Tora! Tora! New Zealand!

A recent visit by Kerikeri resident Jack Kemp to Kiwi North’s new exhibition Tora! Tora! New Zealand!  at the Whangarei Museum marked the culmination of three years hard work and volunteer research.
Jack and Bill in WW2 uniforms and vehicle in forest
Jack (left) and Bill (right)expand/collapse
Jack, together with Parapara resident Dr Bill Guthrie, worked as volunteer researchers for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, uncovering the details of the full scope of Northland’s extensive defence network during World War II – in the process compiling the first overall picture of Northland’s defences since the war years.  

Their research has helped form the basis of Kiwi North’s Tora! Tora! New Zealand! exhibition which will run until February 28 2022.  

“I was asked by Bill Edwards of Heritage New Zealand in Northland to research World War II camps of the north back in 2018 and was under the impression there were only a few camps. It turned out there were over 100 camps and other different military facilities,” says Jack. 

“Visiting sites and interviewing people from Auckland to Kaitaia was a big task, as was double-checking stories.” 

According to Jack the exhibition is the result of a continuous amount of input from Northlanders, whose information and recollections helped record what happened during those frightening years.  

“There are still stories coming in from people, and it’s good that there is a place where they can write them at the exhibition,” says Jack. 

“To many people, what happened between 1941 and 1942 in the north is a forgotten piece of history, and very little evidence of the defence network can be seen today. I think it’s important that these memories are preserved however.” 

Highlights for Jack have included working with co-researcher Bill Guthrie, who wrote up much of the research for the exhibition, and Kiwi North curator Georgia Kerby who Jack says has done an excellent job of Tora! Tora! New Zealand! – including presentation of the artefacts. 

The exhibition is important in telling Northland’s World War II story according to Bill Guthrie. 

“Georgia Kerby's initiative in conceiving and managing the exhibition for the museum is key. Jack and I had been thinking of publication and archiving, but Georgia had the concept right from the beginning of a public exhibition and how that would fix the story in the public mind,” he says.  

“From my perspective as an American living in New Zealand, in the case of the Japanese invasion threat, it’s almost as if the whole nation decided to forget. Without the story of Northland during World War II, however, the war at home makes no sense. Although professional historians and the boy-veterans of the Home Guard knew or remembered what had occurred, that story was lost to the rest of us. This exhibition really addresses that.” 

A particular highlight of the exhibition for Dr Guthrie is the personal recollections that were captured by Jack, which were then featured prominently in the interpretation.  

“Jack put three years of work into this, catching many veterans at the last opportunity for interviews. During that time he attended a number of funerals of men he had interviewed only weeks earlier,” he says.  

“Georgia rightly put a lot of focus on presenting interview material that had not originally been recorded or intended for public display.” 

The Kiwi North exhibition, and the research underpinning it, is a great example of how a modest project can ‘grow legs’ and develop international reach and significance according to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Manager, Bill Edwards.  

“The Unites States Embassy has funded the interactive table as part of the exhibition - a significant gesture In this, the 80th anniversary year of the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It celebrates the strong American connection to New Zealand – which was particularly important during those troubled war years,” says Bill. 

The interactive table will invite visitors to more deeply explore the network of camps around Whangarei and match them to their knowledge of modern day Whangarei. It will be installed in the exhibit in December 2021 and become a permanent display in the Museum after the special exhibit closes. 

“This exhibition gives our visitors – local and from further afield – a chance to understand the extent  and significance of military activity that occurred in Northland which has been underrated in most historical records. Now they can put together the memories of our community with the original records,” says Georgia.

John O'Hare