It is a mystery that was almost lost to the sands of time.
Tahunanui resident Brendan Morton was walking his dog along the beach on Thursday afternoon when he came across a family who’d begun to unearth some concrete treasures.
“You could see that they were kind of moulded to be something, but we weren’t sure what they were,” says Brendan. “Then on Saturday morning, we were down there again with the dog and the kids were back into it, so I got my wife to go home and get the spades and me and my daughter joined in and started digging it up.”
Pictures were then posted on social media and a number of suggestions were put forward by the community including dumped concrete that had been washed along by the sea, bits of a concrete tank or a concrete pipeline.
However, the most interesting theory is that the pieces were once part of a WW2 fortification.
“It’s all still together, so it doesn’t really add up that it would have washed there, all the elements are almost touching each other.”
The Nelson Weekly has taken up the challenge to clear up the mystery.
The Nelson City Council did not know what it could be but the Nelson Provincial Museum’s registrar Meredith Rimmer was initially more enthusiastic.
However, she referred the newspaper to local aviation historian Graeme McDowell. After taking a look at the structure Graeme explained how there were barbed wire and machine gun emplacements all along the beach in preparation for a potential Japanese attack during WW2. There was even an anti-aircraft gun near where Natureland is now.
“But it’s a bit hard to say what these might be. It’s certainly good to get people thinking though.”
Graeme referred the newspaper to Kerry Neal, who wrote a book about military emplacements around the region. He was more sceptical but not totally dismissive about the structure’s potential war-time origins.
“It’s a great story … there are many structures around the city from that era but my view is that this is something that the council installed for storm water purposes.”
However, he says his word should not be taken as gospel as there are two major gun emplacements on the cliffs above Fifeshire Rock and a major building on Arapiki Rd. He says there was even a gigantic bulldozer brought to Nelson and constantly manned in case the aerodrome was bombed and craters needed to be filled in.
“It was all on,” Kerry says. “If the United States had not resisted the movement down to here and checked the Japanese at the Coral Sea, there is no question that a limited convoy would have arrived in New Zealand and one of the favoured spots would have been Tahuna Beach.”
Shelley Doherty of the Nelson Provincial Museum filled in some of the gaps their team gleaned from the archives.
In 1940 the Royal New Zealand Air Force took over Nelson Airport and the government built hangers and a base. This included gun emplacements, training rooms and a rifle range.
There were further facilities including “dispersal pits” where planes could be hidden at Annesbrook and around the airport. The squadron’s role was to guard Cook Strait, but in 1943 the Nelson station ceased to be operational.
“We are not sure that the concrete treasures found are in fact from the airfield,” Shelley says. “But we love the fact that Nelson is interested in the history and heritage of the area.”
The Nelson Weekly will update the story as more information comes to light.