CHAPTER 14 — THE PACIFIC
NEW ZEALAND troops in the Pacific were employed in two major rôles: first, as garrison troops in the defence of Fiji, Tonga, and Norfolk, and later, as the 3rd Division, in amphibious landings on the Japanese-held islands of Vella Lavella, the Treasury Group, and Nissan (Green Islands).
In the first defensive phase, small forces with inadequate equipment had the difficult task of preparing defences and then doing permanent sentry and coastwatching duty on the beaches, with the unpleasant knowledge that their presence might discourage but certainly could not withstand a determined Japanese attack. The task of the individual chaplains with these small forces was hard, for it was difficult to keep morale high as welfare and recreational facilities were small, and there was no well established Chaplains' Department to give advice and administrative support. Unfortunately the work of the chaplains with these garrison forces has been recorded in no documents and an account of it has had to be omitted from this history.
The 3rd Division was formed in Fiji in 1942. On being relieved by American troops it moved back to New Zealand, where the seventeen chaplains with the force had a chance to get to know their men and make arrangements for their future work. The Division moved to New Caledonia at the end of 1942 and made its headquarters at Bourail; later, in separate brigade groups, units saw action on Vella Lavella (September 1943), the Treasury Group (October 1943), and Nissan Island (February 1944).
The Division had to face the problem of great distances, as any large-scale map of the Pacific will show, and close contact was made difficult through the force being usually divided into three groups—Divisional Headquarters, 14th Brigade, and 8th Brigade. There were constant delays in the arrival of warlike stores and welfare supplies, which had to travel by sea and air, and much page 116 confusion was caused by the different systems of priorities used by United States and Dominion forces serving in that theatre.
The climate of New Caledonia was tropical, roads were few and bad, and the scenery a mixture of forbidding hills and monotonous vegetation consisting largely of the stunted naiouli tree. Large parts of the island are uninhabited and, apart from Noumea, there were no towns with facilities for leave.
Because the Division had to be split into many parts fifteen chaplains above the normal Divisional establishment were appointed. There was a permanent chaplain with each of the two Field Ambulances which, owing to their isolation, had frequently to act as small General Hospitals.
The biggest problem the chaplains had to face was the question of morale. Many soldiers had enlisted with the hope of serving in the Middle East and were disappointed when they were posted to the Pacific. Many had already spent dreary months on garrison duty in out-of-the-way places and were pessimistic about the chance of the 3rd Division seeing action. Indeed their fears were largely realised for it was not till August 1943 that the Division moved into the battle area in Guadalcanal.
In December 1943, Bishop Gerard, repatriated from Italy a few months earlier, paid an official visit to the Division at the invitation of the GOC. He conducted a number of confirmations and gave many interesting talks on the early years of the 2nd Division in the Middle East and his experiences as a prisoner of war. In the following year, when Padre Liggett relinquished the position of Senior Chaplain, Bishop Gerard was asked to succeed him. At that time it was still thought possible that the 3rd Division might continue its active rôle and existence, but the pressing demand for men in other services and in industry, following the need for increased production in New Zealand to supply United States forces in the Pacific and the heavy drain on manpower, made it impossible for the Dominion to maintain two divisions and the 3rd Division was disbanded. The New Zealand troops were then concentrated in New Caledonia before their return to New Zealand, and in the difficult days of reorganisation and disbandment the Bishop once again showed his great qualities as a leader.
Where troops were stationed in one place for any long period the chaplains had a chance of creating a regular organisation, and it was found possible to build a number of garrison chapels. They were made from local timber and material supplied by the Engineers. The expense was met by the Patriotic Fund and much of the labour was voluntary. Padre W. R. Castle2 was largely responsible for one at Base and there were others at the Base Reception Depot, at the 4th General Hospital, and at the Roadhouse in New Caledonia. Memorial chapels were also built on the sites of the soldiers' cemeteries on Vella Lavella and Mono Island.
Contact with Missionaries
One or two chaplains were recruited from New Zealanders serving with Christian missions in the Pacific, while several other missionaries were able to help the Army in different ways. One of page 118 these, the Rev. A. H. Voyce,3 gave much valuable information about Bougainville to the Americans. Native churches were often used for Church parades, and the troops were greatly impressed by the results of missionary work. Many a soldier. lukewarm in his religion, was challenged by the simple inquiry of a native: ‘You a Jesus man? Me a Jesus man.’
In New Caledonia the French pastor, M. Ariège, often lent his church for Army services, and he and his wife made numerous New Zealanders welcome in their home. In September 1943 the little missionary yacht Bishop Patteson landed the Rt. Rev. W. H. Baddeley, DSO, MC, Bishop of Melanesia, at Guadalcanal, and he came ashore to visit the New Zealand troops. He conducted several confirmations and made a profound impression when he preached at a big morning service organised by the 14th Brigade. At Vella Lavella, the resident missionary, the Rev. A. W. E. Silvester of the New Zealand Methodist Church, who had remained through the Japanese occupation, welcomed the Americans and New Zealanders as they arrived. The soldiers were so impressed by the work of the mission that they subscribed a very large sum for its re-establishment.
The normal work of a chaplain outside the battle area has already been described in this book, but conditions in the Pacific differed much from those in the Middle East. It was possible to hold only one Divisional conference, a two-day affair which took place early in 1943 at Bourail. Members of the YMCA and AEWS4 were present, and valuable advice was give by the GOC and other officers on the chaplains' work in action.
On Sundays the chaplains sometimes had to take services at different places separated by as much as fifty miles, and the journeys had to be made in jeeps over the rough jungle tracks. The enervating climate put mental and physical energy at a premium: during the day the chaplains would help to erect recreational huts or clear spaces for deck-tennis and basketball courts, while at night they ran libraries and organised lectures and concerts.page 119
Many of the working hours of the day had to be spent in training with the troops. For example, it was essential that the chaplain had as much practice as the combatant soldier in the difficult business of beach landings and jungle fighting. Much training for this was done during a temporary halt in the New Hebrides. The men had to climb down cargo nets slung over the side of the troopship into the small landing craft waiting below. These small boats were then driven through the surf to the beach, and as soon as they grounded the crouching troops had to spring out, struggle through the shallow water, and then, heavily laden with their full battle equipment, rush across the sand to the shelter of the jungle. At the end of the exercise the performance was repeated in reverse, and it was no easy business at the end of the day, when muscles were tired and the equipment seemed to have grown heavier, to get back on to the troopship. As the little landing craft was tossed up and down by the swell it was not easy to get a firm hold of the net and, once on it, difficult to hold on when the wind blew it away from the side of the ship. On one of these occasions Father Ryan5 fell backwards into the landing craft and was hurt. The news of his injury was widely exaggerated until his death was unofficially reported; his many friends were greatly relieved when, two weeks later, they met ‘Father Bill’ as alive and well as ever.
In Guadalcanal, after the troops had been nearly a year away from home, many domestic problems arose, and the chaplain spent much of his time in heart-to-heart conversations and in the composition of difficult letters to New Zealand. But by far the biggest problems were those caused by distance, the climate, and the shortage of welfare supplies and facilities for leave.
Contact with the Americans
Because of the wide dispersal of the troops the chaplains had little opportunity of meeting other chaplains though some had very happy relations with their colleagues in the United States Army. Many New Zealand chaplains bought quantities of welfare material from the American Post Exchanges until a Divisional order forbade this practice. The American chaplains were most helpful in looking after New Zealand wounded in American hospitals, while page 120 the Senior American Chaplain in the South Pacific, Colonel Kronke, gave valuable assistance in the early days in New Caledonia. In many places, notably at Noumea and on a United States seaplane tender anchored in Blanche Bay in the Treasuries, New Zealand chaplains regularly conducted services for Americans when an American chaplain was not present to look after certain denominations.
For the New Zealand troops of the 3rd Division, fighting in the Pacific consisted chiefly of assault landings from landing craft and patrol battles in the jungle; at all times the troops were subject to air attacks. The Japanese made full use of the poor visibility in the jungle to infiltrate small groups of men behind our lines and across our communications, where they did much damage by sniping and occasional ambushes. At night no movement was possible and the men lay alert in their trenches, often half full of rain water. The jungle at night was alive with noises, any of which might be made by an insect, a bird, or a Japanese soldier, so that the New Zealanders fired at any unusual movement or sound.
The chaplain faced many problems. His own life was often in considerable danger; one or two chaplains carried revolvers, though there is no record of their use at any time. He had to combat the appalling and enervating humidity of the climate, the difficulty and dangers of movement, and the scanty supply of welfare and medical provisions.
Many spoke of the good work done by the chaplains in action, especially that of Padres D. L. Francis,6 J. R. Nairn,7 and J. S. H. Perkins8. In the fierce fighting at Falamai Beach, on Mono Island, Padre O. T. Baragwanath9 set a splendid example and received mention in despatches. Another chaplain, Padre G. D. Falloon,10 was with the 35th Battalion when it went into action on Vella page 121 Lavella, and for his work in that campaign he was awarded the Military Cross and also mentioned in despatches. The citation to this award pays tribute to his ‘complete disregard of his own safety in order to succour the sick, wounded, and fighting soldier. In spite of the presence of the enemy he carried heavy loads of comforts, unescorted, to the forward troops under the worst possible jungle conditions, and his part in holding the morale of the men cannot be assessed too highly. He personally assisted and supervised the bringing in of all killed in action, overcoming almost insurmountable difficulties…. His fearlessness and presence in the front line was an inspiration to all….’
The Pacific chaplains had to face long, weary months in training areas, subject to difficult conditions in climate and country. They had many administrative problems and, after a short period in action, had also to share the general disappointment when their division was disbanded. In addition, they faced many hardships and dangers only to find that their own countrymen sometimes considered the Pacific campaign of little importance or interest when compared with the 2nd Division's work in the Middle East.
4 Army Education and Welfare Service.