Ten-One Community Edition March 06

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WWII volunteer thanked

Jessie BannoNinety-four-year-old Jessie Banno was officially thanked by NZ Police recently for voluntarily assisting Constable Edna Pearce run an internment camp for Japanese women in South Auckland during WWII.

Jessie, of Scottish and Tongan decent, married into the Japanese Banno family which had business interests in Tonga and the Pacific. Despite holding a British passport Jessie chose to accompany her husband and other Japanese to New Zealand for internment in 1941.

While Jessie’s security classification didn’t require her to live at the camp, she stayed initially with the women to help them settle in and often returned to help out.

“There were a few problems at the beginning with the food and the language, but Edna was great and with infinite patience and kindness helped them to adjust,” says Jessie.

In 1943 attempts were made to repatriate the Japanese internees via Australia. Tragedy struck when a US Air Force plane carrying a number of internees crashed on takeoff from Whenuapai resulting in 14 dead and 16 injured.
Jessie and her husband, who had both been scheduled for a different flight, were called on to help identify the bodies.

Among the dead were two women and four children who had been at the South Auckland internment camp. Jessie also acted as an interpreter for the injured in hospital.

Jessie and her husband spent the rest of the war at an Australian internment camp. When the war ended they went to live in Japan. Recalling her wartime experiences, Jessie says: “It was shock, but that’s war and we survived. Edna was a firm but fair person to work with.

Edna retired from NZ Police in 1966 and died in 1995, aged 89. She was represented at Jessie’s presentation by her niece Christine Charlton.

The presentation was arranged by author Valerie Redshaw who tells Edna’s and Jessie’s stories in her book about women in policing in New Zealand, due out later this year.

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