On 7 December 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and invaded Malaya. By early 1942 the war was moving into home waters with the Japanese closing in on Australia. Japanese troops were island hopping across the Pacific and their planes were bombing Darwin.
Aussies and Kiwis alike felt the enemy was at the gate. Australian soldiers overseas were sent back to defend the homeland. But Winston Churchill convinced Peter Fraser to keep our troops overseas.
American troops came to New Zealand and provided a sense of security. But we also made a huge commitment to our own defence. All along the coast pill boxes and gun emplacements were built. Thousands of men were called up and trained to repel an invasion and soldiers patrolled the beaches waiting for the enemy.
Maori also contributed on the home front. They were led by the Maori War Effort Organisation, formed at the instigation of the Ratana MPs. The organisation followed custom and tradition. It was autonomous, Maori working with Maori, solving problems in their own way. It set up tribal committees to recruit volunteers for the Maori Battalion.
It was hoped that the Maori War Effort Organisation would continue after the war, but politicians feared a resurgence of Maori nationalism and the organisation was absorbed into the government's Department of Maori Affairs.
Women too were increasingly brought into the war effort. They enlisted in the Army, Navy and Air Force. And like many men, women were 'man-powered'. This was the term used by the government for its direction of labour into essential industries.
As the war continued, New Zealand became increasingly drawn into the long and bitter Pacific campaign. The Army sent a division, the Air Force its squadrons, the Navy most of its ships.
By early 1944 New Zealand was overcommitted on all fronts. So the decision was made to withdraw our troops from the Pacific and send some of them to the main New Zealand force, which was now fighting on a new front in Italy.