Help needed: do you recognise these WWII servicemen?


The Auckland Museum has just digitized and released a whole bunch of photographs taken during WWII by a local photographer, Tudor Collins. They all show American servicemen posted to the small town of Warkworth, New Zealand, prior to their deployment in the Pacific.

These are wonderful portraits of young men enjoying a few weeks of rest and Kiwi hospitality before being hurled into prolonged and ferocious fighting from which many did not return.

None of the photos were captioned, so the identity of the soldiers is unknown. The Museum has loaded them onto its website and is asking anyone whose relatives served in the Pacific, and who spent (or might have spent) time in New Zealand, to help identify these men.

I know a number of people who read this blog have family who served in WWII, and it would be great if you could visit the website to look at these images. There are a lot of them; but who knows, maybe one of those smiling young men belongs to your family, and you can bring their memory home for Christmas.

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete me te Tau Hou

– Season’s greetings for Christmas and the New Year


16 thoughts on “Help needed: do you recognise these WWII servicemen?

    • No problem. It’s such a lovely collection of images that I thought I’d share the link and hope a few people with WWII connections share it too. It’s a pretty long shot given how many US servicemen there were in WWII and how few would have ended up in NZ. But I do love the idea of putting names and histories to those happy-looking young men. 🙂

  1. Interesting, indeed. These men appear to be soldiers of the US Army since their uniforms look nothing like the uniforms of Marines in World War II. As you say, with anywhere from 15,000 to 45,000 US servicemen having been stationed in New Zealand for pre-deployment training, identifying even one would be miraculous.

    They also could be a gaggle of privates (horsing around waiting for formation) since I see no rank insignia on their sleeves, and no indication of officer’s rank on any collar. I was looking carefully at the garrison cap for indications of rank or type of unit. In World War II, the Army garrison cap included a branch of service color piping: light blue for infantry, red for artillery, and yellow for cavalry. All of those colors would be hard to see in an old black and white photograph.

    Best of luck, though …

    • Thanks for this information. I guess the lack of insignia is part of the problem for the museum. I had a look at some of the (few) images where there was some insignia visible and found one man wearing a expert marksman badge with one hanging bit. He also had what looked like a medal flash over his left breast pocket. But, as you say, in b&w hard to figure out what the flash signifies. I also found a few with crossed rifle badges — infantry I presume.
      It’s funny; I posted this because I have so few photos of my grandfathers and great uncles who served and would love it if someone ever turned up an archive that might contain pictures of my family. But having spent some time looking at these shots, I really want some of them at least to find “homes.”
      Thanks for your insights.

  2. I hope you and the museum find some answers Su, their faces are very clear, they have restored these photographs really well. This week I have been scanning photographs from my grandparents album who both served in WW2 in the RAF and WRAF and there is one photograph made into a postcard and taken in my grandparents garden in 1940 with the caption “Bill and Ding, the boys from Down Under” unrelated to your post today but you are inspiring me to search for answers in my own family tree.

    • Thanks Julie. I think the photos were in pretty good condition as they were taken by a professional photographer and formed part of his archive. Your “down under” postcard is actually very similar; young men thousands of miles from home at rest before going into active service. Some of the museum’s shots show the American soldiers engaged in the everyday like of the local community, and I felt quite heartened to know they seemed to be made so welcome. New ZeLand must have seemed so alien to so many of them. Cheers, Su

    • No problem. I’ve had a look through about 300 of the 1000 or so images, and quite a few have no insignia on their uniform as Mustang pointed out, which I guess makes it much harder. It’s weird, I have no ties at all to this collection, but when I look at the faces of those men I think of my great grandfather and great uncles, and know that I’d love to have shots of them to remember. The photographer seems to have been incredibly successful in getting hundreds of servicemen to pose, and seems to have captured them quite engaged with the local community as well as the individual and group shots. It’s sad to think of so many photos with no homes to go to. Cheers, Su

  3. Superb post dear Su,you are so thoughtful my friend.I’ll gladly tweet it away for more people to have the chance to check out the portraits at the Auckland Museum.Who knows,they might recognise a family member.Thank you.

    • That would be wonderful Doda. I feel quite motherly towards these nameless portraits. I know I’d love to have such images of the men in my family who were in the services. All the best my friend.

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