A long time ago, in the small sleepy town of Kāpiti, north of Wellington, thousands of Americans arrived and made a big impression. Kāpiti News editor David Haxton has a look back at what was coined "the friendly invasion".

More than 15,000 US Marines were stationed in and around Kāpiti's Queen Elizabeth Park during part of World War II.

Their arrival, part of a wider contingent spread across New Zealand, was prompted by the growing threat of a Japanese invasion.

New Zealand troops were fighting campaigns in North Africa and Europe so the US Marine Corps arrival was very welcome.

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New Zealand would prove to be a strong staging post and source of supply for operations against the Japanese in the Pacific.

Three camps were created in Kāpiti including Camp Russell, which was inside the park near Mackays Crossing, Camp Mackay, which was inside what is now called Whareroa Farm, and Camp Paekakariki, near the southern entrance of the park.

Marines spent a lot of time in Kāpiti during World War Two.
Marines spent a lot of time in Kāpiti during World War Two.

The 1st Marine Division was here for a short time from June 14, 1942, to July 22, 1942, and the 2nd Marine Division the longest from November 4, 1942, to November 1, 1943.

Lots of wooden huts and tents were erected in the camps to accommodate the US Marine Corps.

Life involved lots of training, rest and relaxation, plentiful food, and Kiwi hospitality.

The park area would have been paradise considering the horrendous battles ahead in the Pacific including Guadalcanal, Tarawa and more.

US Marines Memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park, Paekākāriki.

In early 2008 a former US Marine, stationed in Queen Elizabeth Park during World War II, revisited the area.

Kāpiti News wrote a story about James Jones, from California, who was 84 when he visited the park after all those years.

It was a moving yet thrilling experience for the war veteran, who was a machine gunner with 1st Company 2nd Marines, as he remembered life in Camp Mackay.

A highlight was driving past a nursery and seeing an area where the dining quarters used to be.

He knew there was a ditch running alongside it and beamed when he saw it.

Jones saw a sand dune where he used to fire shots from an M1 carbine and distinctly remembered a creek near where machine guns were fired into the sea.

At the park's main entrance he remembered stopping to watch a line of tanks slowly driving past when a second lieutenant ran out between them and was run over.

"It left a big muddy strip across his chest."

He recalled hiking all around the park and up into the surrounding hills to stay fit.

There were the wonderful meals served up by a New York chef who liked to spice up his food.

A US Marines four man hut rebuilt in recent years from original materials.
A US Marines four man hut rebuilt in recent years from original materials.

He loved eating rabbit and chicken, wasn't keen at all on mutton chops, occasionally had a steak and other times was lucky to have a delicious roast served up.

Jones like to get up early from his tent and dip a cup into a large milk can to get the pure fresh cream off the top before he would join the chow line for breakfast.

There were trips to Wellington where he would enjoy a steak, eat some fish and chips, visit the Cecil Club and dance with the girls.

Malaria was common in the camp and he had to go to hospital in Silverstream three times.

He remembered various prison guard duties from looking after prisoners of war through to guarding coal in the camp.

But it was the people he met who impressed him during his stay all those years ago.

"The thing I remember the most was how nice the people were to us."

The trip back to the Kāpiti district had been well worthwhile.

"It's been wonderful."

Jones fought in many battles during the war including the Guadalcanal campaign.

Today, if you go to the park, there's a memorial site at Mackays Crossing entrance dedicated to the US Marine Corps including history panels, a rebuilt original hut, and a metal sculpture which remembers the 10 drowned sailors from the USS American Legion who died during a training exercise off the beach.

The memorial area is well worth a visit as is the Paekakariki Station Museum.