19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 24 — Repatriation and Rehabilitation
Repatriation and Rehabilitation
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
By3 October 1945, the sixth anniversary of the formation of the 19th, many of its members were already back home. The rest were on their way to Florence, where within two months final repatriation arrangements would be completed. As a regiment the 19th, like the other units of the New Zealand Division, would drop its separate identity to complete homeward-bound drafts assembling at Advanced Base.
Repatriation was proceeding rapidly and smoothly. There was no doubt now about the future. For the majority it was a quick return to New Zealand. A few would do a further period of service with J Force, the New Zealand contingent with the occupation army in Japan. These men were singled out for special training even before they left the regiment.
The remainder made the most of their time in Italy, or took advantage of the leave scheme which allowed a small number of lucky ballotees to have a short stay in England. The trip was made in trucks across Europe to the channel ports of France, and then by boat to Southampton. For everyone there was the possibility of being home by Christmas, or at least an assurance of leaving Italy before the worst of the winter weather set in.
Meanwhile Florence was an excellent place to see out the waiting time. With visions of wives, sisters, and sweethearts waiting on the wharves in Wellington, men spent at well stocked Florentine shops most of the lire they had accumulated as pay or acquired in ways not provided for between the covers of that little red book which the battle-dress pocket was designed to accommodate.
Football was now in full swing, and there was plenty of competition, for there were many Allied units in the city page 527 area. The 19th had two representatives in the 2 NZEF team now touring the United Kingdom—Charlie Saxton and ‘Tubby’ Cook1—but none made the grade in the divisional teams selected to play the Springboks and the Tommies in the tremendous Berta stadium at Florence. The RSM (WO I Ken Perry), however, was the referee for most of these international fixtures. The whole regiment turned out to see some excellent Rugby.
Before the end of November the unit had split up. Each man on his way home had considered the carefully worded set of questions put to him by the Education and Rehabilitation Service officers working with returning drafts, and was aware that rehabilitation had a very pressing and personal application. Most men had their main problems sorted out before they arrived in New Zealand, and this preliminary mental exercise proved to be well worth while. Settling down could be expected to take some time, but to see so many ‘old digs’—men whom it had been hard to visualise in any role other than the one they had played while with the unit—already established in ‘civvy street’ gave a sense of urgency to the matter. Few men needed any longer than the discharge leave allowance before getting down to the job again, either the old one or something new.
It was not long before they began to hold reunions in various places throughout the country. These gave the opportunity to renew wartime friendships and to learn of the whereabouts of those whose names were well remembered. Was it strange that at these reunions the talk should seldom turn to war? The unit historian, moving from group to group in search of material, seldom heard mention of such historic names as Servia Pass, Karatsos, Ed Duda, Ruweisat, Perano, Cassino, Liri Valley, Florence, Rimini, or the Senio. Instead he would be more likely to hear such snatches of conversation as: ‘Two boys and a girl.’—‘Yes, Harry’s back in his old job.’—‘Got a rehab farm at Marton.’—‘I was Joe’s best man. Married a nice girl too.’—‘Fred’s in Auckland now, doing well too.’page 528
To these men the war was an interlude; yet they still take a great pride in their old unit, still keep in touch with the friends who served beside them. Realists, like the rest of the Division, they had cast away in time of emergency all they had cared for in the hope that they could preserve it, if not for themselves, then for their kin. These are the men who during the years from 1939 to 1945 had worked and trained as soldiers until they were able to do their duty, ‘holding three-fifths of the brain in reserve’. Instinctive fighters, they took a place equal with the best troops that either side could produce.
The battle honours of 19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment are to be granted to units of the Territorial Army. Not a few of the ex-members of the 19th still serve in the Territorial Force and do their part in passing down the high traditions of a unit that no longer exists. That something has been done officially to preserve the few relics of those days is shown by these two letters:
The 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment Association, Wellington Branch.
13th November, 1950.
At the last Annual General Meeting of the Wellington Branch of the 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment Association it was decided to return the enclosed flag to your unit for safe keeping.
This flag was presented by the Wellington Regiment (City of Wellington’s Own) to Wellington Company of the 19 NZ Battalion before its departure for the Middle East on the 6th January, 1940. The flag remained with the Wellington Company during the Greece and Crete campaigns and the Libyan campaign of 1941. The Battalion was converted into an armoured regiment in 1942 and the flag continued to be held at Regimental Headquarters until the Regiment was disbanded after the Italian campaign in 1945.
The flag has therefore seen nearly six years of active service and we trust it has not unworthily represented the Wellington Regiment during those years of war.
On behalf of the Wellington Branch of 19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment Association, I have the honour to ask you to accept this flag as a token of the close bonds which existed, page 529 and still exist, between members of the Wellington Regiment and members of the 19 NZ Battalion.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
[Signed] D. A. Caughley,
The 19th Battalion and Armoured
1 Bn The Wellington Regt (CWO),
29 Nov 50.
I wish to acknowledge your letter of the 13th November, 1950, and would be grateful also if you could convey to your Wellington Branch Association that I have received from you for safe keeping the flag which was originally presented by the Wellington Regiment (CWO) to the Wellington Company of the 19th NZ Battalion prior to your Battalion’s departure for Active Service in January, 1940.
In accepting the flag on behalf of the Wellington Regiment (CWO), I should like to say that it is a great honour for me to do so. The war history and achievements of the 19 NZ Battalion and then the 19 NZ Armoured Regiment are of course not unknown to The Wellington Regiment, and it is with great pride that we are now entrusted with a flag which had accompanied your Regiments in all their theatres of actions.
Your good wishes have been passed to present members of The Wellington Regiment and again on their behalf may I thank you and also assure you, that this flag has the Regiment’s blessing as a “traditional” treasure in its future safe-keeping.
[Signed] R. B. Dawson,
1 Bn The Wellington Regt. (CWO).
The 19th Battalion and Armoured
Nor are the men who did not come back forgotten by those who returned home safely. During the years which have passed since the end of the war, regimental associations and sub-associations have been active throughout the country. On 5 September 1952 the Christchurch Star-Sun printed an article, written by an ex-officer of the unit, which describes a memorial in Victoria Park, Cashmere Hills, to the 227 dead of 19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment. Four symbolic plantations, Atlantic cedars from the Atlas mountains of North Africa, Italian cypresses, Corsican pines (to represent Greece and Crete), and the Aleppo pine of Syria, are grouped around a large rock monument. The inscription on a plaque reads: ‘These trees were planted in memory of the men of the 19th Infantry Battalion and 19th Armoured Regiment who fell during the 1939–45 war.’
On 7 June 1953 an impressive dedication service conducted by Padre Somerville and widely attended by 19th men from all parts of the country was held at this unit memorial.
To these men, and to those of other units who died with them, we owe a debt which we can never repay. Those who served beside them are proud to have been their comrades in arms.