Feeding those on active service was vital during the war and by 1944 one of four vegetable dehydration factories nationwide was in full production in Manukau Road, Pukekohe. The factory was in constant operation, processing produce from extensive market gardens that were planted on farms all over the district for the war effort, including on part of Pukekohe Golf Club. A large Department of Agriculture garden was set up at Patumahoe – the Patamahoe Services’ Vegetable Project. Trainloads of dehydrated vegetables were taken to the Port of Auckland to be shipped to the forces overseas. The intensive process required a large workforce. Almost 1,000 people worked over three shifts to keep the production lines constantly running. Some lived locally, slotting in shifts when other work commitments allowed, while many were ‘man-powered’, conscripted from all over the country and accommodated in huts and dormitories in camps. University students, older people and New Zealand and American servicemen also joined in the drive to feed the troops.
Gwen Woodward of Pukekohe was an 18 year old farm girl living at Ramarama when she volunteered to work at the ‘dehy’, as the factory was commonly called. She worked on the cabbage and carrot processing lines – other lines processed peas, beans, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. “I worked alongside the other girls spreading shredded cabbages and cut up carrots on long trays, which the men trollied into the dehydration unit. When they were dried, the vegetables were packed into big tins to be sent overseas. I also used to trim the outer leaves off cabbages and pack them into crates to be chilled until they were needed.” Recalls Gwen. “The carrots were bathed in acid to remove the skins. Three or four girls were badly affected by this, with blistered hands and were off work for weeks. We were given gloves after that. I was paid one shilling and sixpence an hour. When my shifts finished I stayed in a two person hut at Rooseville Park. I started off in a dormitory, but it was too noisy, with girls having parties. We were picked up for our shifts by army trucks and taken back for tea. There was one big ablution block and it wasn’t too good to be right down the back of the camp, especially in wet weather, when it was very muddy.
“I found it interesting working there and made some good friends. There were some ‘hard cases’ there as well! The girls came from all over the country, so when the war ended, we unfortunately lost touch. I quite enjoyed working at the ‘dehy’, though a lot of the town girls hated it. I can understand that, they weren’t used to doing physical work. Even having to put on a smock like everyone else was different for them. It was hardest for the land girls, who were out planting and picking in all weathers.”
Gwen remembers when the war ended; “Everyone went up the street to celebrate. We danced, sang and hugged everyone. It was good! Then we went back to work at the ‘dehy’ in the afternoon”.
The war years in Franklin were a time of ration coupon books, shortages of many basic items and blackout curtains on windows. Trenches were dug around schools for children to jump into if there was an attack. There was fear of Japanese invasion and sorrow at the loses of men killed overseas. But it also a time when American gridiron football was played on Bledisloe Park; when people pulled together to look after each other where they could and shared coupons; it was a time of many social occasions (with chaperones) to keep up morale; of working tirelessly in gardens and factory and of taking in many lonely servicemen far from home to be part of the big Franklin family.