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The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914–1915

Chapter XXI. — Warnings of an Invasion

page 124

Chapter XXI.
Warnings of an Invasion.

But hard upon this news came information by radiogram, through the Governor-General of New Zealand, that enemy ships were again believed to be in the vicinity, this time the "Dresden" and "Prinz Eitel Friedrich," the latter believed to have 1500 German reservists from South American ports on board.

With the force then available (it had been greatly depleted through the return of unfit men to New Zealand), it would have been impossible to hold both Apia and the Wireless Station and keep a sufficient mobile force on hand to meet a landing of 1500 men with any hope of success in accordance with the then existing defence scheme. The base was therefore moved from Apia to the Wireless Station, and plans were altered to use all troops to attack a landing force.

Patrols on horses and bicycles were sent out daily along the approaches to Apia, and at times penetrated as far as Falefa on the East, Mulifanua on the West, and Safata to the South. The landing places were further strengthened by much hard digging.

With the Wireless as the base, came more defences. The plant was built in the midst of a clearing in the bush some half-mile in diameter. The ground was volcanic and the soil thin, and trenching was out of the question. It was decided to erect sangars around the buildings and a loop-holed passageway from the main redoubt to the quarters on the hill. Hence the wireless walls of song and history came into being. Boulders of all sizes and shapes were on the site, and gangs of Chinese and Solomon Islanders from nearby plantations were employed clearing the field of fire up to the edge of the thick forest, and carting stones for the garrison. The latter now consisted of a detachment of Artillery with its two Norden-feldts (which had proceeded by aid of bullock waggons) under page 125Lieut. Reed; a Medical detachment under Surgeon Captain Tapper; a mixed company of Railway Engineers and 3rd Aucklanders, and Lieut. McNab and a party of Engineers.

The work was hard and the hours long, but by the end of February it was completed.

Apia Wireless Station.

Apia Wireless Station.

All ammunition and supplies were sent to the Wireless Station, and provision was made for additional water supplies. All available transport between Apia and Mulifanua was brought in to prevent its falling into the hands of any hostile force.

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One afternoon, when the troops were busily engaged in the vicinity, a flywheel of one of the engines exploded; portions went through the roof and walls of the engine house, striking the mast 300 feet above ground level, carrying away two diagonals and bending one leg of the mast. Fortunately and miraculously no casualties occurred excepting to a Solomon Islander who was
The Wireless Garrison. Photo by A. J. Tattersall, Apia.

The Wireless Garrison. Photo by A. J. Tattersall, Apia.

working 100 yards away. He was struck by a flying fragment of the wheel and had his leg badly fractured. The native was firmly convinced that, as he was maimed, he would be certain to be killed, according to tribal custom, and great difficulty was experienced in persuading him otherwise, and that a Government position would be found for him. The repairs to the mast were later effected by the staff.

On 30th January "Encounter" again made her appearance inside the reef, but sailed within two hours after a conference between Captain Lewin and Colonel Logan.

page 127

A very dry spell of weather was now experienced, and nearly all water for the troops had to be carted in horse-drawn water-carriers. The latter being in short supply, the task proved a somewhat arduous one, and the private in charge—a prominent New Zealand barrister—could be seen early and late perched on his water cart in an endeavour to meet the demands.

An epidemic of ringworm appeared and spread very rapidly, all affected being segregated in camps. Here the time hung very heavily, the effects of the inaction and the nature of the affliction not tending to improve the state of mind of the stricken.

On 9th January a company of the 5th Regiment, with two machine-guns, under the command of Major Cowles, proceeded for a few days to Malua, the famous headquarters of the London Missionary Society. The troops were quartered in the huts usually occupied by the students, and delighted the natives by their drills and the work of the machine-guns. The station included a fine church, a printing works, a training college for native Samoan missionaries, the whole under the direction of the Rev. J. W. Hills. The mission house, of cool concrete walls and heavy native thatched roof, set on one of the many breezy points overlooking the lagoon, was a product of long experience in the Tropics, and no doubt assisted materially in maintaining the health of the missionary, who, with his wife, had devoted a life-time in the service of the Samoans. The station has an interesting history, having been used as a hospital during native wars, and it flew the Red Cross when the German cruisers were off the island in the previous September.

The College was instituted for the purpose of training native missionaries, who, on completion of their courses, left Samoa for some far-away island in the Pacific to carry their message and—prior to the German occupation—reverence for the British flag. On the Sunday Mr. Hills invited the troops to service in the Samoan church. It was with difficulty that he carried on, for he had not preached in English for eleven years. At the conclusion of the service the National Anthem was sung page 128
Samoa's War Graves; Members of the Samoan Relief Forces,

Samoa's War Graves; Members of the Samoan Relief Forces,

page 129and the missionary, overcome with emotion, hid his face in his hands—his long years of humiliation were over.

On the following day the command returned to Malifa, the men having benefited to no little extent by even so small a change.

In February a diversion was caused by a visit from H.I.J.M.S. "Nisshin," and for a day the Jap. sailors swarmed over the town and its vicinity in their characteristic fashion.

During this month also the O.C. Troops and 100 men of the pa Regiment marched to Solosolo to accept the invitation of the native chiefs there to attend a feast. For three days and nights they were the guests of the natives and were treated to much hospitality.

Very high winds set in towards the end of the month and brought much-needed rain. The "Talune" (Transport No. 16), which had been lying rusting in harbour for over a month in anticipation of an early embarkation, was forced to leave port as her anchors were dragging, and, it being the hurricane season, she was taking no chances.

Conditions now became very trying for the troops. News had been received that our Main Body men had received their baptism of fire on the Suez, and the great desire was to be moving further afield. A medical examination of the men at the various camps showed a marked deterioration in the large numbers of immature men, a goodly number being anaemic, and of these a proportion showed signs of cardiac weakness. But, no doubt, with the majority, the general falling off was through "Hope Deferred Making the Heart Sick." By the end of February admissions to hospital were being registered at the rate of some 80 per week.