NZ Local News

Taranaki township’s historic pool’s history brought to life in new book

Editor Written by Editor · 4 min read >


Many families will have fond memories of Rawhitiroa Memorial Pool, says Nelson Every, who has written a book about the pool and the volunteers who built it.

One man’s love of swimming inspired a community project to build a pool in the small Taranaki township of Rawhitiroa over 60 years ago.

That man was Harry Wood, a Rawhitiroa local who served in the Merchant Navy during World War II, and the pool, still in use today, is the Rawhitiroa Memorial Pool.

Sadly, Harry never got to enjoy the pool himself, says his nephew Nelson Every.

“My uncle Harry did not return from the war, his ship was torpedoed, but if he had returned I believe he would have been very much involved in this war memorial project, and would also have enjoyed swimming in the bath, maybe more than his swimming at the many places around the world.”

Nelson Every has written a book about the history of Rawhitiroa Memorial Pool. Photo / Ilona Hanne
Nelson Every has written a book about the history of Rawhitiroa Memorial Pool. Photo / Ilona Hanne

Nelson says he’s always been interested in the story of the pool, and when he began to dive into its history, he was impressed by how a group of determined “cow cockies and sheep herders” gave their time and labour to build the community pool.

It was, he says, “a story that needed to be told” and after countless hours of research and work, Nelson has written and published that story in his book: Rawhitiroa Memorial Pool.

“I felt I needed to write the book, to put the stories and the history together, before it all got lost to time and memories faded.”

Nelson’s parents were heavily involved in the project, as were many other local residents.

“What’s so remarkable is how these people all gave their time. They constructed the pool as volunteers, there was no financial reward for them, they gave all their free time and hard work purely to benefit others.”

The book contains photos showing the progress of the pool as it was built by dedicated volunteers. Nelson says it must have been quite a momentous sight for the volunteers to see it once the concrete had been poured.
The book contains photos showing the progress of the pool as it was built by dedicated volunteers. Nelson says it must have been quite a momentous sight for the volunteers to see it once the concrete had been poured.

Nelson says the idea for a pool in Rawhitiroa had been around well before World War II, with locals wanting their children to be able to learn to swim locally rather than travelling to Eltham school to use the swimming pool there. At the time, he says, there was nowhere for Rawhitiroa residents to swim.

“There was no pool, no rivers in the area and Lake Rotokare wasn’t easily accessible for them.”

When World War II came to an end, the idea of a pool in the district was raised again, he says.

“There had been talk about wanting a pool in the local area right back to the early 1900s, but nothing came of it. Then my grandparents, Henry and Eva Wood, were getting letters from their son, my uncle Harry, when he was in the Merchant Navy during the war. He used to write them letters and he always mentioned if he’d been for a swim somewhere when the ship was in port. In turn, they talked about those letters, and his love of swimming, with other district residents and the idea of a swimming bath for the district came back to the fore.”

Harry Woods did not return home from World War II. However, his love of swimming lives on in the Rawhitiroa Memorial Pool.
Harry Woods did not return home from World War II. However, his love of swimming lives on in the Rawhitiroa Memorial Pool.

Nelson says while it was his uncle Harry’s love of swimming that inspired his family’s involvement, the result was a memorial pool to recognise and honour all who, like Harry, had served their country in a time of war.

His grandparents, on retiring from farming, had made a donation of £100 to the district specifically towards the construction of a swimming bath.

This donation was mentioned by their son-in-law, Nelson’s father Paul Every, at a public meeting in the district on July 15, 1947. The meeting originally had two objectives – to form a committee for organising the upcoming school jubilee in 1948, and for a second committee to be formed for the construction of a war memorial.

Paul spoke at the meeting, reminding residents of Henry and Eva’s donation, and suggested if the committee were to consider building the pool as a war memorial, they may be eligible for a government subsidy.

The book contains excerpts of Harry Wood's letters, which often mentioned his love of swimming, sent to his parents while he was serving overseas with the Merchant Navy.
The book contains excerpts of Harry Wood’s letters, which often mentioned his love of swimming, sent to his parents while he was serving overseas with the Merchant Navy.

At that time the Government had introduced a programme to help finance the construction of local war memorials around the country.

Nelson says his father’s suggestion was well received, and so the Rawhitiroa War Memorial Baths Committee was born and the subsidy successfully applied for. Paul himself ended up serving as chairman of the committee for 18 years in total.

Over the next decade and a half, countless hours were put in by locals to turn the idea into reality. Paul turned out to be adept at negotiating favourable prices from suppliers for things they needed, by pointing out the project was both a war memorial and a school swimming pool.

It was certainly a labour of love and determination that led to the pool being built, and it could be said it was equally a labour of love and determination for Nelson to tell that story in his book. He says he spent countless hours researching the history of the pool, going through family records as well as interviewing many other Rawhitiroa residents who remembered the pool being built.

He trawled through committee notes and meeting agendas, tracked down photos and records, he watched and rewatched old movie film taken by a Rawhitoria school teacher, Miss Foley, visited the Government archives and read numerous letters, patiently piecing together the history of the pool.

Writing the book, he says, is his way of “saying thank you to all those volunteers, making sure their work won’t be forgotten and so people using the pool today know how it all came about”.

Those volunteers didn’t stop when the pool was formally opened by the then Minister of Internal Affairs, William Theophilus Anderton, on January 30, 1960, says Nelson.

“Many residents stayed involved long after the pool was built. They became swimming instructors, committee members, even pool cleaners. Nothing was ever too much for these volunteers.”

The payoff, he suspects, was the joy their children, and eventually grandchildren, got from the pool itself. That sentiment was captured by Paul Every in his speech at the formal opening day of the pool, when he quoted Pat O’Connor, the project’s construction engineer and works foreman, as well as being the committee secretary.

“The sight of the school kids tearing down from the school for their daily swims. A band of happy, laughing children. If that can go on year after year after year, those who fought, of whom some died that such things might be, and those of us who built this pool in their memory, and so made it an actuality, will all be well content.”

Copies of the book are available for $50 from Helen O’Connor in Stratford. She can be contacted on (06) 764 8811.

Ilona Hanne is a regional news reporter based in Taranaki. She joined NZME in 2012 and is editor of the Stratford Press, one of NZME’s community newspapers.



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