By Bryan Dickeson
UFOCUS NZ Research Network, Copyright © 2015
One of New Zealand’s most interesting vintage UFO cases took place during August, 1944.
On a wintry afternoon, a senior nurse stationed at the Cashmere Sanatorium was out walking on the Port Hills overlooking Christchurch when she came upon a landed UFO, complete with ‘little green men’. The Mrs. Church case is highly detailed, unusual, and attracted much interest world-wide when it was first reported by Bruce Harding some thirty years afterwards.
(I can claim some slight connection with the case: Mrs. Church telephoned Bruce Harding with her story several hours after hearing a morning radio-talkback program on UFOs – on Christchurch radio station 3ZB; Town Talk, Wednesday, 12th September 1973.
Bruce, then a secondary schoolboy, had recently set up a small UFO group in Christchurch and had written to my parents’ organisation in Timaru, to see if they could provide assistance and information.
At the time I was a 22-year-old science student at Canterbury University, in Christchurch, and spent some time talking to Bruce. When the offer of a session on radio came up, Bruce asked me to join him on the program for moral support and backup.)
Bruce Harding’s report appeared in a one-off publication, APRG(NZ) Journal No. 1, (Ed. Ian Dalziel), published by Bruce Harding and Brian Musson in June 1974. Harding and Musson made up most of the Aerial Phenomenon Research Group, in Christchurch, which folded a few months after publishing its Journal No.1.
This account edits and intercuts the original Harding report (created from interviews held with Mrs. Church on 2 November 1973, and 11 January 1974), with additional contextual details I have accumulated since then.
In 1944, Mrs. Church (then aged 29) was Sister-in-Charge of the operating theatre at Cashmere Sanatorium. This large facility for ‘incurables’ had been set up on the edge of Christchurch city at the start of the 20th century, to isolate and treat tuberculosis patients, especially soldiers returning from Europe after World Wars I and II. It was built on the lower slopes of the Port Hills, some five kilometres directly south of the city centre. In 1941, an improved, surgical facility with an operating theatre was included to enable ‘more-modern treatments’.
[When penicillin became readily available in the mid-1950s, tuberculosis patients could be treated in the community; the Cashmere Sanatorium was repurposed for cancer patients, sometime afterwards, as Coronation Hospital. Several years before the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, the facility was completely demolished and the area redeveloped for private housing.]
(Cashmere Hospital, northern aspect, circa 1930. The Sign of the Takahe, at the top of the hill, is out of sight)
In 1944, nurses were in short supply and great demand. Most had been sent overseas, to support the war effort. As Sister-in-Charge of the operating theatre, Mrs. Church was highly experienced, highly trained and extremely competent – an excellent witness.
On one of Mrs. Church’s days off, she was out walking on the Port Hills, alone – “I just had to go for walks all over the hills.”
Numerous walking tracks were established in the area around Cashmere during the 1920s and 30s to take advantage of its spectacular views – northwards, over Christchurch city, and westwards, across the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps.
One popular track behind Cashmere Sanatorium ran uphill, to a large, solitary, ‘Tudor-style rest house’ (the Sign of the Takahe), then onwards and upwards to Victoria Park. The Sign of the Takahe was a somewhat eccentric development, or ‘folly’, which was built over several decades.
On the road just below the Sign of the Takahe there was a tram terminus for a single rail track running down Hackthorne Road, back into the city centre.
(Modern bus services replaced the Cashmere trams after September 1954.)
Tram No.24 at the Hackthorne Road/Takahe terminus, eastern side of the Sign of the Takahe (still under construction) during the 1950s. Background cloud occludes the usual view of Christchurch.
It was late in the afternoon when Mrs. Church noticed dark clouds “coming in fast.” She thought she might get lost and decided to head back downhill, to the Sign of the Takahe to catch the city tram, which left at 4.30 p.m.
Mrs. Church described the winter afternoon as initially “sunny and clear, but cloud came down, gradually obscuring the city below me, and shutting out the sun, which was very low in the western sky.”
[The writer still remembers the area around the Sign of the Takahe, 200 Hackthorne Road, as being open, hilly, wind-exposed, grassland, up until the mid-1960s. Apart from the rest house itself, there were few other buildings nearby, and only the occasional, stunted, exotic pinus radiata tree. Large 1-1.5 metre tall clumps of native ‘tussock’ grasses [Poa species] were interspersed with shorter, introduced European pasture grasses, close-grazed by a few wide-ranging sheep.]
Walking downhill, amongst the low hilly slopes, Mrs. Church saw a large ‘upturned saucer’, sitting on a gentle slope. Mrs. Church noted that, although it was “very close to the road”, it would have been hidden from traffic on Dyers Pass Road by a slight rise (landed exactly where the second house in from the intersection with Takahe Drive is now located – number 3, Takahe Drive; latitude S43.580635, longitude E172.636245, or South 43°34’50+0.5”, East 172°38’09+0.5”).
Mrs. Church was alone. She could see an empty city tram stopped on Hackthorne Road, level with, but to the east of the Sign of the Takahe. The tram driver/conductor was not around. She presumed he was “making a comfort stop.”
(The sun-facing, northern side, of the Sign of the Takahe (100m southwest of UFO landing site). The Hackthorne Road and tram terminus is to the left, Dyer’s Pass road to the right.)
[At that time, a small scrub-dotted gully ran off from Hackthorne road, eastwards, back down towards the Sanatorium and away from the tram stop.
Some years later a small, public toilet block was built in the gully, but this was demolished during the late nineteen-sixties.]
Mrs. Church quietly walked over to the upturned saucer, stopped and stared at it, for about 8-10 minutes in total. She was “quite close really” and “didn’t feel any effect at all”. She thought to herself how unusual it was – “What will they invent next?”
She immediately thought the craft was some gimmick from the Industries Fair which was running at the time down in the central city. However, on noticing “occupants” nearby, no more than four feet tall, she surmised that it must be a Japanese device.
The three “little men/occupants”, or “little fellas”, were inside transparent cases. One was standing outside the craft. Another was in a “doorway-window” area of the craft and she could see the top of a third helmet in the same “window” area. Mrs. Church thinks that the trio were watching the Industries Fair and looking at the city – the city lights were starting to come on, as cloud descended and the late wintry afternoon got darker.
“The occupants of the object appeared to be absorbed in watching the fair and city generally.”
The thought of little green men crossed her mind (“in the fairy-land, not the flying saucer sense – flying saucers came along much later!”), but, as she put it, “I thought they were Japanese.”
The “occupant” outside the craft had no helmet on at the time – he was just a green-coloured “entity” in a transparent, oblong casing. “He” was not bending over, or doing anything in particular – just standing there, a veritable “man in a suitcase”.
The cloud “came right down and enveloped us”, she said. By this time, Mrs. Church became more inquisitive and decided to go and take a closer look – to talk to “the people” – even to get a ride!
“I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t have any sense of fear at all.”
She decided to advance to about 18 feet from the object, and was no more than 25 feet away from it – “quite close to him” – when she stood on something and made a slight noise. “The chap” outside noticed her. His helmet flapped over automatically and he “drifted” into the vehicle.
It intrigued Mrs. Church that he had no arms to pull the helmet down, and did not step-up into the door opening; he just “drifted in, in a kind of sliding movement into the space thing.” He slid straight into the “very small opening” which quickly closed sideways, like a sliding door.
She had noted a very peculiar thing: that they had quite big “heads” in proportion to their body – almost half their body height.
[The writer observes that this is the only reference in the report to the entities having any ‘heads’ and ‘bodies’ beneath their green ‘clothing’ – the point is made almost as an afterthought. This suggests there are other details to Mrs. Church’s encounter that were not disclosed, or which may have been ‘censored’ by the entities.
Also, four-foot high aliens with heads almost half their height? These proportions are very similar to those reported for small ‘grey aliens’.]
Mrs. Church believed that if she hadn’t come along and made a noise, “they” would have stayed longer. “He seemed to disappear so suddenly. He drifted into it, and the next minute, the door closed.” She felt it was like he was going into the “cockpit”.
The object itself, was mainly covered with (what seemed to be) tiles, that fitted together perfectly. These were laid vertically (instead of the ‘usual’, horizontally) – “long way up – they were tall,” and this intrigued Mrs. Church. “They were about 11-16 inches high and 8-10 inches across, a light brown colour, like veneer strips – wood-grained.”
The craft was about 18-20 feet across and 8-9 feet high. The metal circle on top was not a shining aluminium, but just “kind of plain, ordinary aluminium.” It looked metallic and seemed to be some kind of protective cover, which fitted like a glove.
(Object re-sketched, to closer reflect the dimensions indicated by Mrs. Church – B. Dickeson)
Above this “turret” there was a mast-like projection, “as long as your arm” – cylindrical, like a piece of 4-inch pipe. On top of that was a mushroom-shaped, aluminium-coloured ‘cap’. This projection and cap arrangement was approximately 18 inches to two feet high. Midway along the mast, a blue light shone steadily before “lift-off.” The light was blue and pale – like “blue glass.” The base of the object was absolutely flat, and dark brown in colour, with no lights or markings.
Once all the occupants were safely inside, the blue light shone, the whirring noise began and the craft slowly rose vertically into the cloud. It was still visible climbing up for a couple of minutes. “When the thing took off, I wished I could have gone with it. And I felt a sense of loss as it disappeared.”
After it took off, Mrs. Church saw a light “way over” in the sky, but she says it might well have been an ordinary aircraft. “I lost sight of it in the cloud – I consider from the noise (the whirring which it made) that it sped up and went in a westerly direction (over the southern section of the city).” She said that the ‘whirring’ noise was not like that of an engine – but more like a fan.
Mrs. Church did not go to look for any physical traces, as it was time to catch her 4.30 p.m. tram, down past the Sanatorium, towards the city centre.
She felt no effects until she went to bed that night: She slept with her doors open and at about 8 or 9 p.m., “It was just as though a presence came into the room. You know, in the Bible it tells you, ‘the peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ [Philippians 4:7] – that was the kind of peace that seemed to come. As though there was a presence in the room, but you couldn’t see it. It was unusual. It seemed to stay with me for the whole week.”
“All the patients I went to responded to me. It was just as though I had an external spirit guiding me – I don’t know why. I was down in Sydenham [Christchurch suburb] and a woman said to me, ‘I get a wonderful feeling when I stand beside you.’ I was aware there was something about me, but I don’t know what it was.”
Mrs. Church returned ‘home’ to the Sanatorium and asked one of the sisters if there was something at the Industries Fair to take you for rides (She was told; “No”).
She did not ring the Royal New Zealand Air Force at Wigram Base nearby, (S43°33’04”, E172°33’10”), because one “did not mention things that might be secret during wartime.”
Mrs. Church said, “I don’t care if anybody believes me, or not. I DID see this thing. I think they’re craft from some other space.”
Some corroboration for this sighting came around 1950, when a Reverend H. Brown reported seeing exactly the same ‘corn-coloured’ craft to a local paper, but with no mention of occupants, in South Hagley Park, Christchurch, early in the morning. “He may have described it as [being] taller though, otherwise he described the same object.” Later, he denied seeing it (after pressure from his wife and/or parish) and said he “mistook if for a horse”. The 1973 investigators were unable to find such a newspaper cutting, after a partial search.
Dating the Takahe event:
Bruce Harding originally suggested the event occurred during “winter time”, (probably August) in 1944 or 1945. The Second World War was being fought and the Industries Fair was on in the King Edward Barracks.”
Recent, detailed research since shows the event most probably occurred sometime, between Saturday 5 and Saturday 19, August 1944
Industries Fairs were popular family events, held annually before World War II in central Christchurch, at King Edward Barracks (on the corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets, one block east of the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park).
Fair days then, excluded Sundays.
The fairs were scaled down during World War II, but surged afterwards to showcase processing and light manufacturing industries in a burgeoning New Zealand economy. They were usually timed to coincide with scheduled annual school holidays, in August, between school terms 3 and 4. During the 1940s, Industries Fairs were held in Christchurch on:
1940; Saturday 10 August to Saturday 24 August
1941; Saturday 4 October to Saturday 18 October
1942 and 1943 (Fairs cancelled; Japan’s Pacific expansion at its greatest extent)
1944; Saturday 5 August to Saturday 19 August
1945; Saturday 11 August to Saturday 25 August
1946; Friday 9 August to Saturday 24 August
1947; Friday 24 October to Saturday 8 November
1948; Friday 6 August 6 to Saturday 21 August
1949; Friday 5 August to Saturday 20 August
These fair dates come from philatelic frankings for first day covers issued by the New Zealand Post Office, which commemorated the fairs as special public events.
[August 1945 included major war milestones such as the allied liberation of the Philippines, and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs (6th and 15th August respectively), which soon led to Japan’s formal surrender on 2nd September 1945. These events were hugely celebrated in New Zealand on 14th August 1945, when there were extensive and spontaneous “VJ day” street celebrations in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, which my parents attended.]
Mrs. Church was working in a hospital where at least one-third of the facilities were devoted to treating returned soldiers who had Tuberculosis. It is very likely she would have linked both the Pacific war’s end with her encounter, had they occurred during the 1945 Industries Fair (11-25 August 1945).
Therefore, Mrs. Church’s encounter most probably took place, between Saturday 5 and Saturday 19, August 1944, when conflict was still widespread and the war’s end was still a year away.
Also, Cashmere tram trips were popular weekend outings during the war (due to widespread petrol rationing), when people worked hard, for long hours and had little recreation time. The fact that Mrs. Church was not in theatre and that the tram was empty, suggests the day was most likely a Saturday, because most people with free time would have been at the Industries Fair (that is, the date of the event was one from Saturday 5th, 12th, or 19th, 1944).
Christchurch weather records for the period, could suggest a more specific date.
Finally, from 1944, New Zealand newspapers reported Japanese holdouts or soldier “hermits”, left behind at battles’ end, who had to be coaxed from the jungle long afterwards.
[The last of these was Japanese Army intelligence officer, Hiroo Onoda, who persisted for 29 years, from 1945 to 1975, on the island of Lubang, in the Philippines. Once ‘found’, he was repatriated to Japan as a hero, married soon afterwards and died January 2014, aged 91.]
It is possible that Mrs. Church’s willingness to consider her “little green men” as being remnant Japanese soldiers, arose from reading such accounts.
Her ongoing feelings of dissociation for several days afterwards – ‘spaciness’, elation and unreality – are typical of many witnesses who report a very close encounter with a strange craft (sometimes referred to as the “Oz effect”).
Edna Marjory Church died on Sunday 6th April 1986, aged 70, and is buried in Bromley Cemetery, in Christchurch.