Although their stay was short, the impact the United States servicemen had on New Zealand life, and on the congregation of St Paul’s, while they were in Wellington during World War Two was profound. From 1942 to 1944 they were based at nearby Anderson Park, on the corner of Glenbervie and Tinakori Roads, and also at McKay’s Crossing in Kapiti.  St Paul’s became Divisional Protestant Chapel of the Second Marine Division of the US Marine Corps while they were here, and their spiritual home. New friendships and new experiences were made at the St Paul’s – a meeting place for the two cultures. Today, this relationship continues, and the United States flag and the Second Division Marine Corps flag still fly at the church as a reminder of that time.

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The red Second Marine Corps colours and the US stars and stripes (with 48 stars), hanging at the church.

From the horrors of war in the Pacific to the safe waters of Wellington harbour, American troops came pouring into the city looking for rest, relaxation and of course, a bit of fun and entertainment. But it was also the things, like church worship, that brought normalcy to life and order in a world of disarray, and became a necessity for the servicemen.  American Marine, Don Adams, after his recovery from malaria in Silverstream, Wellington said: “Under those conditions you become a stronger Christian than you are in normal civilian life. You have to reach out to God and put your faith in Him.”

Wellington Welcomes You

A pamphlet produced for the US troops by the Wellington Provincial Patriotic Council: ‘Wellington Welcomes You’.

Services at St Paul’s On the troop’s first Thanksgiving Day in Wellington, in November 1942, the Evening Post recorded the service at St Paul’s in detail, and took the opportunity to explain the visitors a little better; before the arrival of the troops here, New Zealanders had generally had very little contact with American culture. The United States chaplain Rev W W Lumpkin led the service, and explained the deep significance of Thanksgiving to Americans. He told those gathered at the service that, much like St Paul’s, which ‘hallowed by the prayers of seeking hearts over the years’ impels the visitor to fall on his knees, Thanksgiving Day ‘is really in the soul of a people, [and] puts forward its own gracious authority over us’.

For this service, the American servicemen were placed in the central aisle and the civilians in the side aisles. Also in attendance were the Prime Minister Peter Fraser and his wife, and the Governor General’s wife, Lady Newall, who was an American.  The image at the top of this article of troops entering St Paul’s was taken on that day.

The Padres of the United States Marine Corps also gave a ‘stimulating and arresting’ service for Lent in 1943, while an American Prayer Book was used to lead the service marking US Independence Day that same year.

Relationships Close bonds grew between the Americans and the St Paul’s congregation.  St Paul’s offered comfort to the Marines and a familiar environment to worship in. Those that sat next to them in the pews treated them as family, invited them into their homes and built lifelong friendships.  In his Vicar’s Letter 1942, Dean Davies wrote: “The presence of these fine men should prove to be a good tonic to this country and shake some of us out of that insular complacency in which we have been living for so many years.”  

One of the women of the St Paul’s congregation who invited the servicemen into her home was Ivy Blundell, a life-long member of the congregation. She used to take the men, whom she called ‘my boys’, to her home in Bolton Street for Sunday lunch after the service. Ivy was the grandmother of Jane Aim, herself a long-term supporter of Old St Paul’s. In this oral history interview, Jane talks of her grandmother’s care for the United States servicemen, and the gratitude of their families back in the States.  Click to listen:

Marriages at St Paul’s With many New Zealand men now overseas, there were plenty of women for American troops to romance – much to the dismay of New Zealand’s fighting men – and between 1942 and 1944, 1,400 women were married to US servicemen.  A number of these weddings took place at St Paul’s.  One of these was for Dr Inez Thew, who had lost her husband in the war, and found love again with an American Warrant Officer, Richard A. Hill. The pair married at St Paul’s in 1944.

Another such couple was Lieutenant Frank E. Taplin and Ngaio Thornton (pictured below at their wedding at St Paul’s). Sadly, after having two daughters and a son, they divorced, as did many wartime couples. Frank went on to practice law and engage in business back in Cleveland and became a notable philanthropist of the arts. wedding

‘We shall not forget’

The ties that were made during this time were never forgotten. In 1944 as the war moved north in the Pacific, US troops were no longer needed in New Zealand, and they began to leave the camps. On their departure, Major General Julian C. Smith, commander of the second division of the Marines, presented Old St Paul’s with a United States of America flag (with 48 stars instead of 50, as Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states during the war) and the Marine Corps’ Second Division’s Colours. Replicas of these flags still hang in the church today. Major General Smith once wrote to Canon Davies that he wished to express his gratitude to him for allowing the church to be used by the Marines during their stay and ‘we shall not forget your kindness in making it possible’.

And indeed this is so: many ex-servicemen continue to visit Old St Paul’s today, over 70 years later.  And every year, on the last Monday of May, the US Embassy in Wellington holds a service at Old St Paul’s to commemorate US Memorial Day, which honours the men and women who have died while serving in the American defence forces.  See this post for some images of the 2012 Memorial Day service at St Paul’s.

Images: Soldiers entering Old St Paul’s: Evening Post image, 26 November 1942, Photo Ref 123953½, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.  Modern image of flags: Heritage New Zealand.  ‘Wellington Welcomes you’ pamphlet: Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. Eph-A-WAR-WWII-1942-01

Sources: Joan Ellis, A String of Pearls: Stories from the U.S Marines & New Zealand Women Remembering WWII, Wellington, 2006.  Evening Post, 26 November 1942, Page 3.  St Paul’s Pilgrim. 1942-1944.

For more information on the US forces in New Zealand