The Gunners: an intimate record of units of the 3rd New Zealand Divisional Artillery in the Pacific from 1940 until 1945
Chapter Nine — 53rd Anti-Tank Battery
53rd Anti-Tank Battery
The first anti-tank units of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Pacific came Into being in February 1942 with the formation, in Fiji, of two anti-tank troops, one in the 8th Brigade area under the command of Second-Lieutenant J. Stafford and the other in the 14th Brigade area with Second-Lieu tenant D. H. Steer in command. The 8th Brigade troop, which later formed the basis of the 53rd Anti-tank Battery and the one with which we are at present concerned, was equipped with three US 37-millimetre anti-tank guns. The personnel of this troop was drawn from artillery and infantry units in the Suva area. This troop of 30 men spent some time training in Samambula Camp. It later deployed its guns in an anti-submarine role around Suva Bay, one at Lami Point and the other two on the waterfront in the vicinity of the New Zealand Club, while the personnel were billeted in buildings which were once part of the Suva civil gaol.
Training was strenuous in this humid climate but living conditions were good when compared with some of the islands lived in later. As the unit was stationed within easy reach of Suva, leave periods were easily filled in, and beer, a great morale builder, was plentiful, although there were occasional droughts. In July, with other units of the Fiji force, the troop embarked on the President Coolidge for the journey home. On arrival in New Zealand, all personnel proceeded on 14 days' leave.
At the conclusion of disembarkation leave personnel of the troop were camped for a short time at Opaheke, in the Papakura district. In August the unit moved to Papakura Military Camp where all artillery units were being concentrated for the purpose of reorganisation. When this reorganisation took place the anti-page 203tank troop formed the nucleus of a new unit, the 53rd Anti-tank Battery. Major A. G. Coulam was the first battery commander and on his transfer shortly afterwards Captain L. D. Lovelock who, in November, was promoted to the rank of major, was placed in command. The other officers were selected from artillery units recently returned from Fiji and the balance of other ranks mainly from South Island territorial artillery units. It appeared that a predominance of southerners in the battery would be a great advantage to Aucklanders when week-end leave came round, but they were quickly disillusioned, for the South Island boys so enjoyed Auckland that they were always ready to go there on leave. New equipment, this time 2-pounder anti-tank guns, was issued and the task of welding all ranks into a trained team began. The period of training in Papakura was short, for in early October orders were received to move to the Waikato district. Our stay in Papakura had been a pleasant one and many were disappointed to leave that well-appointed camp.
The battery's new camp site, on a farm property about two miles from the Okoroire railway station, was soon made quite comfortable. The local residents welcomed our arrival and did all in their power to make our stay a happy one. Most of the neighbouring homes were open to the troops. Dances held at Tirau, Matamata, and Putaruru were always looked forward to and well patronised by all ranks. The Okoroire hotel and nearby mineral baths proved extremely popular in off duty hours. Many lasting friendships were made in the Tirau district. Some of our members scored great successes with the local ladies. One of our 'great lovers 'was a despatch rider for a time and as this gave him opportunities of moving around and carrying out a thorough reconnaissance, he made a deep impression in the district. But the more serious business of training had to receive close attention. After the camp was established intensive and strenuous training covering all aspects of anti-tank work was carried out. The country proved ideal for the. purpose and the battery held manoeuvres over a wide area extending as far as Putaruru, Mata-mata, Te Aroha, and the Kaimai and Mamaku Ranges.
The battery commander, in an endeavour to reciprocate the kindness extended by the neighbouring farmers to him and to the unit as a whole, made great use of the talents of individual members of the battery in assisting local residents. A few men helped with shearing, one made alterations to a house, one repaired a page 204motor-car, another was able to put an electric sewing machine in commission again, while still another repaired a beer pump at the local hotel. This last job was not the enjoyable one it was expected to be, judging by the sober condition in which the soldier returned to camp. These hardly appear to be military duties, but they made for greater co-operation between the local people and the unit.
On 28 October Major Lovelock and two other ranks left for New Caledonia as part of an artillery advanced party. Their task was to select suitable camp sites and prepare for the arrival of the units. The week before Christmas was spent striking tents, crating stores, and loading equipment on trains at Tirau station preparatory to our move overseas. Christmas leave was restricted, so most of us were forced to spend that period in camp. Many were invited to local homes and enjoyed their turkey dinners while the more unfortunate messed in the open field that was once our camp. However, supplies from the unit wet canteen did much to brighten the atmosphere.
After an early reveille on the morning of 27 December 1942 the unit entrained at Tirau and proceeded to Auckland, where we embarked on the USS West Point, previously named the USS America and in 1941 converted into a troopship. Two days were spent aboard ship in the Auckland harbour, during which time troops were instructed as to ship's routine and given emergency drills. At 1000 hours on the 29th the ship sailed and after two uneventful days at sea entered Noumea harbour and anchored in the stream. The following morning, 1 January 1943, the battery disembarked from the West Point and went aboard a Dutch freighter which took us to Nepoui. After one night at Nepoui we set off by road for Taom in the north of New Caledonia.
The country, judged by New Zealand standards, was very barren. The main growth appeared to be niaouli and gaiac trees, although we were to find later areas suitable for certain types of farming, such as the production of fat stock. The roads to our part of the country were bad, due possibly to the fact that they were now bearing extremely heavy traffic. Later American and New Zealand engineers made considerable improvements to these roads. The homes of some of the French who had been long resident in this island and those of the natives, Javanese, Ton-kinese and Kanaka were neglected and there was a general atmosphere of poverty about the place. Arriving in the summer, page 205which is the wet season and when the mosquitoes are most plentiful, did not help us to regard our new home with any degree of enthusiasm. However, we were to discover later that this was not such a bad place after all. We were comparatively fortunate in the selection of our new camp site. It was situated in fairly open country, where the mosquitoes were not so prevalent, although still in large numbers, near a small stream known as the Taom River. Camp construction began immediately. The area was cleared, tents erected, and work started on the building of a cookhouse and messhuts. These mess huts and cookhouses were built in native style with thatched or niaouli-bark roofs. Such tasks were performed with some difficulty principally because of the distance to be travelled in search of materials and the lack of suitable tools, which arrived some time later.
Major Lovelock, while acting in his capacity as a member of the advanced party, had travelled a very considerable mileage and had made himself familiar with the whole island from Noumea to Pagoumene in the far north. The information he had gathered of the island and of its people was invaluable to the unit later. We knew where to take our laundry and where to buy eggs, bread and wine. Our unit commander left in early February for New Zealand to attend a tactical course. The new commander, who was previously second-in-command of the battery, was Major E. I. Henton, well known for his fund of stories of the varied and highly diverting incidents in the life of Pon-sonby and Talbot.
After the arrival of guns and other equipment the unit carried out six months of intensive training. This training was done under difficult conditions; the rise in temperature from our New Zealand climate was very apparent, and the-mosquitoes, although not malaria carriers, were troublesome. Troop, battery, and brigade manoeuvres and live shell shooting took up a large part of training time. Manoeuvres made a break from camp life and gave us an opportunity of seeing the country and meeting the people, whom we found to be most hospitable. The battery took part in a brigade exercise, the 'Styx/ usually pronounced 'Stynx,' which involved a river crossing by night and the traversing, without the benefit of a previous reconnaissance, of nearly two miles of lightly wooded country. This manoeuvre was carried out with some difficulty. Our guns were towed by Bren carriers lent and driven by the co-operative infantry, and assisted every few yards page 206by heaving gunners. One of the senior officers hardly entered into the spirit of the game, for he was rather displeased when he found that one of our carriers was towing behind it a few hundred yards of telephone cable. Although we did not wait to hear his full story, it appeared that his main grievance was that, on the end of that cable, and coming along too, was his head-quarter's telephone. The hours of hard work in the rnud and the discomfort and lack of sleep were more than compensated for by the arrival, late next morning, of a staggering quartermaster with the remains of a jar of rum!
The difference in language did, for a time, present some difficulty, but it was found that a mixture of English, French, and the sign language did suffice to make us understood. Some of the people could, however, speak a little English. For most of the men a large French vocabulary was not necessary. Although the wants and desires of a few may have been a little difficult to express, requests were usually confined to the purchase of fruit, eggs, and sometimes wine.
Sport was always a welcome change from training. One afternoon a week was set aside for the playing of cricket, and later, football. The best attended match on the battery's sports ground was on the occasion when the North Islanders of the unit played, and defeated, the boys from the South Island. The battery bookmakers handled many dollars that day. The match was played to show which of the two was the better island and to put an end to the interminable discussions on the merits and demerits of each. Unfortunately, the fact that the game had proven the case for the North Island was accepted after the match by only the minority, that is, all the North Islanders. After a dam had been put across the Taom River a fine swimming pool resulted. This was always a popular spot, particularly during siesta periods and when the day's work was over. Week-end deer-stalldng expeditions were organised, but deer were not plentiful in this area, but the parties did manage to have quite a lot of fun. The excellent roadhouse, built by men of the 14th Brigade and controlled by their representatives, and the local open-air theatre were the centres of our social life. A racecourse was built in the Taom area by the men of the local units. Considerable work went into the making of the track and the erection of buildings. The finished job was a tribute to the adaptability and the ability for improvisation of the builders. Colonel Dix, page 207a local resident, on whose property we were camped, supplied numerous horses for the race meetings. The coming move prevented our having more than two meetings, but the enjoyment obtained from these gatherings more than compensated for the hard work put in by the men in constructing the course.
In April the guns of the battery, 2-pounders, were replaced by the heavier 6-pounders. This change of equipment involved learning a new gun drill and the introduction of a few technical problems and necessitated more live shell practice, but the latter was ever welcome. In July rumour had it that we were to move again. This proved to be true, for in early August striking camp and packing equipment began. Here use was made of some 1,500 feet of timber which we had cut from native trees with the use of a borrowed circular saw powered by a tractor. Packing was more involved this time, for instead of moving as a unit as had been done in the past, the battery had been split up and troops were attached to battalion combat teams, A troop to the 37th Battalion, B troop to the 30th Battalion, and C troop to the 35th Battalion combat team. The troops of the battery left for Noumea on the 13, 14 and 15 August and embarked on three 'President' ships immediately on arrival there. The method of embarkation was new to us. Personnel were taken out to the ships in small landing barges and went aboard by climbing up rope nets hanging over the sides of the ships. Although a lot of personal gear had been left behind at base, packs were heavy, so this proved quite a difficult operation for the first time.
On the 17 August amphibious exercises were carried out in the Noumea Harbour and on the following day the convoy sailed. Life aboard ship was reasonably pleasant, although no trip through tropical waters on a troopship is a pleasure cruise. Emergency drills were carried out periodically, decks were swept by troops, cooks supplied to assist ship's cooks, a large number of 'chow hands' were on duty daily, and ship's guns had to be manned. Quarters were not spacious and extremely hot, for portholes were always locked. Periods between drills and duties were more enjoyable as they were spent up on deck in reading or yarning, with perhaps a little gambling in a quiet corner, or just doing nothing. Ship's canteens were usually open to troops and almost everyone stocked up with cigarettes and cigars. Motion pictures were shown nightly. Cinemas were small but with two screenings each night everyone who wished could attend the page 208movies. It was found that one of the greatest advantages of life aboard ship was that it was nearly always possible to avoid the officers and sergeant-major when they were on the prowl for extra 'chow-hands' or for someone to sweep decks..
Land was sighted on 29 August and on, that day the troopships sailed into Vila Harbour on Efate, an island in the southern portion of the New Hebrides. Escort ships stood guard outside. The small town in the enclosed harbour and the palm-fringed foreshore appeared from the ship to be very beautiful. General leave to go ashore was, unfortunately, not granted. To obtain permission to visit the town field rank was necessary or, alternatively, great powers of persuasion. Those fortunate enough to see Vila were impressed and agreed that the drinks available there were excellent. Full-scale and realistic landing exercises which involved unloading from the ships everything that had been put in at Noumea, were practised on Mele Beach, about eight miles along the coast from Vila. The island of Efate, with its long coral sand beaches and tropical vegetation, together with a pleasant climate, was the nearest approach we had seen, or did ever see, to those island paradises depicted on travel posters and the movies. This island was the first that the battery had visited where the malaria carrying anophelene mosquito was to be found, so extra precautions were taken while ashore at night. Atebrin was taken, insect repellent applied, sometimes under pressure as it made the skin hotter and stickier, and mosquito nets carefully tucked in.
The Tolson brothers, of 144th Independent Battery, winning the 14 inch cross-cut event at an axeman's carnival on Nissan Island. Below: Part of the battery's camp in the jungle on Nissan. It was amazing that such trees could grow on coral
In New Caledonia members of the 144th Independent Battery constructed a large bure in their camp and a swimming pool with scats for spectators. Below: The sergeants of headquarters Divisional Artillery in their mess on Nissan Island
Guadalcanal was the first of our island homes where fighting; against the Japanese had taken place. Large and scattered American cemeteries, beached ships, the large amount of expended cartridge cases in the shallow water and on the coral beaches, and the damaged condition of the trees bore testimony to the bitter fighting that had taken place. Souvenir hunters were soon on the job and many articles of enemy equipment were found as part of the interior decoration of the tents. Coincident with the completion of camp construction, preparations for the next move to Vella Lavella were begun. Again tents were struck, equipment and stores packed, and guns prepared for the shift. The battery was again split and troops attached, as before, to infantry battalion combat (earns. On this occasion the headquarters of the battery was kept more or less intact and attached, temporarily, to the 30th Battalion combat team. Captain J. G. McClennan was sent forward as an advanced party for the battery. The equipment of A and C troops, plus a small party of men from these troops, was loaded on LSTs and the balance of personnel, together with a battery headquarters advanced party consisting of Lieutenant J. Stedman and Lance-Bombardier Bruce Armstrong. embarked on an LCI and sailed on 16 September. The two-day journey was uneventful although several alerts were sounded as the nearby New Georgia Group and Vella Lavella were being; bombed.
When unloading commenced on the beaches at Vella Lavella on the morning of 18 September, enemy planes made a determined effort to get at the shipping, but American and New Zealand fighter planes and anti-aircraft fire, as well as heavy fire from all ships of the convoy, drove them off before casualties were caused. Morale increased considerably when several enemy planes were seen in flames plunging into the sea. After the attack unloading operations proceeded very rapidly so that the job could be finished before another visit was received. A and C troops were taken to small areas allotted as temporary camp sites. A troop at Gill's Plantation alongside the Joroveto River, and C troop at a position about one mile from the Maravari River in the direction of the airstrip. No roads existed at this stage and the transportation page 210of equipment and supplies along the jungle tracks was extremely difficult. Small areas on which there was sufficient space to erect tents were hewn from the jungle and a temporary home set up. Rain came every day and camps were always wet; many hours each night and day were spent in fox-holes as the Japanese bombers were over very often, and lights or fires were not per-mitted after dusk. Four days after the arrival of A and C troops Captain McClennan and Lieutenant D. Taylor went to the north of the island with parties from the 37th and 35th Battalion combat teams respectively to carry out a reconnaissance. They were followed on 26 September by A troop which went to the north-east of the island with the 37th Battalion combat team and C troop which went to the north-west with the 35th Battalion com-bat team to assist in the operation of clearing the Japanese from the island. Equipment and personal gear were restricted to a minimum, no vehicles were taken, and only essential men went forward.
The following month was the most trying period of our stay in the Solomons. Guns and ammunition were transported by barge and had to be manhandled into position, usually through dense undergrowth and deep mud. Units with which we were working were always most helpful in this respect and were ever willing to lend a hand. Our homes were fox-holes. Here the smaller man was to be envied, for the larger man had to shift what seemed to be many yards of earth and rocks in order to obtain a hole large enough to give protection. Field rations carried by every man and for a time eaten cold were unpalatable and not very satisfying for long periods. Even on this island, where rainfall was so heavy, drinking water was scarce and had to be transported long distances during the initial stages on the northern parts of the island. Those living near the coast could obtain washing water, hard and salty, by digging small wells about 50 to 100 yards from the shore. The humidity and intense heat were uncomfortable, although the sun was usually hidden by the trees. Mosquitoes, including anopheles, became prevalent as the wet season progressed. One should not be misled by the term 'wet season.' It is not intended to suggest that any other season is dry. Far from it; it is only less wet, and is often known as the rainy season. The presence of snakes did not add to the joys of life. Many, no doubt, were harmless, but prudent people treated them all as if they were highly dangerous.page 211
Meanwhile B troop and battery headquarters arrived in Vella Lavella on 25 September, after interference from enemy planes which were beaten back by covering fighters and anti-aircraft fire. They proceeded to the area alongside the Joroveto River prev-iously occupied by A troop, and set about making a camp. This work was retarded as a large number of men and all the unit trucks were required daily to assist in the construction of a road along the coast. After three weeks in this position B troop and battery headquarters moved to the Mumia River area, approxi-mately one mile from the large site. On these islands distances were often expressed in terms of travelling time. It was not unusual for trucks to take an hour to cover a distance of one mile. Gun pits were dug and guns placed along the coastline. After the undergrowth had been cleared and several trees felled this area proved a good camp site. Mumia Bay, within 200 yards of the camp, was a suitable spot for swimming. A large part of the time was spent in performing duties in the 14th Brigade area, such as the unloading of ships. Both American and New Zealand units quickly had open-air cinemas functioning within reason-able distance of this camp and pictures were shown every night. These attracted thousands of spectators, as evenings otherwise passed very slowly, even with air raids to break the monotony.
The first position occupied by A troop when it moved north was near Boro village, which had been deserted by the natives on the arrival of the Japanese. Guns were placed, with much heaving and loss of sweat, covering Doveli Cove. Enemy air activity was not very great in this area although bombs were dropped during the first few days. The droning of planes snoop-ing around all night became a nuisance and did not induce good sound sleep, but damage was negligible. As the infantry moved forward the anti-tank gunners went along too. The next move was to Tambama, where guns were again deployed in an anti-barge role. With guns in position, gunners spent a large part of the time unloading supply barges. Another shift followed quickly, back to Boro this time, in which place the troops settled down for three months. Tents, bedcots, cooking gear, kitbags and other equipment began to arrive, so a camp was prepared. Until this time troops had only one small haversack of personal gear, so that the arrival of kitbags and a change of clothing were eagerly awaited. Constructing camp took some time for patrols, wire laying, unloading barges, and road making became almost daily page 212duties. Normal rations—that is, tinned American food, replaced field rations. Army food was supplemented by fish caught in unorthodox fashion by tossing hand grenades into the water.
When C troop went to the north-west of Vella Lavella on 26 September the first deployment took place at Matusoroto Bay. On 2 October enemy fighters and bombers approached the area and attacked troop localities. Bombs fell among C troop guns, wounding Gunner 'Red' Oxton, shaking the gun detach-ments for a time, and causing damage to gun ammunition. Dur-ing the fortnight of operations, as well as manning their guns. the men volunteered and went to the forward company areas to bury infantry dead and to give assistance and to provide cover for parties engaged in laying mines in the combat team area. After all Japanese resistance on the island had ceased the guns were moved to Marquana Bay, a very unpleasant and unhealthy area. This was followed shortly afterwards by the arrival of kitbags and camp equipment, such as tents and cooking gear, which had been left at the old camp near the Maravari River. The guns were manhandled, with the help of a neigbouring in-fantry company, through 500 yards of jungle, a task that took three days, and were placed in positions covering the bay. Camp construction was a lengthy job as much work was required to be done to make the area accessible and habitable. Trees and under-growth were cleared to make space for tents. A swamp near the camp, a good breeding ground for mosquitoes, was drained into the sea. A jetty 120 feet in length, decked corduroy fashion with wood, was built of logs. This was accessible to barges, on which the troop was dependent for its supplies, and obviated the neces-sity of hauling guns and carrying supplies over 500 yards of muddy track. Septic, sores became very common, so it was neces-sary to begin an interchange of personnel with the battery head-quarters to give troops a rest from this locality. As soon as camp construction was completed, the troop settled down to org-anised training.
In November Major Henton left the battery to take up the position of battery commander of the 49th Battery, 38th Field Regiment, and was replaced by Major L. J. Fahey, of the 17th Field Regiment. Major Fahey achieved fame as a brewer of very fine liqueurs. Tobacco jars were found to be suitable ves-sels for the brewing of the mixture, so pipe smokers were con-strained to find an alternative container for their tobacco. If the page 213liqueurs, when tested, burnt with a pale blue flame they were considered fit for human consumption. For those who wished to retain the use of their senses but temporarily to lose the use of their limbs his special brew of 'jungle juice' was to be recom-mended. Anyone passing the major's tent, which was equipped as a brewery and sleeping quarters, was always treated to a gurgling sound, not caused by drinking officers, but by the various concoctions turning themselves into alcoholic drinks. Christmas found the troops still out in positions scattered around the island. Special rations were supplied, these including American turkey, New Zealand fresh vegetables, and the necessary ingredients for Christmas dinner. Cooks did a very good job with their improvised ovens in preparing our Christmas dinner. A letter and parcel mail and an issue of beer arrived in time for the festive season. These helped considerably to make our Christmas as enjoyable as any Christmas away from home can be.
In early January 1944 the battery regrouped and established a camp about 300 yards from the site last occupied by B troop and battery headquarters, still near the Mumia River and in close proximity to Mumia Bay. The site was prepared by the personnel of B troop and headquarters prior to the move, so the shift was quickly effected. The concentration of the battery had many advantages although the troops did regret the loss of a little independence. Control was easier and facilities for training and entertainment were better in this locality. Between moves and camp construction and the several duties outside the unit, train-ing, consisting of a large amount of live shell practice, was carried out. On 9 February 1944 the unit lost one of its most competent non-commissioned officers when Sergeant Jack Swin-burne was accidentally killed. His loss was felt very deeply by all who had served with him. He was one of the original members of the battery and had been associated with anti-tank since his transfer, in Fiji, to Lieutenant Stafford's troop.
Mumia Bay, excellent for its swimming, was also found to be suitable for yachting. Native canoes, difficult to handle to anyone but a native, were converted to yachts and an outrigger added. This conversion was coincident with the disappearance of some unit tent spinnakers. Our keenest yachtsmen, Bombar-diers Cullimore and Daly, appeared to derive endless pleasure from sailing their craft around the bay on every occasion when they were free from duties. 'Pop' Dunstan, one of the unit page 214mechanics, was appointed to the position of first or second engineer—'Pop's' version of his appointment varies a little from the official one—to use the 14th Brigade barge, HMS Confident, which had been captured from the Japanese by the 37th Battalion. This barge did good service in transporting supplies around the coast to outlying units as well as providing a pleasant life for its crew away from the mosquitoes and all the things that fly or crawl through the jungle. On the occasion of an air raid 'Pop' once proved to us conclusively that the uncontrolled use of small arms is of little use against aircraft, when he unsuccessfully, together with numerous heavy and light anti-aircraft guns, took part with his 38 pistol in an engagement with an enemy plane.
The gunners received the 'dinkum oil' shortly after Christ-mas about an impending move. This information was received by those in authority on 1 February 1944. B troop was to move first, followed by the rest of the battery in a later echelon. The combat team organisation had in the meantime been dispensed with and the battery had reverted to the command of Brigadier Duff, CRA. B troop equipment, including one truck, and a small party of men were loaded on an LCT on 9 February. This ship, a very slow one, sailed as soon as it was loaded. Ships from several of the Solomon Islands arrived at Vella Lavella within the next three days and loading commenced at a number of beaches. The personnel of B troop, accompanied by Major Fahey, embarked on an LST on 13 February and sailed shortly after embarkation. On the way north ships from the Treasury Islands joined the convoy. This formidable convoy, with each troop and cargo ship flying a barrage balloon and with its strong naval and air escort, made an impressive sight. While off Bougainville the APDs, loaded with the assault troops, passed the slower moving convoy. When within sight of the Green Islands, on the early morning of 15 February, enemy planes attacked the shipping. The well dis-persed naval and air escort accounted for a number and prevented all but a few planes getting through to the troop and cargo ships. Numbers of bombs were dropped, but no damage was done. The heavy barrage from ships' guns and our own aircraft accounted for the few planes that did get near the convoy. B troop landed at Pokonian plantation and immediately sited its guns to cover the main entrance to the lagoon, the channel between Nissan and Barahun Islands. Later two of the troop guns were transferred to North Barahun to deny the use of the shallow passage between page 215Barahun and Sirot Islands to small hostile surface craft. Nissan was bombed several times during the first night but heavy concen-trations of anti-aircraft fire proved discouraging to the raiders, causing them to keep high and reducing the accuracy of their bombing. Little damage was done.
While B troop was on this island battery headquarters and A and C troops were proceeding with preparations for their move. On 22 February the bulk of the equipment was loaded on an LST and on the following day personnel embarked on an LCI. The convoy sailed on the morning of 23 February. Green Islands were sighted on 25 February. Headquarters and A and C troops disembarked at Pokonian plantation and camped there in an area alongside the one section of B troop left on Nissan. Two days later this section left to join the other section on North Barahun. At the same time A troop moved to South Barahun and C troop to North Nissan, With all guns deployed in an anti-barge role, the three channels leading into the lagoon which were suitable for shallow draught ships only, were effec-tively covered.
This group of islands, which lies only four and a half degrees south of the equator, has an extremely hot climate. Living con-ditions were similar to those obtaining on Vella Lavella. Pup tents, recent additions to our personal equipment, made it pos-sible for troops to keep dry at night. In the case of those over six feet in height only the feet, or head if preferred, got wet. Field rations, C and K, were varied by the issue of the more attractive J or jungle rations. As there are no rivers or streams on these islands the supply of fresh water was always limited and therefore strict rationing was necessary. The supply was obtained by the distillation of salt water. Later when tents had arrived and were erected washing water was obtainable by drain-ing rain water off the tents. The only means of transportation in the early stages was by barge as no roads existed prior to the arrival of American and New Zealand forces. The mail service was very good, letters from the North Island taking sometimes only three days to reach the forward areas.
With the arrival of camp equipment the task of building camps commenced. Troops quickly settled down to life in troop positions. Working parties were frequently called for. The air strip at Nissan had suddenly become an important one. It was within bombing range of Truk and for a time planes from the page 216Torokina strip in Bougainville were accommodated there, as life on Bougainville was being made most unpleasant by the Japanese. With considerable air activity enormous quantities of supplies were required. The unloading of these supplies took up a large part of the time of the troops. In April the appeal for troops to return to New Zealand to take employment in essential industries was received. Those chosen to return in the first draft were transferred to the 144th Eattery and on 24 April embarked with that unit on the USS Wharton for the journey back to New Caledonia. The trip was the most enjoyable one so far experienced, partly because troops were in the process of returning home and partly because travelling conditions were better than usual, with comparatively comfortable quarters and good meals. Atebrin was no longer being taken, and all troops were allowed as much time as possible to themselves. The cutlery aboard ship was considered by the troops to be plentiful and of a high standard. Perhaps because of the reported shortage in New Zealand and perhaps because New Zealanders are natural scroungers (and these particular ones were very proficient), considerable quantities of cutlery disappeared. The American authorities pointed out that other passengers might travel aboard the ship at a later date and would, no doubt, like to be fed but they made it quite clear that, with almost the entire ship's stock gone, this would be a difficult matter. In those circumstances the troops felt it only right to co-operate and hand back all cutlery marked 'USN.' The trip was a most profitable one for the Wharton, for she arrived at Nouméa with more cutlery aboard than she had had for a very long time. On arrival at Nouméa troops were taken to the base training depot near Bourail where they were issued with new clothing, medically boarded, and given as much leave as possible while waiting passage to New Zealand.
It was now known that all New Zealand troops on the islands were to move back to New Caledonia. To facilitate the future move, A troop closed on to B troop on Barahun and C troop moved from North Nissan and joined up with battery headquar-ters at Pokonian plantation. On 29 May the battery, plus a few men who had been transferred from the 144th Battery before it left Green Island, embarked on the USS Naos for return to New Caledonia. Here the battery was slowly broken up. Small numbers of men returned to New Zealand at intervals to go into page 217essential industry and, later, furlough drafts. Of those who re-turned for furlough some were accepted for essential industry and the remainder, if fit, became replacements for personnel returning from the Second Division. In this manner the 53rd Anti-tank Battery ended its days but not its memories, for it was at all times a happy unit and associations formed there will survive both the war and the final peace.