New Zealand Engineers, Middle East
ON 12 September 1939 volunteers were invited to enlist in a special military force for service within or beyond New Zealand. Throughout the three weeks prior to mobilisation, many thousands of recruits, with an eye to the age limits—between 21 and 35—and the kind of industry not classed as essential, were forgetful about their years and mendacious concerning their occupations.1
At some time in the same three weeks they were medically examined, during which operation they produced a ‘specimen’; stood anxiously while the doctor listened to pounding hearts; strained to hear watches ticking at varying distances from their ears; deciphered different sized letters and identified colours on a chart; said ‘ninety-nine’ very manfully.
The Special Force—an infantry division—was to be raised in three echelons, each an infantry brigade with a proportion of supporting arms and divisional troops of roughly six and a half thousand men. The Engineer component of the division was a Headquarters Divisional Engineers, a Field Park Company, three Field Companies, a Base Post Office and a Divisional Postal Unit. This history will, in addition, follow the fortunes of Forestry, Railway, Army Troops, and other non-divisional units.
The Headquarters of a Divisional Engineers (6 officers, an attached medical officer and 31 other ranks) is the focal point in the necessarily scattered engineer organisation, the Commander of which is known by the British title of CRE (Commander Royal Engineers). The CRE is the Divisional Commander's adviser on every aspect of military engineering and is responsible for the general direction and control of engineering tasks. He is also responsible for everything else that happens, does not happen, or ought to happen to the Divisional Engineers.
A Field Park Company (3 officers and 153 other ranks) consisted of a Headquarters, a Workshop section, including a lighting set for Divisional Headquarters; a Bridging section holding equipment for immediate use; a Field Stores section page 2 holding reserve stores, anti-tank mines and the divisional tool reserve. The job of Workshop Section was to keep equipment in good order, repair it, modify it, make it or otherwise acquire it. A Light Aid Detachment of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, comprising 1 officer and 12 other ranks, was generally attached.
A Field Company (5 officers and 237 other ranks) was organised into a headquarters and three working sections. Each company, in the field, was normally in support of an infantry brigade and carried a comprehensive range of explosives, detonators and fuses. From a civilian point of view, a Field Park Company was the retailer and a Field Company the consumer of engineering stores.
The Postal units were much smaller, but to the rest of the Division were of extreme importance because they delivered the parcels, papers and letters from home. The function of the New Zealand Base Post Office (1 officer and 11 other ranks) was to receive the mails, sort them to units and arrange distribution. Base Post Office maintained an address history card for every man and woman in 2 NZEF, and these cards were kept up to date from units' daily statements of marchings in and out. In addition to the handling of mail, it was the duty of Base Post Office to set up Field Post Offices at Divisional Headquarters, base camps, hospitals, clubs and line-of-communication units as far forward as Railhead. The establishment, like those of other engineer units, was altered from time to time. At its peak the Postal Service had a strength of about 200 all ranks.
The Divisional Postal Unit (1 officer and 24 other ranks) operated four Field Post Offices, one with each of the three brigades and one with Divisional Headquarters. In addition an odd man or so was stationed at Divisional Supply Point and forward railhead.
The Engineer units raised with the First Echelon were Headquarters Divisional Engineers, 5 Field Park Company, 6 Field Company, NZ Base Post Office, and the Divisional Postal Unit.
The main body detrained at Hopu Hopu in the cold rainy darkness on the evening of 5 October 1939, the birth day of their units. They stood in forlorn groups while lanterns bobbed around in the blackness and voices called for different units to come that way. Soon they were stumbling about with arms full of blankets, a palliasse and a groundsheet. Somebody guided them to triangular white objects which proved to be tents. The page 3 loads were deposited and the bearers herded towards a place where they drank tea and ate thick slices of bread and butter. Then they were taken back to the tents, told what the tin at the end of the row was for, made up their beds and turned in. Most of the tents leaked.
It took a little time to get used to the Alice in Wonderland life in the Army. Instead of waking to an organised world of breakfast followed by the train, tram, car, ‘bike’ or maybe a walk to work, they jockeyed for places at the ablution benches, after which they straggled around endlessly at the behest of some person with stripes on his arm or perhaps a star on his shoulder.
By the time the incomprehensible chaos had clarified into the suggestion of a system the sappers in embryo had acquired a serge uniform (First World War pattern) and working denims, a rifle and sundry pieces of webbing that were joined into some sort of harness with fixtures for holding things like bayonets and ammunition, water bottles and lunches.
After a while they did not straggle any more; they stumbled around in three lines and tried not to kick the man in front or be kicked by the one behind; finally they marched around. (Swing those arms! Left! Right! Left! Pick it UP! Pick it UP!’)
Selected volunteers who had had some training in Territorial units had preceded the main body and undergone an intensive refresher course in order to take the place of non-existent instructors,2 for the New Zealand Regular Force was not geared to mobilisation on such a scale. ‘Stock’ Baigent,3 a Regular NCO and later Headquarters RSM, had conducted the course, assisted by the officers.
By night the instructors swotted up their lessons and by day the recruits imbibed the result (‘This is a Lewis gun. This is the butt and this is the barrel’) and learned to dissect firearms, page 4 to move a rifle from one position to another at the same speed (ONE two three! ONE two three!) and in the same number of moves. When their basic soldier training was over they started to learn the trade of a sapper and something of the functions of the different engineer units. They built bridges on the Waikato River, did quarry work with compressors and rock drills and made satisfying bangs with explosives.
The tour de force of 5 Field Park Company was the construction and operation of a ‘flying fox’. This involved sending a party across the Waikato in a boat with a light rope attached to a stout steel cable, which was pulled across and made as taut as possible. Landing ramps and stagings were set up on each bank and a raft built from army folding boat equipment. The raft was shackled on pulleys to the steel cable at such an angle that it was worked across the river by the force of the current. By reversing the angle of attachment the river was made to bring the raft back on the return trip.
Engineers as a race are very free and easy about rank and the deference due to superior officers. It was, however, quickly established that Colonel Heath,4 a retired RE officer with a bewildering array of campaign ribbons on his tunic, was CRE and that Captain Sanders5 was his Adjutant, although just what the titles implied was not very clear—at first. Major Rudd6 (OC 6 Field Company), likewise nicely garnished with First War ribbons, and Captain Morrison7 (OC 5 Field Park Company), whose decorations were yet to come, were also identified as worthy of respectful obedience.
It was only natural that uniforms long held in store should smell of napthalene and vary in shade, and that meals supplied from overtaxed cookhouses by underskilled cooks would not measure up to domestic standards; it was in fact these short- page 5 comings that were the origin of many of the early stories which helped to build traditions.
One such concerns a sapper in 6 Field Company who was disappointed both in his sartorial condition and in the restricted menu. He hadn't even volunteered, but had acted on a letter of instructions posted to another person of the same name but wrongly delivered. There was a Company parade, and as Major Rudd was making his inspection this sapper stood forward.
‘Wanta talk to ya Major,’ he said.
‘Well Sapper, what's the trouble?’
‘This uniform, it don't fit too good, and the tucker around here ain't so good either.’
‘Well,’ said the Major tactfully, ‘can you come and see me on Tuesday? I'm rather busy just now.’
‘Dat'll be de bloody day. I might be busy meself on Toosdy.’
True or not, this story really branded 6 Field as a unit, and the expression ‘dat'll be de bloody day’ became the accepted answer to every situation.
In the first week of December the companies moved to Waiouru to a camp which at that time was as primitive as Hopu Hopu. They did not stay there long for the original intention of concentrating all the North Island units in a locality with scope for brigade exercises was frustrated by a message from the United Kingdom that the sailing date, previously fixed for 1 March, had been advanced to 6 January.8 This of course was a Cabinet secret, but there was a rising tension occasioned by the sudden and secret conferences from which the participants emerged looking smug and mysterious. An advance party including Lieutenants Woolcott9 and Kelsall10 vanished overnight and rumours began to chase each other around Waiouru: the First Echelon was going soon, next week, immediately to Singapore, to England, to Egypt, to France, to garrison duty in New Zealand.
In France the state of ‘phoney war’ existed, so when the troops were deposited at Papakura the ‘I told you so's' of the garrison-duty faction were frequent and emphatic. Papakura was a newly constructed hutted camp, but the ensuing four days were so packed with preparations that the fact was hardly noticed.page 6
Before moving out on final leave the troops were warned that they had been declared on active service; they were now real soldiers under the Army Act, and military misdemeanours hitherto considered venial and vestiges of civilian independence were military mortal sins with punishments to match. Everybody was suitably impressed.
The days following the return from leave, in the case of those who had the farthest to go, 30 December, were very full. There was a farewell parade in the Auckland Domain on 3 January, with speeches followed by lunch, followed in turn by a march across Grafton Bridge, through Karangahape Road, Queen Street, Customs Street and thence to the railway station. It is not unpleasant to be clapped and cheered by a city crowd, particularly when the casualty lists and the boy with the telegram wherein ‘the Government regrets to announce …’ are something in the future. The return to camp was not the end of the emotional spree—it was Visitors' Day and the last one. Those who had friends or relations walked or stood about in little groups where there was talk of inconsequential matters followed by uncomfortable silences; it was a relief when the camp gates closed on the last of the visitors. The railway siding was not far away. (‘Stand by your kits!’) Units moved off according to a timetable (‘In three ranks—fall in!’), were entrained and settled down for the all-night trip to Wellington.
The train that had stopped at sundry stations which the grapevine had filled with spectators was incommunicado at Wellington. People who had waited for hours were supposed not to know that the carriages with shuttered windows contained their men folk. Opinions on both sides of the shutters were unanimous and there should have been some burning ears in high places.
The Engineers went aboard the Strathaird with expectations of crowded quarters and hammocks slung in the cargo hatches in the style of the First World War. They had been told of horse dormitories on the promenade decks while troops slept in coal bunkers, and so were prepared for anything except what was waiting. Sergeant Jay11 wrote:
‘We were lucky in our transport, the Strathaird. We all had cabins and bunks, we sergeants even bedroom stewards and our mess was the 1st class smoking lounge with bar and stewards. Pure luxury! The men had quite good messing arrangements too.’page 7
In the afternoon (5 January) the Strathaird and her convoy companions Orion, Empress of Canada and Rangitata moved out into the stream; at seven the next morning HMS Ramillies headed the line of transports which sailed out of Wellington harbour and rendezvoused with the Dunera and Sobieski from Lyttelton under escort by HMS Leander.
Senior appointments in the Engineer units were:
Headquarters Divisional Engineers
Lt-Col F. P. Heath, CRE
Capt G. P. Sanders, Adjutant
5 Field Park Company
Capt W. G. Morrison, OC
Lt R. C. Pemberton, second-in-command
6 Field Company
Divisional Postal Unit
Lt J. S. Shelker
The calmness of the Tasman and the consequent voracity of the sappers' appetites were countered by a series of inoculations and by vaccination. The result was that the picking up of an Australian convoy and glimpses of barren islands in Bass Strait caused little comment; it was even something of an effort to wonder how Auckland could have produced a team to beat Canterbury in the final Plunket Shield match by an innings and forty runs.
By the time Fremantle was reached (18 January) the vaccination cases were on the mend, but in any event the impact of Australian hospitality would have overwhelmed the toughest troops and it was days before the sappers could contemplate the cavorting flying fish with any concentration. Sapper ‘Porky’ Neale13 recovered in time to win the heavyweight division of a boxing tournament.
Colombo, the first glimpse of the East, was reached on 30 page 8 January. By then it was hot, really hot, but on shore everything was excitingly different: there were the rickshaws, the snake charmers, the money changers, the beggars, the Buddhist temples, the modern shops. Some of the sappers visited the temples; most of them visited the pubs. A few advanced their engineering education by taking over and driving the trams through the teeming streets. But nobody got into real trouble and the convoy sailed the next day.
The Red Sea was not what it was cracked up to be; it was as hot as the hobs of Hell but it was not red. By now the officially announced destination was Egypt, the country where the fathers of many in the convoy had finished their training prior to Gallipoli and France.
The convoy gasped through the Red Sea, pulled in to the Gulf of Suez and anchored off Port Tewfik on 12 February, the same day that 7 Field Company marched in to Papakura. General Freyberg14 and the Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden came on board and welcomed the troops. Early next morning the sappers were lightered ashore and entrained for Maadi, near Cairo.
‘As far as Egypt goes there has been little substantial change in the place since those far off days when Young Moses was bawling his head off in the bulrushes; when old man Herod was voted Public Enemy No. 1 at the annual general meeting of the Plunket Society; and Cleopatra was one of the bright young things about town whose telephone number was the common property of Julius Caæsar, Mark Anthony and the rest of the boys.’
First impressions were that Egyptians wore dirty white nightshirts and little rimless red hats; women were shapeless bundles tied in the middle; small children dispensed with clothing.
The painfully un-upholstered third-class carriages contained more than a suggestion of the smells, the all-pervading smells, some of them secondhand at the time of the Prophet, characteristic of any Eastern country with elementary sanitation.
That trip through cultivations where buildings, animals and page 9 costumes gave validity to half-forgotten Sunday School cards, the ones with a text on one side and a picture on the other, was engrossingly interesting; it led through stretches of sandy waste needing only a pyramid and a couple of camels to fit the troops' preconceived notion of a desert; past railway stations with such names as El Zagazig and Mansoura; through the Dead City on the outskirts of Cairo.
The train stopped in the late afternoon at a level crossing on the Abbassia-Tura line; the sappers collected their gear and marched a dusty mile and a half; General Freyberg, waiting on the roadside, took a rather encumbered salute.
Maadi Camp, named after the nearby outer suburb of Cairo, itself some eight miles distant, was built on a plateau overlooking the Nile Valley. Tents of a reddish brown tint that merged into an organic unity with the desert monotone stretched apparently into infinity. In actual fact there were seven miles of tarmac in Maadi Camp.
Engineer Headquarters and both Postal Units were located with Divisional Headquarters on a slight mound known then as ‘the hill’; it was later known to all and sundry as ‘Bludgers' Hill’.
Base Post Office had operated in the waiting room of the Strathaird from 7 January to 13 February, but the quarters allotted in British Base Post Office No. 4 in Cairo were not immediately available so the Divisional Unit set up an office the following day in the tent of its Commanding Officer at Maadi Camp. Base Post Office opened in Cairo on 15 March and Divisional Postal Unit reverted to its original role.
Fifth Field Park and 6 Field Company were quartered in less aristocratic Russell Terrace nearby. The advance party which had vanished so mysteriously from Waiouru was there to help with the acquisition of low plank beds and palliasses. They were old hands and comported themselves as such, with just a touch of condescension and with speech flavoured with an odd Arabic word. They told scarcely credible tales of Cairo and its attractions.
After the initial settling in, leave to Cairo was on a generous scale and almost everybody could go to town for an evening as often as he could afford, which, on a pound a week, was once a week, usually on Friday or Saturday. There were not many troops about and prices for soldierly necessities, food, beer and transport were very reasonable. They did not stay long that way.page 10
Movement in a new country is always interesting, even if it only means going from one place which is a sandy eyesore to another which is equally sandy and hard on the eyes. And often you passed through places you didn't know were there until you checked up on the map.
Engineers are fortunate that training, for them, need not be apparently purposeless exercises carried out over and over again just by way of rehearsal for some hypothetical situation which might never arise; on the contrary their military education was work, useful in itself and involving real situations. So, because of the serious shortage of engineers in the Middle East Command, the New Zealand sappers were widely spread and engaged in a multitude of tasks ranging from roading, drainage and building projects to courses at Schools of Instruction and attachments to Royal Engineers companies.
A number found themselves attached, without their consent, to the Provost Corps for varying periods. The reason was generally a variation of the theme: ‘WOAS being AWOL; out of bounds; improperly dressed; not in possession of AB 64 and giving false particulars to an MP.’
Fifth Field Park Company landed the most important job of the period, or at least the job that gave most pleasure to most people—a swimming bath was to be built for the troops in Maadi Camp. The original site selected was, with some lack of imagination, right out in the open desert, but through the good offices of Mr Tom Dale of the Delta Land Development Company and the co-operation of the Maadi Boy Scouts, who gave up possession of a shady grove of grass and palm trees between the railway and the camp, a more fitting situation was obtained.
Sapper Yates16 was detailed as architect for the project, which was undertaken by a civilian contractor employing native labour. When completed the Maadi baths were 30 metres by 12 metres and from one to two metres in depth, with a tiled surround and its own chlorination plant.
General Freyberg opened a carnival on 5 April by taking the first dive and swimming a length. The General was no mean swimmer in his day (he had only just failed to swim the Channel) and it was not courtesy that kept the ADCs threshing along behind their superior officer.
Four days later the quiescent war in Europe exploded. Den- page 11 mark was overrun without warning (‘Naturally we will respect the rights of small neutral States’) and Germans landed in Norway without proper notice.
Fighting between British, French and German forces in Norway occupied the headlines until 10 May when Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg were invaded; the Dutch Army capitulated on 15 May and the Belgians followed on the night 27–28 May.
The evacuation from Dunkirk continued until the night 2–3 June, by which date the French were staggering under the German armoured blows which culminated in the occupation of Paris and finally, on 17 June, in the fall of France.
After Dunkirk, when, to Continental eyes, England did ‘lie at the proud foot of a conqueror’, Mussolini, anxious to strike a blow now that the fight was practically over, declared war on England and France.
II Duce would not have been pleased at the effect his declaration had on the First Echelon. The news was released in the evening when all the places of entertainment, the NAAFI, the Maadi Tent, the YMCA and Shafto's picture theatre were crowded. Instead of dismay and consternation at the prospect of another enemy, the announcement was received with thunderous cheers. North Africa was now in the war for there were Italians in North Africa—a most satisfying prospect.
Despite the manning of anti-aircraft posts and the issuing of gas masks, life among the First Echelon engineers went on much the same for the time being; their next surprise, a nasty one, arrived on 21 June.17
‘We heard today,’ Lance-Corporal McVeagh wrote in a letter home, ‘that the Second Echelon arrived in England and golly! our boys are wild. It was broadcast at 3.15 p.m. Egyptian time and the temperature was then 112 in the shade. They seemed to get a wonderful reception, with bands playing and crowds cheering etc. I could not but compare it with the reception we had here, which consisted of a few black dirty smelly Wogs holding out their filthy hands and yelling “Give it Backsheesh.”’
The Italian declaration of war had presented the Middle East Command with a battleground and a problem; the former was a desert running 2000 miles west to Tunisia and 1000 miles south from the Mediterranean Sea; the latter, how with page 12 only 36,000 ill-equipped troops to prevent 215,000 Italians from overrunning Egypt. We are not concerned at the moment with another slight headache for the Middle East Command—there were 200,000 more Italians in Italian East Africa.
Geographically the North African desert may be divided into several regions: drifting sand seas, thousands of square miles of shingle, more thousands of square miles of hard rock covered by a few inches of sand, acres of low-growing camel scrub which exists apparently without water, and the coastal strip where in the winter sufficient rain falls to provide the Arab nomads with corn and spring grazing.
There were high-ranking officers who had visualised the Western Desert becoming a major battlefield, so while the politicians were making frequent and ineffective gestures to Italy, Lieutenant-General H. M. Wilson,18 GOC British Troops in Egypt, asked for authority to see if the establishment of a substantial water system for the Western Desert by way of a pipeline from the River Nile was practicable.
Sanction was forthcoming but the General was left to think up what he was going to use for pipe as nothing of the kind was available in England. This difficulty was overcome by requisitioning sufficient stores, mostly second- or third-hand, from the Iraq-Haifa oil pipeline to build a 60-mile-long water pipeline from Alexandria to Bir el Khassa. Although the pipes had been discarded as useless and were of differing sizes, the experiment was a success and simplified the water problems of the troops concentrated at Amiriya and Burg el Arab.
Early in 1940 it was decided to carry the line westward to Mersa Matruh, the terminus of the Egyptian State Railway system, about 200 miles west of Alexandria and 120 from the Egypt-Libya border. The railway, like the pipeline, was built from bits and pieces, at least westwards from Fuka, which had been the railhead until the Italian aggression in Abyssinia. That pipeline and that railway line became the particular care of New Zealand sappers for the whole period during which North Africa was a battleground.
The water line was constructed in a series of separate sections, emptying into reservoirs from which the water was siphoned to be pumped forward to other reservoirs; the distance between the pumping stations was dictated by the size of the pumping sets and the pressure the pipes would stand.page 13
Provision was also made to connect up with any artesian water located, as for instance at Fuka, while west of Matruh the Royal Engineers discovered a wonderful network of aqueducts and cisterns used by the Romans when North Africa was part of their Empire. The discovery and renovation of these aqueducts and cisterns after a couple of thousand years of neglect is one of the romances of the Libyan campaigns. Roman geologists discovered that winter rain falling on the higher ground inland seeped through the limestone to the lower levels on the coast. This usually formed a layer of fresh water one to two feet deep lying directly on salt water near sea level. The shallow depth of fresh water precluded the sinking of wells and the problem was to draw off or separate the fresh water.
The difficulty was ingeniously overcome by the construction of a network of stone-lined aqueducts cut into the shallow upper layer of porous rock. Into these aqueducts, about 6 feet deep and 4 feet wide, the water trickled and ran down to cisterns nearer the shore. Royal Engineers cleared and repaired the aqueducts so that they provided a substantial quantity of the water for the forces about Mersa Matruh, or since we are speaking of Roman times, Paraetonium.
In addition to this underground network, the whole coastal belt is dotted with Roman rock cisterns. They were excavated in the surface rock at points where the rainfall could be collected. These wells, birs in modern Arabic, are up to 20 feet deep and 75 by 75 feet in area. Some are still in use.
The British strategy was to await the enemy at Mersa Matruh, while his coming would be attended by 7 Armoured Division less one brigade. It was to assist 7 Armoured Division—the original and authentic ‘Desert Rats’19—that the New Zealand Engineers were given a job more directly connected with war than the camp installations that so far had been their main preoccupation.
Middle East Command wanted 500 dummy trucks and 300 dummy tanks for deception purposes and it wanted them in a hurry. Colonel Heath was told on 17 June that the order must be filled by the 24th and to get busy. Fifth Field Park was ordered to organise the stores and build the trucks, while 6 Field took care of the tanks. Within the hour lorries were page 14 heading for Cairo, Alexandria and Suez to pick up material, while Captain Morrison and Lieutenant Bucknell20 did some hard thinking. There were only three days left by the time the prototypes had been built, saw benches erected and the components spread along the assembly line. Four hundred men were borrowed from the infantry and artillery and mass production started. The flow of components was co-ordinated by Sergeant Lineham21 and as each unit was completed Corporal Brittenden22 gave it a shot of camouflage paint from a homemade outfit mounted on a compressor truck.
The finished articles, which used up twenty miles of timber battens and ten acres of hessian, were knocked down for transport and the last units delivered to the railway people within half an hour of the deadline. Captain Morrison remarked in his report that the only major difficulty was the recovery of hundreds of hammers and saws from the infantry and artillery helpers.
The dummies were used to good purpose, for General Wavell in his despatch on the early operations in the desert up to November 1940 mentions the smallness of the force falling back from the frontier in the face of Italian superiority in men and material and concludes: ‘Nevertheless this small force continued to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy with practically no loss to itself, and to hold in check a force of four or five divisions for a further six weeks. A skilful use was made of dummy tanks to deceive the enemy.’
July saw the end of scattered training jobs and the start of real military engineering work. Sixth Field Company left Maadi in August for a beach near Alexandria, where it was to help in the construction of a brigade defensive position under the command of the Area CRE, Lieutenant-Colonel Boddington, RE. By then Colonel Heath had relinquished command on transfer to the British Army, and Major Rudd had taken over until the arrival from England of Major Clifton.23page 15
Part of the task entailed the building of 196 concrete pillboxes and 140 dugouts, with connecting roads and water supply. It was hard work in the heat of an Egyptian summer but the beach was handy, each section had a wet canteen and leave to Alexandria was liberal; in times to come that spell at the beach was part of the ‘good old days’.
Fifth Field Park was soon to follow 6 Field out of the Maadi nursery. On 4 September the convoy took the road to Alexandria as far as Ikingi Maryut, where it turned into the Western Desert. There was magic in the name ‘Western Desert’ to the Maadi based engineers. The enemy was out there in the ‘blue’ not a hundred miles from Mersa Matruh. Certainly sections had been stationed for short periods at Matruh before the Italians had broken loose, but that was different.
The Company made its camp two miles from Baggush and two miles from the railhead at Sidi Haneish in a spot which might be anybody's dream—before he sampled the real thing—of a genuine desert setting. Not even Hollywood at its brightest could have improved on it. Burbeita was an oasis, a real oasis, a small oasis with date palms and grass, surrounded by gleaming white sand. A hundred yards away was a perfect little bay full of very blue Mediterranean, lacking only a pleasure yacht, a beautiful heroine and a husky villain.
The sappers dug into the sandhills and made ready for work. Colonel Boddington, who apparently roamed at will over North Africa, was CRE Lines of Communication and commanded both 5 Field Park and 6 Field Company. He seemed to have the ability to be in two areas at the same time, and that in spite of being large enough for two ordinary men. He was an old hand in the Middle East and knew all the tricks and short-cuts. He seemed to like New Zealanders with their ability to cut corners. They liked him because he knew his stuff and behind his back they called him Bodd. Somebody burst into verse:
It has always struck me as odd
That this eminent Colonel called Bodd
Should spell, if you please,
His name with two d's
When one is sufficient for God.
‘Bodd’ saw to it that Field Park did not lack occupation—Stores Section (Sergeant Len Morris24) was put to administering the engineers' stores at Sidi Haneish siding, a job that involved receipt and distribution of everything needed for the perimeter page 16 defences of Baggush, including the water supplies for the forces snapping at the cautious Italians.
Workshops Section (Sergeant de Cavalho25) was kept flat out on jobs for the First Echelon infantry battalions and Headquarters 13 Corps. Bridging Section (Sergeant Bill Hanley26) had no specific employment but its vehicles were used as pool transport, which included the sought after running of errands to Cairo and Alexandria. There were other tasks with compressors and explosives helping the infantry on hard rock areas, and there was also a small team who went about with Corporal Ted Madigan27 defusing unexploded Italian bombs. It was about this time that the enemy began to drop a particularly dangerous anti-personnel booby trap, known from its shape and size as a Thermos bomb. These apparent thermos flasks were fitted with a delayed action device that withstood the impact of being strewn over the desert from aircraft. But once primed the slightest movement would explode them and they had a wide danger area.28
Sapper ‘All Irish’ Kelly29 found a couple of dozen thermos flasks scattered around his quarters one morning and handed one in to the office where Lieutenant Thomson30 and Sergeant Morris were discussing the day's work. They did not stay long; in fact they did not stay at all but took off like jet-propelled missiles. Madigan and Major ‘Waddy’ Wadison, RE, took Kelly's trophy to pieces not knowing it was a dud, and proceeding empirically, solved the problem of how it worked and how to deal with the others. As for ‘All Irish’, he was inundated with requests to go shares in a Tatt's ticket.
Corporal Madigan was very possessive about any bombs that page 17 fell in what he regarded as his territory but he had an enemy, an RE who was also fascinated by anything that made a loud bang. On one occasion they both pounced on a nice new model and a heated argument about who saw it first had to be settled by Captain Morrison. He made it a draw, whereupon both experts played happily together and dismantled their toy in unison.
Madigan was awarded a Military Medal in recognition of his bomb disposal activities. The citation ran:
‘This NCO over a period from September 1940 to February 1941 destroyed or made safe upwards of 500 enemy “thermos” bombs and other bombs. His work was of a specially trying and dangerous character and his unremitting care and zeal ensured that his party did this work in the Western Desert and Libya without a single casualty.’
There was hard work and plenty of it, but there were compensations; the evenings were free and the Company's wet canteen was as wet as the best and wetter than most. The rule was that a sapper could drink as much as he could pay for providing he was capable of carrying out his duty whenever called upon. Sapper Noel Finney31 operated the canteen, which never went quite dry in spite of serious and protracted droughts. He even solved an acute financial crisis when there was a shortage of small change. The customers had been paid in notes for which change could not be given, but Finney issued his own paper money, redeemable at par in Finney's bar. ‘Finney Felouse’ as it came to be called, backed by his extensive range of liquid goods, restored fluidity to business transactions.
It should be mentioned at this point that another Engineer unit was in the process of being formed for the purpose of servicing the base establishment that was being evolved for 2 NZEF. It was known variously as No. 1 Works Section and 25 Field Company32 and came, officially, into being in December 1940, although it had in effect been formed by Captain Morrison and a few sappers soon after their arrival in Egypt.page 18
The Officer Commanding No. 1 Works Section was also the Garrison Engineer. There were upwards of 200 permanent workers and, on occasions, as many as 3000 natives under the control of the Garrison Engineer, whose appointment was a dual one: he was responsible to BTE (British Troops in Egypt) for all works and to 2 NZEF for army personnel. The natives were on the BTE side.
As Lieutenant Bucknell, for some time OC No. 1 Works Section, writes:
‘It was all very involved. The GE administered an area extending from the outskirts of Cairo to a line about 10 miles from the Red Sea, being an area of about 400 square miles. All army construction work within this area was his responsibility, also all water supply, roading and electrical installations. Main constructions were Maadi NZ Camp, Maadi Middle East Camp (British). Other smaller establishments were at Cairo AA Camp, desert tank ranges, South African Camp at Wadi Ramleh and Indian Camp at Maadi.
‘Installations included water pumping plant at Maadi delivering up to 1700 tons of water per day, a number of emergency water pumping plants spread over a wide area, two main reservoirs [of] 600 tons each, all water supply reticulation, a large number of smaller reservoirs, electrical power station, sullage water disposal by evaporation areas developed as gardens. The GE Staff consisted of the Works Section (25 Field Company) and a number of Egyptian clerical and technical personnel, about seven or eight. The GE had a very considerable authority on the BTE side, but on the NZ side his authority was limited to his command. Attachments from other formations were frequently present, as for instance, South African survey unit, British Army personnel, Indian troops etc.’
Before the First Echelon had left New Zealand, officers and prospective NCOs of 7 Field Company were training at Narrow Neck Camp near Auckland; they moved to Papakura on 5 January, the day after 5 Field Park and 6 Field departed for Wellington to embark. A week later the main body marched in, callow but eager to commence the practice of martial life.
Major Hanson, MM,33 who commanded 7 Field Company, page 19 wore a row of ribbons, the first of which signified to the cognoscenti that he had begun his military career in the ranks, for the MM is not an officer's decoration. That, of course, was a good thing and his technical qualifications were unassailable, but what, to the sappers, clinched his fitness for command was the fact that in 1 NZEF he had been a member of the 1919 Army rugby team which had won the Empire tournament.
Some weeks prior to the mobilisation of 7 Field Company, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs had cabled to the Governor-General of New Zealand to the effect that a very pressing need had arisen for the immediate provision of transportation and forestry companies, and what could the New Zealand Government do about it—or words having that meaning.
The reply was that approval had been given by His Majesty's Government in New Zealand to the raising of a Forestry Company (6 officers and 147 other ranks), a Headquarters Railway Construction and Maintenance Group (3 officers and 22 other ranks), Railway Survey Company (7 officers and 66 other ranks) and a Railway Construction Company (6 officers and 273 other ranks).
An appeal for logging and sawmilling workers to form a forestry company was open for twelve days and produced 600 applications for enlistment. The selected men on 14 February entered Papakura Camp, where Captain Eliott34 was waiting to receive 11 Forestry Company, the first of its kind in the New Zealand armed forces.
The railway construction men were sought for in the Railway and Public Works Departments. Both Departments circularised their employees and four times the wanted number enlisted forthwith. The new engineer units were entitled 9 Railway Survey Company, NZE (Major Packwood35), 10 Railway Construction Company, NZE (Major Rabone36), and Headquarters Railway Construction and Maintenance Group (Lieutenant- page 20 Colonel Anderson, MC, Croix de Guerre37). His adjutant, Captain John Brooke-White,38 was the only Regular in the unit.
The railway units entered Burnham Camp and went through the same basic training as the other inmates; then came final leave and farewell marches through Auckland and Christchurch. Seventh Field Company then took train to Wellington and boarded the Aquitania while the Forestry and Railway Groups embarked on the Andes at Lyttelton.
The Second Echelon sailed for Egypt on 2 May 1940; in Egypt the First Echelon was being blasphemously eloquent about dust-storms. It had got accustomed to the prevailing northerly winds which enable the Egyptian river boats to sail upstream against the sluggish Nile current, but it was then early summer and the season of the khamseen, when the sky turned dark with swirling sands from the inland deserts. The sky over France was also dark—dark with the wings of the Luftwaffe as the Blitzkrieg got under way.
The engineers found the after effects of West Australian hospitality as exhausting as did the First Echelon and later visitors, but the German thunderbolts striking Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg offered food for thought. Of course the invasion of France would be soon turned back because the Maginot Line made it quite impossible for the attack to succeed. Everybody knew that!
The sappers were contemplating how they would put in their time at Ceylon and were waiting for the counter-stroke that would throw the Herrenvolk out of France when the convoy changed direction. Authority was blandly ignorant, but Ceylon was dropped as a subject for conversation and Capetown took its place.
It was Capetown all right, a Capetown taken completely by surprise but a Capetown that quickly mobilised its resources of hospitality. Three hectic days, which out-Fremantled Fremantle, left the Capetown pubs almost dry and the Capetown police profoundly grateful that 31 May had seen the visitors depart.
The next stop, a short one to take on water and fuel, was at Freetown. Less than a day was occupied thus and there was no leave, but it was a malaria stricken place and few were sorry page 21 to get to sea again. Two days later, 10 June, Mussolini's declaration of war explained the diversion of the convoy from the narrow seas where Italian submarines might be lurking into the broad Atlantic, where the Germans were most surely operating but where there was room to manoeuvre.
The risk of drowning either in the Red Sea or the Atlantic Ocean had been decided in favour of the latter, but the engineers were to be drowned in neither. Floating wreckage, however, did not make for over-confidence.
Their first glimpse of war at sea was of a tanker with its bow pointing skywards and its stern aground in the shallow Irish Sea and the ship blazing like a gigantic blowlamp in the middle of a mile square of black oil.
The convoy entered the Firth of Clyde on 16 June. Gourock is a little port and the sappers watched the mists rising and falling on the Scottish hills until the 19th, when they got solid land under their feet again. In the meantime the news was released that France had fallen and that the Niagara had been sunk off the New Zealand coast. The troops were getting close to the war and the war was getting close to New Zealand.
The Railway and Forestry Groups took train in the afternoon and, after passing through Greenock, Paisley and Glasgow, stopped for tea at Edinburgh. At York they had their first air-raid warning, then breakfast at Leicester and on through Reading to Woolmer, in Hampshire and about 18 miles from Aldershot.
The newcomers very quickly realised that they were in a war area. Routine Orders prescribed the carrying of steel helmets and anti-gas respirators when not actually on a drill parade; insisted that vehicles left unattended for more than five minutes must be immobilised by the removal of the distributor, etc.; urged the men to recognise the difference between the white puff of a bursting anti-aircraft shell and an opening parachute. This was followed by a cryptic note to the effect that: ‘The value of controlled fire against aircraft flying at less than 500 feet has been proved in France’; and of course the old, old reminder of how a war might be lost:
‘Cases have been reported of members of this unit having failed to salute officers of the British and other Dominion forces. Other ranks will pay courtesies to those officers in the same way as the other ranks of the British Etc., forces do to the officers of this unit.’
The original destination of both the Railway Group and the page 22 Forestry Company had been the British zone in France; they were to have gone on to Marseilles after the Second Echelon had disembarked in Egypt, but events had marched too quickly and there was no future for Allied forces in France at that juncture.
A grave shortage of technical troops had made the British War Office decide to get the railway units to Egypt as soon as possible; the Forestry Company was to join similar Australian, Canadian and British units in the South of England.
The men were met at Woolmer by Colonel Anderson and the advanced guard that had preceded them and had prepared their camp—tents spread under the trees of a pine-clad slope.
‘We were camped in the park of Lord Woolmer's home. This was a temporary camp set up to take RE transportation troops who had got out of France and Norway and before we left held 5,000 men. These men generally had only the gear they stood up in but in spite of this, the overcrowding and poor cookhouses etc were very cheerful. It was our first glimpse of how the Tommies could “take it”.’
A few days' leave, spent mostly in London, a few more days settling in and then, under command of the Royal Engineer Railway Training Centre, Longmoor, the sappers began training. It was almost exclusively route-marching, fieldcraft and anti-gas instruction, for the very good reason that no training gear was available.
Tenth Construction Company did get in a little platelaying and 9 Survey Company surveyed a line from Woolmer to Long-moor; but it was more by way of a diversion than serious work.
There were, of course, visits by high dignitaries, commencing with the New Zealand High Commissioner and culminating on 6 July in an inspection by His Majesty the King and General Freyberg. Very soon afterwards orders came to be ready to embark on or before the end of the month.
The troops, according to British Army practice, departed on a week's embarkation leave, after which began the collection of mobilisation equipment and preparation for another sea voyage. On 3 August the Railway Groups entrained at Woolmer, en route north again to Gourock, where they went aboard the Franconia disguised as HMT 8.page 23
The Second Echelon Postal Unit, one officer and five other ranks who were intended to reinforce the New Zealand Base Post Office in Cairo, but who instead now found themselves in England, accompanied 5 Brigade to the Aldershot area, where Lieutenant Knapp40 organised an impromptu Base Post Office in the stables of Mytchett Place. The Dunkirk evacuation was still first priority and nobody seemed to worry whether the Postal Unit functioned or not, so Knapp borrowed some equipment from the British Post Office and set up the first independent New Zealand Base Post Office to operate in England.
Mytchett Place, one of the stately homes of England, set in a large park behind an ornamental lake, had been taken over as New Zealand Headquarters, and somebody thought that the Postal Unit made the place look untidy. It was removed to a less prominent position in a tent and later again to a small church hall.
In general, while the Second Echelon was in the United Kingdom, mails were collected from Base Post Office (stables, tent, hall) by units. Ordinary letters—there was then no airmail to New Zealand—were accepted postage free, made up for New Zealand and handed over to the British Post Office.
Incidentally the troops in England enjoyed free postage home before the First Echelon did in Egypt, where difficulties with the civil postal authorities took time to resolve. It looked like something for nothing to the wily oriental gentlemen41 who believed in being on the receiving and not the giving end.
Seventh Field Company marched into Rushmoor Camp adjoining the Tattoo Grounds near Aldershot, where tents had been erected and a hot meal prepared by a Royal Engineer company which was camped alongside it. The difference between British and New Zealand ration scales became apparent when the tea supply dried up within twenty-four hours.
The same programme of inspections and leave followed, then the sappers went to work on the erection of amenities in the other New Zealand camps—roading, pipelines, drainage, sewage page 24 disposal, and shower huts. Very soon indeed a question similar to that of the ration scale cropped up. The British Army has a scale of stores for every imaginable contingency, but the RE authorities were thoroughly ‘rocked’ by the demands of enthusiastic Kiwi sappers anxious to show how a cookhouse or an ablution stand could be produced at short notice—especially when the equipment scale did not provide for it.
The partly trained Second Echelon, which had missed its intended proving ground by some thousands of miles, was absorbed into the British defence scheme and organised into a small division. This necessitated the forming of a Field Park Company less the Bridging Section, which was done by using the sapper reinforcements for the 5th, 6th and 7th Companies who were also in England.
General training began as soon as the camp installations were completed; rifle practices were taken up with enthusiasm, antigas and respirator drill with resignation, map reading and convoy work with very mixed feelings. To really appreciate the troubles of convoy operations these must be done in an English county where the lanes, designed for one-way horse traffic, wind, curve and twist in all directions. And of course the lanes are enclosed by hedges or trees, thus effectively hiding all landmarks and facilitating the escape of the vehicle ahead. Finally, the removal of signposts, the blank look of well trained country folk when asked how far the village of so and so is from the spot you are bushed in, and the fact that church spires were often low towers hidden by vegetation made map reading a major accomplishment. How much luckier were the First Echelon whose maps were of just plain desert!
July and August were taken up with these manoeuvres in mobility as well as in training with the rest of the Echelon. Across the Channel Hitler made a triumphant return to Berlin (6 July) and indicated that he would like his last enemy cleaned up as soon as convenient to his Wehrmacht.
The Battle for Britain commenced on 10 July with daylight air attacks mounting in intensity and in losses until the end of August. By then the invasion was expected daily and on 6 September 2 NZ (UK) Division, judged fit for first-line duty, left for the danger area, between Maidstone and Dover.
The division was deployed in a counter-attack role with detachments from 7 Field Company working with each brigade. Engineer Headquarters was in the cricket pavilion at Mote Park, Maidstone.page 25
Sapper work in this period varied from restoring blackout screens to metalling roads and repairing electric light plants, but it was also the responsibility of Engineer Headquarters to arrange water points for every unit in the area. Overhead the Battle of Britain was being fought by day and by night; jettisoned bombs fell in paddocks and villages; smoking planes hurtled earthwards. One energetic sapper, keen to capture a German parachuting to safety, was partially rewarded when in the same day he collected a British pilot and two Free Frenchmen.
It was in these pregnant weeks that the troops saw something of the character that makes the English a difficult race to subdue. An RE group operating in the vicinity had defused over 2000 enemy time bombs when there was no way of telling if such bombs were going to explode in five seconds or five hours. The Tommy engineers were taking those risks without a shudder but were complaining bitterly that two days' leave due to them had not been approved.
Meanwhile the invasion had, on Hitler's orders, been postponed for the time being. The RAF had not been shot out of the sky according to plan …, and then there was the Royal Navy to be considered. That 30-mile-wide English Channel was just 30 miles too wide.
Early in November 7 Field Company returned to the Alder-shot Command and went into winter quarters at Crondall, an ancient village about eight miles from Rushmoor, where Crondall Lodge, ten Nissen huts and the village hall were taken over. Weekly dances, complete with refreshments and orchestra, were organised. Partners were obtained by ringing the local ATS headquarters and inviting a company to the dance. Everything was fine until somebody thought a change would be a good thing and sent an invitation to a nurses' home; the organisers had forgotten that the usual ATS invitation had gone out, with the unhappy result that most sappers had two partners—a most embarrassing situation.
There was work in plenty. Every New Zealand unit in England wanted one or more huts built and there were draining, roading and metalling problems occasioned by army traffic over roads around billets that had been ancestral homes, and where so far the heaviest vehicle to use them had been the baker's van.
A fundamental principle of Engineer training is initiative page 26 and enterprise; a sapper must never be stuck for lack of tools or material—the material or substitute must be found and a suitable tool improvised. Major Hanson's lectures on the subject were frequent and not in vain, as he found when his car broke an axle. Neither soft words nor official requisitions could produce an axle but the Major asked no questions when his car was miraculously restored to him.
An observant sapper took a kit of tools and a Canadian accent and rode off to where he had noticed a Canadian army car laid aside with some minor complaint. A sentry strolled over before the axle removal was complete, but the sapper's accent was near enough and the operation went according to plan.
It was known by the middle of November that the Engineers were leaving England for a destination which, though officially unknown, could not be anywhere but Egypt. The crating of tools, the packing of equipment and the preparation of vehicles for shipment was a long job, for a considerable amount of gear had been taken on issue over the period. There was also a quantity of explosives which the ad hoc field park company had received, and which the authorities had failed to recall, that had to be suitably labelled and safely hidden.
The Company went on embarkation leave, was not impressed with the snow of an English White Christmas but performed a feat that is, in all probability, still spoken of with awed admiration by the landlord of the Plume and Feathers. Lieutenant Wildey42 reminisces:
‘7 Field Company excelled themselves and became a bit out of hand in the festivities and drank the Plume and Feathers dry. The CO was very annoyed because the NCOs were not of much help. Anyway in the middle of the night the landlord arrived at the Mess asking to see Major Hanson. He explained to him the wonderful feat that had been performed that night—the Inn had been drunk dry for the first time since it had been built which was shortly after the time of the Armada.’
Mine Host requested the loan of transport to go and collect more ale but Major Hanson's refusal was firm and not suitable for publication. Furthermore, the Plume and Feathers was put out of bounds. On 3 January 1941 the sappers marched away from their friendly village, entrained for Liverpool, and on arrival embarked on transport J 23.
1 On 11 Apr 1940 the age limit was raised to forty years, and in the case of men with special knowledge in specialist units there was no fixed limit.
2 On 3 Sep 1939 the New Zealand Regular Force had four officers and three NCOs to look after the training and administration of the Territorial Force Engineers as well as the Works Services of the Army. They were: Capt J. Brooke-White, M Sc., BE, AMICE, NZSC, Staff Officer Engineers at Army HQ; Capt G. P. Sanders, AMICE, NZSC, Adjutant, 1 Field Company, NZE, and District Engineer Works Officer, Northern Military District; Lt A. R. Currie, BE, NZSC, Adjutant, 3 Field Company, NZE, and District Engineer Works Officer, Southern Military District; Lt P. G. Monk, NZSC, Adjutant, 2 Field Company, NZE; S-Sgt M. G. Fowler, NZPS, Permanent Staff instructor, 3 Fd Coy; S-Sgt L. R. Baigent, NZPS, Permanent Staff instructor, 2 Fd Coy; Sgt W. R. Kennedy, NZPS, Permanent Staff instructor, 1 Fd Coy; Of these, Captains Brooke-White and Sanders and Lt Currie were the only professionally trained Engineers in the Regular Force.
5 Col G. P. Sanders, DSO, m.i.d.; Auckland; born England, 2 Sep 1908; Regular soldier; BM 4 Bde 1940–41; GSO II NZ Div Apr-Dec 1941; CO 26 Bn Jun-Jul 1944; 27 (MG) Bn Nov 1944-Oct 1945; 27 Bn (Japan) Oct 1945-May 1946; Director of Training, Army HQ, 1949–53; Commander, Fiji Military Forces, 1956–58.
6 Col L. F. Rudd, DSO, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Christchurch, 13 Jan 1898; barrister and solicitor; 1 NZEF 1917–19; wounded and p.w. Apr 1918; OC 6 Fd Coy 1939–41; Military Secretary, 2 NZEF, Jul 1941-Mar 1944; comd 2 NZEF Reception Group (UK) Aug-Oct 1944; British legal mission to Greece, 1945.
8 Documents, Vol I., Nos. 57 and 63.
12 Left with advance party.
14 Lt-Gen Lord Freyberg, VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO and 3 bars, m.i.d., Order of Valour and MC (Greek); born Richmond, Surrey, 21 Mar 1889; CO Hood Bn 1914–16; commanded 173 Bde, 58 Div, and 88 Bde, 29 Div, 1917–18; GOC 2 NZEF Nov 1939-Nov 1945; twice wounded; Governor-General of New Zealand Jun 1946-Aug 1952.
17 The Second Echelon anchored in the Firth of Clyde on 16 June but for security reasons the news was not released immediately.
19 The desert rat or jerboa is not unlike a diminutive kangaroo.
23 Brig G. H. Clifton, DSO and 2 bars, MC, m.i.d.; Porangahau; born Greenmeadows, 18 Sep 1898; Regular soldier; served North-West Frontier 1919–21 (MC, Waziristan); BM 5 Bde 1940; CRE NZ Div 1940–41; Chief Engineer 30 Corps, 1941–42; comd 6 Bde Feb-Sep 1942; p.w. 4 Sep 1942; escaped, Germany, Mar 1945; Commander, Northern Military District, 1952–53.
28 The Italian 4 AR (Thermos) bomb was essentially an anti-personnel weapon and was given the soubriquet ‘Thermos’ on account of its more than superficial resemblance to a thermos flask. The bomb body was made of ? in. steel, painted buff or green to make it inconspicuous on the ground. Its overall length was 12.3 in. and weight 3.9 kilograms. A safety pin removed when the bomb was dropped permitted the arming of the fuse by the release of secondary safety devices when the bomb struck the ground. The armed fuse was extremely sensitive to a jerk or jolt and the bomb was lethal at 100 feet.
32 The title 25 Field Company did not actually come into use until 1942, when as a deception plan base units were given divisional signs and serial numbers which identified them as divisional units. No. 1 Works Section, Maadi Camp, became 25 (NZ) Field Company, NZE, 6 NZ Division. The sign of the imaginary 6 Division was a Kiwi. It was intended to deceive enemy Intelligence as to the number of divisions in Egypt during the critical period dealt with in Chapter 10.
33 Brig F. M. H. Hanson, CMG, DSO and bar, OBE, MM, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Levin, 1896; resident engineer, Main Highways Board; Wellington Regt in First World War; OC 7 Fd Coy Jan 1940-Sept 1941; CRE 2 NZ Div May 1941, Oct 1941-Apr 1944, Nov 1944-Jan 1946; Chief Engineer, 2 NZEF, 1943-46; three times wounded; Commissioner of Works.
35 Col R. H. Packwood, OBE; Auckland; born Kaiapoi, 11 Apr 1892; district engineer, Public Works Dept; OC 9 Ry Svy Coy 1940-41; Asst Director of Works (Docks), GHQ MEF, 1941-43; Director of Planning, Engr-in-Chief's Branch, GHQ India, 1943-46.
36 Lt-Col T. C. V. Rabone, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Blenheim12 Sep 1891; civil engineer; OC 10 Ry Constr Coy Jan 1940-Nov 1941; OC Engr and Ordnance Trg Depot, Maadi, Nov 1941-Apr 1942; CRE Central Military District 1942-43.
39 Maj D. S. G. Marchbanks, DSO, MBE, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Wellington, 30 Sep 1901; civil engineer; OC 10 Ry Constr Coy Nov 1941-Feb 1942; 19 A Tps Coy 1942–43; 8 Fd Coy 1943–44; Chief Engineer, Wellington Harbour Board.
41 The term Wog which supplanted Gippo of the First World War is generally believed to be derived from the first letters of the appellation ‘Wily Oriental Gentleman’. Another explanation is that it derives from the expression ‘We Oriental Gentlemen’ attributed to an Egyptian notable speaking at a banquet at Cairo. But perhaps the most likely origin is a resurrected student term for an unidentified microbe on a slide.