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Why The Godley Head Is Very Significant to New Zealanders

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The Godley Head Defence site is very significant to New Zealanders. It is very significant in many ways. It was a place that many people relied on. It is now a place where many people can relive the memories of New Zealanders and discover our pasts rich history. There are four main times when Godley Head has held a strong significance for New Zealand society. It was significant before World War Two, during World War Two, after World War Two and today in the present. During these times Godley Head was very significant to several groups, including, cantabrians, women, soldiers and merchant sailors.

Before the threat of invasion turned Godley Head into a military base, it was used by local Maori and New Zealanders. It held major significance to early settlers who would use it to circumnavigate New Zealand. Gordon Ogilvie states in his book, The Port Hills of Christchurch, that “Whalers, sealers and traders had taken bearing from it for thirty years.” Godley Head was a vital for many early Europeans in their day-to-day lives. Godley Head was also believed to be significant to local Moari. According to Gordon Ogilvie’s book, there is a Maori mythical legend about how the head was formed. Ogilvie also mentions that “On the high ridge overlooking Taylors mistake is the site if what was once believed to be a Maori Pa”. Though that is debated topic as some believed that it was just a stock pen used by the Europeans. This still shows that Godley Head was a very significant place to local Moari as it held great importance, spiritually and tactically. From the 1850s Godley Head has been used to graze sheep for multiple farmers. According to a Christchurch City Council report it also housed a lighthouse from 1865 to 1942, that also included a keeper’s cottage which was demolished in 1942 as well. Godley Head held great significance to New Zealanders even before the threat of war. It was a place of importance for the local Maori and Europeans. It help protect ships from the cliffs and provided fertile land for farming. It had a profound importance for New Zealanders.

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The biggest threat to New Zealand’s shores before World War Two was the Russian scare. With tension between England and Russia building in the 1880’s there was conspiracy that the Russians would attack a piece of the British Empire. Lyttleton Harbour was believed to be in danger so it needed to be protected. According to the Godley Head Heritage Trust website “In 1885 construction was started on Fort Jervois, which was on Ripapa Island (on the South shore of Lyttelton Harbour)”. Godley Head was not used during the Russian scare to protect Lyttelton Harbour. The defence force at the time obviously did not understand how tactically important Godley Head was. It had little relevance to New Zealanders in terms of protection and defence before World War Two.

In 1934, it was decided that New Zealand needed to implement more costal defences around New Zealand before a second world war broke out. Lyttelton Harbour used to be the main entrance into the South Island. All imports and exports came and went through the harbour. As Department of Conservation worker, David Millward put it, “There were very few airports back then. Lyttelton was one of the most important places in the South Island.” Therefore, it was vital that the harbour was protected. According to, Godley Head’s first main purpose was to act “as a counter bombardment battery to ensure Lyttelton constituted a ‘defended port’, a port in which merchant ships can seek sanctuary from enemy raiders”. This shows that Godley Head was very significant to the many merchant sailors and ships that came through New Zealand’s waters.

During the late 1930’s the Japanese were a growing threat in the Pacific Ocean. New Zealanders had not seen this type of threat so close to home before, so people were very worried that New Zealand would be invaded. As well as the threat from the Japanese, there was growing tension in Europe. England, one of New Zealand’s closest allies, advised that coastal forts should be built all over New Zealand. In an article published by the New Zealand Herald called Harbour Forts, it stated that “Lyttelton, (was) long recognised as one of most vital points for coastal defence.” It was clear that the Godley Head Defences needed to be built in order to defend Lyttelton Harbour from an invasion. According to the site, in early 1939 “A local contractor (supervised by the Public Works Department) undertook to construct two gun emplacements, two Battery Observations Posts, a plotting room, miniature range and an engine room for the searchlights.” 2 Mark XXIV guns were positioned on their emplacements by 24th December 1941 and their overhead covers added in 1942. stated that “In 1943 a third emplacement was completed, this time with a 360° uncovered mount. Although the gun itself was delivered to the site it was not mounted until March 1946, after the war had ended.” Over this period a camp was built which included a mixture of concrete and wooden buildings. According to an article by The Press the cost of building the Godey Head defences was¬ £28,641. That is a large sum, around 2.8 million dollars today. The fact that the government was willing to spend such a large amount of money meant that the defences were obviously very important to the wellbeing of the country.

A lot of effort went into building the Godley Head Defences. The concrete used for structures was made on site and a lot of it had to be made as the buildings were designed to survive shells and bombardments. DOC worker David Millward said that “West Coast miners were brought in to dig the holes.” Plenty of skilled workers took part in building the defences. Them building the defences for their country meant that they could contribute to New Zealand’s war effort in a way different from fighting overseas. The development of the Godley Head defences was also very important as it provided many jobs and helped local businesses.

The Godley Head defences were of profound importance to New Zealanders at the time. The defences reassured everyone that they were well protected and in no danger. Gordon Ogilvie said in his book The Port Hills of Christchurch, that “the boom of the heavy artillery used to regularly reassure the populations of Lyttelton and Christchurch that the ‘Coasties’ were keeping an eye in.” ¬¬¬Godley Head was very significant as it meant that everybody could go about their day-to-day lives without living in fear of an attack.

The Godley Head defences were home to many people. Hundreds of soldiers worked at the defences keeping watch over the harbour. According to Department of Conservation signage at the Godley Head site there were “718 people stationed out here in August 1941”. Though these numbers vary as a report by the Christchurch City Council stated that “at its peak some 410 servicemen were stationed there.” The people working at Godley Head included soldiers, mechanics, carpenters, drivers and more. In December 1942 the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps arrived. The group of 60-90 women “manned the observation posts, radar, plotting rooms, and directions of the searchlights, as well as doing administration, kitchen work and driving duties”, according to DOC signage at Godley Head. A lot of the people working at Godley Head did not fit the requirements of going overseas to fight in the war; especially the women, who were not allowed to fight at all. David Millward, a DOC worker at Godley Head, said that many of these men and women felt that they had a duty to serve their country in the war effort as many of their friends and family were overseas risking their lives. This was a great step forward for woman especially as before they had never had the opportunity to fight for their country. Godley Head was very significant to the lives of these people. It allowed them to fulfil their duty and serve their country.

Godley Head was a very significant place to the many New Zealanders that called it home. Godley Head was more than just a military base, but a great community. It brought people together in unity to defend against a common threat. The Godley Gunner, a newspaper written by and for the people of Godley Head, shows it’s tight-knit community. The Godley Gunner talks of sports teams and dances. It shares letters from friends who once served at Godley Head and are now fighting overseas. This shows that Godley Head was a thriving community full of excitement and fun. It represented New Zealand’s identity and showed that many people were willing to come together and defend their homeland.

After World War Two Godley Head held a strong significance for many people. The defences were no longer need as there was no threat of invasion from the Japanese and Germans. Godley Head was only semi-operational and only a small group of soldiers remained, maintaining the radar and guns. In 1950 the New Zealand government made it compulsory for eighteen-year-old men to train in the army. Godley Head was reopened and used as a training ground. Twice a year, 150 men would train at the camp. Godley Head remained a very useful and important place even after World War Two. According to the Godley Head Heritage Trust website, this continued until “on July the 15th 1957, the New Zealand Army Board deleted coast artillery from the army order of battle, as part of an exercise to reduce and reallocate manpower. (…) The following year CMT (compulsory military training) itself was abandoned. All three six-inch guns were scrapped and the portable, or at least movable, buildings were either transferred to other Government sites or sold off.” The military no longer needed the camp or the defences. Godley Head had little significance for the New Zealand people at this stage. They no longer relied heavily on it. In 1966 the military leased the camp to “Toc H, an international Christian charity organisation. (…) Toc H used the camp area for retreats, but the army resumed control in 1977, as Toc H found the maintenance costs too high”. The Heritage Trust also stated that the military then continued to run exercises on the land until “in 1983 the Department of Lands & Survey took over the complete management of the reserve (Department of Conservation since 1987).”

Godley Head wasn’t only significant to the military, as it also held scientific significance. According to a report by the Christchurch City Council on Godley Head it was a “site of a reference station set up in 1949 to observe the upper atmosphere and take soundings. One in a dozen similar stations established across the world, and the only one in the South Pacific.” The information was used to develop high frequency radio which is used for the military, broadcasting and civil-aviation. The station was transferred to another site in 1980. Godley Head was very useful in ways that were more than just military operations. Godley Head contributed to important scientific research that helped develop useful technology for the future.

Godley Head still has a lot of significance in the present day. That is mainly thanks to the effort put in by the Department of Conservation and Godley Head Heritage Trust. In 1983 the Department of Lands and Survey, which is now the Department of Conservation, gained control of Godley Head. A report by the Christchurch Council states that “public access was not enable until the mid-1990’s. The Godley Head Trust was formed in 2002 and plays a major part in site management.” DOC and the Heritage Trust helped re-establish and clean up the site. They made it more accessible by building new tracks and made the area more pleasant by cleaning up all the vandalism. The effort put in by these organisations has allowed the public to visit the defences and learn about their history.

The Godley Head defences are of extreme significant today as they are one of the largest preserved examples of the coastal defences constructed around New Zealand’s coasts during World War Two.


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