Post and Telegraph guard at Cable Bay

Post and Telegraph guard at Cable Bay

Soliders of the South Island Battalion, Post and Telegraph Corps, guard the telegraph station at Cable Bay, near Nelson, in August 1914. Part of the Territorial Force, the corps was divided into two battalions, one for each island. Almost all its personnel were staff of the Post and Telegraph Department.

Cable Bay had been so named since 1876, when the Eastern Extension Company’s submarine telegraph link to La Perouse (Sydney) had come ashore at Wakapuaka, 24 km north-east of Nelson. Rival cable companies had subsequently lessened New Zealand’s reliance on Eastern Extension for near-instantaneous communication with the outside world – a revolutionary development in the late 19th century.

A night-time fire at Cable Bay in June 1914 destroyed two of the three operating instruments and the building in which they were housed despite brave efforts by the staff. Following the outbreak of war in August rumours spread that the fire had been sabotage. A naturalised German man living in Wellington but until recently employed at Cable Bay was found to have a wireless set capable of monitoring local radio signals and communicating with enemy warships. Most likely, however, the fire was ignited by heat from the carbide lamp of a bicycle that had been left propped against the wooden building earlier in the evening.

Replacement equipment was delivered with impressive speed and installed quickly by Eastern Company and Post and Telegraph staff. Direct communication with Sydney was restored within a few hours. When the war began, the authorities took no chances of further disruption to telegraphic communication, accidental or otherwise. Detachments of the Post and Telegraph Corps (part-time soldiers who were staff members of the Post and Telegraph Department) were sent to guard cable landing-places and wireless stations around the country, including Wakapuaka.


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