As the Japanese advanced southwards during World War II in February and March of 1942, fears of an invasion meant defence measures and protection against an air strike were taken.
It was thought by the government that the four main cities would likely be targets first.
The next order of vulnerability identified was "coastal boroughs situated on or adjacent to the coastline". Napier and Hastings were included as being part of this group.
A meeting was held in Napier in late February 1942 to discuss the building of air raid shelters, but unfortunately no one thought to invite the Hastings Borough Council, and this was later blamed on an "oversight".
Acting as required under the Emergency Shelter Regulations 1942, the Hastings Borough Council contracted builder H W Abbott to build covered air raid shelters in Hastings, of which seven were built on the outskirts of the Hastings CBD. So the idea was they leave when under attack to the safety of the shelters on the perimeter of the CBD.
Hastings Borough Council engineer R P Fish looked for suitable sites in the CBD, and then prepared the plans for each shelter.
The sites chosen were the corner of Railway Rd and Eastbourne St, Warren St, corner of Nelson and Eastbourne Sts, Karamu Rd near Avenue Rd, corner of Queen and Hastings Sts, Avenue Rd (near K Mart today), and the corner of Queen and Nelson Sts.
The shelters consisted of a three foot (.9m) deep trench, which was floored with concrete and roofed with timber and spoil. Wooden plank seating and toilets were also included.
Rent had to be paid for the sites not on public land, and a government subsidy of 75 per cent of the estimated £3000 (2019: $275,000) cost would be paid to the Hastings Borough Council for their construction cost. Slit trenches – or a narrow uncovered trench - would not attract the subsidy.
One of the seven shelter sites was going to be in the Hastings Civic Square, except Mayor Algernon Rainbow was anxious that this area should not be cut up, so instead a section nearby in Warren St was used.
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Fifteen hundred people in total would be able to be accommodated in these shelters, which were completed in May 1942.
The basement of the former Hawke's Bay Farmers' Co-operative Association building was also set aside for a shelter and could accommodate 250 people.
In charge of excavating these trenches for the Hastings Borough Council before a gang of men did the final digging by shovel, was contractor John Fraser.
He had begun business in 1933 and had developed the first power shovel in Hastings, which initially had a turning axis of 180 degrees, but he later perfected this to 360 degrees.
Two men visiting Hastings around 1939 from Ruston-Bucyrus, an engineering company in the United Kingdom, who had a well-established excavator manufacturing operation, were astounded to see Fraser's machine, and marvelled that on his own he had developed and built this.
In addition to the seven Hastings CBD air raid shelters, Fraser also dug slit trenches in many other places including Tomoana freezing works and schools for the Hawke's Bay Education Board – including Napier.
He kept records of all his trench excavations during 1942 which was conducted for 86 days straight, seven days a week.
Fraser's son, Peter, can remember his father coming to Mahora Primary School to dig a shelter trench there and wanting to see him because it was an event to have your dad at school.
A schoolteacher said no, but Peter replied, "I'll make sure the Japs get you if you don't". Needless to say, Peter went and saw his father.
Many years later, at the Mahora school jubilee in 1978, the teacher amusingly reminded Peter of the incident.
Two groups of war effort people called Fire Watchers and Wardens were to direct people to shelters if a raid should occur during business hours.
However, the number of these people and the size of the CBD meant this could not be done effectively, so a practice evacuation for the shelters was arranged for August 6, 1942.
Newspaper adverts would tell people what was expected of them, and the route to take closest to them, although the Hastings Borough Council expected "there will be a tendency for persons to remain in premises after the alarm has sounded to avoid the trouble of going to shelters".
Those in vehicles had to stop driving and proceed to the nearest shelter.
One of the main considerations – and today it is almost unthinkable to imagine it occurring – people were told that in an attack they should go through buildings to the safety of shelters, not on the open street. If they were to "move in mass, the risk of machine gun fire from aircraft becomes great".
With the shelters' capacity of 1750 people (including the 250 in the Hawke's Bay Farmers' Co-operative Association's basement) 867 people took part in the trial.
An "incident trial" was arranged for Saturday, September 19, 1942, when an air raid attack had been simulated with 108 casualties spread across the Hastings CBD air raid shelters.
This was to give the emergency response teams a trial run if an event occurred.
In addition to covered air raid shelters in the CBD and slit trenches in schools and workplaces, anti-tank ditches were dug around Hastings in case of a land assault. With the threat of a Japanese attack fading in late 1943, the need for the shelters lessened.
Two years after the war had ended in 1947, Fraser used a bulldozer to demolish the seven air raid shelters he had excavated five years before.
The shelters remained largely forgotten until 1990 when Mackersey Construction Limited began to build the Hastings New World supermarket. When digging on the corner of Queen and Hastings Sts, the shelter was uncovered.
Hastings man George Hemmingson (1910‒1995) remembers helping complete this trench in March 1942 after Fraser's "made up digger" had dug out the site. He recalled they weren't very tall and were always unlocked so anyone could have access. He never thought the people of Hastings worried about an invasion, and they were built as a precaution.
• Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are only available from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell Street South, Hastings for $65.00. Michael Fowler FCA (email@example.com) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.