Headquarters: a brief outline of the activities of headquarters of the third division and the 8th and 14th Brigades during their service in the Pacific
I — As it was in the Beginning
As it was in the Beginning
Much has happened to the army in size and organisation, mechanism and arms since the days when the divisional commander rushed busily about a battlefield on horseback wielding a sword and issuing orders in a voice loud enough to be heard above the prevailing din. For one thing battlefields have increased enormously in size. Today a commander's orders are issued from truck, tent, hut or dugout as the situation demands, and communication is maintained constantly by field telephone or wireless or the more human runner when everything else fails, as it invariably does at some vital moment. Divisional head-quarters, therefore, is the site from which the commander directs his campaign, and is usually situated at some place most convenient to all units in the area to which the division has been assigned a task.
The staff of divisional headquarters proper is divided into three recognised departments—the A branch, which concerns itself with personnel (dead or alive) and all their movements; the Q branch, which deals with supplies, food and quarters; and the G branch, which controls all operations and intelligence. A and Q branches work more or less together, though each branch considers itself more important than the others. This is merely a pardonable esprit de corps. Each has its own staff of officers, NCOs and men who, in the field, are rarely off duty. The heads of these three branches, who are considered to be specialists in page 10their particular spheres and ready at all times to plan and advise, have direct access to the commander. Probably no other officers receive quite so much abuse (out of hearing) and the blame for everything naturally falls on their shoulders; another injury is that they are popularly supposed to lead a spicy sort of existence in an atmosphere of comparative luxury. In a divisional area there are also the headquarters of all the other arms of the service—signals, artillery, engineers, ASC, medical and ordnance, but they work as separate organisations. Associated with divisional headquarters proper are the provost company, the security section and the defence and employment platoon, this last a small unit which is expected to put up a good show if the divisional area is attacked and to perform some heavy digging and lots of menial tasks when it isn't.
One persistent voice at headquarters is that of the camp commandant, who is a perpetually harrassed person and, on his own reckoning, the man who is asked to supply everything and pacify everybody. During a move he is probably right. Naturally with such a concentration of talent there is always much movement at headquarters and this constant stream of vehicles bearing officers to and from the various conferences, as well as visitors and routine traffic, means that a car park is essential if confusion is to be avoided. After leaving New Caledonia this never worried the Third Division very much as the disposal of the few cars and jeeps it used in the forward areas was never a problem. In one of the quieter corners of headquarters there are tents for VIPs, who have to be accommodated as befits their military station. VIPs are very important personages and they never carry the 'unconsumed portion of the day's rations' nor any bedding. Groups of such letters, which have little or no meaning to the outsider, spatter the small talk of the fellows at headquarters. If a shred of conversation included these words, 'The VIP is magging with the GOC and after that you'll get him with G one and the I blokes; his ETD is seventeen hundred,'it would mean that some very important visitor was conferring with the general, after which he would see the senior staff officer and the intelligence staff and that he was expected to leave at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. That, very briefly, is a little about a divisional headquarters in the field and it applies, in skeleton fashion, to the headquarters of a brigade group.page 11
Headquarters Third Division grew quite naturally and normally from Headquarters 8th Brigade Group when Japan entered the war on 7 December 1941 and the threat in the Pacific, so long expected, became the reality which some of the more imaginative writers had predicted for years. Most of the officers holding appointments in the brigade group automatically fitted into the higher appointments of a division, and any newly created ones were filled by bringing additional officers in from units of the force or from New Zealand. Noncommissioned officers and men also remained, though many others arrived from New Zealand as the size of the force increased to the recognised war establishment of a division. Not until the Pacific force returned to New Zealand in 1942 after being relieved in Fiji by the American 37th Division (the personnel of which came from Ohio) did the Third Division achieve its full complement of officers and other ranks, or its correct title. Though the force used the title Third Division in a rather loose way in Fiji and carried out the normal functions of a division, Army Head-quarters referred to it as the Pacific Section 2nd NZEF. The letters IP, meaning 'in the Pacific,' were not attached until the Third Division, as such and correctly titled, went to New Caledonia in late 1942 and early 1943.
The original 8th Brigade Group which was despatched to Fiji in October 1940 began in a modest way and disappeared into the blue with a unique lack of publicity, remaining more or less in that baffling obscurity which envelops the villain of a best-selling thriller until the final chapter. It had no official war correspondents to write of the weary tasks of digging and wiring and building in the heat, no photographers to record the bronzed torsos of the toilers, no broadcasting unit to send weekly messages to 'mum and dad and Aunty Alice and Mrs Twurp.' If the members of the force lost no blood in battle they lost incredible quantities of sweat and probably, secretly and very late at night under their mosquito nets, a few tears from the pain of sunburn, bites and blisters. An occasional photograph did appear in the New Zealand papers but it showed a crowd of shy, bulky Fijians in snowy sulus and European coats of blue serge presenting fruit and vegetables in large quantities to the tropicallyclad New Zealanders. These picturesque ceremonies were proof of the Fijians' desire to help with the war effort and page 12indicated their appreciation of New Zealand's part, but they gave no indication of the work our men did in Fiji with little or no machinery at their disposal except a few shovels and picks and an occasional truck. When the Americans did arrive they were agreeably surprised at the preparations which had been made for the defence of Fiji from both sea and air attack.
B Force, as the original 8th Brigade Group was designated for purposes of movement and organisation, opened its first headquarters at Ngaruawahia on 20 September 1940 when a few officers and other ranks marched in, these including Major J. H. Irving, ED, as brigade major, and Major G. T. Kellaway, MC, as staff captain and Q duties. But it was a very fluid headquarters. The officers were constantly on the move with Brigadier W. H. Cunningham, CBE, DSO, the first commander, travelling between the various camps where units were being organised and prepared in some haste for departure. Because of its distance from New Zealand and the task which had been assigned to it, B Force headquarters was required to take with it representatives of all arms of the service associated with a higher command, as well as its own base. Thus the composite headquarters included sections of artillery, pay, records, engineers, signals, ordnance, provost, transport, ASC, medical and postal, and later representatives of the air force and the navy. From the first day of a very hot November 1940, when B force headquarters landed at Suva, until 12 January 1941, Brigadier Cunningham and some of his staff officers lived at the Grand Pacific Hotel and worked in the stifling basement garages of Government Buildings where a magnificent collection of mosquitoes was also housed. Any of the newly bared knees which happened to be under a table were mercilessly attacked by these pests. Fiji was not prepared for war nor for the influx of troops in large numbers requiring offices and quarters, consequently there was some slight congestion in the early days. Other members of headquarters staff were housed at Nasese Camp, about a mile from the town, and later at the Boys' Grammar School, which, like the hotel, overlooked the waterfront and the creaming rollers which surged tunelessly against the reef at high tide or low and broke in smothers of lacy beauty against the sapphire sea. Those first few months were uncomfortable and irritating as difficulties were ironed out and everyone became more or less page 13hardened to heat, mosquitoes, rain and shortages. Some who were allergic to the tropics never became accustomed to any of these things and said so in long, painful letters home. No one will forget the shortages, particularly of typewriters and other office equipment, or of the suspicion with which anything unusual was greeted. Orderly room clerks tried to produce routine orders on an old typewriter which had been a legacy from some branch of the Public Works Department and which had lost a few letters in the unequal struggle with officialdom. One of the most worried men was Sergeant K. Power, the first orderly room sergeant, who became thinner and thinner as the heat and long hours took their toll of his spare frame. He departed with the first relief and was afterwards killed in the Middle East. The small intelligence staff was almost as worried by a succession of reports that hostile ships had been seen off the coast, suspicious lights seen in out-of-the-way villages and houses, and that strange people had been doing things associated only with extreme eccentricity. The amount of suspicion concerning innocent people in Fiji in 1940-41 suggested that fifth columnists had been congregating there for years. But gradually people and things shook down as familiarity bred contempt of almost everything and headquarters assumed a routine broken only by the arrival and departure of ships. NCOs and men who were housed in Nasese camp marched to work each morning in what they were pleased to term 'a lather of perspiration,' Certainly on arrival at their offices most of them looked as though they had walked through a heavy shower, but that was what the increasing heat of Suva did to them before they were hardened to the tropics. Authority later provided a truck and reduced the loss of body moisture. There were staff conferences three times a week, and these explained the presence of Mrs. Macquire, who, stockingless and cool, recorded the proceedings in shorthand. As confidential secretary she was the only woman free to come and go as she wished at headquarters.
The problem of finding a suitable home for headquarters was solved by leasing Borron's House, which, sited on the crest of a hill about a mile and a-half from Suva, caught every breeze in its spacious rooms and, when it arrived on 20 February 1941, the full force of the hurricane. For several weeks the engineers worked at preparing the new home, the owner of which lived page 14on his own little island in the distant Lau Group. The commanding officer and his senior staff officers lived in the house itself, which was cool and overlooked a superb sweep of the coastline, the port and part of the town, and much of the surrounding countryside. The garden was scented with frangipanni, coloured by clumps of hibiscus and was rarely free from the rustling music of palm fronds. Junior officers were first housed in tents on a flat grassy space which was apologetically referred to as 'the lawn' but from which they were driven by the hurricane. Later they went into B mess, which was not completed when the hurricane struck it a staggering blow and left it lurching so drunkenly that the engineers had the utmost difficulty in getting it on its feet again. Buildings in which to house the A, Q and G branches and for all the added branches of the services were erected near Borron's House, with separate buildings for the RNZAF and, when it came up from Suva later, for the navy staff. Living quarters for NCOs and men were grouped round a metalled parade ground below B mess and it was on this same ground that personnel of headquarters put up such an excellent showing when they were inspected by the Governor-General, Sir Cyril Newall, and staggered the critics by their steadfast behaviour. Once established at Borron's life soon settled down to a routine which in turn developed a certain boredom as the months wore on and the time for the reliefs arrived. There was one notable diversion. For weeks, night and day, monotonously beating drums nearly drove everyone to distraction as a section of the Hindu population prepared for its religious festival, which concluded with a fire-walking spectacle at a site among the guavaclad hillocks below headquarters. After slopping for half a mile through black mud, spectators sat on rough benches to watch fanatical followers of the cult, adorned with yellow garlands, splashed with saffron water and with knives and skewers piercing their flesh, walk unhurt through a pit of glowing embers, the heat from which kept everyone at a respectable distance. It was a mystifying performance. Army medical men examined the fire-walkers afterwards but could find no trace of injury from the heat, nor any sign of blood where the flesh had been broken.
It would be impossible to write of Fiji (or any other of the Pacific homes of the force) without reference to the rain, which fell in warm, grey sheets and periodically flooded the countryside-page 15side; nor of the mosquitoes, which were such a constant source of irritation; nor of the hornets, which, after a few painful encounters, were allowed to go their erratic way unmolested. All these are parts of the story of any unit which served in the Pacific. No one who experienced it will forget the hurricane which threatened to blow headquarters from its hilltop site. From the day of arrival, almost, residents of Fiji had hinted darkly of hurricanes in general, since they were in season when the brigade group arrived, but as several warnings had dissolved into still hotter days with only a gentle rustle of palm fronds and starry nights of warm loveliness each new warning was treated rather contemptuously by the New Zealanders. Apparently hurricanes are as temperamental as over-publicised film stars. This one, the worst for 21 years in Fiji, dilly-dallied at sea between the Tongan and Fijian Groups for several days while Flight-Lieutenant Frank Dyer, director of meteorological services, plotted its antics. Then, on the morning of 20 February, the hurricane changed course and made straight for Fiji, striking the Nausori-Suva area soon after 9 o'clock in the morning. Fortunately sufficient warning had been issued for precautions to be taken, otherwise military damage would have been heavy. It was a new experience for New Zealanders to feel a deluge of warm rain cutting the skin like sharp pebbles; to see giant mango trees uprooted or broken like twigs; to see the feathery crowns Gf elegant coconut palms almost sweeping the ground until they crashed before the force of that terrifying wind, Spindly-legged Hindus shivered with fright where they took refuge among the wobbling camp buildings, apparently attaching great faith to New Zealand carpenters and their work, Borron's House became a huge sieve into which water poured through broken windows and doors; all the headquarters offices were flooded as the screaming wind wrenched off windows and forced the rain through minute cracks in walls as though from a hydrant. Only the floor boards remained of the hurriedly-vacated tents on 'the lawn' and these were whisked into oblivion like postage stamps. The storm lasted for some hours and was exciting and destructive enough to satisfy the most sadistic natures. Next day the country-side steamed in the sun but repairs to roads, buildings and tangled communications went on for weeks. Letters home were filled with descriptions which soared to superb heights of imagination page 16or remained at the dismal level of one plodding soul who wrote 'yesterday it rained and blew very hard and everything got wet.'
Those with naturally curious minds could explore and investigate in Fiji and the hobby experts never found time on their hands, but for those whose thoughts ran in more pedestrian grooves garrison life became arduous and boring. In a general way this applied to all service in the Pacific areas. Work was always a first priority and staffs remained on duty far into the night without grumbling, but there was always time off for a joke and a spicy resume of the day's doings. Among the clerks, drivers, orderlies, cooks and batmen were the usual wags and it is to them and their doings that memory clings fast. It is impossible from this distance to remember all the names but some of those which come to mind are Sergeant Bob Bauld, Sergeant Frank Bryant, Sergeant McMaster and Allen Swinton, Drivers George Creamer, Ray Helmling, the two Hughes, Alf. and George, Tui Beecher, Roger Brooking, Arthur Duncan, Frank Love, Eric Browne, Doug Kyle, Mick Avery, Privates Jock McGrail, Ray Saggers and Gordon Anderson; Corporal McKenna and Stan Green, the cooks; Keith Caldow, Dusty Miller, Ray Jackson and Albert Hawton. Most of them could retail amusing incidents of the first year spent in Fiji.
Officers of Combined Headquarters, B Force, at Borron's House, Suva, in 1941. Left to right. Front rozv: Lieutenant-Commander P. Dearden (Senior Naval Officer); Major G. Kellaway, MC (Q duties); Lieutenant-Colonel J. G. C. Wales, MC (G duties); Brigadier W. H. Cunningham, CBE, DSO, officer commanding in Fiji; Major J. Irving (Training); Lieutenant-Colonel A. McKillop, OBE (Engineers); Lieutenant-Colonel Davie (Senior Medical Officer); Squadron-Leader D. W. Baird (Officer commanding air detachment). Second rozv: Lieutenant J. J. Garbett (Camp Commandant); Captain C. Voss (Transport); Captain W. P. McGowan (Pay); Captain O. A. Gillespie, MM (Intelligence and Ciphers); Lieutenant G. A. R. Johnston (Records); Lieutenant Noel Erridge (Ordnance); Flight-Lieutenant W. J. Shanley (Air). Rear row: Lieutenant L. C. Stephens (Signals); Captain R. Aley (Supply); Lieutenant J. Gettins (Signals); Captain A. L. Downes (Provost); Lieutenant D. J. Kennedy (Medical); Flight-Lieutenant Bruce Furkcrt (Air); Pilot-OfficerW. F. Downs (Air)
Race day at Moindah, New Caledonia. This was formerly the site of the sports ground for Divisional Headquarters which was sited in niaoulis beside the Moindah River in the background
Washing day—a familiar sight on the hanks of any freshwater stream in the New Caledonia camp area. Below Some of the 'boys' from headquarters enjoy a sunbathe at Suva Point, Fiji
But life for the headquarters staff in Fiji was not all fun and games. The paper war, despised by those who do not realise that without it a huge organisation such as an army would become a hopeless muddle and unable to function, goes on day and night and usually reaches a climax in the afternoon and evening when returns, letters and signals arrive. By that time, too, the callers have departed and staff officers can settle down to the job of answering, compiling and planning. At the end of six months the first relief arrived and with it came an almost com-page 18plete change of staff in all departments as the younger men left for the Middle East, after furlough in New Zealand. Among; those to go were Lieutenant Tan Laurenson, who had been attached to intelligence to assist with the coast-watching reports, and Sergeant R. B. Lovell Smith, who compiled the first maps of the Suva Peninsula used by the New Zealand forces in Fiji and surveyed much of the territory behind the town. Through the months the original staff underwent several changes from various causes. Lieutenant-Colonel Cuthbert Free, MC, who afterwards died in India, was replaced as GSO1 by Lieutenant-Colonel J. G. C. Wales, MC; Major Irving took over command of the first training school at Natambua; Major Kellaway left for New Zealand to attend a staff college course, and Captain C. Voss, who watched over transport, was transferred to a battalion. By this time group headquarters was probably unique in the Pacific in that army, navy and air force personnel were all housed in the camp at Borron's, though later, as the force increased in size, the air personnel spread out to parts of Suva. Before Pearl Harbour the various components of the brigade group had a sort of family air about them, with everyone working as happily together as temperaments would permit in temperatures which are apt to distort the imagination. Brigadier Cunningham's two five-to-seven parties enabled the officers to return a little of the hospitality extended by civilians and there were some functions in the sergeants-mess which were not without considerable merit from an entertainment point of view.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on that historic day of 7 December 1941 altered the Fiji routine. Brigadier Cunningham had insisted that reasonable attention be given to sport for those who worked long hours in offices in a climate which tried even civilians. During Wednesday afternoons and at some time during the weekends all ranks endeavoured to play games, or swim, or to tramp the nearby hills, and liberal leave was permitted for those who wished to visit outlying islands or inland stations. There was little of that after Pearl Harbour. Force headquarters was increased with some speed and by January staffs and departments had attained the strength of a divisional organisation. The happy family idea faded as more units and men arrived from New Zealand. Brigadier Cunningham became a major-general but he was soon afterwards invalided home and Major-General Owen page 19Mead. CBE, DSO, took his place. Reorganisation continued and the A, Q and G staffs were separated, each taking over its own office. Sergeant K. O. Stewart o£ the intelligence staff was given his commission and took charge of the cipher section. Warrant-Officer S. W. Richardson took charge of the A and Q orderly room; a new G orderly room was opened with Sergeant C. B. Russell in charge and clerks J. T. Collin and N. B. Stanaway, with R. G. Graham as runner. Most of these men afterwards held much higher rank. Lieutenant-Colonel W. Murphy, MC, came in from the 35th Battalion to take over the duties of GSO1 and Colonel Wales became AQMG, with Major R. Aley in charge of A duties until he was relieved by Major S. Marshall. Major A. J. Moore, who had been GSO2, left to take over command of the 29th Battalion, and Major H. S. S. Berkeley, on his return from staff college in New Zealand, replaced him. Captain J. G. Warrington became GSO3 (operations) and Major R. A. Hogan arrived from -New Zealand to solve the vexed question of establishments. Extracts from a letter by a former non-commissioned officer convey a comprehensive picture of the early days of 1942 at headquarters. 'In early January 1942 I arrived in Suva;. After a very early rising and a wait of about six hours on the deck of the Wahine, with full pack up, we disembarked and climbed into an eight-cwt truck which had been standing for hours in the sun. It was like an oven and we frizzled in there like pork chops in a casserole. I was given a job in the orderly room at HQ and remained there until the end of April when the G staff was given accommodation in a new wing which had been added to the office buildings. Some of the new arrivals were given the job of helping with the excavation of tunnels for an underground headquarters. It was back-breaking work pecking away at the soapstone in the tropic heat. At times we were all called upon to do our share of digging. For one week when there were rumours of the approach of Japanese ships the whole camp was mustered at battle stations in the early hours of the morning, while at night time we were all engaged in digging weapon pits and gun positions.
'On Saturdays and Sundays we sometimes played cricket with other unit teams, mostly on the ground of the police barracks at Nasova. The principal performers were Dave Inglis, Dennis Kobotham, Ivan Pierard, Snow Williams and Lieutenant page 20Dumbleton. In the evenings we managed to obtain a little beer which was supplied to us in the canteen at the corner of the camp and there we could sing ourselves hoarse with such songs as 'There's a troopship just leaving Fiji" and. "A soldier and a sailor were walking one day." There were many amusing incidents to record; for instance the night when Andy Gosney's mosquito net caught fire half an hour after midnight and Keith Allen rang the general alarm instead of the fire alarm. There were the nights of guard duty when the notorious "Kingi " supplemented his income by doing someone else's guard duty for a consideration. There was that memorable church service when Robotham, Dennis Hill and others sang hymns a bar in front and then a bar behind the others; there were the Saturday mornings when we went down to " Death Gully,' the hottest place in Suva, to do our rifle shooting. There was the morning of the full-scale invasion rehearsal when the noise of the planes drowned the newly-installed hooter and we all stood in the open watching the performance until one of the officers came lumbering down the hill, red in the face and very much annoyed, and ordered us to our battle stations. That was the day the Hindu dhobi lost all his workmen and we lost all our laundry. And those were the days when we were well fed. There were times when the mess tables, loaded with cucumbers, tomatoes, spring onions, watermelon, bananas, lettuce and pineapples, looked like a harvest festival.'