Wartime defences linked Eastbourne and Ward Island - 150 years of news

An anti-submarine boom linked Eastbourne to Ward Island during World War II.
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An anti-submarine boom linked Eastbourne to Ward Island during World War II.

A tantalising bridge to a picnic haven was off limits to all but the adventurous and law-breaking during World War II.

An anti-submarine boom was built between Heketara St in Eastbourne and Ward Island in 1941, in response to the threat of an Axis attack. Nearly two kilometres long, the boom consisted of two ranks of wooden piles driven into the sea bed, with a series of planks connecting the rows.

It was forbidden to walk on the boom, but plucky boys and men did try it.

To complete Wellington's harbour defences, a mined net was strung between Ward Island and Point Gordon at Scorching Bay. A gate let sea traffic through, but every boat was checked by the "gate-ship", a converted trawler.

"The men on this vessel had one of the most monotonous jobs of the whole war," The Evening Post said in 1945.

A further anti-torpedo net was built around the city dock, "Wellington's most vital military target", the Post said. Gun emplacements and forts were armed at five points around the harbour and on Somes Island.

The threat was real:  the Japanese Government minted currency intended for use in New Zealand once it was captured. German ships laid mines and sank three ships in New Zealand waters during the war, killing 46 people.

Japanese and German submarines cruised around the country in 1942, 1943 and 1945, and the Germans tried to torpedo a steamship near Napier but missed.

After the war, the more permanent boom from Eastbourne to Ward Island was a serious inconvenience to Wellington's shipping traffic, the Post reported.

"Necessary from the point of view of defence, but unsightly and inconvenient on any other score, the eventual removal of the boom running from Kau Point, Eastbourne, to Ward Island, will be appreciated by yachtsmen and fishermen."

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Still, the boom remained in place until 1948, although only the most plucky risked its rickety path for a mid-harbour day trip.

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The Dominion Post  150 Years of News is available via dompost.co.nz or 0800 50 50 90. Priced at $34.95 + $3 postage and handling or $29.95 + $3 p&h for subscribers.

 - Stuff

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