Topic: The Grand Old Lady in Whakatane by Bazz Porter

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This article was transcribed from the original handwritten version for the 63rd Hauraki News.

6th Hauraki Insignia

This is the story of a building that was a part of the history of Whakatane and affected the lives of so many people in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. The building is The Grand Old Lady down at the river called the Whakatane Drill Hall.

1929 the Harbour land was leased to the Bay of Plenty Winter Show Association for 21 years to be renewed after 14 years from

1950 to William Sullivan and Walter Ernest Bridgers. As is known the firm of Boon-Sullivan & Luke were renowned for their buildings in this area. During the

1930s and into the 1940s the building was the focus of events when the land opposite on The Strand from The Commercial Hotel to Matantua Street was nothing but paddocks. The building and forecourt held the exhibits, Merry Go-Round, Candy Floss Van, and Ferris Wheel with the animal events across the road. During this time the A&P As

Before the 2nd World War several dances were held in the hall, one of them being very special to the families of serving men who had served overseas. It was the “Welcome Home Social & Dance” to be held in the Winter Show Building on 9 May 1945; Ladies – two shillings and six pence; Gents three shillings.sociation which started at Taneatua in 1908 decided to move and linked with the Winter Show Assn till they moved to the Domain in central Whakatane.

In 1949 the Compulsory Military Training (CMT) Act came into being, so as per the proclamation on 21st April 1952 the building became the Drill Hall.

1953 a Ball was held to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, with the hall decked out by volunteers and some of the band members, Barry Brabant, Lester Alley, Lenny Broadmore and Gerry Haeusler.

1954 proclamation proclaims Free Hold Estate taken for Defence purposes; leasehold and freehold interest merge on transfer to the New Zealand Defence Force. At this time Warrant Officer Class I Ted Lass was transferred from Papakura Camp with his wife Florence (who later opened a ladies hair saloon) and their two boys, Robert (aged 6 years) and Chubb (aged 4 years). He took up duties as the Area Warrant Office and was responsible for the training of the many School Cadets at the Whakatane High School who

se trophies are in the school library’s archives. During the CMT training was carried out under the leadership of such men as Major Don Stewart, Captain Jim Peason, Major Don Walls, Company Sergeant Major Smith and Platoon Commander Peter Araru. Mid to late fifties work commenced on building the Store Room, Armoury, Kitchen, other Ranks, Sergeants and Officer Mess Rooms and the completion of two bedroom unit to be used for visiting officers.

Early Sixties the National Service Act came into being and was in force till the elections in 1972 at the change of government. The first National Service soldiers were members of Delta Company of Hauraki Regiment and were administered and trained at the Army Hall by Officer and Senior NCOs such as Jim Prince, Bob Burt (later to become the Commanding Officer of Hauraki Battalion), and Keith Bowering.

 April 1964 Infantry Battalions were renumbered so now the men in Whakatane-Kawerau-Opotiki area were now members of Bravo Company 6th Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (Hauraki) or shortened to B Coy 6 Hau. Also at this time a local soldier Corporal Joe Radford who married a local girl Lena Richmond and held their reception in the hall was the Regular Force Cadre NCO and moved into the available flat, their daughter Ramona was born on 26th May 1966. Corporal Radford was posted later to Malaya then to 2 Platoon Whiskey 2 Company 4 RAR / NZ ANZAC Battalion and was killed on active service 23rd July 1969 and buried at the RSA Cemetery Whakatane 19th August 1969.

By now the numbers in the Unit at the Hall had increased some what so by the time Sergeant Bazz Porter arrived at the hall and B Company, numbering nearly 150 men all up as C Company Paeroa- Waihi-Coromandel were administered from the Hall.

This was at the beginning of 1967 and annual camps were held in the first months of each year. On return from annual camp 1967 the last camp for Cpl Radford and the first of many for Sgt Porter the G.M.C truck on entering the Hall went through the floorboards, the ones probably laid by Mr Sullivan all those years ago. So that’s why the Hall has a concrete floor. Sgt Porter and his wife Everna (nee Haywood) moved into the flat and daughter Katrina was born 11th December 1968, she later had her 21st in the Hall.

So many young men from the Eastern Bay of Plenty served in B Coy and trained at the Army Drill Hall. Major Peter Araru M.I.D, WO I

I Keith Bowering the Company Sergeant Major, Lieutenant Peter Mahy, Snr NCOs David Smith, Ivan Sturgess, Walter Hillman, Tim Horopapera, Geo Looney; some of the soldiers who also served Crawford J and Crawford R, Harris S, Davis A, Beveridge G, Gillies K, Mellville A, Heilstrom K, Merrie G, Ahchu T, Koia M, Tuwairua J, Huta A, Douglas T and Teddy J.

1967 – 1970 it was a busy time for the Hall with the Kia Kaha Club formed in the (50 Gto join) ex Sergeants Mess this Garrison Club. Also of note was the Wahine Storm in 1968, the building was within 150-100mm from being cleaned out as there was no stop bank. Things change very quickly as the stop bank was put in and the single track boat launch area next to the gates was moved to the present location. The river flowed under the corner of the Hall and under the flat.

1970 Sgt Porter was posted to Burnham Camp to serve overseas and replaced by Sgt Vic Johnson, a Return Vietnam Veteran and on discharge took over the Wairaka Dairy. He was very involved with the Agent Orange Affair and brought back to NZ nearly $1000,000.00 from a Class Action in the United States against Monsanto Chemical Company to a Trust Fund. Sergeant Tim Manakahia another Vietnam Veteran replaced Sgt Johnson.

The elections in 1972 changed it all – the Kirk Government dropped the National Service Act and now it was to be a Territorial Force Volunteer Army, the hall still carried on as an admin and training establishment. Sergeant Brian Middleton took up presidency with his family and looked after B Coy 6 Hau duties. Staff Sergeant Matua Taia another local man took up duties as the Army Area Representative for recruiting etc.

Another change took place late 1976 Staff Sergeant Bazz Porter was re-posted to B Coy 6 Hau and took over from S/Sgt Taia who was posted to the Parachute School at Hobsonville. Sergeant Jock Wikaira replaced Sgt Middleton and moved into the flat which had been extended to an extra bedroom making it three bedrooms and also an extension of the lounge. Ha was later replaced by Sergeant Charlie Longhand with his wife Noeleen. Recruiting started and the numbers increased gradually for B Coy 6 RNZIR (Hauraki).

The company with 47 pers at the annual camp of 1979 held at Jock Gaskill’s farm at Waiua just past Opotiki. The Coy also won the Efficiency Shield for 6 Hau. Just a few of the men involved B & P Ngaheu, C Webb, T Heta, W Leabourn, H & W Ngamoki, W Maxwell, M Tawera, W McCluthchie, N McBurnie, D & M Shaw, B Tapsell, V Meagher, T Old, T & P Williams.

Also a first for 6 Hau and other Infantry Battalions a “female” Company Clerk at Company Level – Private Kathy Peake. The Drill Hall was a busy place with end of year Christmas parties wind up of Post & Telegraph Competition, Private Functions. The Garrison Club was extended into the old Officers Mess and was used extensively by members; some wonderful times were had especially after the Dawn Parades on ANZAC Day. The Hall was painted and the forecourt asphalted.

Some of the well-known families in Whakatane were represented – Jaram, Selwyn, Harawira, Cowley, Delahunty, Moeke, Hudson, McCready, Tutua, Bloor, Merritt, Wana, Warn, Gillgren, Robertson, Salmons, Pawson, Dickens and Lawsons. BNZ Volley Ball teams both men’s and women’s; Rum & Coffee at Dawn Parade before marching off to Wairaka; Badminton; Indoor hockey, Police Fishing Tournaments; the Whakatane Surf Club on Labour Weekends from 1970 -1980 ran a combined Craft & Beach Carnival with the main function on Saturday night; the Waikato Blood Transfusion Unit made use of the space for their lot and kitchen for the cup of tea; Arrowroot Bikes.The Unit went on into the Eighties and Nineties with Cadre NCOs being posted in as with Sergeant Kaharoa, with Staff Sergeant Paddy Church, the last Cadre NCO being Staff Sergeant Beale when B Coy in 2005 had their final Parade at the Hall and moved to Tauranga. The New Zealand Defence Force still held the building Visiting Units. Some of the user groups who used the Hall at various times to make use of the space – kitchens, toilets & shower block, concrete floor, high roof... In the late Sixties the Whakatane Maori Youth Club under the guidance of Blue Taylor used the Hall as a Headquater & Training venue.

The NZ Defence Force made full use as well with Driver Training Courses; passing through visits from the Royal Navy with coastal vessels Pukakai and Mako. The arrival of the M113 APC for the Opotiki Jubilee and driven by another local – Sergeant Billy Kora, which visited schools at Te Teko, Kawerau, Ohope, then on to Opotiki for the Grand Parade, with a demo in the area next to the RSA. More than one visit from 3 Squadron Hobsonville with their helicopter at one stage there were three Bell Sioux helicopters inside the Hall and a Iroquois on the forecourt. It was one of these that moved the Ariel Dole from the P & T compound to the top of Kohi Point for the Coast Guard communication link. They were involved with B Coy on major exercise to the Tawhana Flat in the late Sixties and the spotting for the RNZN Frigates on Gunnery Training at the Volkner Rock.

The last military Unit to operate from the Hall is 35 Squadron Air Training Corps. In 1972 discussions commence into the forming of a local Air Training Corps Squadron; some of those involved were – Rex Morpett, Don McMorran, and Barry Marks.

1974 – 75 the building commenced with a lot of prefabrication done at Don Mc Morran’s workshop.

1976 – 77 the building was commissioned and training started with two lecture rooms, Orderly Room, OC Office, Snr NCO Room and Training Officer Room. Former Officers Commanding were – Barry Jones & Charlie Prodger. The current OC is Squadron Leader Bronwyn Hanna who has been there since 1998.

Hundreds of young people have passed through the Unit and apart from learning Military Skills they have taken an active roll in ANZAC Day Parades at Dawn Services and Cenotaph duties as well as Poppy Collection. So for 80 plus years this building the “Grand Old Lady” down at the river has given so much pleasure, a sense of belonging, a good start to their future, a roof over the heads to so many people in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

Haere Ra.

Bazz Porter 

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Tags: Whakatane

The Grand Old Lady in Whakatane by Bazz Porter

Year:c.1970, c.1980, c.1920, c.1930, c.1940, c.1950, and c.1960
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
The Grand Old Lady in Whakatane by Bazz Porter by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License