Our war secret exposed

Last updated 23:55 27/01/2009
Mokau old-timer Stan Warren is still keeping mum - sort of - over where the old naval mine came from.

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Taranaki's best-kept secret of World War II has been exposed.

That old German shipping mine on display at Mokau isn't German after all, but Australian.

And it was possibly laid in New Zealand waters by New Zealanders.

The mine, which washed ashore in 1942, has become part of Taranaki folklore. Tales of German raiders patrolling our coast have impressed generations of kids.

But Mokau old-timer Stan Warren, 93, yesterday let the cat out of the bag.

"I was told at the time to keep quiet about it. The navy bloke who disarmed it knew it wasn't a German mine, but he wanted that kept secret. So don't tell anyone, huh," he joked yesterday.

The mine, now painted red and on display right in the middle of Mokau, washed ashore on the southern side of the Mokau rivermouth in December 1942.

Because bomb disposal experts were unable to get to Mokau for a day, Mr Warren and his brother, Roy, were ordered to guard it, which they did in 12-hour shifts.

Once disarmed, the mine was displayed by the Mokau Patriotic Committee as a fundraiser, then was later set up at its present spot as a war memorial.

A plaque beside the mine reads: "Let this German mine found December 2nd 1942 remind us in the days of peace. Without vision the people perish."

For more than 60 years it was assumed it was a German mine that had either floated across the Tasman Sea after breaking loose from its mooring off Australia, or that it had been laid somewhere off New Zealand.

But Mokau's Tainui Museum has received a letter from Australia, written by a man whose father was a member of the bomb disposal squad.

He said his dad had always known the mine to be one of thousands built at the Ford Motor Company car factory at Geelong in Australia during World War II.

Close to 1400 of them were laid by New Zealand defence forces as "friendly" mines, and it is known that a large number of them broke loose and either washed ashore or were never seen again.

There were also thousands more of the mines laid off Australia, and many of them also broke loose and floated off in the general direction of New Zealand.

Mokau historian Ian Whittaker said that these days it didn't matter if the mine was German or Australian - it all added to its interest.

But Puke Ariki senior researcher Ron Lambert was sceptical about Mr Warren's claim, saying experts needed to be called in. "I think it needs to be checked out fairly seriously by someone in authority," he said.

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Mr Lambert said during World War II mines were laid by New Zealand military in the Hauraki Gulf and Wellington but it was unlikely one of those would have reached Mokau because of currents.

He said it was unlikely anyone from this country was responsible for its placement.

"A lot of (German) mines turned up in Taranaki post World War I were thought to have come from Australia. That's a much more likely scenario," he said. "Even Australians laid mines. It's a little more likely to be Australian than from New Zealand but that's just a gut feeling."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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