CHAPTER 25 — The Last Days
The Last Days
The 9th and 43rd Brigades had had enough for a while and 5 and 6 Brigades came through to relieve them of what threatened to be yet one more enemy stand, on the Idice River. The Divisional Cavalry was relieved by 23 Battalion and was taken back to Medicina. It felt that it had earned a rest, and indeed it had. It had fought incessantly and hard for the last six days. It had suffered 28 killed and 131 wounded: more than a quarter of its total for the whole war. Those that had seen the full distance, by the time the Gaiana was secured, had found themselves exhausted. One water barrier after another had sorely tried their physical strength. The timing of a creeping barrage cannot be slowed down just because the men behind it are finding the ground features slowing their advance and demanding the utmost of their endurance to keep up. Natural obstacles have to be overcome by expending extra effort. These men had crossed one water barrier after another. When their boots were filled with water they had to carry the extra weight. When their trouser legs were clogged with clinging mud, they just had to use more effort each time one foot was dragged past the other. If a man found himself floundering in deep mud in a canal, his mates simply had to drag him along: anything to keep up with the barrage.
These men were extremely fit and it was not going to need much to renew their strength. Two days of rest and two nights of undisturbed sleep worked wonders, and at mid-morning on 22 April the Divisional Cavalry was rolling forward again with the rest of the brigade following up the Division's advance. The other brigades had gatecrashed the Idice River, overrunning its defenders before they had any warning of visitors—that is to say, visitors in khaki—and Bologna had fallen to the Polish Corps. The enemy was now in full retreat to the Po.
The Divisional Cavalry spent the first night about seven miles north of Bologna, a night enlivened by a visit from an enemy plane which dropped butterfly bombs, wounding four men; it then moved on again on the 23rd to near the bank of the Reno River, taking care this time to disperse more widely. This was becoming increasingly possible as the country of the Romagna, page 409 so intensely planted with its pollarded trees and its thousands of rows of grape vines, gradually gave way to open fields and the stately poplars of Lombardy.
The further the advance went the more evident were the signs of urgent retreat by the enemy, the route being marked increasingly by his discarded equipment. At one crossroads there was a Tiger tank, genuinely knocked out. All along the way there were burnt-out cars, burnt-out lorries, guns rolled in the ditches and blown up, and the hated nebelwerfers destroyed for ever by their owners. There were carts and wagons up-ended in the fields and their horses let loose to roam. For a happy hour or two near the village of Bondeno, beyond the Reno River, the men of Div Cav, if only in their imagination, became genuine cavalry again. Everybody found himself a horse to ride about in the cool of the evening after a hot dusty day.
While this was going on, the forward brigades, the 5th and 6th, had reached the Po and were preparing to force a crossing. It was 24 April. By dawn on Anzac Day a crossing had been made and, as the reserve brigade lazed gratefully in the warm sun, the bridgehead was enlarged and a pontoon bridge was built behind it. The 9th Brigade began to cross on the 26th, Div Cav being the last to go. At midday the whole battalion packed up and marched across country to the river, where it came upon an impressive sight, two hundred yards of water with its long row of pontoons to the far bank. By the late afternoon every squadron was across and everybody had been found billets for the night with the willing and friendly villagers on the north bank. The whole division was well past the goal which had tantalised every man since the day the New Zealanders landed at Taranto.
The New Zealand Division's last Italian offensive fully demonstrated the tremendous weight and the smashing hammer blows that this efficient fighting team could deliver. Four brigades (including the Gurkhas) of veteran infantry and a brigade of their own heavy tanks; a divisional artillery trained to a degree of superb accuracy and capable of bringing down, and sustaining, a rain of deadly high explosive; all these went to make up what Churchill had termed ‘this ball of fire’. With it, and in matching efficiency, went the best that could be trained in administration, Intelligence, medical and signal services, and an Army Service Corps, all of which worked as dedicated men. But in this last offensive those of the Division's men who stood head and shoulders above them all were the Engineers, the page 410 men who, with their bulldozers and their bridging trains, came forward with each first wave of infantry to carve away the approaches and build the bridges to let the full weight of the support come on. And when that was done, they rolled forward with the advance, like men possessed, to do it again and again. The advance across the rivers was triumph and victory to the Engineers.
It was now time for 9 and 43 Brigades to take their spell in the lead. Was this going to be the last change-over? The 5th and 6th Brigades had got across the next river, the Adige, and yet another bridge was being built with feverish haste. As soon as this was completed, 9 Brigade was to relieve the 6th, and 43 Brigade was to take over from the 5th.
Divisional Cavalry and 27 Battalions were away by midday on the 27th, and by 5 p.m. were across. With A and B Squadrons in the lead, Div Cav pushed ahead unopposed in the dark until it was halted by the Fratta Canal. The Division's cavalry, 12 Lancers, had not been idle, however, and had been probing energetically here and there throughout the whole advance. As a result, a route forward had been found further west, and accordingly, early on the 28th the Div Cav, mounted on RMT lorries, with C Squadron now in the lead, supported by part of B Squadron, 20 Armoured Regiment, made a non-stop run from Castelbaldo to Casale di Scodosia, and then eastwards to Ospedaletto.
The pressure of the previous week was beginning to show results in the speed of the advance. The previous evening had been miserable. Everybody in the leading squadrons had got wet to the skin clambering through one canal after another, and now, with the rain coming down, had to dig in and suffer a wet night. The enemy had been pulling out just ahead all the time and could not be brought to grips. Now the advance was going forward at lorry pace. At every hamlet and crossroads the people were out laughing and cheering and throwing flowers. At one place even a brass band had turned out to play them on the way. The immediate objective was Este, where the Lancers had found a vital bridge intact. General Freyberg was back in the mood of his old desert days and was up to his old desert tricks too. He was right up at the front ‘cracking the whip’. Indeed, Duncan MacIntyre was finding life a little harassing with a General offering a good deal of advice on how he should handle his squadron at every mile or so, whenever they bumped another group of retreating paratroopers. But page 411 each time, the same paratroopers eased the situation for him with a good burst of spandau to put everybody to ground, thus giving him a chance to get on with his own plans. They were just the same, but a mere major is not really in a position to say: ‘Yes Sir. That's what I'm trying to do if only you'll leave me alone!’
Major Studholme relates how, when B Squadron was further back down the column at this time, the GOC 6 Armoured Division (Major-General H. Murray) sought him out to ask if he knew where General Freyberg was, and on being told that he was most probably leading the advance, said: ‘Oh yes. I thought he would be.’
At Ospedaletto both A and C Squadrons had to dismount and fight quite a little battle, for the enemy there had taken to using faustpatronen against the tanks as well as machine guns. Before the squadrons moved on again they had added another fifty to the tally of prisoners. Once this rearguard was tidied up, more pace could be put on as the axis of the advance was now along the main roads. Este was rushed and the charges removed from the vital bridge before they could be blown, and the column rolled on through the next village, Monselice. A hurried conference was held at nightfall and it was decided to keep up full pressure regardless of the fact that the New Zealand Division had leaped out far ahead of the general line of advance.
A quick, powerful thrust was now demanded by the General. He had the enemy completely disorganised and rattled and was determined to exploit this to the full. All day the Division had been ‘bumping’ scattered resistance, which was being merely brushed aside into the hills to the west. And for all anybody in the Division cared they could walk across the Alps to Berchtesgaden or be swallowed up by the mountains and perish on the way. Even now the axis of advance was tactically in a very bad condition. Its immediate left flank was wide open to counter-attack from the hills of Colli Euganei, and the enemy was most certainly there. But judging by the number of coloured Very flares he was putting up, his was obviously a demoralised and scattered army. Padua was the night's goal, non-stop. And even on the way there the enemy was found to be so disorganised that an extraordinary situation developed. The Divisional Cavalry column overtook and ran right through a complete supply column of horse-drawn transport belonging to 4 Parachute Division, without its marching troops even appearing to page 412 be aware that they were not being overtaken by their own retreating tanks and lorries. Not a shot was fired. They were just passed, ignored, and left behind.
The 20th Armoured Regiment had put tanks in front to replace the armoured cars of 12 Lancers during the hours of darkness. Immediately behind these came B Squadron, Div Cav, with its troopers riding facing outwards, their rifles and Tommy guns and Brens at the ready. Thus they arrived in Padua. Major Studholme records:
‘We arrived in Padua about midnight or early in the morning. The place was quite dead but somewhere high up a shutter opened and a voice called “Who is there?” in Italian. Our chaps replied, and within minutes the city was in an uproar. Lights went on and people poured out into the streets with bottles of wine, cognac, etc., and all were wanting to know why we hadn't come before, which didn't please those of us who had been tripping through vineyards and plodding through mud and canals for the last year or two!’;
Padua had been liberated by the Italian partigiani some days before and it had been a big worry to them to know when the Inglési were coming to consolidate its capture. In the meantime much opportunity had been taken to make retribution on the Fascists, and to settle old scores with personal enemies. Studholme relates how a South African, an escaped PW who had been with the partisans, begged from him his pistol and just three rounds. He volunteered the promise that he would return with the revolver by dawn. He did. There were no rounds with it though, and the South African merely remarked that he was well satisfied to have had the chance to pay three long-standing debts. Studholme also tells of some Italians who one morning sought to borrow for a few minutes from the squadron cooks the rope they were using to secure gear to their lorry. They wanted to haul a Faciste up by the neck on a post over the street. But they had to go elsewhere. B Squadron might have lost its breakfast.
The ebullience of the Italians rises to great heights, and rises quickly. But it also calms down quickly. April the 29th was a Sunday and, after the fury of excitement at midnight, it seemed so strange to see people calmly going off to Mass in the morning. Certainly they were still delighted with their liberatori, and certainly the partisans were busy rounding up Germans. Some of C Squadron, in fact, had thrown down their bedrolls on the floor of a house, in the company of some page 413 German soldiers very keen to avoid falling into Italian hands. But on the whole the city wanted as soon as possible to continue its normal daily routine, even though fighting was still going on for bridges in the northern outlet.
Major Tanner took command of the battalion and at midday the pressure was on again, with 12 Lancers, 20 Armoured Regiment, and 27 and Div Cav Battalions in the van. The Divisional page 414 Cavalry was allotted Route 11 in the direction of Venice, but it still had to fight, before getting there, its last engagement of any consequence during the war. At the village of Mira one more group of Germans was encountered which was foolish enough to open fire. No. 12 Troop (Second-Lieutenant Blair3) was debussed and sent off to clear the way. Blair managed to work his troop on to the flank of the position so that his Brens enfiladed the Germans in the ditches where they had taken up positions, and cut them to ribbons. About 140 prisoners were taken in this sharp little engagement and a good twenty or thirty killed or wounded. The Divisional Intelligence Officer, Major Cox,4 wrote a graphic description (in The Road to Trieste) of the damage done as he saw it a short while later, after the Divisional Cavalry was back on its lorries and away, though he fell into the error of attributing the action to Bren carriers with Browning guns.
Thirty miles an hour along a main road was now quite a common occurrence. At the Gaiana, 3000 yards had seemed a long way, but since then daily distances had stretched: 10 miles, 17 miles, and now 54 miles had been notched up for a single day's advance. The whole thing was developing into one triumphal race. After leaving Mira the column raced on, through Mestre (‘We're not going to Venice: not yet. Tiny's sending the 22nd down to grab the flashest pub in Italy for us’), and bowled along Route 14 headed for Trieste. All the way the people rushed out overjoyed, frantically waving, throwing kisses, throwing flowers. Every bell in Italy seemed to be ringing, clanging furiously on every tower, on every church. Whenever the column stopped the troops were mobbed. They were embraced by men, kissed by the girls, given bread rolls, wine, fruit, flowers, flags, and kissed by more girls. And this went on all the way to the Piave River.
The Piave bridge had been destroyed by the RAF some months before and only a ferry service had been operating. But there was to be no halting the advance. One company of 22 Battalion had crossed straight over immediately on arrival. The 12th Lancers and 27 Battalion were now due to take over the lead, so Div Cav was able to take a spell until mid-afternoon on the 30th, when its turn came to be ferried across. Collapsible page 415 boats had been brought into use here, so the whole operation was done in plenty of time to set about arranging billets for the night with the villagers in San Dona di Piave.
By eight o'clock on 1 May the brigade was ready to begin the last run of all. The Lancers were away; the Divisional conference was completed; 22 Battalion and 20 Armoured Regiment tanks were rolling up Route 14 at full speed. The Divisional Cavalry swung into the column, with 27 Battalion behind it.
By now there was little doubt in anybody's mind that there was any fighting left. This was to be only a drive, through villages filled with happy excited people, to Trieste. The column rolled forward at a good pace, over the Livenza River to San Giorgio. But suddenly, during the early part of the afternoon, the tone of the whole advance changed. Whereas at one village the people were cheering and waving, at the next, the one across the Isonzo, they were glum and almost disinterested. True, they waved back, but not with the gay happiness of the past week. This was done with the grim, closed-fist salute of the Yugoslav partisans. The Italian flags were flying still but now they all carried in the middle the red star of the Yugoslav Communists. As if in keeping with the spirit of the day, even the clouds began to frown grey, and by the time Monfalcone had been reached, it was raining hard. The 22nd Battalion, out ahead, had yet another brush with enemy troops and the Divisional Cavalry had to deploy out to the left of the town, but the partisans had already done all the tidying up needed. So the battalion sought out billets in Monfalcone for the night.
First thing on 2 May, 12 Lancers took the lead, followed by tanks from 20 Armoured Regiment, then 22 Battalion, more tanks, and then Div Cav. Progress was slowed a little by mines, until the column reached the crossroads at Sistiana. Here 22 Battalion continued along the coast road with some of the tanks, while Div Cav with the others took the more tortuous inland road that led round to the rear of Trieste. The very last rearguard of all was encountered at Prosecco and produced some mortaring and some shots from one of the battalion's own six-pounders which, complete with portée and crew, had fallen into enemy hands only the night before.
One man later described how the portée had needed to pull into a side road to attend to the motor and, in following on after dark, had missed the New Zealand fernleaf sign. They had stopped and asked a soldier at the side of the road the page 416 inevitable question of the day, ‘Dove Trieste?’, only to realise too late that it was a German who replied in English: ‘Trieste is there; and for you the war is over.’ That was not quite so. They all escaped the very next day. Two of them seized the first chance, during a dive-bombing raid, and so, in a very short space of time indeed, were able to give valuable information to the leading cars of 12 Lancers which picked them up as they came along. The rest hid up in a house until things had quietened down the next day.
This resistance was soon overcome by the tanks which blasted enemy-held houses, while A Squadron dismounted to deal with the infantry. The enemy broke and disappeared, Div Cav collecting only a few of them. Once the column was in sight of Trieste, it was found that both civilians and partisans began to mob the vehicles once again, and these Italians were responsible for preventing a last demolition which was on the road from the hills down to the city. They found and removed the fuses, so that, by seven in the evening, the Divisional Cavalry was at the end of its Italian saga.
The 22nd Battalion had entered the city over an hour before and had begun negotiations for its surrender. The streets were full of Italians frantically welcoming the New Zealanders, and of Yugoslavs parading round trying to appear as possessive as they could. The 22nd Battalion was attending to the German troops who wanted to avoid surrendering to the Yugoslavs, and 20 Armoured Regiment attended to a group of fanatics in the city Law Courts who refused to surrender to anybody at all, so Div Cav moved on through the city to the southern approaches at Servola. Here the partisans had almost completed the job of mopping up, and all Div Cav really had to do that night was to find itself some billets.
The surrender of the German garrison in the castle in the middle of the city had been negotiated late in the day but, owing to the hostile attitude of the Yugoslavs outside, 22 Battalion found it impossible to evacuate these Germans until the next morning. Once this was done Div Cav was detailed to take over the occupation of the castle. As well as this, the unit had orders to hold the port, which the Yugoslavs seemed most reluctant to hand over to Fifteenth Army Group.
For three days the situation was electric, everybody standing ready in battle order until Tito's men had digested the fact that the New Zealanders were strong, resolute people who were going to be neither bluffed nor easily defeated if it came to page 417 open fighting. By the 6th the tension had eased just a little and the Divisional Cavalry was relieved by a battalion of 363 Regiment, 91 US Division, and moved into billets at Barcola Here the beautiful Riviera coastline and the many sports facilities were very soon put to proper use by all ranks. Leave was granted by the day to Trieste and, once the bay had been swept for mines, swimming was allowed on the beaches. Summer dress was issued and, of course, immediately taken by everybody to the tailors to be altered into shapes most likely to catch the feminine eye. All the while the political situation remained grave. The local Yugoslav commander was refusing to withdraw to the Morgan Line east of the city, as previously arranged at a conference between Marshal Tito and Field Marshal Alexander. As a result, all ranks had to carry arms and ammunition outside their billets.
All its life the Divisional Cavalry had never looked for, nor especially wanted, the honour of being the first to arrive at the goal of any particular campaign, except perhaps the very last one of all. But when the unconditional surrender of all enemy troops in Italy was accepted on 2 May, some of the men did feel that it would have been a fitting gesture if a few of the older hands—just a token number—had been put back into some Staghounds to be in the van of the last victorious rush from the Po River, when the end had obviously come. But that gesture had not even been considered and the battalion had to be content to be one unit in the leading brigade. What Div Cav did resent, and they were not alone in this, was that instead of the European war ending in a climax of cheering and joy, as they had always visualised, it should have to simmer down into an atmosphere of mutual mistrust with a suspicious band of people from amongst their allies. To the average trooper it was unnecessary and unpleasant to have to wander about, after peace had been declared, cluttered up with his arms, especially as he wanted nothing more at the moment than to establish at least cordial terms with the many attractive and obviously not unresponsive daughters of the town.
Come what may, the port of Trieste had to be opened up as soon as possible since it was a vital link in the line of communication into Austria. The Divisional Cavalry marched back into the city on 20 May to relieve a battalion of the Scots Guards of its guard duties on the waterfront.
Though such comforts as a Battalion Headquarters quartered in the Albergo Savoia were a great help to the men, stern page 418 guarding of the port had to be done until there were sufficient numbers of the Navy to take full control. The troops in the meantime were not going to be denied all worldly pleasures, not with a city of such warm and friendly people all around them. All the squadrons held dances, and most cordial and successful functions they were. The highlight of one of these parties still bears describing. It centres round a practical joke played on one man. He must remain anonymous but, to appreciate the joke, we must first know the victim's character.
He is brave and honest, and very clean-living, as can be expected of one reared in a stern belief. His tongue was a stranger to even the mildest blasphemy; he neither smoked nor drank, though his beer and tobacco ration were always drawn and consumed gratefully by his mates. That he was gentle and kind and much liked in the battalion still did not, however, preserve him from the mischief of his friends, who had taken special delight in the reports of his misery when, early in the Italian campaign, he had been wounded in the rump. His agony had come, not so much from his wound, stoically endured, as from the light-hearted comments of the New Zealand sisters as they gazed upon his manly rear, never before so exposed.
In Trieste his mates had lured him to the squadron dance, as of course a mere spectator of the vinous revels, and then cunningly trapping him in a corner, had launched against him a sloe-eyed fire-ship of eminent desirability. Their victim, be it noted, is blue of eye, fair of hair, of ruddy open and cheerful countenance—just the answer to a Latin maiden's prayer. He had been, moreover, deceitfully represented as a timid seeker of feminine attention, and possessed of vast hoards of chocolate, milk, bully beef, and scented soap. Who then can blame this beautiful but frail creature, armed now, so she was assured, with the one English password that would gain for her all these, with perhaps a handsome prince as well, if she gently seized his arm and softly murmured: ‘Sleep. Slee-eep?’
Our hero's eye took on the look of a frightened fawn while, from his necktie to his eartips, he flushed scarlet with shame, then immediately went pale with fear. He adopted a Cumberland-style stance to keep his tormentress at bay, while his true tormentors rolled round the floor in a paroxysm of mirth. And the dire shock to his system may be gauged in his words, as a ribald ‘protector’ led him away, when he murmured faintly: ‘I nearly hit her. I nearly hit her.’ He went to no more dances.page 419
Even by the end of May, when the Divisional Cavalry was relieved by 24 Battalion, the political situation had still not settled down. June, however, was a more pleasant month, though there was an increasing restlessness to be rid of all this political mistrust, so that everyone could go home or get on with the job of defeating Japan. Within the Divisional Cavalry the 6th Reinforcements had left for home, as also had Colonel Williams, who had come back from hospital to say goodbye.
In the meantime the men of the battalion, now in a pleasant camp near Prosecco, were enjoying day trips into Austria, and some were managing leave into Venice. They gladly competed in athletic sports meetings and in sailing; and the battalion rowing team succeeded in winning the divisional rowing regatta. They were strange days; a mixture of happy relaxation; of eating strawberries and cherries, and going to the Opera, and yet of firm vigilance all the time. Nor had fate ceased to deliver cruel blows. In the middle of June, just as Div Cav was moving out to occupy positions on a line which the Yugoslavs had consented to respect, the A Squadron quartermaster's truck collided with a railcar on a level crossing. Sam Cornish5 and Jim Trundle6 were both killed. And to make matters doubly sad, Cornish, like Warrington, was one of the unit's ‘originals’.
The original intention was to send New Zealand troops to fight under the South-East Asia Command, and at higher levels much discussion and correspondence was going on. The Division began to move south to near Lake Trasimene, the Divisional Cavalry leaving on 21 July for its area just east of Perugia.
It was midsummer, a hot, dry, simmering, dusty summer. The Divisional Cavalry fared quite well under such conditions, being given a fairly shady area only about fifty yards from the banks of the Tiber; and as soon as they arrived there many men went straight to the river to bathe or to wash a few clothes. But within hours the river had been put out of bounds. It was discovered to have a mild typhoid contamination.
Everything seemed to be combining to make life frustrating. Despite liberal allowances of leave to Rome, Florence and Venice, and even overland trips to England, despite the good proportion of men being allowed to go to a rest camp on the Adriatic coast near Senigallia, life soon became one of boredom and impatience. New Zealand was the place everyone wanted to page 420 see, unless they went to India to get ready to fight the Japanese. Though shipping was scarce, a steady stream of men was being marched out of all units, according to length of service, to be sent back home.
Japan accepted unconditional surrender in the middle of August. The war was now completely over and the plans for J Force now came in for some changes. It was decided to send about four thousand New Zealanders to join the occupation forces. These were not going to be taken from random volunteers within the Division, but 9 Brigade was to remain in existence for the job. It would consist almost entirely of men of the 13th, 14th and 15th Reinforcements and would remain in Japan for six months before being steadily replaced by volunteers from New Zealand. The Divisional Cavalry, now under command of Lieutenant-Colonel MacIntyre, was to retain its identity and was even to reassume the title of ‘Regiment’. The black beret was to be kept as the official head-dress and the green identity patches were also to remain.
In the meantime the men were chafing badly against boredom and inertia. Reaction was setting in after the fighting, and idleness was hard to accept. The wiser men turned to the Education and Rehabilitation Service for study as a first step back into civilian life, but everyone fretted at the delay. The General had been pressing hard for ships, but that alone could not produce them if they were not available. Towards the end of September he published an explanation of the delay to all ranks. A few days later the 9th Reinforcements had gone and, as the autumn drew on, the brigade moved to winter quarters under canvas near Florence.
J Force came into existence on 15 October under Brigadier Gentry, who was to retain command for a month until he handed over to Brigadier Stewart. Once it was a definite body, some effort could be made to settle down to serious training. All those who were not going to Japan were marched out to camps to wait their return home, and in Div Cav they were replaced by a brand-new D Squadron, entirely of Maoris. This was a delight to the regiment because nobody could really come up to the Maoris in plain parade-ground drill. Before the Japanese the New Zealanders had to appear as good as their fighting reputation. By 15 November, when the force paraded for General Freyberg during his last round of farewells, it drilled to a standard which drew praise even from him, and every man knew that his were never hollow words.page 421
All units were steadily handing in their equipment as part of their disbandment and enormous dumps were springing up which needed guarding. J Force was called upon to supply these, so life was not just one of dull routine. December was a remarkably mild month for the time of the year, there being little rain, no snow, and a reasonable amount of sunshine. All these things combined to make conditions for camp life and training more pleasant than was expected. There was plenty of football to be played and plenty of leave to Florence. Christmas and New Year came and went with traditional celebrations, D Squadron serving and eating their Christmas dinner after the manner of their own people.
A fortnight later the first stage of the move to Japan took place when all the heavy equipment left for Bari to be shipped, and a week later an advanced party left for Naples, sailing from there on 25 January 1946 on the MV Georgic. From then on uncertainty and rumour began steadily to be replaced with action and movement. On 6 February there was a regimental parade for Brigadier Stewart, who addressed the men on their new duties in Japan. The following day they left Florence for the last time.
The actual move to Japan needs little description at this point of the story. One troop movement is much the same as another. There was a bout of influenza while waiting in a transit camp near Naples, but most of the men had recovered by the time for embarkation. The troopship, SS Strathmore, left Naples on 21 February, and though she called at Port Said, Port Tewfik, Colombo, Singapore and Hong Kong, there was no shore leave, even though she drew into the inner harbour at Singapore to disembark some hospital cases from an epidemic of measles which had broken out during the trip. Kure, the port of destination, was reached on 19 March, and for the Divisional Cavalry there was not much more travelling. The regiment was to take over from 67 Australian Battalion on the large island of Eta-Jima about four miles away.
The regiment did not disembark until the 23rd and that afternoon the men found themselves settling down in a large concrete building, lately a Japanese naval academy. These billets, in a setting of cherry trees, were walled off from the villages. The large parade ground was flanked with pine trees and a backdrop of mountains. Here the regiment took over from the Australians on a full ceremonial parade.page 422
Once the island had been fully patrolled and all information concerning dumps and installations collected, however, the Divisional Cavalry was instructed to hand over the garrison duties to 2 Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, while the regiment was sent to billets at Hirao. April was spent on various tasks. One squadron spent some time at Otake supervising the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war. Parties were detailed to supervise the Japanese elections and were most impressed by the manner in which they were received. The Japanese took the elections most seriously indeed. One corporal even found himself unexpectedly confronted with an invitation to deliver a lecture on Democracy to the women of a village who were about to have their first vote.
There were many forms of impromptu recreation to be discovered, rowing being perhaps the most popular; and pheasant shooting, though this often entailed tramping many fruitless miles over the hills. Picnics were arranged on Sundays with the sisters and nurses of 6 NZ General Hospital, who found it most pleasant to be quartered near so many willing cavaliers when they were not allowed to move about outside the hospital without male escort. Anzac Day was commemorated by a most impressive parade of some 2800 men of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, and was witnessed by several thousands, including a large number of civilians.
By May the regiment had settled in, with its permanent headquarters in the naval barracks at Mizuba. This was a very busy month indeed, entailing much movement of personnel. While C Squadron continued with its repatriation tasks, A Squadron was at Kure unloading supplies, and B Squadron moved to the densely populated area round the Hiraki arsenal, where it was occupied with patrol and garrison duties. Three of the squadrons in turn were detailed for guard duties on the Japanese repatriation trains on Kyushu Island. Over and above all this, time was found, with a month of fine weather, for much sport. There was swimming and yachting in whaleboats with improvised sails. There was much interest in the inter-squadron cricket, in baseball, basketball, and in athletics, whilst in the evenings an Australian cinema unit kept up a regular supply of films.
Colonel MacIntyre had been evacuated to hospital with appendicitis and Major Kerr, promoted lieutenant-colonel, took page 423 command during his absence. During this time, too, there was an undercurrent of excitement right through the regiment. Some of the men had been detailed as part of a Tokyo battalion, but they were suddenly disappointed to have this cancelled on the very eve of departure. But the disappointment was not long-lived. A draft of reinforcements was due to arrive from New Zealand under the command of a new CO, Lieutenant- Colonel Worsnop.7