Metty Vella  - Voluntary Aid Division (VAD) 1916 – 1922

Mattea (Metty) Elena Vella was born in Paremata in 1898, the eldest daughter of Mariano and his second wife Elizabeth[i].

Martinano was born in Croatia, at that stage part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Mariano came to New Zealand and
lived first in Island Bay, Wellington, then in 1885 moved to Paremata where he was a fisherman.  

Mariano married his first wife Mary, daughter of another Paremata fisherman, in January 1886 and they had four children. Mary died in 1889.  

In 1886 Mariano was awarded the lease for Mana Island and began to farm sheep. The family connection to Mana was
only terminated in 1953.[ii]

In 1894 Mariano returned to Croatia and married his second wife
Elizabeth before returning to New Zealand.[iii]

Metty was the eldest of four children of Mariano and Elizabeth
and was raised in Station Road, Paremata going to Pauhatanui
School before transferring, in 1904, to the new Plimmerton

Plimmerton School 1904
​(Metty holding Annie's hand right with
Mariano Jnr and Jack in front) 

In 1909 Metty and her mother and father returned to Croatia for
a holiday, her older half brothers Andrew and William remained
in New Zealand  to manage the Mana Island farm. Metty was
educated at a Italian language school and a German boarding

In the first months of World War One Metty’s two older brothers, Andrew and William, and a cousin Matteo Sarcich were accussed of being German spies operating a radio transmitter on Mana Island. Matteo Sarcich also originated in Croatia and with Martinano and family still in Austria so a police officer was sent to Plimmerton to question all three men before clearing them of being enemy aliens.[v]

Diplomatic relations between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire deteriorated through 1914 and early 1915 and in
May 1915 Metty, with her parents, cross the border into Italy just before Italy declared war on the Axis forces. It is possible that news of the April landings on Gallipoli and the commitment of New Zealand troops was a factor in the family
returning to New Zealand.

The Vella family returned to New Zealand and the Vella family purchased 14 Steyne Avenue, Plimmerton. The house,
which is still owned by members of the Vella family, was named “Sokol (Strength)”  by Martinano.

Casualties from the Dardanelles campaign began to return to New
Zealand from July 1915 with the arrival in Wellington of the Willochra carrying 300 sick and wounded men. There was a need for help in
nursing these men and the Voluntary Aid Division (VAD) was formed to provide resources to support professional nursing staff.

Metty joined the VAD late 1915 / early 1916 and was based at Trentham Hospital.

Metty (Left) & Babs in VAD uniform c1916

In November 1918 Plimmerton was in the grip of the Spanish Influenza with the Vella family all sick. Metty’s brother Jack was so sick that he was moved across the street to a temporary hospital in St Andrews Church[vi] where he was one of three men who died within the week.

Metty remained with the VAD until 1922 then returned home to care for her parents.

During WW2 Metty was the Section Leader for the Red Cross in coastal towns from Tawa to Pukerua Bay and for this and ongoing services she was awarded the Red Cross Medallion of Honour.

Metty died in 1991 and is buried in St Joseph’s church cemetery, Pauatahanui.

The Vella name is remembered with Vella Street, Titahi Bay named after the family.

Gionanni Martino Mariano Vella's name was anglisied to John but he was known as Jack Vella. He enlisted in 1918 see his story.

Plimmerton a colourful history: Bob Maysmor, Pataka
NZ BDM Online
Oral History recordings: Pataka Museum 
Papers past online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: Metty Vella

Sokol - private collection
1904 Plimmerton School and its Environment 1904 -1979
Metty Vella & Barbara Burrow - Vella Family 

[i] NZ BDM
[ii] Vella, Mariano - biographies, Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand 
[iii] Vella, Mariano - biographies, Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand 
[iv] Oral History – Metty Vella : Pataka sound archives
[v] Plimmerton a clourful history: Bob Maysmor
[vi] Oral History – Metty Vella : Pataka sounds archives
'Sokol'  14 Steyne Avenue, Plimmerton - Vella family home 1916 - 2016