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The Battle of Manners Street

*Please note an update at the bottom of this story

The Battle of Manners Street, Wellington, 1943
An encyclopaedia of New Zealand

This riot, which has passed into Wellington legend as "the Battle of Manners Street", took place on the evening of Saturday, 3 April 1943. It began at the Allied Services' Club in Manners Street (now the Manners Street Post Office) when, it is alleged, servicemen from the southern United States refused to let some Maori servicemen drink in the club. When the Americans removed their Army service belts to emphasise their point of view, New Zealand servicemen joined in and the "battle" spread into the streets. American military police, who arrived to restore order, took sides and used their batons. The fighting spread to the A.N.A. Club in Willis Street, where belts and knives were used, and into Cuba Street. It has been estimated that over 1,000 American and New Zealand, troops were involved, as well as several hundreds of civilians. The battle lasted for about four hours before order was restored by the civil police. Many American soldiers were injured during this affray and at least two were killed.
The "Battle of Manners Street" was the ugliest riot in New Zealand's history.

The "Battle of Manners Street" was not the only clash between American and New Zealand troops in New Zealand cities. About the same time there were two similar riots in Auckland, and a further clash occurred outside the Mayfair Cabaret, in Cuba Street, Wellington, on 12 May 1945. There was also a clash between a small party of American servicemen and Maori civilians at Otaki in October 1943.

In no case has the result of any of the ensuing inquiries been published; and, owing to the strictures of wartime censorship, no reference to the riots appeared at the time in local newspapers.

Hold on a Minute!
The story that appears above was taken from "An encyclopaedia of New Zealand" published in 1966, edited by A.H. McLintock. He was a prolific writer in his time and obviously, held his works in high esteem. �An encyclopaedia of New Zealand� is a pretentious name for anyone to self-assign. Of course if you do wear this mantle of 'authority� there should be a certain amount of responsibility that goes with it.

The entry carries a caveat, added later, that says, "This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated." The fact remains that the story, to this day, is a representation of rumour, innuendo, gossip and prejudice masquerading as fact.

The Government Printer printed the original publication in 1966, in three volumes. The print run of 30,000 sold out in three months. At some point, the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage took over the entire project and used it as a stopgap while more information was acquired and put into print as the 'official� Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

As a matter of fact, New Zealand author Harry Bioletti, in his book titled, "The Yanks are Coming" has written: "... The New Zealand Encyclopaedia has exacerbated the situation with its entry under 'Riots', which describes the incident as the ugliest riot in New Zealand history. Disturbance or fracas it was, riot it was not."

Bioletti continues, "... A claim in the New Zealand Encyclopaedia that 'many American soldiers were injured during the affray and two were killed' is not supported by the facts. A statement on the affair in the file says that 'this disturbance was caused in the first place by three or four merchant seaman who had been drinking and made no secret to their intention to 'clean up the visiting servicemen'. This led to a series of fights in which US Marines and sailors, New Zealand merchant seamen and servicemen became entangled." He continues that a police report said, "... Police blame a rough civilian element which frequents the above localities and is always causing trouble."

From Wikipedia:
" ... Other versions are that three or four merchant seaman who had been drinking made no secret of their intention to clean up the visiting servicemen, or that Māori in a steak house objected to some "Yanks" being served first."

From Stuff.co.nz - Last updated 12:07 03/04/2008
"Conflicting reports exist on what triggered the violent fighting, but Maori serviceman at the time said that "the Yanks" had sought and received preferential treatment.

The battle" waged for four hours, finally being halted by the combination of military police, fatigue and the worrying threat for American serviceman of missing the last train back to their barracks near Paekakariki.

Wartime censorship meant that state approval was required to report any military news, and that included the haphazard "battle" of Manners Street.
No reference to the riots appeared at the time in local newspapers or on the radio."

The original publication and, most assuredly, today�s official expression of An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, is a wonderful work, full of information on the country�s history, culture and peoples. This story, however, touches a sore spot with me; in that it describes, in the worst light, a sequence of events that may have happened, probably didn�t and in some cases, is outright fictitious.

It paints a segment of the US military as bigoted and racist without one iota of proof. It sensationalises an incident by reporting "many injuries" and "deaths" that just did not happen.

It seems to me, when someone just wants to present their personal opinion, it can fly almost any banner they can think of � even something like Wilderness-Wally! However, if you wish to publish, in any medium, unsubstantiated folklore, it should be identified as such.

I received the following from charm9 on 26 April 2011 - The absolute truth to this story is that 2 best mates who both happened to be Maori, one who served with the Maori Battalion and the other the Royal New Zealand navy, were minding their own business drinking milkshakes. Two white American soldiers proceeded to the table of these Maori war hero's, slammed their fists on the table spilling the milkshakes everywhere and point blank said "we don't drink in the same room as niggers," hence the "Manners Street Brawl." This is not a personal opinion but a reflection of one of the young Men who was at the table and was my grandfather. He told me this story over 15 years ago when some American soldiers who had been stationed in Wellington during the 1940's revisited the city in the 1990's and the infamous "fight" was relived. Unfortunate but true. Sadly both my Koro and his best mate have been deceased for a number of years but this was merely an altercation in a milkshake bar where two mates defended themselves and the resultant was a in some cases an "over-exaggerated pakiwaitara!"

To "charm9", thank you for this contribution ... and a thank you also to your family for their service to country.

On 1 July 2011 I received the following comment from Kodfish:
- well how do we know this story is true
Kodfish, You are right! That was my point when I first wrote. I saw in something titled "An encyclopaedia of New Zealand" somebody's opinionated version of the happenings. Of course one is entitled to their opinion and I wouldn't argue that point. To couch those opinions in something so officiously named "An encyclopaedia of New Zealand" is different.

When proffered as an 'opinion', even when the opening lines are, "The absolute truth to this story is ..." it is up to the reader to assign believability.

Updated!I received the following from charm9 on 24 July 2011 -
If you research the Hutt News (Lower Hutt, NZ) and the Dominion Paper(Wgtn) around 1991 when the visiting american soldiers went back to Wgtn the account is recalled by a well known newspaper journalist who was in the bar at the time. His account of the incident was articulated in both papers. No doubt it will be "recounted" again with the prospect of the American soldiers being welcomed back into wgtn in the near future. My grandfather was a well known rugby man in Wgtn and New Zealand and he also wasn't a lier. The only reason he even told us about it was because of the publicity it received here in NZ. You ask any of the surviving 28th Maori Battalion and they will tell you what happened along with the offspring of these two soldiers. Did I mention he was SIS as well???? Sorry guys but it is what it is. My grandfather and my uncle were men of integrity, one became a national selector of a NZ Rugby Team and the other a Justice of the Peace. Just setting the record straight and don't like the stuff that implies they started a "brawl" simply because they didn't like the americans. Its not the way it was. Aroha mai

After having re-read the above I can see nothing that implied anybody started a "brawl" simply because they didn't like the americans(sic) and nobody was called a liar(news-reports of the time were questioned.) The reports of "many injuries and deaths" and "worst riots in New Zealand history" are more than questionable. If anything more was read into what was said, Aroha mai.

Regarding "... the prospect of the American soldiers being welcomed back into wgtn in the near future" That would be US Marines invited to NZ in 2012 by PM Key. I'm sure they are already aware that not all New Zealander's will welcome them.

From New Zealand History online
The Battle of Manners Street, April 1943
The most famous of several wartime skirmishes between New Zealanders and American servicemen, the so-called Battle of Manners Street saw hundreds of soldiers and civilians slugging it out on the streets of Wellington.

Men supposedly on the same side fighting each other was not a good look and news of the three-hour brawl was hushed up at the time. The fight may have begun after soldiers from the southern United States insulted local Maori. American sailors and New Zealand merchant seamen were also involved.

During the two years after June 1942 there were always between 15,000 and 45,000 American servicemen in camp in New Zealand. US personnel spent time here either before or immediately after experiencing the horrors of war on a Pacific island.

The 'American invasion� (as New Zealanders called the influx, usually affectionately) brought a considerable clash of cultures. Though Kiwis and Yanks spoke the same language, they did so with different accents. Romantic liaisons between American servicemen and New Zealand women inevitably developed. The soldiers were starved of female company, and many Kiwi women were charmed by the Americans� good manners and ability to afford taxi rides, ice-cream sodas and gifts of flowers. About 1500 New Zealand women married American servicemen in these years. These liaisons were not universally welcomed, especially by Kiwi soldiers serving overseas. There were a number of other large-scale fights and plenty of muttering about the invading 'bedroom commandos�.

On 24 July 2011 I received further comments from charm9 and from Bird of Paradise - see below:

To charm9: Tena rawa atu koe, thank you for your comments to this page and, they are always welcome. I have no doubt the incidents of that night happened as your Koro related. Sadly, I suspect they happened more often than that. More importantly, you continued, "What my grandfather did tell me though was that the following day, those involved in the altercation shook hands and got on with it."
We all owe so much to those New Zealanders, Americans and allies for their service.
PS To you and all readers: If I have mangled the spelling or usage of the Maori language, accept my apologies.

To Bird of Paradise: You are right. We were friends ... still are ... ought to act like it.

To Kodfish: You are right to ask, "How do we know this is true?" Ask it often.

To An encyclopaedia of New Zealand: Get your facts straight. It was not a war fought in the streets and nobody was killed. It was a fracas between between two groups of fighting men who were the same side! It wasn't the worst riot in New Zealand history and probably happened, on a smaller scale, more often than this once. One thing is sure, it did not define the relationship between the American and New Zealand fighting forces.

To New Zealand History online: Probably the most accurate account of this incident we will find, including the bit that said, "Romantic liaisons between American servicemen and New Zealand women inevitably developed. This I know to be true because Mrs Wilderness is the product of marriage of one of those Marines who came to New Zealand (Matakana) before shipping out to the islands in the Pacific, and a Kiwi girl from Auckland.

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