Monday, August 1, 2011

[pima.nius] Search continues for World War Two Pacific children

1:42 PM |

Search continues for World War Two Pacific children

Updated August 1, 2011 09:08:22

During World War two about two-million United States servicemen were stationed in New Zealand and around the Pacific.

Researchers believe several thousand children were fathered by the soldiers who formed relationships with local women.

History researchers at New Zealand's Otago University are now trying to find out what happened to those babies and where they are now.

They're hoping to fill a gap in the Pacific's history by putting together a collection of these children's stories.


Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Professor Judith Bennett from Otago University

BENNETT: We've got about 30 in the Cook Islands and several in New Zealand from Maori women and US servicemen and also last year I did research in Vanuatu, Solomons and Kiribatis, or the old Gilbert Islands and located some there and other researchers have found some in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Some of these people actually have settled in New Zealand and the ones particularly from the Polynesian Islands. So we've been interviewing, but we're obviously looking for more people, not everybody knows about it and we particularly in Tonga and Samoa encourage people to come forward. Their confidentiality will be protected. But we're doing quite well, but we need more.

COUTTS: Alright, do you know even a guesstimate how many of these children are in existence?

BENNETT: Well, I'd say probably a couple of thousand, certainly in Samoa and Tonga and to some extent Fiji. As you can imagine, this was an area, these were areas behind the lines of fighting, they were rear bases, men had a lot more time to interact with the local people and obviously more children resulted.

COUTTS: When they were on R&R in New Zealand presumably from the Pacific theatre of war?

BENNETT: Yeah, well New Zealand was included because this was a staging ground and also a lot of people came back for hospitals and so on and there are quite a few in New Zealand. Some Maori-American children are also the products of marriages, but many of them were not.

COUTTS: Now, of the people you've spoken to, were they reluctant to come forward, did you have to coach them into it?

BENNETT: No, those who spoke to us obviously were keen. The ones that haven't come forward are obviously the reluctant ones, I mean if they know about it. But in some areas, getting the word around is quite difficult, particularly in some of the Melanesian areas and I've just had to go in there and hunt around and meet people and talk to people and do it through word of mouth.

COUTTS: And how do you find them? Do you advertise in the local press?

BENNETT: We've done that, and mostly because we're attached to the University of Otago, this is on a Marsden grant, we try to give a public talk and that usually gets a bit of publicity in the local newspapers and that's one way of getting out information. In one case, I had the project was translated into the language of Kiribatis and someone broadcast that to me over the air, which was wonderful and I got quite a few as a consequence of that.

COUTTS: Some of the people coming forward, are they resentful for having been overlooked or forgotten for this amount of time?

BENNETT: I don't feel a great deal of resentment. I think the vast majority, almost all, simply want to know something more about their father and their fathers probably descendants in America, so it's much more a feeling of kinship and family, that is the dominating thing.

COUTTS: And is part of your research to help them do that? Are you providing that research, are you linking them with their families?

BENNETT: As much as we can, we are doing this. We're setting up a web site at the moment through the University of Otago to try and help them trace these relatives for themselves, but also to try and put out some, for example, photographs that might help folk.

One of the unfortunate thing is that sometime the children, they may only have a surname and believe it or not, it's the surname like Brown. There are millions, hundreds of Browns in the army or the navy or whatever. Sometimes they have no idea what branch of the service they're in, whether they are in the marines or whatever. They were just all soldiers. So trying to pin down these men to then track them back to their units and so on is extremely difficult.

COUTTS: Have you had an success so far linking up families?

BENNETT: Indeed, we have. We visited one that recently linked up with half brothers and half sisters in the States a man originally from the Cook Islands and we have in fact done a bit of filming of that in the hope that later on we may be able to get out a short educational documentary and some families of their own accord earlier on have managed to track down relatives.

COUTTS: And the Cook Islands one, we'll just stick with that for the moment. Do both sides of the family were they aware that this might be the case?

BENNETT: Look, to be quite honest, I am not sure if the other side knew, but they certainly accepted this man as part of their family. In some cases they know and in some cases they have no idea. I'm not sure about.....

COUTTS: You said earlier that some resulted in marriage, but a good deal didn't. So were there any tragic stories that you've come across of neglect perhaps from or just not knowing and therefore spend their life wondering?

BENNETT: Well, there's a lot of that, but the thing to remember is because the racial policies that pertained in America at the time, the soldiers were not allowed to marry people of Pacific Island descent. They were actually classified with the Asians and the military were not allowed to marry, mainly because most states in the US just did not recognise those marriages.

COUTTS: And can they these days now claim US citizenship?

BENNETT: I have no idea. No one has ever asked me that. They're not interested in US citizenship. There's mainly a feeling of affiliation that dominates them.

COUTTS: And family hooking up?

BENNETT: They're pretty happy in their own society. These people now, of course, are grandparents and they've married, they've got children of their own, grandchildren and they don't necessarily want to up stakes and go to the US. But there is a great curiosity, particularly among their children about this grandfather and so on.

COUTTS: Well, if there are people out there listening now Professor Judith Bennett, how do they get in touch with you if they want to find out more and get your assistance as well?

BENNETT: Well, I'm at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand. Otago is OTAGO. They could contact me through the web site or on my email which is judy.bennett@otga.ac.nz.


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pacific islands media association
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aotearoa, new zealand
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pacific islands media association
pima.nius@gmail.com
aotearoa, new zealand
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The pima.nius googlegroup is a facility for discussion and distributing information. Content sent by this googlegroup are forwarded from various networks and media publications.
 
DISCLAIMER: These emails are unedited and discussions made through this googlegroup are unmoderated. Announcements made through this googlegroup do not constitute endorsement for the organisations, individuals or opinions featured. Please check the integrity of organisations and individuals before exchanging personal information with them.
 
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