1970: Memories of Awanui

The Katipo, June 1970

Awanui Radio – Close link with Apia

Awanui Radio VLA, circa 1919
Awanui Radio VLA, circa 1919. Photo: Northwood Brothers

By SJW (Sig) Harris, Retired Postmaster

The article in respect of Radio Awarua (Southland) in the March issue of Katipo was particularly interesting and the contributors are to be congratulated. Suppose we turn our thoughts north – the winterless north although very muddy in winter in early times.

May I attempt to convey a picture which brought about the close association between Radio Awanui and Radio Apia.

The latter, a Telefunken station, was designed on the same pattern as the former, including Radio Awarua. In December 1913, Radio Awanui was opened simultaneously with Radio Awarua.

Four days after the Great War [was] declared on August 4, 1914, German Samoa was isolated with British and American and Tongan Islands, as undersea cables had been cut.

Approximately 1300 New Zealanders recruited from volunteers were given some training and transported by ships with a naval convey, reaching Apia harbour (Samoa) on August 29.

A small party went ashore with the white flag. Occupation by the New Zealand Forces took place with a shot being fired. The Union Jack was hoisted. Before the New Zealanders could reach the wireless station, the German staff disabled it by hiding some vital governor parts in the surrounding forest. Fortunately, the parts were found and within a fortnight the station was operating “on His Majesty’s Service.”

Mr E Dunwoodie, of Awarua, was a member of the New Zealand advance party, married in Samoa, and had a long association with the Apia radio station.

Mr Jim Scott, (now retired in Auckland), another member of the advance party and a radio telegraphist, enlisted for forces further afield, and on returning to New Zealand joined us at Radio Wellington (Tinakori Hills) station. So he and the writer had a common outlook, although he already had three stripes up, but the writer’s possession was a khaki armlet with embossed red crown accompanied by an enlistment certificate headed “NZ Expeditionary Force” with authority to wear badge. He didn’t.

Earlier, when the Main Body wireless troop was formed (it was revealed later that Mesopotamia was the first country for its operations), as many as possible had been selected from land wireless stations, but it was later that a decree was issued by the Naval Authorities to the Department, and it was “No” to further releases.

But Tom MacMaster, on the staff of Radio Wellington, boarded a troopship and stowed away for a few days after sailing. Yes, a fact! During the terrifying influenza epidemic which caused dismay in 1918, Messrs Bill Veitch (one tome Telegraph Engineer) and Scott were in Radio Awanui in a relieving capacity. About the same time Mr O’Leary (also one-time Tel. Engineer) was helping us out at Radio Auckland. In his spare time his light reading was Cabbages and Kings.

In respect of the article covering Awarua, the set-up there was almost identical to Awanui until 1930 (actually, the mast of the latter station was dropped in 1927 by Engineer Rawlings or Assistant Engineer Walker – maybe the latter or both). [The Awanui mast was actually dropped in early 1930 by Walker and station manager Les Elliston. – Ed] Further information about the structure, etc., would be superfluous. However, it must not be overlooked that a military guard number[ing] 25-30 on roster, under Captain Neilson, Hawke’s Bay, kept vigil watch around Radio Awanui station for the duration of the Great War.

Awanui Radio staff in 1917
Awanui Radio staff in 1917. Standing L-R: F O’Grady, S Harris, B Winstanley (Asst Engineer), W Howie. Sitting L-R: CR Renner, LW Bourke (Superintendent), V Earnshaw (Engineer)

In collaboration with Mr George Marston (retired in Wellington), who has been stationed at most of the New Zealand wireless stations, including Rarotonga, the names of officers associated with Radio Awanui are supplied herewith:

T Anstis
P Bourke [LW (Pat) Bourke – Ed]
J Davies
“Daisy” Dell
V Earnshaw
L Elliston
T Hall
J Hampton
S Harris
A Head
J Hornblow
W Howie
W Kirk
W Marsh
G Marston
W Mulvihill
F O’Grady
A Pellow
CR Renner
“Robbie” Robinson
F Whiteman (relieving)
(Unknown) Winstanley [I believe Mr Winstanley’s first initial was “B”. – Ed]

If there are omissions it is regretted, and any adjustments would be appreciated per medium of the Katipo.

And can anyone, please, bring my story more up to date?

“Lest we forget.”