1918
Camp extended, sewerage system remodelled

Other
1918 -
Camp closed following news of armistice

Relocation
1920 - 1922
Buildings sold for relocation

Other
1942 -
Occupation of the hutment camp on the north side of State Highway 2 for a Prisoner of War Camp

Relocation
1945 -
Camp closed and majority of buildings removed

Other
1951 - 1955
Remaining buildings used by workers during the construction of the Rimutaka railway tunnel

Relocation
-
Last of the camp buildings removed

Modification
2001 -
Memorial peace garden established on south side of road

Construction Details

Timber, brick, concrete, stone, canvas

Public NZAA Number

S27/42

Completion Date

11th February 2015

Report Written By

Andy Dodd

Information Sources

Lawson, 1917

W. Lawson, The Featherston Military Camp, Featherston, 1917

Nicolaidi, 1999

M. Nicolaidi, The Featherston Chronicles; A Legacy of War, Auckland, 1999

Shoebridge, 2011

Shoebridge, Tim. Featherston Military Training Camp and the First World War, 1915-27. Wellington: Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011

Frances, 2012

Frances, N., Safe Haven: The Untold Story of New Zealand’s Largest Ever Military Camp. Featherston 1916-1919. Wairarapa Archives and Fraser Books, 2012

Dodd, 2011

Dodd, A., ‘Featherston Military Training Camp: Archaeological Survey and Assessment of the Camp south of SH2.’ Unpublished report to New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 2011

Barnett, 2010

Barnett, C., ‘Archaeological Assessment of Featherston Military Training Camp and Featherston Prisoner of War Camp: Proposed Gazettal Information pertinent to section 9(2) Historic Places Act 1993.’ Unpublished report to New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 2010

Other Information

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Central Regional Office of Heritage New Zealand.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.