By Roger Childs
New Zealand is such a beautiful country! –Band leader
“The Friendly Invasion”
A treat at Paekakariki’s St Peter’s Hall on Wednesday was a free concert by the Hawaii-based US Marines band. The musicians are over here coinciding with the 80th anniversary of the Marines being in New Zealand during World War Two.
Prior to America entering the War, the U.S. government had agreed that they would send large forces to North Africa to help the British against the Germans and the Italians. However, immediately after Pearl Harbour the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, told the Americans that Britain could hold the line in North Africa in the meantime and that United States forces should instead be sent to Australia and New Zealand to defend them against a possible Japanese invasion.
Thousands of American servicemen, mainly Marines, were despatched to New Zealand and arrived in Auckland and Wellington in June 1942. They occupied temporary settlements that were rapidly constructed in places like the Kapiti Coast, where Camps Mackay, Russell and Paekakariki housed more than 10,000 Marines at any one time. The coastal village of Paekakariki with a population of 530 was transformed by the presence of the friendly Americans.
“Brass on the Beach”
So it was highly appropriate for the Marines Band to be playing in the village – a community their branch of the US armed forces had transformed eighty years ago. The band had been in New Zealand back in 2012 on the 70th anniversary of the Marines arriving, and played at a concert at Southwards theatre. One bandsman mentioned that he had been encouraged to come here by a member of that group of “Brass on the beach”.
The Americans played to a packed hall and the audience responded enthusiastically to the mix of jazz tunes and a range of other compositions. There was also a cameo performance by the Mayor, local Janet Holborow, who demonstrated her skill on the flute. An entertaining feature was the choreography. The trumpeters, trombonists and saxophonists performed on the floor in front of the stage and they often jived to the jazz items. Onstage there were electric guitarists, drummers and keyboard players, and two vocalists added their voices to the mix. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance which, by audience demand, went twenty minutes past the scheduled time.
The band thoroughly enjoyed their time on the Kapiti Coast and the local Paekakariki cafés did well. “Brass on the Beach” also played in Paraparaumu Beach on Anzac Day and in Wellington on Thursday.