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Our Cambridge Collection has changing exhibitions about Cambridge. Much of our collection is in storage to ensure its preservation for future generations.
A concrete ‘bunker’ halfway down the ‘Buckland Track‘ in the Cambridge Domain and a large depression in the ground behind the old railway station, are all that remain – other than the stories of the site being a Bomb Shelter and there being a maze of secret tunnels used during World War Two.
At the National Archives in Wellington ‘SECRET’ is stamped across the files.
The Airfuel Reserve Depot No 9 correspondence starts in May 1942 when it is reported that the excavation is nearly complete and the 600,000 gallon fuel tank at Waiwhetu is about to be dismantled. This tank was loaned to the Crown free of charge by the Associated Motorists Petrol Company.
Cambridge people were surprised to see the school playground was being levelled or they awoke to find a load of dirt in their driveway.
The crater for the tank was 60 feet deep, top diameter 130 feet and bottom diameter 72 feet. About 20,000 cubic yards of dirt was dug out. A concrete lined tunnel lead out to the concrete pump house on the face of the hill side.
The tank cost £5,033 8s 6d to dismantle, transport and re-erect, and by the end of August hutments had been erected, camouflaged and wired for light. An earth privy was supplied and a fence was being made. The 3 acre site was restricted to Airforce Personnel who got their meals from the nearby hotel and as there was no running water, they had to bathe ‘whenever they can best arrange it’.
By May 1943 they still had no heating – they were going to get a coal range but it was deemed a fire hazard. The huts were under large trees and got very little sunshine.
From six to eleven rail tank cars of fuel were sent to Cambridge each week.
It wasn’t long before problems arose. A telephonic report alerted the Squadron Leader that one of his planes was fueled with sludge and water. Then there were two serious leaks.
14 October 1943, a short note ‘Four huts AR9 destroyed by fire approx 0330 hours this morning. Damage Approx £400. Cause believed cigarette. One casualty already notified’.
After the Court of Inquiry a direct telephone line was installed to the Cambridge exchange as the Exchange Attendant operated the fire siren and contacted the members of the Voluntary Fire Brigade direct. The Fire Chief was given special permission to enter the area, and foam compound and equipment was made available. The grass was mowed and it was decided that the camouflage (dry ti-tree or manuka) was probably the biggest fire risk.
Two airmen were now stationed at Cambridge and they got sleeping quarters, an office, store and workshop, and a bathroom and wash-house.
At the end of 1945, when the war had ended, the Domain Board was requesting that the land be returned to them. The enclosure was overrun with weeds, gorse and blackberry but the NZ Air Force wanted to wait until the site was empty.
A year later the ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’ notices were still on the A.R.9’s fence and the Domain Board was still trying to get the place cleaned up. The tank was sold in May 1948 and by March 1950 dismantling and removal was nearly complete. £1,750 was estimated to restore the area and it was decided to break down the sides of the crater and make a saucer shaped depression.
And so it remains today.