New Aotearoa Unearthed podcast episode features Northland’s secret war

A new addition to a popular podcast series on New Zealand archaeology throws a spotlight on little known wartime history of Northland.

Jack and Bill drive an army jeep down a dirt road.
Jack Kemp and Bill Guthrie in a WW2 era jeep. Photo: HNZPTexpand/collapse

Podcast editor, Rosemary Baird of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, interviews four Northlanders who used archaeological research and investigation techniques to piece together a picture of ‘Fortress Northland’; a staggering network of defence infrastructure which was constructed in panicked haste following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941.

The Northland WW2 episode is available to download on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

“As a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and conquests in the Pacific, New Zealand’s military and Public Works Department fast-tracked a plan to create a network of military camps, observation stations and other war infrastructure in response to the threat,” says Rosemary.

The extraordinary network of camps and other facilities – including an integrated defence network in the Bay of Islands and Waitangi – was deconstructed in 1943 almost as quickly as it had appeared, after the threat from invasion had passed.

Nobody knew much about it until Jack Kemp and Bill Guthrie – two Heritage New Zealand volunteers in Northland – started investigating sites and interviewing people, with the assistance of Heritage New Zealand Northland staff Bill Edwards and James Robinson.

“This episode was a great way to capture the highs and lows of the team’s journey of discovery as they undertook detective work in the archives, interviewed informants, and identified former defence sites,” says Rosemary. “Their research has shed new light on this hitherto all but unknown aspect of Northland’s war past.”

- John O'Hare