Mothers' Darlings of the South Pacific

Two academic staff at the University of Otago, Judith A. Bennett and Angela Wanhalla, have edited this excellent book, Mothers' Darlings of the South Pacific, tracing stories of those children born to Pacific Island women and American servicemen during the Second World War.  Making use of oral histories, the various authors interviewed children of these love affairs: relationships that took place in the South Pacific islands during the war.

There are chapters covering islands from New Caledonia, to Tonga, the Gilbert Islands and the Solomons, but a must-read is the chapter on New Zealand: "I don't like Maori girls going out with Yanks." Between the years 1942 and 1944, 100,000 American soldiers were stationed here, as the February 1942 Battle of Darwin made the threat of invasion frighteningly real. The Kiwi girls were taken with the American men, as Mihipeka Edwards remembered: We (would) gaze at these beautiful specimens of manhood, so handsome. Even the not-so-handsome are tall and beautifully turned out, smartly uniformed and very military in their stance. I am carried away. I forget I am married.

The book is about the children born out of these relationships: some relationships were short lived, while others were true love stories that existed amidst the social climate of the time, the difficulties in dealing with bureaucracy, and the reality of men serving in a world war, men who were always going to leave New Zealand. Some of those babies were raised under the Maori whangai system, with young mothers playing the part of aunt or even a much older sister. There are stories of the men who wanted to stay with their "new" family but were unable to, such as Raymond Gipe who served in the US Navy, fell in love with Vivienne, fathered a son, Leroy, but who had to return home. As his family recalls:
"He loved Vivienne. It was not just a one night stand. He married her. He had his son registered and he was named after his father...  I think he tried on several occasions to get Leroy and Vivienne to come over. We understood that she was fearful of the ugly side of America, being Maori." Raymond provided for Leroy and on his death, left his estate to him.

There are the stories of mothers and families who tried to keep the identity of the father secret, of men who promised to return but couldn't or wouldn't, and stories of those children anxious to learn the truth of their birth parents. In some cases, information was deliberately withheld; for some mothers, there was a fear the children would be sent to America to live. John, for example, went searching for his birth father, Don, but discovered he'd passed away some years before. Yet in finding his American family, he learnt his father had known all about him, that his birth mother had sent photos and news of him to America, that Don had told his wife he had a New Zealand son, and that up to his death, he carried a photo around of John - the son he had never known.
Rusty Floyd (US Navy)
His niece has been searching for her Tongan relative. (p.173)
There are wonderful stories of reunions, although stories of sadness, too, from both sides of the "family." The descendants of Rusty Floyd who served in the US Navy, know he fathered (and abandoned) a child in Tonga but have no idea if the child was male or female, making the search for their relative near impossible. And in the chapter on the Cook Islands, Helen talks about having a pampered childhood as the only American in her family, and treasuring a photo of her USA grandmother that her father, Tom, left for her.  But there was grief for her mother, Ito. "When Tom learned he was being shipped out, he requested an army transport to bring Ito to the base to say goodbye. This request arrived too late, and Ito was so upset she refused to talk about this for many years. Helen believes her mother was traumatised by this experience of being pregnant, and not having the opportunity to say goodbye."
Might pay to grab a tissue for this one, people!
There are borrowable copies on the catalogue but be warned. This is one popular book, and you'll most likely need to place a hold/request, but there's no charge to do this, and you can pick the book up at any of our 55 libraries - whatever is convenient for you.

Joanne - Central Research

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