A Helmet For The Home Front



Waikato Museum's depths hold treasures the public may never see - until now. In the first of a fortnightly series telling the stories behind the artefacts, Waikato Times city editor Mary Anne Gill discovers a helmet worn by Hamilton EPS wardens during World War II.

The warden's helmet was bought by the museum in 1977 at The Stamp Collectors' Centre for $12.50.

Social history concept leader Crystal Ardern says it is one of a number of World War II items held by the museum. The bowl-shaped headware is made of metal, painted green and has a rim, webbing and chin strap with the words EPS Warden on the front.

EPS (Emergency Precaution Scheme) Wardens, who were separate from the Home Guard, started in Hamilton in 1942, and looked after transport, public health, law and order, public facilities and works. The council-appointed wardens also looked after blackout regulations and co-ordinated local rescue efforts.

They were the forerunners of Civil Defence.

The museum also has a fire extinguisher issued to Hamilton East school by the EPS and gifted to the museum by the school in 1981, EPS arm bands bought at a curio shop for $1, and a game which pitted players against Hitler. In today's PC world the Kill Hitler game would never pass muster, says Ardern, but it was all the rage with war-time Hamilton children.

Other items include a Red Cross wartime rationing cook book, a Self Help recipe book donated by Mrs F E de Lacey, which has hints on cooking meals on rations when you have no butter or eggs, a petrol ration card and an official dispensation to use oil for Orini farmer Wilfred de Fresson Hammonds.
Another book, put out by the Government in 1943, reveals the war to that point had cost New Zealand $229 million.

There's also a knitting pattern for a balaclava for the troops, which has holes at the side for telephones, and another pattern for mittens. Some items will be featured in Hamilton's Home Front exhibition, a small show which opens today and runs until April 23.

The exhibition features Towards the Precipice - propaganda posters collected by W B Sutch in association with the National Library Gallery and the Willi Fels Trust. The posters are originals published by the Soviets, Spanish, British and Germans. There's also political cartoons and the film Olympia, produced as part of Adolf Hitler's birthday celebrations.

Ardern says the exhibition is a collaborative effort between the museum and Hamilton City libraries.

Included are historic photographs, ephemera, sound archives and a reprinted copy of the Waikato Times from 1939 showing what life was like during the war. The photos include pictures of women working in munitions factories in Hamilton East. Model planes used by the Home Guard to identify enemy aircraft are on show, and war broadcasts from the sound archives will be playing.

"It started off as just being a purely photographic exhibition but we see it as such a neat opportunity to show some of our (other) items."

Ardern wants to put on a bigger Home Guard exhibition in the future but needs more items.

"We've got very few photos or memorabilia on the (Hamilton) Home Guard," she said.

"If we can get photos and that type of thing then maybe this year or next year we can do something.

"We don't have a uniform, we don't have that sort of thing."

Miss Ardern is also keen on meeting women who worked at the munitions factories Norton and Galloway, both situated under camouflage in Dey St towards the end of the war.

"At peak they had 1200 employees. We have pictures of women carrying shells but not much else."