29 October 2012

Wrights Hill Fortress: a trip back in wartime

A couple of Mondays back (Labour Day to be precise), we visited the Wrights Hill Fortress located at Karori in Wellington. Open only 4 times a year, it was surely a treat to see this piece of New Zealand war history. The country itself was relatively unharmed as the invading Japanese forces did not make it to these shores, but their presence in Australia was sufficient to mobilize countermeasures should the Japanese ever dare to attack. Hence the establishment of the Wrights Hill Fortress.

Built during World War Two, the Fortress consists of an underground network of tunnels, operation rooms and three gun emplacements. Society members take the public on a one hour long guided tour on Open Days. You can also wander around yourself with the help of a free history pamphlet and map. The experience is fascinating for people of all ages and gives adults and children alike an insight into the measures taken to protect New Zealand during World War Two.  - from the Wrights Hill Fortress Restoration Society Inc website

Carved through the hills, a series of tunnels links various storehouses, quarters, rooms with various functions, and gun turrets. Originally I thought the tunnels would be dark and dank things and we'd be doing an occasional stooping at low-ceilinged areas. In short, I was expecting something quite claustrophobic (it's the war!). So imagine my surprise in walking through clean, cool, well-ventilated, nicely illuminated tunnels! I was amazed at the dedication of the volunteers maintaining the place.

It is a self-guided tour, with 'resource persons' strategically located in areas of interest. Was impressed with the knowledge of the guide manning the radio room. Having a degree in electronic communications, I enjoyed his lecture on the technology and hardware used during the war years.

Another room housed huge engines. Still another had a wide range of rifles and bayonets on display. The guide gamely posed with the kids upon request.

The gun turret locations reminded me of Corregidor in the Philippines. Actually, the Philppines was even mentioned in one of the articles on display! The kids pointed it out and they were so jubilant at having found it.

The tour takes an hour on the average, but I think we were there for at least 45 minutes more. It was an enjoyable and educational experience. It truly is such a noble effort for the volunteers to maintain this piece of New Zealand history, so people can remember and cherish sacrifices that have been made by those before us so we can enjoy freedom.

The Wrights Hill Battle station is open on Waitangi Day (6 Feb), ANZAC Day (25 April), Queen's Birthday (1st Monday of June), Labour Day (3rd Monday of October), and December Open Day 28 December). The minimal fee is well worth it, and helps cover for the cost of maintenance.

A weta!
Poring through old photos

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