Although the Americans provided their soldiers with much entertainment, inevitably Kiwi and Yankee met face to face and had fun together. The first occasions on which many New Zealanders actually saw the Americans were formal parades. These became almost ritualistic greeting ceremonies, in which the Americans pierced the press censorship (for six months there was an official press black-out of the Americans’ presence) and proclaimed their arrival; in turn, through cheers and waving flags, the people signalled back a welcome.
Meet New Zealand was a guide written in the Historical Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs for United States servicemen stationed in New Zealand. The 35-page booklet provided an overview of New Zealand’s history, customs, flora and fauna, and gave practical information about road rules, currency and language. Look at the full booklet here.
If these formal occasions impressed New Zealanders with the smartness of their well-dressed ‘invaders’, they did not offer a chance for personal interaction. This might occur when the Americans were out training – as they took a five-minute break on a route march, perhaps. More often it happened when Americans came into town during their time off. They would wander the streets in ones or twos, gather in favourite milk bars or pubs (if they were open), go to the movies in the evening or the races on Saturday. The locals would be asked for directions or give long-winded explanations about money. The Americans would offer gifts of chewing gum or cigarettes; and frequently, it seems, these casual meetings led to invitations to visit homes.
The middle-aged women of New Zealand were especially keen to open their homes. Many had sons overseas and wanted to reciprocate hospitality enjoyed by their offspring. Some volunteered to visit the wounded and sick in hospital, but most preferred to entertain at home.
In the absence of commercial entertainment, home visits were an ideal form of recreation, so the authorities also encouraged formal mechanisms for arranging such hospitality. The American Red Cross drew up lists of locals willing to host Americans for the weekend, while the New Zealand–America Friendship Group became even more organised. Their Home Hospitality Bureau, operating in Wellington’s Manners St next door to the Allied Services Club, invited the Americans to register and list their interests in great detail so that they could be matched perfectly with the homes on offer. The bureau also offered short tours on the cable-car and through the Botanical Gardens; for those with more time it arranged visits to sheep stations (‘ranches’, as the Americans described them) or to the South Island. In February 1943 the interisland ferries offered special sailings to allow the visitors to see the ‘Mainland’.
Home visits were for many of both nations the most memorable aspect of the American invasion. As was to be expected, communication was not without problems. Many were the soldiers who, asked back for ‘tea’, filled themselves with a local favourite, ‘steak and chips’, only to be plied with roast lamb awaiting on arrival.
Americans often thought New Zealanders rather undemonstrative; and they were staggered by the absence of luxuries as a result of wartime rationing. New Zealanders in turn felt that many of the Americans were pampered ‘doughboys’ who wouldn’t recognise No. 8 fencing wire if they tripped over it. Yet, despite the confusion caused by accents and language, close friendships often evolved, and many a Marine repeatedly ‘went ashore’ to the same home as if to his own family. New Zealanders warmed to the enthusiasm and extrovert characters of the Americans, and noted especially their generosity and ease with children. There always seemed to be ‘Salters’ peanuts or ‘Babe Ruth’ candy bars for any youngsters around. The Americans for their part appreciated white linen on the table and the comfort of a soft chair after the conditions of camp life. They enjoyed the unguarded kindness with which New Zealanders opened their homes.