Featherston Military Camp, N.Z.

Featherston Military Camp, north of the rural service town of Featherston towards Tauherenikau along what is now known as Messines Way. The camp site here in January 1916 became the big camp in New Zealand - 4500 men in huts and 3000 in tents, were the infantry - were men got their final eight weeks of training. The camp with over 130 buildings contained a small town with offices, a street of shops, hospital, workshop, post-office, railway siding, canteen and 16 dining halls was constructed in four months and ready to use by March 1916. They came by train and at the end of the training session, marched over the hill to Trentham Camp. The soldiers then route marched to Wellington to embark overseas. The townsfolk rallied and built and opened ANZAC Hall in October 1916 as a place of rest and recreation for the soldiers in training and the local women provided sandwiches and tea cakes to the troops. The camp was revived  and repaired in September 1942 when the US government asked if New Zealand would hold 803 Japanese prisoners of war. They made furniture, operated a jute mill and worked on farms.  On 25 February 1943, 48 prisoners and one guard, Walter Pelvin, were killed in a riot. At the Peace Garden near the site of the 'Incident' on the anniversary a small memorial service is held. At Tauherenikau, 3 kms north of Featherston, on SH2 is the Japanese war memorial. Featherston's twin town is Messines, in Belgium. Memorabilia pertaining to WWI Military Camp, Army Training camp and 1943 Japanese POW camp, are small artworks by prison inmates, mostly in traditional Japanese style and Messines are on display at Featherston's Heritage Museum, Cnr Lyon & Fitzherbert Street Featherston. War Memorial.

The Featherston Incident

Wairarapa News 28 February 1998
A soldier killed by ricocheting bullets at a prisoner of war camp near Featherston in 1943 was honoured in a ceremony near the site this morning. 

The accident occurred on February 25, 1943, when guards opened fire to prevent a break-out by 250 rioting Japanese prisoners. Private Walter Pelvin, 34, died of bullet wounds three days later. A court of inquiry found that Private Pelvin died while acting under orders but because he was not serving overseas he was not eligible for the New Zealand Memorial Cross. The Featherston Community Board started a campaign in 1996 to get Private Pelvin's death officially recognised. The Minister of Defence, Max Bradford, presented the New Zealand Memorial scroll to members of Private Pelvin's family, including his daughter, granddaughter, great grand-daughter and brother, at a ceremony near the campsite. The army and a former soldier who was a guard at the camp formed an honour guard. NZPA.

Memorial at Geraldine
Private Walter Allan Pelvin - Army No 496685
Born 15 Oct. 1908 at Waimate, the son of Arthur Ernest (1876 - 1943) and Roseanna Pelvin (nee Humphris) (1884 - 1952), farmers of Totara Valley, near Timaru.  Arthur was 9th child of Richard Pelvin. Walter Pelvin was the only New Zealand soldier killed "on active service" at home. Unfit for service overseas due to having a lung removed as a child, he had made a full recovery from the operation and was a keen sportsman. A good musician, he had his own band. By occupation, a carpenter, he went to Featherston to help finish construction of the POW camp before the prisoners arrived, and was then asked to stay on as a guard in 1941. On February 25, 1943, Private Pelvin was on guard duty at N0 2 Compound. That hot morning 250 prisoners refused work detail and staged a sit-in. Prolonged negotiations took place and a stand-off position reached. The Camp adjutant attempted to end the siege by firing his pistol above the prisoner's heads. A hail of stones were thrown and a second shot fired wounded Lieutenant Adachi in the shoulder. The prisoners armed with knives and crude weapons yelled with rage and rushed the 34 New Zealand guards. They opened fire and in the chaos, less than 30 seconds, 48 Japanese prisoners were killed and 61 wounded. Walter Pelvin was one of 7 Army personnel wounded. Seriously injured in the cross fire, Walter was taken to Greytown Hospital where he died three days later, aged 34. His wife, Ivy Josephine Pelvin was flown from Geraldine to be with him. A memorial service was held at Featherston and a burial service was held at St Mary's Church, Geraldine on March 2, 1943 with full military honours.

A full report of the Featherston riot was suppressed for 50 years. On December 8, 1996, the Featherston Community Board unveiled a memorial plaque set in concrete just off State Highway 2, opposite the ruins of the former camp and attending were members of the Pelvin family.

Saturday 28 February 1998, the Hon Max Bradford flanked by a Army Guard of honour presented, on behalf of the Government and the people of New Zealand, a memorial scroll to Walter Pelvin's daughter, Mrs Patricia Prchal and family members. The scroll states "Private Pelvin gave his life to save mankind from tyranny." Above submitted by Winsome Griffin. Posted 18 Feb. 2000.  W.A. Pelvin - name is inscribed on the Hazelburn War Memorial.

Photo taken by Adele - Anzac Day 2008.

Wairarapa Times-Age - 29 August 2008-08 Historic war plaque pinched
By Don Farmer
The despicable theft of a bronze plaque honouring the memory of the only New Zealand soldier to die on active service on home soil in World War II has outraged Featherston people. Thieves wrenched off the valuable plaque commemorating shooting victim Private Walter (Wattie) Pelvin from its concrete foundations at the peace garden and Japanese War Memorial at Tauherenikau, presumably to sell as scrap metal. The theft is one of a spate of metal thefts plaguing Wairarapa that has involved the stealing of street signs and posts, sump grates, farm gates and a brass plate from Greytown Soldiers Memorial Park. There had also been attempts to prise memorial plates from graves in cemeteries. Wattie Pelvin was killed by a ricochet when guards at the Featherston Prisoner of War camp opened fire on mutinous Japanese prisoners on February 25, 1943. Its theft has outraged Featherston people who have labelled it "pathetic" and "unforgivable".  Featherston Heritage Museum, said the newspaper could not print what he would really like to call the thieves. "They are just low-life scum, really." Mr Burgiss said the sad part was so many good people worked hard to make sure the fallen Kiwi soldier was properly remembered and "then this comes along, it's disheartening".  Former South Wairarapa District councillor John Tenquis said the Tauherenikau memorial site had been vandalised in the past. "In the early days chains used to close off the area were stolen and shrubs and trees wrenched out and taken away, but this is the worst." The theft has dismayed South Wairarapa District councillors and staff. Rapidly increasing returns from the sale of scrap metal was probably behind the indiscriminate theft of signs and plaques. In the case of the Greytown Memorial Park theft a metal plate acknowledging the donation of park equipment had been stolen. The memorial to Private Pelvin would be replaced but talks were now being held with monumental masons to work out the best way of doing this. "It will cost us over $900 to replace the original plaque and then it could be stolen again, so we are considering having some sort of granite memorial put there," Mr Mangar said. A factor that is annoying the council and Featherston people generally is that it is thought unlikely that the Pelvin bronze plaque would have been rendered down before being offered for sale as scrap. That means someone was prepared to buy the plaque in the full knowledge that it had been stolen from the commemorative plinth of a fallen soldier.

December 2008:  There is a new marker at the site of where the original one was at Featherston also there is a white cross beside it.


In great secrecy,  nurses were sent to Wellington Hospital to nurse Japanese prisoners of war who had been wounded during the riot at Featherston Camp on February 25, 1943. "They didn't clear out one hospital, they took (nurses) from various camps e.g. Burnham, so it wouldn't look so obvious. There was nothing in the papers or radio, no whisper of it. They wanted to keep it quiet. We didn't feel any dislike for them. Of course, we didn't know how our boys had been treated then, either. We felt quite kindly towards them and they got Red Cross rations, cigarettes and chocolate. They were well treated. "

"They didn't like anything being done for them by a woman, that's one thing I remember. They couldn't bear to be washed by a woman, for instance - no matter how ill they were. It was a loss of face, I think. One boy in particular, a young boy, told me that he would be listed as dead. They never listed anyone as prisoners of war. That was a terrible disgrace, which seemed a peculiar attitude to us. One of the things he gave me was a letter - they were so sure they would win the war that this letter was to say that I had looked after the Japanese, and how good I'd been to them. He thought that it would protect me. They had been so indoctrinated, I suppose, that they couldn't visualise (losing), same as we couldn't visualise Britain losing the war." I. W Apr. 2004  Hospital


New Zealand's worst natural disaster was also a  global disaster - the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic swept the world for 18 months.

The outbreak was reported in both the Allied and German armies in June 1918 and the flu bug arrived in New Zealand in early October 1918, probably with returning troops.  The first NZEF soldiers to die from the "Spanish  flu" were members of the 40th Reinforcement on the troopship Tahiti - exposed at Sierra Leone in August 1918 - more than 70 died at sea or or in hospitals in England. Another 252 soldiers died from the flu in France and Palestine, while 281 died in camps in New Zealand. Featherston was the worst hit with 177 deaths including 18 Maori soldiers in November.  The strain of avian influenza killed 25 million to 50 million people worldwide in 1918 -1919, killed more people than est. 10 million World War 1 toll. Those with the flu died from a haemorrhagic pneumonia. It was caused by the H1N1 type of flu virus, which is similar to bird flu of today, mainly H5N1 and H5N2.  Killed 8,500 New Zealanders in the space of just six weeks from late October to early December 1918. In November and December 6091 Anglos and 2160 Maoris died = 8251.

Name: Douglas, James
Nationality: New Zealand
Rank: Private 40th Reinforcements N.Z.E.F.
Date of Death: 04/09/1918 age 44, "Died of Disease (influenza) ex NZ on 4/9/1918".  Buried at sea.
Service No: 72401
Embarked aboard HMNZT (His Majesty's New Zealand Troopship)  #107 (ss Tahiti) (Northbound Voyage #) in New Zealand on 10th July 1918 for the UK. They disembarked at Plymouth on 10th September 1918. 1 Sgt, 1 Corporal and 14 privates died of disease around the same time as Private Douglas.

Alan Leslie Christie completed his medical course in Dunedin then joined the NZ Medical Corps and served in WW1. Served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He returned to NZ in August 1917 and after a period of convalescence resumed his medical duties at Featherston Camp. He died at age 31 from influenza and pneumonia in Greytown on 9 November 1918, just 2 days before the signing of the Armistice. Nurse Mary B. Beswick survived the Marquette but her sister  Grace died in the 1918 flu outbreak in Christchurch..

On October 12 The Timaru Herald (TH) reported an influenza outbreak in Cape Town had killed 1500 people in nine days.  News of the Armistice reached New Zealand on November 11 1918.  On November 13 the TH ran details of Peace Day celebrations in Timaru and surrounding towns throughout the district. There were processions, fireworks, fancy dress competitions, sports, evening entertainment, combined bands concerts and revellers flocked to join in. The resulting crowds helped to spread the infection from towns to rural area. On the same page a public notice issued on behalf of the Health Department warned the people of Geraldine against gathering in public places and closed all halls and places of entertainment in the county for seven days in response to the influenza epidemic. The next day the first recorded Anglo death caused by influenza in South Canterbury occurred in Winchester. Donald Grant, age 44, was a prominent man, well known for his public service in the district. Buried at the Temuka Cemetery on the 16th November 1918. Mr Grant, a breeder of champion English Leicester sheep, had returned early from the Christchurch show sickened with influenza and died six days later.

The resourceful agencies and groups established through the war years to support the men at the front, and those in need at home, quickly mobilised to "combat the ravages of influenza".  Within two days businesses and public meeting places had been shut down. The epidemic was at its height for 2-3 weeks in November, 1918. On November 15, the TH reported a public meeting presided over by Timaru mayor Mr Maling and attended by about 30 businessmen, clergymen and medical practitioners. Mr Maling urgently requested the establishment of inhalation chambers. These were set up so that people could breathe in fumes which were supposed to help clear their lungs. Every day everyone had to go to a place at the corner of the street to inhale  ?sulphur fumes. These 'fumigating chambers' were sited all over the town. People queued waiting to be fumigated. This method of prevention was not proved to be effective, and by bringing people together, it may have helped spread the infection. Dr Burns and his nurses at Timaru Hospital were already exhausted by the influx of influenza sufferers. Following discussion with the clergy it was agreed to close churches, schools and, on the counsel of Dr Gibson, all bars. Mesdames Burns, Unwin and Raymond were delegated to organise the cooking and distribution of food to stricken families, and the efforts of voluntary aid workers. The men's committee set about organising manpower and logistics. The Red Cross, St. John's Ambulance, Boy Scouts, and other war time organisations quickly transformed themselves into epidemic  relief committees Over 8,000 people died from the influenza epidemic in New Zealand. During the First World War, 16,688 New Zealand soldiers died in four years of fighting.  The influenza epidemic killed at least 6,413 Anglo New Zealanders, including the soldiers who died of the flu overseas - a death rate of 5.8 per thousand deaths.  There are a large number of victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic buried at Waikumete Cemetery, Auckland. The caskets of the victims were transported to Waikumete by train and buried in unmarked graves. A simple granite memorial marks the site. Throughout the country schools and halls were taken over as hospitals. Fairlie had set up a temporary hospital to isolate patients.

Timaru Herald November 15 1918
In view of the prevailing Epidemic of Influenza, the public are requested to take all precautions to prevent its further spread.
    As the Mode of Infection is from Person to Person the public are strongly advised to abstain from all gatherings and refrain from travelling about the district except in cases of absolute necessity. If it is necessary to enter a shop or place of business they should transact their business as quickly as possible and not loiter about the premises.
    The indiscriminate use of gargles etc. is not unattended with danger. The best disinfectants are Fresh Air and Sunshine. All halls, public places of meetings etc. should be thoroughly cleaned before re-opening.
    Every householder should make a point of seeing his premises are kept clean and sanitary condition. Any person exposing himself knowingly while suffering from influenza in any shop, inn, public vehicle renders himself liable to a penalty not exceeding 10.
E. MacDonald, Mackenzie County Chairman.

The flu struck hardest at young adults, men ore than women, aged 25 to 45 years old. We very much regret to have to record the deaths through influenza of Edward Victor Worthington, aged 31, on 15 November 1918. and Andrew Holmes. Both members of the Darfield Vestry. Edward was a stock agent at Matson's, late the National Mortgage Agency in Addington and Darfield. He probably attended the Christchurch Show annually. Edward was born 3 March 1887 at Waitohi near Temuka. Only four deaths occurred in the Fairlie area -one being John Trotter, of Clayton Station, a young returned serviceman.  The 1918 pandemic killed 2.5% of its victims.

During the 1918 pandemic, 22,000 people in South Canterbury infected and 440 deaths over a few months.

Timaru Herald 30/05/2009
The cemetery plot was listed as empty, but the bones proved otherwise. A contractor digging a grave at the Temuka cemetery last week made a surprising find, when bones appeared among the earth they were excavating. Timaru District Council district services manager said that area in the cemetery was thought to be empty, having been checked with a ground-penetrating radar a year ago. "A year or so ago, we hired a ground-penetrating radar in the Temuka and Geraldine cemeteries. It was really interesting, we found a whole row of unmarked graves in Geraldine." The contractor who made the Temuka discovery stopped digging, covered the remains again and dug in a new part of the cemetery. The grave would not be disturbed again. It is not the first time remains have been accidentally disturbed in cemeteries and some unmarked graves are thought to date from 1918, when the world was hit by the flu epidemic. Earlier this year human remains were dug up on a Claremont farm.



Featherston Camp Memorial. Photo taken April 2005 by Adele.  
For anyone wishing a photograph of a headstone for a soldier buried at Featherston, this would be for WW1, or Clareville Cemetery. contact Adele.

The Great war ended in 1918 and so too did the lives of many soldiers who never left the camp.

FEATHERSTON CEMETERY, Western Lake Road, Featherston, South Wairarapa District

The war graves in this cemetery are of service people who died in the great Reinforcement Camp at Featherston, established in January 1916, where a maximum of 4,500 men could be accommodated in huts and 3,000 under canvas. At Featherston the training of the Mounted Rifles, the Artillery and the specialists was carried out, as well as part of the Infantry training. An obelisk has been erected in the Cemetery, commemorating the men who died at the Camp; and a cross of Sacrifice is erected. The large number of deaths during the influenza epidemic in November, 1918, will be noticed. There are 180 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-1918 war and 2 of the 1939-1945 war here. ANZAC Hall at Featherston was turned into a military hospital during the flu epidemic. Recently a Memorial Wall was erected using the old headstones after the War Graves Commission replaced them with the start type.

 FEATHERSTON Deaths  - Photos courtesy of Adele Pentony-Graham, March 2007.

 Featherston Cemetery - Photo taken by Adele.  March 2007.      Featherston Cemetery - Photo taken by Adele.  March 2007.  


Featherston Cemetery - Photo taken by Adele.  March 2007.      Featherston Cemetery - Photo taken by Adele.  March 2007.      Featherston Cemetery - Photo taken by Adele.  March 2007.  

Source: A study. Theor Biol Med Model. 2006; 3: 38.
Copyright 2006 Sertsou et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

Influenza cases were reported in the Featherston camp from 28 October to 22 November 1918, and reported mortality occurred between 7 November and 11 December 1918, with both incidence and mortality peaking in November 1918. The population of the Featherston Military Camp at that time was approximately 8000 military personnel of whom 3220 were hospitalised. A total of 177 deaths attributable to the outbreak. The mortality of this outbreak (at 20.4 per 1000) was also somewhat higher than that for the general male population of New Zealand (i.e., at 10.0 per 1000 for 2024 year olds) and for other military camps at 22.0 and 23.5 (for Awapuni and Trentham camps respectively). It is plausible that higher death rates in military camps may have been related to both higher risk of infection (e.g. via crowding) and the poor living conditions involved (i.e. the extensive use of tents). Crowded troop trains may also have contributed to disease spread and in the weekend prior to the main outbreak in the camp many of the recruits had been away on leave, and were transported to and from the camp by troop trains. Furthermore, a severe storm struck the Featherston camp on 7 November (the day that influenza incidence peaked) and flattened many tents. This event placed additional stresses on accommodating men in huts that were already full and with some huts (and all institute buildings such as the YMCA, for example) being used as overflow wards to the main camp hospital to which the most severe cases were admitted. Less severe cases were admitted to makeshift wards in the so-called institute buildings, and the huts were used for convalescence. The average latent and infectious periods were estimated to be in the range between 0.7 to 1.3 days, and 0.2 to 0.3 days, respectively. The infectious period is short compared to the period of peak virus shedding known to occur in the first 1 to 3 days of illness. There was an approximate seven-day delay from reported symptomatic illness to the date of death. An important cause of death was likely to have been from secondary bacterial pneumonia as opposed to the primary influenza viral pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (for which death may have tended to occur more promptly). This suggests that much of this mortality could be prevented (with antibiotics) if a novel strain with similar virulence emerged in the future. 

Black November

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project

Otago Witness, 11 September 1907, Page 71
We have had quite a visitation of influenza, which seems to have attacked - every household. One wedding fixed for this week had to be postponed owing to the bride having succumbed to an attack of this, now fashionable complaint.

Otago Witness, 30 December 1908, Page 4
The measles which, as has been recorded, were caught by some Pareora and Timaru people on a train returning from the Christchurch Show, were also given to some residents of Pareora East, and spreading caused the schools of Pareora East and Southburn to be closed for Christmas holidays a week sooner than would otherwise have been the case.