CHAPTER 4 — Concentration of the Division
Concentration of the Division
On the outbreak of war with Italy and the departure of the seven officers and 122 other ranks who were to become Corps Signals with Western Desert Force, the remainder of 2 New Zealand Divisional Signals left in Maadi Camp entered on a period of inactivity and boredom relieved only by a few ineffective Italian air raids on Cairo and the RAF station at Helwan. It was midsummer in Egypt and the heat and flies aggravated the sense of restlessness which both officers and men felt in their enforced inactivity. The coming of war had, of course, quickened certain activities in the camp, but these had little colour against the background of stories that commenced to filter back from the forward areas in the Western Desert, where British troops and New Zealand Signals were engaged in operations against the enemy.
When the news of Italy's declaration of war was received on 10 June, security measures were taken in Maadi Camp. All troops were confined to their unit lines and leave was suspended. Vehicles were moved to dispersal positions and all sleeping tents were struck and moved to an old disused quarry, known universally as Wog Gully, to the north of the unit lines and adjacent to the camp cinema.
The absence of the greater part of No. 1 Company with Western Desert Force left Divisional Signals in Maadi Camp with a total muster of six officers and seventy-one other ranks, excluding E Section with 4 Field Regiment. As there was no immediate prospect of the return of No. 1 Company, Lieutenant-Colonel Allen recommended to Divisional Headquarters that some other means of strengthening his unit should be adopted, for the meantime at any rate. His plan was that approximately a hundred men—preferably regimental signallers—should be withdrawn from other units of the First Echelon and trained in divisional signals trades to as high a standard as possible in the period available before the Division could be expected to take the field.page 61
This plan was accepted, and preparations began immediately to put it into practice, with the result that what was virtually the first Divisional Signal School in 2 NZEF commenced training in the unit's lines. Brigadier Puttick,1 temporarily in command of 2 NZEF while General Freyberg was in the United Kingdom, gave his immediate approval to the withdrawal of forty-four regimental signallers from infantry and artillery units for training in the two divisional signals key trades of operator and lineman. In the Brigadier's own words,‘We cannot afford the time [for certain administrative arrangements to be completed before the school commenced]. Every day may count. If necessary the concentration of the men in Divisional Signals lines must wait, the men living with their units…. I want the utmost possible drive put behind this scheme. Course must start not later than the 15th July.’
The school opened for training at 9 a.m. on 15 July and continued until 14 September, when the forty-four men undergoing instruction were absorbed temporarily into Divisional Signals. It was a profitable venture which tided the unit over the uncertain days of late 1940 when the fortunes of war had not yet fallen to General Wavell's outnumbered forces in the Western Desert.
In September the weather was noticeably cooler in Maadi Camp, especially at nights. Mosquitoes had become much more numerous and there was a marked increase in malarial infections. Early in the month the Division left Maadi for the Western Desert where, after a few days' bivouac at El Daba, it occupied an area at Maaten Burbeita, a few miles east of Headquarters Western Desert Force at Maaten Baggush. Burbeita was a pleasant change from the dreary drabness of Maadi Camp. Bathing parades were organised daily, the men being conveyed to the beaches, about two miles from the camp area, in unit transport.
Meanwhile J Section, under the command of Lieutenant Pryor, with Second-Lieutenant Holms2 as second-in-command, page 62 had been detached from Headquarters 4 Infantry Brigade and sent to the Western Desert to take up line-of-communication duties at El Daba. The section had left Maadi on 27 August and for about three weeks, with the assistance of twenty-three other ranks attached from 4 Indian Divisional Signals, Egypt Command Signals and 2 New Zealand Divisional Signals, had carried out the duties of area signals at Daba. There was a commodious network of underground passages and rooms for the line-of-communication headquarters there. The signalmen were quartered in EPIP tents, which were dug into the ground to a depth of almost three feet as protection against the Italian air raids on every second or third night.
J Section was at Daba for about three weeks only, but during that short time was responsible for certain line, wireless and despatch rider communications between Fuka, 30 miles to the west, and Ikingi Maryut, some 90 miles to the east, near Alexandria. Much of the permanent-line maintenance was done by Egyptian State Telegraphs linemen under the supervision of J Section, but there was plenty of work for all.
During its stay at Daba an unusual innovation was introduced into J Section's activities by one of the despatch riders, Signalman Helm,3 who was intensely interested in Oriental lore and was always poking about in out-of-the-way places in search of fresh knowledge. He had a remarkable capacity for striking up acquaintance with all sorts of people. As soon as J Section had settled in at Daba he had nosed out a nearby detachment of the Egyptian Camel Corps, and before many days had passed he and the Sudanese camel men were as thick as thieves. It was not long before he could not only ride a camel but had learned how to groom and care for the unpleasant beast.
One afternoon Helm suddenly appeared outside the section orderly room mounted serenely on a magnificent white camel. J Section had always been proud of its versatility, and on this occasion the opportunity to demonstrate it was promptly seized. Helm was given some despatches for Headquarters 2 New Zealand Divisional Signals, which was then in the Daba area and only a few miles away. Off he trotted on his camel, and arrived outside the headquarters just as the Adjutant emerged. page 63 The latter was very excited at the sight of one of the unit's signalmen perched cross-legged on the high saddle of his unusual mount, and immediately fetched the Colonel. Helm pronounced the Arabic word which caused the beast to lurch to its knees and ‘fold up’ so that its rider could alight. In high glee, the Colonel brought the divisional Intelligence Officer and persuaded him to expend one of his precious official films on the camel despatch rider.
By 19 September E and J Sections had rejoined 4 Infantry Brigade, which was then occupying the defensive ‘box’ at Burbeita. The brigade headquarters' area was pleasantly situated near the beach, and the men, who had much time to themselves, indulged in the usual recreational activities, which of course included a lot of swimming. During October, November and December, Signals took part in a number of brigade exercises in the area south of Garawla.
Meanwhile a reorganisation of Headquarters Divisional Signals had taken place as a result of the incorporation of the trainees from the recently disbanded Signal School. Signals New Zealand Division, the designation by which that part of the unit employed at Divisional Headquarters was to be known, now comprised six officers, two warrant officers, two staff-sergeants, two sergeants and 106 rank and file. The unit was organised into Headquarters, which comprised the CO, QM, Adjutant and 8 other ranks; Headquarters Company, commanded by Captain Vincent, consisted of A (wireless) Section, with 18 other ranks, under Lieutenant Borman,4 B (cable) Section, with 13 men, under Lance-Corporal Smith,5 D (operating) Section, with 52 men, under Sergeant Fargus, and M (maintenance) Section, with 10 men, under Lieutenant Wilkinson.
On 25 September the GOG and the GSO I (Colonel Stewart6) arrived at Headquarters New Zealand Division from page 64 Maadi, where they had arrived the previous day from the United Kingdom. Orders were given almost immediately for the Division to return to Maadi Camp, and the move took place three days later. Signals arrived at Maadi with Divisional Headquarters on the 29th. Some rearrangement of unit areas had taken place since August, and the men of Signals now found themselves in the old 4 Field Ambulance area in Duigan Road.
It was here that Captain Vincent first heard the sobriquet by which he had been known for some time by the troops. It was late on a hot afternoon when the unit arrived back in the camp in an unpleasantly warm and heavily dust-laden wind. The men were to be accommodated eight to an EPIP tent, of which only a few had been erected. There was some little confusion, and by the time the men had been fed the evening light was beginning to fail. Inside most of the tents the gear lay about in untidy heaps, while section officers and NCOs exhorted the men to straighten things up a little before the Captain's arrival on a rumoured inspection of the lines. In one of the tents Corporal Bennett7 was cajoling his men into some semblance of activity while he kept watch through the laced canvas entrance for the arrival of Captain Vincent, who meanwhile had approached unobserved and was peering through a convenient opening at the other end. The officer was just in time to hear Bennett say, ‘Come on chaps. Put a jerk into it—old Igree'll be here in a minute and there'll be hell to pay when he sees this mess.’ And so ‘Igree’8 he became and ‘Igree’ he remained, even when he returned to New Zealand at the end of 1941 to become OC Signal Wing at the Army School of Instruction at Trentham.
Military conscription was introduced in New Zealand on 22 June 1940. Intending volunteers were allowed a month's grace in which to offer their services, 22 July being the last page 65 day on which they could do so. Two months earlier, on 15, 16 and 17 May, the main drafts of the Third Echelon had marched into camp.
The training programmes at the mobilisation camps had been based on an estimate that the time available would not be less than eight weeks and might even be extended to twelve. The first fortnight was largely occupied with the issue of clothing, bedding, and equipment as they became available. Because of the wet weather at Trentham it became necessary to adjust programmes to enable training to be carried out in the men's quarters. There was a high incidence of sickness, including an influenza epidemic which lasted for three or four weeks. The directive for signals training also had to be amended, as it had been based, apparently, on the assumption that all signalmen in the contingent had had some previous training. This was not the case, some 60 per cent of the men having had no previous training whatever. This meant that more time had to be devoted to training in basic trade subjects than had been provided for in the original programme.
The Divisional Signals of the Third Echelon were trained in the Signal Wing of the Army School of Instruction under the direct control of Captain Heal9 and Lieutenant Horwood,10 both Regular officers of the New Zealand Staff Corps. During the first month the men received general training, in which route marches were a prominent feature. In the second month the programme expanded to take in individual training and trade training. Up-to-date equipment, which included four No. 9 wireless sets, a number of 408-watt charging sets, six and ten-line universal call switchboards, Fullerphones Mark IV, and telephone sets D Mark V, provided the men with an incentive to put all their energies into their new tasks. At that time, too, the contingent was going through a drill and ‘spit and polish’ phase, and much time was spent in squad drill, rifle exercises, and guard-mounting practice. Morse operating, a popular form of instruction during the normal training hours, page 66 took on a different complexion, however, when compulsory evening classes were introduced.
August opened with the bustle and hurry of embarkation arrangements and preparations for final leave. The men were sent on leave on the ist and returned to camp a fortnight later. At the time there was some doubt whether this was really to be ‘final’ leave, but on the return of the men to camp units began immediately to complete their embarkation preparations, and it seemed that the day of departure was not far off. The echelon was placed on active service as from 5 p.m. on 13 August. A farewell parade, consisting of a march through the streets of Wellington followed by a short farewell ceremony, was held on the 17th.
The Third Echelon Signals embarked at Wellington on 20 August on the Orcades, which sailed immediately for Lyttelton, where 26 Battalion and other units from Burnham Camp were to embark. But the sinking of the Turakina in the Tasman, some 260 miles west of New Plymouth, by a German raider on the 20th delayed the departure of the echelon from New Zealand, and the Orcades lay at Lyttelton for a week before the troops from Burnham embarked. At one stage it was contemplated that Signals should disembark and be accommodated at Burnham, but this proposal was dropped and the men remained on the ship, from which they were given daily leave ashore.
The 26th Battalion and 6 Field Ambulance embarked on the 27th and the Orcades left its moorings and anchored in the stream near the harbour entrance. She put to sea late that night, and joined the Empress of Japan and Mauretania at a rendezvous in Cook Strait at nine o'clock next morning. The convoy was escorted by HMS Achilles, which was joined by HMAS Perth next day. On the following day, however, the Achilles returned to New Zealand.
During the early part of the voyage, when a fairly heavy swell in the Australian Bight caused seasickness among many of the men, only elementary signal training was carried out on the Orcades. Actually, owing to the lack of adequate equipment aboard, little more than elementary training was possible.
Divisional Signals on the Orcades, numbering 112 all ranks, page 67 were under the command of Major Heal, with whom there were five other officers: Lieutenant Jory,11 a former Territorial officer, and Lieutenants Laugesen,12 Rose13 and Froude,14 and Second-Lieutenant Hultquist.15 There was one warrant officer, WO II Foubister,16 a Regular soldier of the New Zealand Permanent Staff who had been a signals instructor for a number of years, and who was eventually to become CO 2 New Zealand Divisional Signals in Italy. Four sergeants and 101 other ranks made up the remainder.
Third Echelon Signals completed the war establishment of Divisional Signals and consisted of G Section (I officer, I sergeant and 26 other ranks), L Section (2 officers, 2 sergeants and 33 other ranks), and a cable-section detachment of eleven men. Together with a similar detachment with the Second Echelon in the United Kingdom, this cable-section detachment would complete B (cable) Section, of which the major part was with the First Echelon. In addition there were one officer, one sergeant and two men as the first reinforcements for the Third Echelon Signals, and two officers and thirty other ranks who were reinforcements for Divisional Signals as a whole.
The convoy arrived off Fremantle at midday on 4 September and the men were given leave ashore that afternoon. The ships sailed again next day and passed through the tropics in fine weather and calm seas. Bombay was reached on the afternoon of 14 September. The transports anchored in the stream and preparations were commenced for the transhipment of troops and stores.page 68
While the stores were being transhipped the troops from the Orcades were taken ashore and accommodated at a transit camp in a sports stadium before embarking next day on the Ormonde. The transhipment was not carried out without some difficulties, and the move from the comfortable and well-found Orcades to the crowded and uncomfortable quarters of the Ormonde was not popular. The men found their new ship dirty, and made concerted complaints about the cramped and overcrowded quarters, unclean food, and the insanitary condition of the ship's latrines. Because of the continuous rain—it was just at the end of the monsoon season—the men were prevented from spending their time on deck, and their enforced stay below aggravated the discomforts of the overcrowded quarters.
Had the full facts concerning the ship been explained to the troops at the time, there is no doubt that a good deal of the discontent and restlessness which led to the Ormonde incident would have been allayed. The Ormonde was a 15,000-ton ship which had been trooping almost continuously since the outbreak of war—to Narvik, France and the Middle East—and had only the day before disembarked a British contingent, thus leaving little time for the crew to clean the troops' quarters. Moreover, it has been alleged that some of the crew were inciting the troops; there were references to the Altmark and ‘hell-ship’. Such things, together with the unfavourable reaction caused by the move from the comfortable peacetime passenger accommodation of a 23,000-ton liner to an overcrowded wartime transport, fanned the flames of discontent.
The ship was to sail at 1.15 p.m. on 19 September, but shortly before that time a large body of men occupied the bridge and wheelhouse. They informed the captain that they were taking charge and that the ship would not be permitted to sail until their grievances were adjusted. A deputation of soldiers then waited upon the OC Convoy to present their complaints. At 1.30 p.m. the captain reported that he had missed the convoy and that he could not take the ship to sea. An offer of armed assistance from the Admiralty authorities to control the ship was declined by the OC Convoy, who went ashore with the OC Troops to explain the situation to the naval and embarkation authorities. They were told that the page 69 convoy had been slowed down to enable the Ormonde to join it as soon as possible. The action of the troops in preventing the ship from sailing was described by the naval authorities as serious. After returning to the ship, the OC Troops addressed a conference of officers, at which he informed them that most of the men's complaints could be adjusted and that the most difficult problem, that of accommodation, would be met by allowing a thousand men to sleep on deck. Early next morning guards were posted and the ship sailed at 7 a.m. without further incident, rejoining the convoy that day at 3 p.m.
In a report to Headquarters 2 NZEF the OC Convoy stated that the Ormonde was overcrowded and that the sanitary arrangements were unsatisfactory. The health of the troops, however, had been good, and as soon as the ship had left the depressing conditions at Bombay the men had settled down. From Bombay the voyage had continued without further incident. The GOC stated that he was satisfied that the arrangements made by the authorities at Bombay were not satisfactory. He was not satisfied, however, that junior officers had properly realised their responsibilities. It was their duty, he said, to keep morale up by moving around among the men, explaining that everyone realised that things were not right but that efforts were being made to remedy them; by getting the men to make what improvements they could by their own efforts; by using every means in their power to minimise the bad side of things and so prevent discontent from spreading; and by preventing in the very early stages any such concerted action as that which unfortunately took place.
On 26 September the convoy entered the Red Sea and there the naval escort left it to continue on alone to Suez, which it reached during the morning of the 29th—a month and a day after leaving Wellington.
With the Third Echelon in Egypt and the Second in the final stages of its training in the United Kingdom, General Freyberg was now within sight of having his Division concentrated and ready for field training. There was, however, one serious defect in the contemplation of the Division's future activities. Since the entry of Italy into the war in June a page 70 number of New Zealand detachments had been lent to Headquarters British Troops in Egypt in response to urgent appeals for assistance. These detachments included the greater part of No. 1 Company of the Divisional Signals, which was still with Western Desert Force in October. Early that month the GOC began a series of protracted negotiations with Headquarters British Troops in Egypt in which he made strong representations for the return of his outlying detachments. After a time, as a result of BTE's understandable reluctance to release the New Zealand detachments, there appeared in the correspondence a barely perceptible undertone of reproach, which gradually took on a stronger note as the weeks passed without the GOC getting any definite assurance that would enable him to plan the divisional exercises with which he was anxious to proceed.
So far as Signals was concerned the situation was a difficult one and not easy of immediate solution. The original arrangement, by which No. 1 Company was to be lent for a few weeks to tide over the period until Royal Signals reinforcements were expected to reach the Middle East, was well known. The reinforcements, however, had not arrived, and it must be remembered that the personnel and material situation in the United Kingdom during the latter half of 1940 was particularly difficult. There had been an enormous build-up of units and equipment in the Western Desert, and far from any immediate prospects for the early release of Corps Signals Western Desert Force it appeared that there would have to be a considerable expansion in the detachment if it was to continue to handle the rapidly increasing volume of signal traffic, which by October had reached a daily total of 42,000 groups. It was a difficult problem for Lieutenant-Colonel Allen, who viewed the imminence of divisional exercises with some misgivings. He continued to make representations to Headquarters New Zealand Division, but these were tempered with the restraint imposed by his knowledge of the important task on which Corps Signals was employed.
Throughout October and November, and even into December, the correspondence between Major-General Freyberg and Headquarters British Troops in Egypt continued with its page 71 burden of complaint, but no satisfactory results appeared.
Preparations were commenced in December for the move to Helwan, the new camp in which the Division was to be accommodated. The main body of Divisional Signals, headed by Major Grant, marched the 14 miles from Maadi to Helwan. Lieutenant-Colonel Allen brought up the rear and herded the stragglers. Despite the shortness of the march, it was something of an ordeal for men whose feet had grown soft during the months of comparative inactivity in Maadi Camp. In the new camp the men were lodged in tents until the completion of accommodation and messing huts.
Just before the unit left Maadi the signal communications of the camp were taken over by the newly formed Base Signal Company. Maadi Camp had now become the province of Headquarters 2 NZEF Base, which was responsible for the administration of the camp and for the training of reinforcements from New Zealand in a series of depots. After receiving training under Divisional Signals, the Base Signal Company took over control of the Maadi Camp signal office on 12 December. Lieutenant Brown, MC, DCM,17 formerly signal officer of 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion, took over the command of Base Signal Company on the 15th. The original establishment provided for forty-eight all ranks; these included one subaltern, one staff-sergeant, one sergeant and two lance-sergeants.
A twenty-four-hour service was provided by the signal office. The system of communications in the camp was originally controlled through three exchanges: Maadi Camp exchange, which was a central-battery installation, and Duigan and Godley exchanges, which were both of the magneto type and satellites of the Maadi Camp exchange. Later, however, Godley exchange at the eastern end of the camp was closed and all traffic passed through the remaining two exchanges. Lines, telephones and switchboards were all civil-type equipment and belonged to the Egyptian State Telegraphs. There were two line-telegraphy circuits, one to Headquarters British Troops in Egypt in Cairo and one to Helwan Camp, and the instruments used on these circuits were oscillators, or Tingeyphones.18 page 72 The usual despatch-rider letter service was in operation and its timetable included runs four times daily to General Headquarters Middle East Forces and Headquarters British Troops in Egypt, in Cairo, and twice daily to Helwan Camp, the RAF station at Helwan, 2 NZ General Hospital, and other headquarters. In addition, there was an air letter service for handling despatches of an urgent nature but not sufficiently urgent to warrant their transmission by line telegraphy, wireless telegraphy or special despatch rider. This service was run by the RAF in co-operation with Signals, and was widely used by Headquarters 2 NZEF when the New Zealand Division was in Greece, Crete and the Western Desert.
The majority of the men for Base Signal Company were drawn from volunteers from units of the Third Echelon. Others came from 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion, 7 Anti-Tank Regiment, 19 Army Troops Company, and 2 NZEF Base, and eleven were from Divisional Signals. These eleven included some of the unit's original stalwarts: Corporals Knox,19 Baker20 and Tim Stroud,21 Lance-Corporals ‘Old Man’ Coleman22 and Fitton,23 and Signalman Towart,24 to mention a few.
On 12 December, as soon as Divisional Signals was settled into its new quarters and offices at Helwan, another unit reorganisation took place. This was really the first step in restoring Divisional Signals to its original form, and was made possible by the return of three officers and twenty other ranks from Western Desert Force Signals, and by the arrival of G and L Sections with the Third Echelon, together with a number of reinforcements. The new organisation came into force on the 14th. It provided for a unit headquarters and a No. 1 Company, commanded by Major Grant and comprising Company Headquarters, A (wireless) section, B (cable) section, page 73 C Section, D (operating) Section, and M (maintenance) Section. G Section marched out on 10 December to join 6 Field Regiment, and L Section on the 14th to join Headquarters 6 Infantry Brigade. J and E Sections were still in the Western Desert with 4 Infantry Brigade.
At the time when this new organisation was brought into effect Lieutenant-Colonel Allen submitted to Divisional Headquarters an appreciation of the signals situation. His proposals included details of the method by which the limited personnel and equipment available might provide the best possible communications system within the Division at that time. He recommended that all signal resources available should be pooled and reallotted to suit the immediate needs of all formations and units. The effect would be to reduce the means of communication available in First Echelon units, but the overall result would be that all units of both the First and Third Echelons would be provided immediately with a skeleton signal service. The limited communications thus envisaged were based upon dangerously slender resources which comprised only three signal office operating detachments, two cable detachments with a total of only thirty miles of D Mark VIII cable, six wireless sets, of which only four were high powered, and nineteen despatch riders. In addition, of course, there were certain major items of equipment to which the sections attached to units could lay claim under the reallocation proposals. The two infantry brigade signal sections, J and L, for example, would have seven miles of D Mark III cable each, three wireless sets, none of which, however, was high powered, and seven telephone sets and four Fullerphones each. Divisional Signals, despite its pitiful inadequacy in men and equipment, would be required to accompany the Division into the field should the need arise before the supply situation eased.
Although the return of New Zealanders attached to Corps Signals Western Desert Force had been expected by the end of November, only three officers and twenty other ranks had been released. The operations which began on 9 December prevented the return of four officers and 110 other ranks.At the time it appeared that these operations might stabilise and that the remainder of Corps Signals might return fairly soon, page 74 but Allen began to fear that the detachment's original equipment in transport and signal stores might be retained by Western Desert Force. He therefore renewed his former urgent representations to Division that his claims to both men and equipment with Corps Signals Western Desert Force should be pressed strongly.
Events during the first year in Egypt had commenced to weld Divisional Signals into a seasoned unit. Although it had become a good unit from a regimental point of view, another eighteen months were to pass before it became a reliable and efficient signals organisation. At the end of 1940 Divisional Signals had attained only a reasonable standard of efficiency, but compared well with United Kingdom and other Dominion signal units. Several initial advantages accounted for this: good Regular Force officers and a small stiffening of Territorial soldiers of all ranks had provided a useful background of elementary training and experience; the rank and file were men of more than average quality, and the training and experience which most of them had had in civil communications in New Zealand reduced enormously the usual handicaps which confront the civilian soldier at the outbreak of war.
Besides the experiences of No. 1 Company with Western Desert Force during General Wavell's campaign, much of more than ordinary significance had happened in the unit since the arrival of 2 NZEF in the Middle East. Many of the old faces were gone and in their places were those of the newly arrived Third Echelon. The Second Echelon was about to set out from the United Kingdom on the last stage of its devious journey to Egypt.
Of those who were gone, Captain Vincent had left for the Composite Training Depot in Maadi, but his departure had not by any means severed his happy associations with the unit. Divisional Signals, officers and men alike, were to see a lot of ‘Major Igree’ before his return to New Zealand at the end of 1941. From time to time incoming reinforcements from the depot brought fresh stories of Igree's dynamic energy and hair-raising exhortations. The old hands listened interestedly. In their minds' eye they saw again the roving eyes and the thrust page 75 of shoulders and head, the restlessly moving feet and the fleck of foam where a prominent upper tooth caressed Igree's lower lip while he declaimed with borrowed emphasis and alliteration the precepts of another old and honoured war horse: ‘We shall not fail nor falter. In other words, soldier, we will not get browned off!
The appointment of RSM was now held by Fred Waters with the rank of WO I. Noel Barrett,25 with the rank of WO II, was appointed RQMS and retired to the inner defences of the quartermaster's store, where Captain Marshall26 and Signalman'Shorty’ Jackson27 continued to conduct their quarter-mongering business on the ‘Yes, we have no bananas’ basis.
Christmas Day, 1940, was marked by a minor tragedy for the Signals football team, which played off the final of the divisional seven-a-side Rugby tournament with 25 Battalion. At full time both sides had scored five points, so it was decided to continue the game until one of them secured a decision. Some time later 25 Battalion scored again and won by eight points to five. Corporal ‘Viv’ Missen28 then led his men back to their lines, where they discovered to their dismay that Christmas dinner—an event of considerable importance in any unit overseas—had already commenced, and that none of it remained for them.
On 11 January the first of the sections stationed in the Western Desert began to move back to Helwan. E Section, attached to 4 Field Regiment, was followed next day by C Section, and on the 14th J Section arrived in Helwan from Baggush. On the same day Lieutenant Pryor, OC J Section, was appointed to command No. 3 Company, a position which had page 76 not previously been filled. Lieutenant Fletcher was appointed OC No. 2 Company, until then another vacant command. With the filling of these two positions, Divisional Signals' organisation was almost complete, lacking only F, H, and K Sections, which were then on their way to Egypt with the Second Echelon.
Towards the end of January the hopes which Lieutenant-Colonel Allen entertained of restoring his unit to its original strength were revived by an order issued by General Headquarters Middle East Forces to Headquarters British Troops in Egypt, directing that all New Zealand Troops other than railway units and the Long Range Patrol29 were to be returned to the Division not later than 22 February, to enable the Division to concentrate for training. Actually, the greater part of New Zealand Signals still serving with Western Desert Force returned on the 4th, this party consisting of one warrant officer, four sergeants and sixty-three other ranks under Captain Feeney. One week later another seven men returned, and these were followed on the 17th by Major Agar, Captain Smith, Lieutenant Ambury, and seventeen other ranks. When this piecc- meal return of No. 1 Company from the Western Desert was completed, thirty-one of the original forty-four regimental signallers who had been attached to Divisional Signals since July 1940 rejoined their own units. Some regimental signallers had transferred to Divisional Signals.
F and H Sections and an advance party of K Section arrived at Suez from the United Kingdom on 16 February. All were disembarked immediately and taken by train to Helwan. F Section, consisting of Lieutenant Robins and twenty-five other ranks, and H Section, under Lieutenant Paterson, remained with their respective units, 5 Field Regiment and 7 Anti-Tank Regiment.
Divisional Signals was being brought quickly up to its full field scale in transport and equipment, and the Quartermaster daily received large quantities of signal stores from ordnance. As fast as these stores flowed in they were reissued to sections, and in a very short time the unit was complete in war equipment.
Very quickly the word was passed around that according to all the available evidence the Division would be moving into the field within a few days—‘probably about Tuesday’. The persistent voice of rumour, which curiously enough had been still for so many months, was again raised in speculation and conjecture. Many strange destinations for the Division were foretold, mostly tropical ones, among which the Sudan and Abyssinia vied for pride of place. Divisional Signals received orders on 26 February to be ready to move on 4 March. At the same time an advance party of one staff-sergeant and two men was put under twelve hours' notice to move. Already the cat was half out of the bag.
1 Lt-Gen Sir Edward Puttick, KCB, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Timaru, 26 Jun 1890; Regular soldier; NZ Rifle Bde 1914-19 (CO 3 Bn); commanded 4 Bde Jan 194 0- Aug 1941; 2 NZ Div (Crete) 29 Apr-27 May 1941; CGS and GOC NZ Military Forces, Aug 1941-Dec 1945.
4 Maj C. A. Borman, MBE, ED, m.i.d.; Upper Hutt; born Rangiora, 25 Jun 1906; public servant; OC J Sec Jan-Jul 1941, A Sec Jul 1941-May 1942, 2 Coy Jul-Dec 1942, I Coy Feb-Jun 1943; HQ, Coy Jul-Dec 1943; G2 Sigs Army HQ May 1944-Jul 1945; OC Army Sigs Jul-Oct 1945.
6 Maj-Gen K. L. Stewart, CB, CBE, DSO, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US); Kerikeri; born Timaru, 30 Dec 1896; Regular soldier; I NZEF 1917-19; GSO I 2 NZ Div 1940-41; DCGS Dec 1941-Jul 1943; commanded 5 Bde Aug-Nov 1943, 4 Armd Bde Nov 1943-Mar 1944, 5 Bde Mar-Aug 1944; p.w. I Aug 1944-Apr 1945; commanded 9 Bde (2 NZEF, Japan) Nov 1945-Jul 1946; AG, Army HQ, Aug 1946-Mar 1949; CGS Apr 1949-Mar 1952.
8 Igree (or iggri), colloquial Arabic for ‘Hurry up’.
10 Maj E. J. Horwood, m.i.d.; Dunedin; born Wellington, 30 Oct 1907; Regular soldier; OC L Sec Jul-Dec 1941; SC 6 Bde and 5 Bde 1943; OC HQ.Coy Div Sigs Nov 1943-Apr 1944, 2 Coy Apr-Oct 1944; 2 i/c Div Sigs May-Jun, Sep Oct 1944.
11 Capt T. H. Jory, ED; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 21 Nov 1911; railway officer; OC L Sec Sigs Aug 1940-Jul 1941, F Sec Jul-Oct 1941, K Sec Jan-Feb 1942, Base Sigs Coy (later 6 NZ Div Sigs) Feb 1942-Jan 1944.
13 Maj A. S. D. Rose; Wellington; born Wellington, 4 Mar 1905; P and T clerk; OC G Sec Sigs Aug 1940-Dec 1941, D Sec Mar-Jun and Jul-Sep 1942, 2 Coy Jun-Jul 1942, 3 Coy Jan-Jun 1943; Army Sigs (in NZ) Oct 1943-Jul 1945.
16 Lt-Col R. W. Foubister, OBE, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Palmerston North, 20 Mar 1910; Regular soldier; OC T Air Support Control Sec Sigs Oct 1941Jul 1942, D Sec Jan-Apr 1943; Sig School Base Dec 1943-Aug 1944; I Coy Sep-Dec 1944; OC 3 Coy and 2 i/c Div Sigs Dec 1944-Jan 1945; CO Div Sigs and OC NZ Corps of Sigs 17 Jan 1945-23 Feb 1946.
26 Maj E. L. J. Marshall, MC, ED, m.i.d.; Lower Hutt; born Coromandel, 16 May 1908; clerk; QM 2 NZ Div Sigs Sep 1939–Oct 1941; OC J Sec Oct-Dec 1941, 3 Coy Dec 1941-Jun 1942, 1 Coy Jun-Nov 1942; OC Sig School, Base, Dec 1942-Jun 1943; CSO NMD and CO NMD Sigs Nov 1943-Dec 1944; SSO Sigs Army HQJun-Dec 1945.
28 Maj V. P. Missen, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Palmerston North, 28 Dec 1915; telegraphist; OC A Sec Sigs Feb-Apr 1944, D Sec Apr 1944; QM 2 NZ Div Sigs May-Jun 1944; OC Sigs Jayforce Nov 1945-Dec 1946.