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 — Staff and Work
Staff and Work
The decision to send garrison troops from New Zealand to Fiji was made some years before war broke out, but it was not until October 1940 that two battalions with reinforcements and auxiliary troops (about 3,000 in all) were despatched from New Zealand under Brigadier (later Major-General) W. H. Cunningham, CBE, DSO. The task of this force—the 8th Brigade Group (known as B Force)—was to prepare defensive positions and camps in the Suva and Lautoka-Namaka areas. The infantry units then in the brigade group were the 29th Battalion and 30th Battalion and later the reinforcements which were sent originally were built up and became the 34th Battalion.
With the war against Japan came the necessity for strengthening this garrison in Fiji and the decision to build the force to the strength of a two-brigade division. It is at this time that the story of 8th Brigade Headquarters really begins. The headquarters of the former garrison became divisional headquarters, and 8th Brigade Headquarters, the personnel for which had been assembled at Trentham, was constituted under Brigadier L. G. Goss, with Major J. L. Eyre and Lieutenant C. W. H. Tripp as brigade major and staff captain respectively. Brigade headquarters opened in Samambula A Camp at 0700 hours on 6 January 1942, but one week later moved to Hedstrom's House on the Tamavua Road overlooking Suva harbour. The infantry units page 43under command at this time were the 29th and 34th Battalions (the 30th Battalion having passed to the 14th Brigade) and the 1st and part of the 2nd Battalion of the Fiji Defence Force. There were also under command the 35th Field Battery, 20th Field Company Engineers and part of the 7th Field Ambulance.
After a series of reconnaissances and conferences the first operation order was issued on 14 January 1942 defining the defensive tasks of the various battalions and other units, and the work of extending and strengthening the defences was undertaken and strenuously pushed ahead. At Hedstrom's an underground battle headquarters was constructed by tunnelling into the soapstone, and this was used during the various brigade exercises. Although elaborately constructed, with separate rooms for the various branches of the headquarters, niches for bunks, and duckboards, the stream of water through the main passage and the dampness of the walls during tropical rains is well remembered.
In February and March 1942 there were a number of changes in the staff. Brigadier R. A. Row, DSO, assumed command of the brigade, following Brigadier Goss's appointment to liaison duties in Australia. Captain I. H. Macarthur was appointed staff captain in place of Lieutenant Tripp, who was transferred to the 36th Battalion. Second-Lieutenant G. P. Hodgson, of the 29th Battalion, joined headquarters, later commanding the reconnaissance platoon, and Lieutenant H. A. Kerr, of the 36th Battalion, became camp commandant. The units in the brigade were kept well occupied with digging, wiring, training, and preparing for probable developments in the event of an attack by the Japanese, which in those days seemed imminent. A 'back line' was prepared and exercises were carried out by units to gain experience and a closer knowledge of the area. Seldom used tracks (notably the one over Nakombalevu from the Navua River to Princes Road near Theodore's) were explored and their usefulness as means of making quick changes in the disposition of troops evaluated.
In May 1942, just prior to the departure of Brigadier Row for New Zealand where he underwent an operation, Lieutenant Tripp returned to brigade headquarters and commenced the organisation for the Fijian guerilla unit, then known as the 8th Brigade commandos, a unit which later distinguished itself in Guadalcanal and New Georgia. The value of this unit was first page 44demonstrated when it took part in an exercise conducted by Brigadier F. L. Hunt (who took over the brigade on 16 May 1942) and in which the 36th Battalion and the 1st Fiji Battalion were the chief participants.
With the attainment of a high degree of efficiency and the near completion of defensive works came news in June of the proposed relief of the force in Fiji by US troops. Aside from the practical hand over by map and by inspection of defensive areas, the period holds pleasant memories of our first association with American units of the 37th Division. Embarkation of the USS President Coolidge was completed by 20 July 1942 and brigade headquarters was opened in D block, Papakura, three days later. A period of leave and reorganisation followed, and after Brigadier Row had again taken over the brigade, the headquarters moved to Opaheke on 22 August 1942, and was there joined by Major J. M. Reidy (as brigade major) and Captain M. P. Whatman, who was camp commandant for a short time and followed later by Lieutenant W. Lang, who had returned from Fanning Island. While here advice was received concerning the reorganisation of the Third Division under Major-General H. E. Barrowclough, CB, DSO, MC, ED, followed closely by news of the proposed relief of Australian troops in Norfolk by 36th Battalion and other units. It was with much regret that this battalion was farewelled from Auckland on 7 October 1942. Shortly after this the brigade was further denuded by the despatch of the 34th Battalion to Tonga, and it is excusable that the sorrows of the headquarters should have been drowned in true Bacchanalian manner. The remainder of the brigade at this juncture moved from Opaheke to the Cambridge area, marching to Horotiu and moving by truck for the remainder of the journey. It was from here that, with the support of certain home guard units and a territorial battalion, the remainder of the brigade, in the words of David Reid's song, 'Stormed up the Kaimais' to do battle with the 14th Brigade. After completion of this exercise and a period of leave, the brigade was joined by the 1st Ruahine Battalion in preparation for the move to New Caledonia. The advanced party under Major W. B. Cameron departed on 26 October 1942 and commenced a reconnaissance for camp sites in the Népoui area. The brigadier, brigade major, and staff captain arrived by air on 29 December and the remaining per-page 45sonnel of the headquarters followed on the West Point, arriving on 31 December 1942. The stay at Npoui lasted only about six weeks and it is remembered principally on account of the exploits of the I section, referred to elsewhere, and an exceptional flood which occurred in the Népoui River causing a very hurried evacuation of some of the tents and the quartermaster's store.
After the departure of the US garrison from central New Caledonia the brigade was moved to the Bouloupari area and brigade headquarters was opened on 10 February 1943 at the former headquarters of the US 43rd Division. Although the home of a particularly aggressive type of mosquito, and although no bathing was available reasonably close to the camp, the area was well provided for as a headquarters, being blessed with adequate buildings which compensated in part for other discomforts. The brigade was rejoined by the 34th Battalion on 13 March 1943 and by the 36th Battalion one month later, after which the 1st Ruahine Battalion passed to 15th Brigade.
It was while the headquarters was at Bouloupari that the brigade was subjected (if that be the word) to its most concentrated period of training, during the course of which brigade headquarters spent many days and nights in the field. Personnel on brigade headquarters and in the units under command well remember the Dent St. Vincent (the Tonta exercise), the mud and mosquitoes of the Bula exercise, and the long trek from Bouloupari to Moindou. This period was of immense value. Units became familiar with supporting arms, answers were found to questions, 'what should the soldier carry?' and 'what should the soldier eat?' in the field, men became fit and ready for the jobs which followed. Headquarters learned to be mobile and the office truck and its appurtances became as familiar to clerks and runners as the sand floored bures. So intensive and strenuous had been the training during this period of nearly six months that the brigadier's decision to send the brigade to Thio for a week's rest came as a welcome relief, capping off an important and interesting stage in the life of the brigade and headquarters.
In the course of this period of training there were several additions and changes on the staff. The appointment of Major Reidy to the temporary command of the Ruahine Battalion was followed by the appointment of Captain (later Major) Macarthur, brigade major in March 1943. When this officer took over the page 46temporary command of 29th Battalion and later went to Staff College, Major W. B. Cameron carried out the duties of brigade major until the brigade left New Caledonia. The appointment of staff captain was subjected to a number of changes, Major Cameron, Captain S. H. Naismith and Captain K. E. Louden acting in turn until Captain N. L. Fitzpatrick was appointed staff captain on 24 June 1943, this officer holding the appointment until the return of the brigade to New Caledonia in May 1944. When Lieutenant Lang returned to New Zealand his place as camp commandant and officer commanding defence platoon was taken by Second-Lieutenant (later Lieutenant) D. T. Fitness, who had been quartermaster-sergeant on headquarters in Fiji and New Zealand. Changes also came in the appointments of intelligence officer and supply officer but these are mentioned elsewhere. From the end of June until 15 July Brigadier Row was absent in New Zealand and during this period Lieutenant-Colonel J. R. Eyre of the 34th Battalion (who was formerly brigade major) commanded the brigade. On 9 July 1943 a ceremonial parade and review was held on the Dubois memorial airfield, all units in the area taking part. The parade was inspected by the Minister of Defence, the Hon. F, Jones, and he was accompanied by General Barrowclough.
With the prospects of amphibious operation ahead, and the immediate task of organising the brigade into combat teams, work began on weight and measurement tables, and for this Captain B. M. Silk, a member of what was familiarly known as 'the brains trust' on divisional headquarters, was attached to brigade headquarters, A start was made on a 'dry land' bridgehead exercise, but this was abandoned on account of the imminence of the move to Guadalcanal.
When the time for departure from New Caledonia drew nigh a number of farewell functions were held, notably two dinners in the officers-mess. The first function was attended by all unit commanders in the brigade group and the commanding officer (Lieutenant-Colonel Williams) and two other officers of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment which was camped at Tontouta and with the members of which a strong fellowship had been established. The second dinner function was attended by all officers still available who had at any time been on brigade headquarters.page 47
On 21 August 1943 Lieutenant W. D. Leuchars left Nouméa with the 14th Brigade Group as officer commanding the 8th Brigade advanced party and on 4 September 1943 personnel of brigade headquarters departed from Nouméa on the Presidents Jackson, Adams and Hayes. The loading and embarkation was our first introduction to LCVs and LCMs, 'flat tops' and landing nets, which later became so familiar. The Presidents were fine ships, but the troops' quarters below were extremely hot, a condition which became more unbearable as we proceeded northwards.
During the voyage brigade headquarters functioned as such on the Jackson, for the preparation of orders for the exercises to be held on Mélé Beach, Efate, in the New Hebrides. At the conclusion of our five days' stay there a full scale brigade group beach landing exercise was held and brigade headquarters went ashore and set up offices and the usual appurtenances in the scrub just beyond the beach. This was a useful prelude to the unloading task at Guadalcanal where the convoy arrived on the morning of 14 September 1943 and all previous records for times for unloading and turn round of ships were broken. Brigade headquarters camp site was on a small ridge off Wright's Road, about two miles from the waterfront. Although elevated sufficiently to catch what little breeze there was, it was so oppressively hot and so far from bathing water that this was assuredly the least attractive of all camp areas the headquarters ever occupied. Even the mosquitoes of Bouloupari were more readily endured.
The six weeks' stay at Guadalcanal was an exceedingly busy one. The clerical staff was called on for long hours, the I section was fully extended, the staff officers were engrossed in massive load tables and weight and measurement returns, the defence platoon planned and rehearsed by day and night a scheme for all round defence for the headquarters in the jungle, the concert enthusiasts under David Reid worked hard to produce a concert from limited materials. Signals and provost found their time more than fully occupied. During this period, the prelude to the occupation of the Treasury, jungle clothing was issued, web gear camouflaged, anti-malarial measures revised and emphasised.
For the purpose of the Treasury operation the 8th Brigade Group was placed under the command of the First Marine Amphibious Corps (known familiarly as 'One Mac') then com page 48manded by General Vandergrift. Certain American units in turn came under our command and when the final operation order was issued the Order of Battle included 23 units, and the force totalled approximately 8,000 all ranks. As it was intended that brigade headquarters should become 'Island Command' at Treasury with Brigadier Row as 'Comgen' it was decided that the normal staff was insufficient. Major Macarthur had rejoined headquarters as brigade major. Captain B. M. Silk became staff officer movements, Major J. S. Bracewell came from NZEF IP Headquarters as DAA and QMG and Captain R. S. Lawrence from the 36th Battalion as staff captain A, while Captain Fitzpatrick became staff captain Q. Captain John Merrill and Sergeant Harry Shinto, of the USMC Language Division, were attached as interpreters.
Numerous conferences were held with both New Zealand and US commanders and on 21 October 1943 commanders of all units assembled at the sandtable and Brigadier Row issued his verbal orders for the operation. Inevitably there were minor changes, but the loading proceeded well and on 25 October 1943 part of headquarters went aboard LCI No. 61 and on the following morning the remainder, including the brigade commander, embarked on the Stringham, an APD.
The 4th Field Security Section on Nissan Island. Captain W. D. Leuchars, in a jungle suit, is second from left
Members of Divisional Headquarters Sergeants' Mess on Nissan Island in May 1944
Below:The Provost Section photographed on Vella Lavella before the division moved north to occupy the Green Islands
The 'G' staff of Divisional Headquarters in May 1944. Front row, left to right: Captain T. N. Thomson, Captain R. E. Wakefield, Major I. H. 'MacArthur, Colonel j. I. Brook, Lieutenant M. W. Speight, Captain L. E. Adams. Rear row: Private J E. Grant, Sergeant D. E. Yockney, Warrant-Officer C. B. Russell, Staff-Sergeant A. L. Gosney, Pte. R. L. Graham
The 'A' and 'Q' staff on Nissan Island in May 1944. Front row, left to right: Lieutenant G. P. Chapman, Major G. B. 'Gibbons, Major D. C. Williams and Captain H. M. Denton
Although outwardly the set-up was familiar, there was a certain tenseness. For the first time lives depended on the efficient working of headquarters. It can be justly said that the headquarters did function well and that units under command did receive the support to which they were entitled. After the initial days and nights, when the Jap was being systematically exterminated, came the task of settling in. Arriving with the succeeding echelons of LSTs and other ships were more stores, more camp equipment, and the rear parties who had been left at Guadalcanal. The second operation order, for the defence of the Treasury Group, was issued on 12 November and, along with other units, brigade headquarters began to convert the jungle into a habitable place with offices, cookhouses and covered fox-holes. By this time Jap casualties had been definitely established at 205 killed and seven taken prisoner. The number of prisoners later increased to 12 and casualties to 230.
It was during this period that the Governor-General, Sir Cyril Newall, visited the island, and inspected all the New Zealand units, some of the American units and a couple of diminutive Jap prisoners who were temporarily released from the job of washing the provost sergeant's jungle suit. It was fortunate that on that occasion Q was able to acquire some fresh New Zealand mutton and butter from a US naval unit then stationed in Blanche Harbour, for field cooking facilities cannot hope to disguise the all-too-familiar spam and gerkins.
In the course of this settling in process the camp areas were disturbed at night by Jap bombers and during the day by the continual encroachment of Seabee bulldozers sent in obedience of Admiral Halsey's order to 'expedite the strips.' The former, once familiar, and until the flak commenced to fall, were the cause of admiration of the terrific display of colour and pattern with which the ack ack and searchlight units greeted them, and the latter brought forth new and strange oaths from members of the defence platoon, who had frequently to move, replace and rebuild cookhouses and tents to make room for road and runway.page 50
In early December 1943, following the decision to relieve older men and the reshuffle of the staffs in the division, there were further changes in personnel. Brigadier Row, who had attained the staff corps retiring age, returned to New Zealand and his place was taken by Brigadier Goss, Major Macarthur was appointed GSO 2 on divisional headquarters and Major Brace-well became brigade major, his place as DAA and QMG being taken by Captain Silk. Shortly after this Major Bracewell returned to base hospital, and Captain (Temporary-Major) K. E. Louden was appointed temporarily to replace him. Captain Silk returned to divisional headquarters and his place was taken by Captain L. B. Collins. Later, after the action on Nissan Island, a further reshuffle of divisional and unit staffs brought Major G. H. Biss as brigade major, and changes were made in the three appointments of liaison officer.
Meanwhile the camp area had been cleared of undergrowth and many of the larger trees had been felled. The exploits of Sergeant W. R. Bass and Corporal W- J. Cook, experienced axemen, and other members of the defence platoon won the admiration of many a city lubber as giant mahoganies were brought down with amazing accuracy. On one occasion a warning was a little late and the intelligence officer, Captain H. G. West, received the impact of the top branches of a tree, a fractured arm and leg, and a good stiff brandy.
During the period December 1943 to March 1944 the strength of the forces on the island grew to a total of 16,000, and the work of administration grew proportionately. Supplies of food, ammunition, bombs, petrol and building materials poured in as the number of the air units and the extent of their activities increased. The brigade group had passed from the operational command of the First Marine Amphibious Corps to the administrative command of what was then called Forward Area. Later the island became part of Sixth Island Command (New Georgia). The administrative side of headquarters had therefore to become familiar with the returns required by the US army authorities which, contrary to popular belief, are no less tedious and lengthy than our own. The general administration of the island, the traffic control, the supervision of cleanliness and sanitation, the setting up of bomb and petrol dumps, the distribution of incoming cargo, the maintenance and deliveries of supplies of rations were page 51all matters which gave the officers and clerical staff concerned little respite. It is perhaps appropriate at this juncture to mention that the clerical staff of the headquarters, and orderlies, under Sergeant A. E. Chamberlain (later awarded the BEM) had been with the headquarters since its formation in Fiji. The names of 'Soldier Sam' Hodgkinson, and 'Critch' Critchfield (the runner who once said to the brigade major, (Now then, sir, keep calm—don't do the old scone ') and others became as household words, and the fact that they remained unchanged throughout speaks sufficiently for the work of this section of the headquarters. Standing Orders (the army's do's and don'ts) for the administration of the islands were prepared and issued on 28 February 1944. It is interesting to record that on a number of occasions in his capacity as 'Comgen' Brigadier Goss was called on to present American awards and decorations to members of US units stationed at Treasury.
It is not infrequently the case that the completion of the task of making a camp heralds a move. The beginning of the return to New Caledonia came when the first manpower draft departed on the President Munro on 26 April and a few days later the advanced party of the brigade left for New Caledonia under Captain K. E. Louden, and the administration of the Treasury Group was handed over to the 91st US Infantry division. On 15 May 1944 the remainder of brigade headquarters, except a small rear party, embarked on the Tryon, making a fast trip to Nouméa, heading off the advanced party by a few hours, the latter having been held up at Guadalcanal. Back in New Caledonia the brigade moved to the area vacated by the infantry wing of the base training depot in the Tene Valley and here we felt the benefit of considerable leisure during weather which, if to us extremely cold at night, provided days of glorious sunshine, enabling all kinds of sport to be enthusiastically indulged in. Cricket, football, basketball, tenakoits and even badminton were vigorously undertaken. There was little training and as the auxiliary troops had ceased to be under command, leaving only three battalions and the machine gun company, the administrative work was comparatively light, and the staff, with some exceptions, was able to take part in much of the organised recreation.
With ample entertainment in the evenings and the days of sport, the two months during which the brigade and the head-page 52quarters gradually broke up were very pleasurable. However, this period, heralding as it did the final disbanding-of the headquarters, carried with it a tinge of sadness and regret. The personnel of headquarters, apart from the senior appointments, had not changed much during a period of over two years and there was naturally some disappointment as releases to manpower became more frequent and the fate of the division more apparent. Brigade headquarters closed at Tene Valley in August 1944 and except for the final clearance of stores at Mangere Crossing Camp, the headquarters then ceased to exist.
The story would not be complete, however, without reference to certain sections of the headquarters which have been purposely omitted from the foregoing survey. Some of these are part of an infantry brigade headquarters proper and others are detachments from other corps, necessary for the full functioning of all services. Their stories are being told separately but it is not to be assumed that they were in any way remote from the life of the headquarters. Although very much of a patchwork of personnel from various corps and many different units, the headquarters acquired a definite personality and atmosphere to which all personnel made their contribution.