The Gunners: an intimate record of units of the 3rd New Zealand Divisional Artillery in the Pacific from 1940 until 1945
Chapter Twelve — Artillery Training Depot
Artillery Training Depot
When, in July 1943, certain units of the Third Division. NZEFIP, including the 33rd Heavy Regiment and the 28th Heavy Anti-aircraft Regiment, were disbanded, personnel from these units were formed into the Artillery Training Depot, which officially began life on 26 July, 1943. Members of the Base Training Depot (artillery wing), then stationed in the Téné River valley, were also added to the total of personnel at the depot. This depot was established in the camp constructed by the 1st Scots Battalion at Nemeara, about 10 miles from Bourail, on the road to Houailou. The camp was well appointed when taken over by the artillery, having a good YMCA bure, a large amphitheatre with plenty of seating accommodation and a stage,. and many cookhouses, messrooms, office buildings and stores, as well as many roads (more or less non-muddy!). We were also-fortunate in having a good sized swimming pool which always had a fair depth of water.
The camp itself was situated in surroundings which the picnicker or camper of peace-time days would have found ideal. A stream wound it way through the area and the camp was established on the southern slopes of the valley through which this flowed. The niaouli tree was, of course, present. Tents were pitched among these trees and were usually fitted with wooden frameworks, and as and when timber was available, a wooden floor. Buildings which were in use as offices, storehouses, messrooms and kitchens were of native type, with either a thatched or niaouli bark roof. Plaited coconut fronds were used for the sides-of both tents and huts. Most of the cookhouses had a concrete floor and at first all cooking was done on an open grate fire and page 254in Aldershot-type ovens. Later, however, oil burning stoves were obtained. Taking into consideration the fact that we were in the field and had to improvise and construct practically all our facilities and amenities, we were surprisingly well off and comfortable.
The large, well-equipped YMCA hut, controlled by Mr Len Piper, was the centre of the social life of the camp. The depot canteen was situated at one end of the hut, with the supper "buffet alongside, while at the opposite end was a barber's shop and a well-stocked library. Towards the end of our stay in the depot the floor was boarded in and a stage erected at one end. It was a big enough structure to house several hundred men when the weather prevented the pictures being shown in the open and a screen was erected at one end of the bure.
When the depot was formed, Lieutenant-Colonel B. Wicksteed, formerly commanding officer of the 33rd Heavy Regiment, was appointed to take charge. Major J. R. Marshall was second-in-command and Captain E. J. Manders the adjutant. Captain I. H. B. Dixon was appointed quartermaster. In August Lieutenant W. O'Meara took over from Captain Manders as adjutant, and at the same time the depot was divided into three sections, namely 4epot headquarters, A battery and B battery. It was not long before training started in earnest. With Captain I. G. Young as chief instructor things got moving and an energetic programme was soon under way. Lack of equipment hindered some of the training at the outset, but this deficiency was soon remedied and troops were able to embark on some extensive projects under the various instructors. Wednesday afternoons were devoted to re-creational training, a large variety of sports being catered for during these periods. A considerable number of all ranks was sent back to New Zealand from time to time for courses in. various subjects and by the time the depot was called upon to supply reinforcements to the troops in the forward area a high standard of efficiency had been achieved.
Soon after we had established our new camp the social instinct asserted itself and the boys decided that a feminine touch about the place would not do any harm. So, after much discussion. and argument as to the most suitable type of function to hold, it was decided to hold a swimming carnival. And so, on 11 September 1943, Artillery Training Depot saw its first swimming championships. Unfortunately the depot pool was not in fit condition to use for the occasion as it had been washed out by heavy rain page 255which flooded the river. But nearby a pool constructed by the 144th Independent Battery was still in good order and it was decided to use this. It was a gala day indeed. The sports were well attended by members of the NZANS and the Kiwi Company, WAAC, and the NZEF1P band livened the afternoon with good musical numbers. Two of the girls decided they could show the men something in the swimming line and took part in several of the events. They finished off the day by participating in the water polo. Not the least amusing incident was when one of the boys got possession of the ball and was promptly and in no uncertain manner ducked, and stood on, by one of the WAACs. At the conclusion of the sports the girls were entertained at dinner in the various messes, and afterwards at the pictures and supper. It was indeed an enjoyable day and the forerunner of many similar occasions. On the same day as the swimming carnival the first issue appeared of the depot newspaper, the Arty Antidote. This was a six-page paper which was published weekly, on Saturdays, and was the source of much amusement and interest to the members of the depot. It was compiled from contributions from various people and included sports reports, a list of functions for the coming week, sketches, poems, and each week a page was devoted to the history of New Caledonia.
About this time the sergeants' mess, a building of the native type with thatched roof, caught fire and was totally destroyed— much to the delight, apparently, of the assembled gunners who sat on the bank and cheered! The officers' mess, which was close by, was saved in the nick of time to the accompaniment of caustic remarks from the onlookers.
Just prior to the swimming sports held on 11 September, several committees were formed in the depot. Among these were a sports committee, an entertainment committee, and the regimental funds committee, all of which were on the job constantly and ensured that the men were never without some sort of sport or entertainment. Almost every evening there was some function in camp—pictures twice a week, a card evening once a week, usually an interesting talk on Tuesdays, and occasionally a concert or a ping-pong tournament. Saturday and Wednesday afternoons were well occupied with sports of all kinds. Regular football and cricket competitions were held in their respective seasons, and at one time or another practically every game ever invented was played. The energy of these committees and the time they page 256so freely gave to make their functions a success are deserving of the thanks of all members of the depot, for life without their activities would have been dull and monotonous indeed.
September 1943 was a full month, on the 25th the base units swimming championships were held, also in the 144th Independent Battery pool, as the ATD river had been playing up again. The ATD team put up a good showing and the afternoon's sports were most successful. In the evening there were pictures until nine o'clock, and then the fun began. It was election night. A board had been set up in the YMCA and results received by radio were posted as they came through. Things were fairly quiet until about midnight, when it was possible to gain some idea of the state of the poll. Much good-natured rivalry was in evidence and sundry remarks and witticisms were hurled back and forth across the hut. One of our 'brighter' lads climbed up on to the platform and harangued all and sundry—one minute he was a staunch Labour supporter, and the next was exhorting his listeners to vote National.
An informal evening in the YMCA which was held in October was an occasion for much pressing of best shirts and trousers and oiling of hair; the depot turned out almost to a man to welcome the girls. Several items were arranged to entertain the multitude, and by the time the girls had contributed some extra talent to the show, the evening developed along the lines of an impromptu concert. Some time prior to this evening, arrangements had been made whereby members of the depot could make parties of four girls and four soldiers and obtain a truck for the day on Sundays. Many such trips were made, and there was always a waiting list for transport. A popular spot for these outings was Houailou, a village on the east coast of New Caledonia about 30 or 40 miles from ATD. The road leads over a range of hills, through some very beautiful scenery, and then down a valley until the settlement is found almost at the mouth of the Houailou River, then on up the coast a few miles to the Baie de Bas or to the Cascades.
Lieutenant-Colonel W. S. McKinnon, who was commander of the 28th Heavy AA Regiment and after-wards the 29th Light AA Regiment
Lieutenant-Colonel C. D. B. Campling, commander of 28th Heavy AA Regiment before returning" to England
Major J.G. Warrington who tempor-arily commanded the 17th Field Regi-ment with rank of lieutenant-colonel
Amid pleasant surroundings and in good weather the sports were a pleasant break from camp routine. Keen finishes characterised many of the track events. The most successful competitor in the 12 events for which prizes were awarded was Bad-land, of E troop, while Schroder, of A troop, did well to collect six dollars.
Congratulations go to E troop in piling up the highest points to annex the Wicksteed Cup. The troop tally was 42½ points. The 204 Relay Cup was also won by E troop. The Marshall Cup for the most successful individual competitor went to Bad-land who displayed all round ability in both track and field events.
Championship winners were as follows:—One mile, E. Turner (A troop); Long jump, D. G. Crabb (A battery); High jump, G. R. Beard (B troop); Hop, step and jump, D. Hamilton (C troop); 440 yards, A. Badland (E troop); Shot put, A. Badland (E troop); 100 yards, F. Schroder (A troop); 880 yards, L. Little (F troop); 220 yards, A. Badland (E troop).
The day was carried to a successful conclusion after the WAACs and sisters had been entertained at dinner and in the evening in the camp. And it was not very long after this when the girls were again feted, this time at a dance arranged by depot headquarters at the YMCA hall in Bourail. ATD was unfortunate in not having a floor suitable for dancing and consequently we had to use the building in Bourail, a fact which reduced considerably the number of dances we had hoped to be able to run.
On 9 November 1943, Lieutenant-Colonel Wicksteed relinquished his command of the depot and left for the forward area to take over command of the 17th Field Regiment. It will be many years before the various farewells accorded 'Wickie' will be forgotten and the sight of certain persons indulging in a bath in the local stream, fully clothed, will live long in everyone's memory! On the Saturday following Lieutenant-Colonel Wicksteed's departure, the Artillery Training Depot received a visit from the Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Cyril Newall. He inspected the camp and chatted informally for a moment with many of the men engaged in training, making his departure just after lunch.
About this time, a welcome addition to the menu was a supply, twice a week, of ice cream, provided by the National Patriotic page 258Fund Board. It was usually served with fruit salad or tinned fruit and was a great treat on hot days. On 27 November 1943, at Noumea, one of our sergeants was married—to a French lassie. Charlie Coates was the lucky man, and Helene Berger the bride. As many friends of the couple as could be spared from their duties attended the ceremony and a very pleasant day was spent in Noumea. The bride looked charming as she came from the church on her husband's arm, and the bridal car was towed away by drag-ropes, whitewashed for the occasion, in traditional army style. The couple left the reception about ten o'clock carrying with them the good wishes of all at ATD. They have since returned to New Zealand and are living in Auckland.
After Colonel Wicksteed's departure for the forward area, Major Marshall acted as commanding officer of the depot, and on 30 November Major N. W.M. Hawkins arrived to take over this task, Major Marshall having been placed on the New Zealand roll. Major Hawkins was CO from then until the depot was disbanded in April of the following year. Two lectures of note about this time were a talk by Bishop Gerrard on his experiences while a prisoner of war in Italy, and Lieutenant-Colonel Seaward's address on the operations in Vella Lavella, in the Solomons. Both these talks were well attended and much appreciated by the audience.
During December B battery, the anti-aircraft section of ATD, held a fortnight's manceuvres, ending with a shoot at Mount Dore, near Nouméa.
All this time there had been progressing a cricket competition, in which the Artillery Training Depot put up a creditable performance. The teams were more or less constantly being changed through members being posted to the forward area and new members arriving, but nevertheless things went well on the whole and much enjoyment was derived by the various players. On Saturdays the competition was between base units in New Caledonia, and on Wednesdays an inter-depot competition which was keenly contested. Mr Len Piper, on Wednesday afternoons, started off a baseball team—or rather two teams—known as the 'Nat Pat Slashers.' There was quite a keen following and many games were played, the depot doing well against outside units. One of the Wednesday afternoon cricket matches inspired the following jingle:—page 259
A Maiden Over
Or 'Something passed in the slips.'
The moment was tense and his turn came to bat,
Unperturbed he donned gloves and adjusted his bat,
Corrected his pads and walked to the wicket,
With the calm of a man who is born to big cricket.
A model he was, of composure and grace,
As he flicked at the bowling irrespective of pace,
Straight balls he slogged at, and blocked any wides
While anything fast he swiped at besides.
Till a bowler quite wily threw one in the air,
' By cli,' said smart Alec,' What have we here?
This one for six is a Monty to go.'
When he missed with his bat it connected with his toe.
But he still batted on defiant and rash,
Until he was stumped when having a lash
And all zvho were absent they must live to rue it,
They missed the great innings of our Alec Hewitt!
In the Boxing Day match between representative teams from A and B zones, five players were selected from Artillery Training Depot to play for the B zone eleven. These were Ralph Stallworthy, Gordon Burgess, Alan Donald, Kirkham and Rudman.
Christmas Day 1943 dawned fine and clear, and the camp was astir early making preparations for the traditional Christmas dinner. Roast turkey was the order of the day, and of course, plum pudding, without which no Christmas celebration would be complete. In the gunners' messes at depot headquarters, A battery and B battery, the sergeants waited on the men's tables in the traditional style of the British Army and endeavoured to make the dinner a memorable one. Brigadier W. W. Dove, officer-in-charge of administration, NZEFIP, paid a visit to the camp and called at each mess during the meal sampling the local 'brew' and wishing the gunners the season's greetings. The official photographer made a photographic record of the various messes, and the dinner was followed by a long spell of 'Maori PT,' everyone having eaten his fill of turkey, plum pudding, ice cream, fruit salad, and the many other items on the menu. Pictures in the evening brought a successful day to a close.page 260
The erection of an AEWS lecture hut in December was a decided asset to the depot. Prior to this all talks, lectures, and classes had to be held in the main YMCA building, and this naturally interfered with the use of the hut for the purpose for which it was intended. Several small groups of men attended regular classes on various subjects which were organised by the entertainment committee; text books and lectures were arranged through the Army Welfare and Education Service Headquarters in Bourail. Weekly card tournaments were also held in this building where the quieter atmosphere prevailed. Bridge, five hundred and crib were played in rotation and these contests were well attended and provided some very pleasant evenings. A team from the depot was usually sent to take part in a weekly five hundred tournament in Bourail, the boys more than once returning to camp after having swept the field.
About the. middle of December there appeared on all the notice-boards in the camps, and in all messrooms, large posters whose main lettering was—
'YMCA — 1900 hours — 3 Jan.'
together with a large question mark. The Arty Antidote also had various references to this mysterious event. Interest and speculation on this function raged through the camp for days, and many and varied were the conjectures as to the nature of the entertainment to be provided. But not one member of the depot hit upon the correct solution which was the best kept secret in the army. Monday evening arrived and by 6.45 pm the YMCA was well-nigh filled to capacity; by seven o'clock it was overflowing, and it was only with difficulty that a few seats were held in the front for the commanding officer and his party. Len Piper entertained the crowd from about 6.30 with a community sing, and shortly after the CO's arrival at seven o'clock this was interrupted by 'a clashing of cymbals and a sounding of trumpets.' The camp water cart arrived amidst a cloud of dust and to the accompaniment of much tooting of horns, pulling up with a flourish outside the YMCA. Three figures alighted. A conglomeration of odd pieces of apparel from bathing shorts to pyjama trousers could be identified, and as the trio made their 'stately' way to the rostrum (constructed from ping-pong tables and petrol drums) interest quickened and speculation ran even wilder in an endeavour to discover the nature of the proceedings which were to follow. The 'King and Queen 'for such were the page 261two leading lights, followed by their Court Crier, seated themselves with much ceremony upon their respective thrones (one-holers) after the Crier had called upon the assembly to rise to receive their Majesties. As soon as the King and Queen had made themselves comfortable, the Court Crier proceeded to read the following:—
Oyez Oyez Oyez
To all whom these presents come. Whereas, divers persons of the Artillery Training Depot, by their various and divers deeds, misdeeds, Wicksteeds and hayseeds, have acquired unto themselves certain degrees of fame, notoriety, abuse, pity and sympathy, Therefore, in consideration of the time of the year, to wit, New Year, and in recognition of the services, dis-services and self-services of the said divers persons, His Most Gracious Majesty, Arthur, King of Kas-kara, Emperor of Néméara, Houailou, Bourail and the 'Top Flat,' Baldy Mark III, has been pleased to confer honours, titles and orders as hereinafter set forth. There followeth, therefore, Artillery Training Depot New Year's Honours list.
At last we knew what the mystery was about. At least we thought we did. No one was prepared for what followed. The proceedings commenced with the commanding officer, Major Hawkins, being called to the platform to receive first honours. Space will not permit the publication of the full honours list (nor would the censor), but two or three items will suffice to bring back vivid memories to those who attended that historic function. The chief instructor of gunnery, Captain I. C. Young, was confronted with the following:—
Captain I. C. Young, C.I.G.
To all to whom these presents come, Greetings. Whereas, the said Invariably Calm Young, by virtue of training in the rain, sweating in the sun, shooting in the mud, chewing in the ranks, and springing off the suckers, has succeeded in masterfully mystifying the multitude in all aspects of gunnery, His Most Gracious Majesty has been pleased to confer upon the said Invariably Calm Young the title of C.I.G.—
Curse Of The Innocent Gunner.
The order bestowed upon the RSM was greeted with loud page 262acclamation and spirited cheers, while the following also received a good ovation:—
Bombardier S. G. Isherwood, I.R.A.
The said Sly Guy Isherwood has, through his pronounced and vast knowledge of beer kegs, wine dregs, WAAC's legs, and King's Regs., proved a tower of strength to the gunners of A battery during the period of strenuous festivities recently concluded, His Most Gracious Majesty has been pleased to confer upon the said Sly Guy Isherwood the order of the I.R.A.—
>Irrepressible Racketeers' Association.
Incidental humour was added by the King and Queen (Sergeants Walton and Lord) with several large mutton bones, which were chewed nonchalantly and then thrown indiscriminately to the crowd—producing one black eye, one large bruise, and one large dent in the crown of somebody's hat. The 'anointing' of several of the recipients of honours with footpowder and/or water was received enthusiastically by the audience, though it was not quite so popular with the 'anointed.'
On the following Saturday, 8 January 1944, a concert was held in the amphitheatre, a variety of excellent items being supplied by members of the depot. A party of WAACs was invited to be present and they were entertained at dinner prior to the show, and to supper afterwards in the YMCA. It was unfortunate that there was no loud speaker system available for such functions as this. In the middle of January, the sports committee excelled all its earlier efforts (and that is saying a lot) in producing another night swimming carnival, this one being much better than anything ever seen at the depot. It was a beautiful evening and the setting was perfect. Once again the girls were present and nearby units were invited to compete in the various events, which they did to good effect. The inevitable tote was in operation on several events, and the band was present and played selections during the evening. The large crowd present and the enthusiasm and excitement which ran high were evidence in themselves of the success of the evening.
The following morning was filled with excitement. Both the officers' and sergeants' messes did their best to destroy themselves by fire in the early hours of the morning (shades of 'Mary Ann'?). Fortunately not much damage was done. And page 263no sooner had everyone gone back to bed and settled down again when a sound of rifle fire was heard in the camp. An instinctive dive for fox-holes followed. No one was injured, however, and once more ATD relapsed into its customary state of somnolence.
Shortly after the depot had.been established, a camp pet was acquired in the shape of a young deer, Snuffy by name, and with an inquisitive nature he soon became a favourite with the members of the depot. No function was complete unless Snuffy was safely ensconced somewhere handy. His fondness for chocolate, fruit, sweets, in fact anything eatable, led him into many tents while the occupants were busy training, and many a soldier returned to his tent to find chocolate and candy wrappings, and odd bits of food scattered at random about the place and a very satisfied-looking Snuffy asleep under the bed. The various dogs about the camp did not seem to take kindly to our pet, but he was more than a match for them and woe betide any dog that came too close to his front legs. Eventually he took unto himself a wife—but very few at ATD ever caught sight of her. Snuffy kept her in the hills behind the camp (wise man) though he still visited the camp frequently on expeditions for his favourite tit-Bits. One Joe, a pet parakeet, caught and tamed in New Caledonia, also deserves mention and there was naturally the horde of assorted cats and dogs which can be found in and around any army camp. Where they came from nobody knows—but they came, they saw, and they stayed. A pet rooster inspired the following verses:—
'Keeny's Kokkerel Kobber'
At early dawn the cock awakes.
Knowingly he blinks, and shakes
His feathers out and seems to say
'Time I announced another day.'
His voice scores to its fullest height,
He screams and crows with all his might,
But not for long; he leaves those parts
And journeys far when the shooting starts.
Too well he knows that Herbie's aim
Has caused the death of sundry game,
And just in time away he shoots,
Followed close by Herbie's boots.
page 264 When Scotty wakes from sleep profound,
The morning rent by strident sound,
There pledged he his solemn word,
To liquidate the hapless bird.
This challenge, though, was met by one,
Sir Patrick, Percy's champion,
Who promised death by worst means known,
To he that dare touch Percy's comb.
The cock by way of gratefulness
Launched a campaign of hatefulness,
For on Pat's bed that feathered knave
Saw fit, to-day, to misbehave.
' You won't come near my bed,
I trust,' Says Murray with unveiled disgust,
' If you're going to muck about,
You'll muck about outside, you lout'
On 30 January a party of sergeants and warrant officers from Artillery Training Depot and Con Depot made a trip to Kone together with several WAACs from Con Depot. Kone is a pleasant little French village about sixty miles north of Bourail and was a favourite resort of soldiers on leave. An excellent day's outing was marred in the evening when the truck on which the party was travelling went over a bank and overturned. One WAAC, Miss Marcelle Hartnell, was killed, one sergeant had his, arm broken, and the remainder of the 15 members of the party all suffered from shock or concussion to a degree.
The following articles and paragraphs extracted at random from the pages of the Arty Antidote will doubtless be of interest to those who were stationed at ATD.
Gun Drill Amended
Preparation for action.
(1) On the order 'prepare for action,' No. 1 and the detachment if standing fast will halt. No. 1 examines his pay book and springs smartly up to the bore, having first removed the axis of the piece and handed it to the blank file in the front rank. He winds and unwinds the zero line, sets the MPI to safety and calibrates the OP. (2) No. 2 seizes the last post firmly between both ears and levels the corrector of the moment over the hook of the off page 265wheel, at the same time, in a low musical tone, reporting his opinion of the orderly sergeants to the No. 1 still up the spout of the piece. (3) No. 3 unstraps the chamber, unstraps the angle of sight and the quadrant elevation, sees that they are free from grit and dirt and smell, and replaces them on the recoil shield. He makes due allowance for the section commander and then with one deft movement of the left groin draws the brush 'piasaba' through the series. (4) No. 4 removes the crest clearance and splices the battery angle to the leg iron of the 'lead driver.' He withdraws the concentration from its pocket in the T tube and hands it to the GPO. (5) Nos. 5 and 6 remove all pins split and various from the line OT, place the rammer under both arms, insert the danger angle carefully in the centre driver, and then, with a scornful curl of the lip, remove the No. 1 from the bore by loading a shell up behind him. (6) As each No. 1 completes his task he reports to the wet canteen, being collected from there at intervals by the picket.
Advt. Wanted to Buy: Shawms; or would exchange for fowls.
Stomach, oh my stomach,
What a dismal life you lead,
Tell me pray what could you do
With a good old-fashioned feed.
Visualise a juicy steak,
Or a plate of chips and fish,
A slice of lamb and fresh green peas,
Or some such tasty dish.
Conjure not such visions sweet,
For I know how long you've waited,
For just one feed without a veg,
That's labelled 'Dehydrated.'
As has been evidenced throughout, much attention was of necessity given to sport and recreational training. Calls for personnel to proceed 'up top' were constant and usually hurried; in consequence of which many were anxious to be in a position to stand up to the extra rigours which service in the forward area demanded, and much keenness was shown in sport. Officers, like everyone else, came and went. This necessitated constant changes in the various appointments, but it can be fairly said 'that Lieutenants Cleal and Cox were particularly untiring in their efforts towards promoting sports. They were always looking for new opportunities to maintain interest and produce 'finds' for the base and allied meetings as they came round. During January the idea of a road race was conceived by our sports 'bloke,' Mr. Cox, and the idea was taken enthusiastically throughout the base. Much was the training done and many the side bets on the various contestants' chances of success. The course was set—ATD gate to BOD Bourail, the distance approximately nine miles and the day 2 February 1944. Having been over that particular stretch of road so many times most of us know just what such a run could be. Fortunately the time of the year gave us a damp day and the competitors were saved the inconvenience of, at least, a dusty trip. The depot was again in the honours—Sergeant Shannon of B battery came 'home.'
As the story of our depot unfolds, February seems to have been an even bigger and better month than ever, so far as variety of events is concerned. Our old friend Cupid had again been at work. No one quite knows who fired the first round, but it happened. On 5 February Staff-Sergeant Maurice Iggulden, the super-shrewd BQMS of A battery, found himself faced with the problem of keeping a very solemn appointment with Private Betty Findlay of the 'Waacery,' 4th General Hospital, Bougen. A great deal of effort and preparation had been carried out for the event, including a very concerted effort upon the bridegroom on the night 4-5 February by his fellow sergeants and others in their mess 'den' at Néméara. The great day dawned beautifully fine and quite a multitude of guests wended their way to Bougen for the occasion. Despite the fact that we were all on 'active service' the event lost none of its solemnity through lack of background and setting. A very fine outdoor altar had been constructed and suitably draped. The complete dignity and charm of our church at home was reproduced before us in Bougen Valley. The service page 267was conducted by Padre D. H. V. Michael and the bride was given away by the CO of the hospital, Colonel E. G. Sayers. The reception which followed was an equal success—that's how friend Iggulden came to alter his allotment.
No story would be complete without a word on the efforts of those people to whom we look for spiritual guidance. Almost from the inception of the depot we had Padre R. W. Murray with us as our mainstay. Although he gave us some 'gruellings' on occasions, we thought a lot of him. Outside his purely ecclesiastical duties he was a fairly silent worker who quietly dug his toes in upon his wants and usually won out. Many of the amenities and social highlights of the depot could be quite definitely traced to his forethought and help. On 8 February he left us on transfer to CCS, Guadalcanal, his place being taken by Padre W. H. D. Hartley from DOW. The changing of a padre in a unit always seems to be an event—much conjecture and hearsay expressions of opinion as to what sort he is going to be—all of which invariably has the effect of putting the show on its best behaviour for a few days until everyone sums up the new arrival. This period was most trying on all ranks, as it precluded us from even whispering our frank opinions of each other in the plainest of terms. However, we soon found that Jim Hartley was one of us and prepared to share in our trials and help us over our stiles in much the same manner as his predecessor Bob Murray. Of course we must not overlook Padres A. S. Ward and O. T. Barag-wanath who, although not with us for long, contributed their share towards the general welfare of all.
Only too well do we appreciate what a 'wet' season in the tropics means and particularly the February habits of the weather in Néméara Valley. Admittedly we enjoyed a very sheltered spot, almost locked in by hills, including Mt. Boa, topped with its picturesque and unique cross carried there by a French missionary pilgrimage many years ago. The charm of the whole locality could be suddenly changed when, with little warning, Boa and her attendant hills would deliver through our stream much more water than our needs called for, and suddenly turning a lazy trickle of water into a raging torrent. No piece of equipment that the depot possessed played quite such an important part in our existence as our famous bridge. Without it we were virtually cut off by road from the outside world. Consequently it was always the centFe of attraction after a heavy downpour, particularly on page 268the part of the quartermaster's staff, who could be seen precariously balanced on the stringers using bamboo poles in an endeavour to clear sundry flotsam which was jeopardising the security of our connection with the great outside. While this went on the general assembly of the depot, the local farmer and his family, watched and wagered on either bank. We cannot take unto ourselves the credit for its original construction but we do give full marks to those who did. It would be difficult to imagine any similar construction which took more punishment. Each successive flooding left its mark. Finally, during the eventful month of February 1944, the elements won their battle and on the morning of the 27th an exceptional rise of 14 inches took our then tottering bridge downstream. On this fateful morning it became apparent, from the silent way with which all ranks observed this disaster, that quite a sentiment had sprung up between them and their faithful servant.
Over the previous few weeks quite a deal of thought had been given to the possibility of this happening and the number of 'expert' bridge builders was amazing. There was the ingenious construction known as 'Shannon's Elevated Highway.' Space coes not permit going into details of construction or design—it was thoroughly unique and typified the great mind of its designer —but it worked. Then, further downstream, our attached friends, Divisional Sigs, had produced their 'brain child'—a foot suspension bridge—much more orthodox than the Shannon effort, "but requiring a lot of skill and practice in the art of how to cross it and still remain grade 1. Several techniques had to be practiced constantly before one felt in any way confident about making the trip. The decking was only 18 inches wide and sides were merely a very wide mesh of signal wire (unserviceable). However, we soon mastered the difficulties of normal crossings, even to the point of running the distance. Our friends across the road, the Light AA Regiment, the Field Regiment and the LAD could probably give us some interesting details of their experiences in going home via this bridge. To cap all our efforts in river-crossing problems the loss of our traffic bridge presented a very real and serious situation. No vehicle traffic could enter the camp area proper and we were faced with all the difficulties of supplies and water. However in a matter of hours our handy men, Gunners Cates and Johnson, those tiers of knots, splicers of rope, and sewers of canvas were on the job and from conveniently page 269placed trees on either side had a wire line across and soon a 'flying fox' was running a regular ferry service. For many days this was our only means of supplying the needs of 500 men. As. it so happened this all coincided with the move out of A battery on a week's exercises and was the only means of moving out personal gear and all the other multifarious needs of a field battery. Such an arrangement could not, of course, be a permanent affair and very soon we had an ingenious ford across the stream. This filled our exit and entrance needs for the remainder of our stay. With the return of the division a little later, it came in for some very heavy work but stood the test. Force rear party, which occupied the area for a time after we had left for home, reported that on the day they vacated the camp the river developed another fit of temper and washed the ford beyond repair. Perhaps to some it may appear that much space has been taken by this section of our story but it did provide a great deal of interest and worry, and at times very hard work and excitement.
While training had been steadily progressing under the direction of Captain Young and his instructional staff, many difficulties had been encountered, the main one being that of insufficient equipment. It was not until the New Year that this problem was rectified and full scale battery manoeuvres and training could be undertaken by the field battery.
As has already been mentioned the depot mainly comprised personnel from the two heavy regiments and the general plan was that the 33rd Regiment personnel who had been handling 6-inch Mark VII and 155 mm equipment would convert to 25-pounder and 6-pounder and that 28 Heavy Anti-aircraft would convert from 3.7 inch static and mobile to 40 mm Bofors and thus fill the reinforcement needs for the Divison. Add to this something of N and T Force personnel, who had in some cases been trained on different equipments again. Then include a collection of old Fiji-ites who had manfully gone forward in the very early stages of our Pacific venture armed with such equipment as 3.7 inch, 4.5 inch and 6-inch howitzers, 18 and 60-pounders together with odd types of coast guns and the net result takes quite a little sorting out. Every gunner has his first love for some particular equipment, be it the latest model or something" antique. No matter what advantages are made in technical improvements he will always fondly refer to his 18-pounder, 4-inch, 3-inch, 20-cwt, heavy AA or whatever it is and proudly argue its page 270merits against all comers. In consequence of this the arguments that were available on the slightest provocation were unbounded and terrific. This merging of so many types of gunners with all that previous service, experience and opinions did produce a much closer understanding of one another's problems, which in turn inevitably increased the esprit de corps of the divisional artillery as a whole. Although we had a comparatively sheltered existence in the depot, everyone was anxious to get his chance alongside a brother gunner 'up top.'
So on 28 February A battery moved out on its first full-scale field exercise and live shell practice. The weather had done its best to upset the carefully laid plans for the move, but everything was successfully transported across the stream by means of the swing bridge and 'flying fox' and the show got away to a good rolling start to spend some days in bivouac in the Muéo Valley area. For many of our 'concrete' gunners it was their first real try-out at coordinated field work; for others who had been away from mobile work in other branches of the corps it was a much needed refresher. Fortunately our spell of bad weather was localised to Néméara and fine weather was experienced for the whole stay at Muéo, where an excellent bivouac was established and training carried out.
It was unfortunate that the boys of A battery missed a grand show by the Kiwi concert party at the depot on 1 March. For quite a number of us it was their first performance and although the evening was showery the camp staff and B battery thoroughly enjoyed the splendid programme. The question of sport and entertainment, if forced beneath the surface through the pressure of training and work, never stayed there for long. Early in March plans were in hand by an enthusiastic sergeants' mess committee —lead by 'Baldy' Walton and ably assisted by his other bald-headed warrant officer friends, Cooper and If werson—for a race meeting, the object of which was to provide fun and enjoyment and at the same time recoup the regimental funds account purse. This had received a thrashing in the purchase of camp amenities. These fellows never did anything by halves and Saturday 12 March was no exception. The autumn meeting of the Néméara Jockey Club was a complete success in every way. The course was laid out in the amphitheatre area and was complete down to the bird-cage (bird inclusive) and jockeys in caps and colours. The day was fine and quite a crowd was present. These included page 271a party of Sisters and WAACs who remained as guests for dinner and attended the base swimming carnival in the evening. The base band was also present and provided the musical atmosphere suitable to such occasions. As already mentioned the purpose of the meeting was to increase regimental funds, and this opened the way to all sorts of avenues of ways and means. A very fine race card was produced which had unlimited advertising space, all fully booked on the advertisers' behalf by the committee beforehand, at a fee decided and demanded of them. The medical and dental officers, Captains McIlroy and Paige, were given premier space at a fee of the odd dollar or so. Between races a 'gestapo' operated a system of injustices on people—particularly officers who seemed to be fair game for anything. The approach of this gang was heralded by a siren deftly attached to a gun tractor. This vehicle disgorged a posse of burly SS-cum-MPs— who pounced on the hapless victim and virtually dragged him to the stage where he was faced with the payment of further moneys. To argue was fata! and many dollars changed hands in this way. The racing itself, and the dividends, were very good. The day's takings from all sources yielded just over 100 dollars.
The sports officer, Mr. Cox, and his committee, had a heart-breaking job in keeping the camp pool in order as each successive flood took all equipment, pontoons, diving boards and dam down-stream. The main flood and several minor ones which followed had wrought their usual havoc and the fact that we were able to hold the base swimming carnival following the race meeting was a credit to the sports committee and really stretched our entertaining facilities to the limit for one day. The location and setting of the pool were really picturesque and lent themselves admirably to the comfortable seating of hundreds of spectators. On this particular occasion we had visitors from near and far. The night was a memorable one; the pool was completely floodlit and looked a veritable fairyland, with real live women for fairies. All messes again entertained their respective guests when the show was over.
Swimming contributed towards the physical fitness of all ranks and the popularity of Bourail Beach, with its splendid club facilities, necessitated the introduction of life-saving teams from the various base units to patrol the beach area. The depot was able to furnish a team which did regular tours of duty. From the way in which volunteers were forthcoming it can be fairly assumed that the Kiwi Club staff was an added attraction. The impression page 272may now be abroad that all those various breeds of gunners who lived in the sanctity of this depot did nothing but sport on beaches, make love, drink beer and play games, but such is far from the truth. Training and more training was the order of each day and on ?23 March B battery (the clay bird gunners) left on still another exercise which covered a fairly wide field, including a start in the Bourail Beach area followed by a mobile exercise en route to Mt. Dore, Noumea. There they conducted a live shell practice at the American Naval Gunnery School.
By some manner of means these trips always managed to include a flying visit to Noumea for a spot of leave and then our ack ack brethren trekked back the 120 miles quite satisfied with their efforts and succeeded in making the rest of the gunners extremely envious by producing many purchases. Strangely enough, gunners always seemed to measure the degree of success of a show by the number of rounds they fired and these 'clay bird' fellows always had the edge in this respect. This would invariably lead to another of those interminable arguments on the respective merits of equipment. Whereas the field gunners would be content with a few rounds per gun these chaps would boastfully and in a loud voice, declare their efforts in hundreds a gun. It used to hurt a bit but they seldom hit anything anyway. Their efforts and arguments were always well supported by that great pair, the BSM, Denny Jones, and the BQMS, Tom Organ, who will always be remembered. If the BQMS had a fault it was his unexplainable habit of losing can-openers.
But, when the division was in action, we learned just how much fun life in an AA battery could be. Proportionately, they suffered the heaviest casualties of the divisional artillery, but did a great job.
With March now drawing to a close the sporting side of our life changed from cricket to winter games and again we were in the money. Our B battery cricket eleven won the base cricket championship. Unfortunately, serious competitive sport did not get going again as the future of the division was in some ways doubtful. Rumour was rife on all sorts of possibilities.
Major N. W. M. Hawkins, commander of the ATD
Major A. G. Coulam, commander of the 53rd Anti-tank Battery
Major C. H. Loughnan, MC, battery commander in Fiji
Major L. J. Fahey, commander of the 53rd Anti-tank Battery
Nothing definite was known as to when the plan would materia-lise and training went on, including that of our anti-tank gunners who, although the smallest of our family, had stuck to the job on the 6-pounders despite a lot of horse-play as to whether their pop-guns worked or not. Finally a shoot was arranged but because of the difficulty in producing a mobile target on land, it was decided to do the practice seawards, on Nèpoui Harbour. This also produced more practical training as their role forward had been confined to one of beach and harbour defence.
This shoot, preceded by experiments for the most suitable type of target, was destined to be one of the most interesting and exciting we conducted. A great competitive spirit was introduced by the inclusion of Bofors and 25-pounders. On the morning of 19 April the convoy moved out and headed north through Nèpoui. The afternoon was spent in zeroing sights in preparation for the shooting on the following day. At first light next morning the guns moved down to the foreshore of the harbour. Meanwhile the range party had left for Nepoui dock where targets, rope, radio, and all the neccessary equipment was loaded aboard the towing craft—a Higgins boat. The day was gloriously fine and it really was a treat to be on the harbour. The targets towed perfectly and the trial run, to enable the American coxwain to become conversant with his court, was excellent. Things became reasonably hectic on the second live run when the target fouled page 274and the coxwain was left to his own devices and changed course rather suddenly, with the result that we in the boat almost became the target. It is not a pleasant sensation to watch the Bofors tracer whizz by or hear the zing of a 6-pounder when it 'richs' within yards. However, the mistake was soon rectified and the shoot concluded very successfully; only one of the five targets used was worth taking home.
From here onwards events followed in quick succession. On our return from Nepoui we found that the first manpower draft was to be moved almost immediately and was to comprise troops already in the base area. This, of course, considerably reduced our depot strength and we were able to close completely the areas previously occupied by A and B batteries and consolidate what was left in the headquarters area. To see these areas vacated was not altogether a pleasant sight. They had been a hive of industry and life for nearly a year. A terrific amount of effort had been put into them and when tent sites were cleared it was really amazing to find just how well most of the tent homes had been constructed. These fellows like all others in the force, had improvisation down to a fine art. Training was for now a thing of the past and all remaining personnel were busy on plans for temporarily 'salting down' equipment and preparing for the home-coming of the boys from 'up top,' who were also considerably reduced in numbers as drafts were moving back to New Zealand almost direct from forward areas.
In the midst of all these happenings we were still able to enjoy even widely digressing pleasantries. The little man with the darts was about again. This time he caught one of the officers. On 22 April, Lieutenant Bill Cox and Sister Janet Middleton, of Kalavere Hospital were married at the Cathedral, Bourail, the setting and service being very impressive in the quaint precincts of this old French church. The reception was later held at the hospital where many depot-ites were entertained. Many will also remember that the festivity was continued and celebrated later in the night at the depot officers' mess—perhaps to some the incidents and effects of the 'Crump Cocktails' will recall the episode —or will it!
On 24 April we received another jolt as we lost our name and reverted to Artillery Wing, BTD. At first it seemed that we were also going to move there but fortunately this did not eventuate. page 275With all our equipment and precious few men this would have been a very formidable task.
At the end of April we received our first guests when the cadres of 207th and 208th Light AA Batteries and '35th Field Battery arrived, along with a smattering of personnel from several other units, and we were able to put into action our homecoming plans. The depot again seemed to spring to life as these people got to work in preparation for the arrival of the remainder of the units. Nearly every ship yielded us a quota and all through May and June the population around us increased. What a treat it was to see the hillsides showing the glow of lamps again, to have the YMCA going full bore, and to meet and renew long-standing friendships. They were pleased to be back; we were equally pleased to see them. Finally, Headquarters Divisional Artillery arrived on 21 June, followed by 214th Light AA Battery on 6 July. What was left of the Corps was now safely and comfortably settled on the ground in the Nemeara Valley. Brigadier Duff set up his headquarters in the depot and the then small residue of ATD personnel, who were employed in preparing all our stores for return to BOD, were finally disposed of to the various artillery units. ATD was no more.
It would be an incomplete story if particular reference was not made to the various attached troops who provided essential services. The 42nd LAD, Div Sigs section, medical, dental and hygiene people. All these played their part admirably and were always willing to add their weight to any of our schemes to make a better show. Once the troops seriously began moving in from the forward area a great deal of effort was given to entertainment and all will remember the performances of the NBC concert party. Henri Penn and the repertory players, and the RNZAF band, together with a team of lecturers who gave their best.
In attempting to produce the story of the 'Base' gunners it has been impossible to recall all the incidents which occurred, not to mention all the people who contributed so much towards any success the depot achieved. Ours was not the honour and glory of actual battle and many excellent gunners were disappointed in not getting a crack, but such an organisation behind the fighting forces was necessary, and certain people, like it or not, had to be prepared to remain in the background and get on with the job. In addition to our normal function of artillery training we were often called on to supply personnel for other essential duties in page 276the base. Perhaps a special tribute could be paid to our drivers who, tough fellows, were capable of doing a tough job. A suitable epilogue to this effort might have been a nominal roll of all who passed through the depot, but as this total would run into well over a thousand names this is not possible, so let us all remain anonymous.