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
Chapter One — Birth of a Division
Birth of a Division
On 28 October 1940 HMS Monowai, escorting the Rangatira, sailed down the Wellington Harbour carrying a contingent of New Zealand troops, among whom was a divisional signal section of one officer and 45 signalmen, for a destination known a few days later to be Viti Levu—the largest of the 250 islands which form the Fiji Group. Suva, its capital, is 1,148 miles from New Zealand. Perhaps this amusing first entry in the war diary, Trentham races postponed, gives some indication of just how wet it was on the day of embarkation. On the wharf as the draft departed were his Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Galway; the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Peter Fraser; and the Minister of Defence, the Honourable F. Jones, who delivered farewell speeches. As the convoy neared Fiji the calm sea brought bunk-confined signalmen to the decks. Open neck khaki shirts and shorts were donned in lieu of battle dress which, with other heavy woollen clothing, was packed into a spare kit-bag for consignment to the hold and return to New Zealand. The signals party was welcomed on arrival by Second-Lieutenant Stevens, who had previously journeyed to Fiji.
This contingent was known as B Force and was under the command of Brigadier (later Major-General) W. H. Cunningham, CBE, DSO. Its personnel was a portion of the third echelon, the remainder of whom went to the Middle East. B Force had no immediate operational role when it first travelled to the Pacific. As events unfolded, however, this handful of signals under Second-Lieutenant (later Captain) J. L. J. Gettins proved to be the nucleus of four companies which, as the Third New Zealand Divisional Signals, and as an element of the Third page 94New Zealand Division, engaged in successful combat against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands some three years later.
It was tropically hot in Suva, where tall palms faintly rustled in the cooling breezes. The lazy tides of the Pacific gently lapped against the beaches and from the sea came the low murmur of rollers breaking on the reefs. A strange mixture of races and creeds was immediately noticeable. Tall bushy-haired Fijians lived happily here, and also prominent was the population of some 80,000 Indians. Hindus, Madrassis, Punjabis, and tall impressive Sikhs rubbed shoulders with the happy-go-lucky islanders. They had brought with them the habits and customs of Mother India and added to the variety of tongues to be heard in the streets of Suva. The European population of Viti Levu was approximately 4,000. In the villages, the natives lived under their own communal system. As far as possible their own social laws had been maintained and this no doubt accounted for the success that had attended British rule since the cession of Fiji to Great Britain by the ruling chiefs on 10 October 1874.
An unusual feature of Fiji was the wet and dry sides obtaining in most islands of the group, Suva being on the wet side of Viti Levu. The mosquitoes, fortunately non-malarial, were bad, and the men found it essential to use the mosquito nets with which they had been issued to ensure a comfortable sleep. In Suva native policemen, dressed in colourful blue tunics and white sulus, contrasted with the modern stone buildings such as those occupied by the Government departments where force headquarters and the signal office were first situated. The section's technical equipment was practically non-existent, and what originally did arrive from New Zealand was in such a dilapidated condition that it helped little. A Post and Telegraph type 50-line switchboard was an instance. Of ancient vintage, but reconditioned, it arrived minus the main distributing frame and cable. There were no spares and only a minimum supply of tools. When put into operation this switchboard—in use 24 hours a day—became a mechanician's nightmare, but it was kept working by using any odds and ends available and much ingenuity on the part of the 'tiffies.'
Line construction was not exactly as laid down in the book and members of the cable section, if it could be called such, dubbed themselves 'The Keystone Cable Company' after the page 95comics of silent film days. A large portion of their line work was carried out from tangled short lengths of cable which had been condemned and discarded by the local Post and Telegraph Department. During the construction of the aeradio wireless station (a Government controlled station for all defence and civilian traffic) by technicians from New Zealand, signals were called upon to assist and to make splices in a 26-pair armoured cable that was being used. Opportunity was taken whilst on the job to acquire a length of lead-covered cable, a rare acquisition in those days, which duly found its way into the workings of the headquarters exchange.
One of the milestone days was 20 February 1941. With little warning a strong wind commenced to blow in from the sea, reaching hurricane velocity at about 10 a.m. The hurricane continued unabated for two hours, then followed a two-hour lull, when the wind changed direction and blew from the opposite quarter. Debris lay everywhere. All wooden buildings either ceased to exist or leaned as if in a drunken stupor. Washing and personal effects which happened to be loose at the time have not seen seen since. Iron telegraph poles twisted as if some Samson had pulled over the top end to form a giant horseshoe of steel. Ships went aground, aircraft on the Nausori airfield were damaged and the wind indicator at Suva Point, with a maximum reading of 130 miles an hour, was unable to cope with the situation. Linemen had an extremely busy period, being loaned to the power board and Post and Telegraph Department to assist in the restoration of power and communication lines throughout the island. It was a quartermaster's dream; for months anything that could not be located was attributed to 'the blow.'
The section was first located in tents at Nasese Camp, on the outskirts of Suva, later moving to the Boys' Grammar School, on the waterfront. With the gradual building up of the force, headquarters was transferred to Borrons, about a mile and a-half from Suva, where a private residence had been taken over for force headquarters. Accommodation at Borrons was comfortable, personnel being housed in 28-men huts. The first section of a relief arrived in May 1941 aboard the Rangatira, the ship returning with a draft under the command of Second-Lieutenant Stevens for New Zealand, leaving half of the original members on the island. Three officers arrived in the May draft—namely,page 96Second-Lieutenant D. G. Day, Second-Lieutenant (later Major) T. K. S. Sidey, and Second-Lieutenant (later Captain) K. H. Barron. On arrival of the second section of the relief in August the two last-named officers returned to New Zealand, taking with them all but three of the original section. Headquarters, until this time known as brigade headquarters, changed its designation to force headquarters. During August the monotonous beating of Indian drums attracted the attention of signallers at headquarters. This was part of a ceremony which continued unabated for 10 days with a climax of fire-walking by the frenzied natives. Many members of the unit in that area actually witnessed the feat of walking on hot embers with bare feet.
The receipt from New Zealand of Post and Telegraph Department 25-watt transmitters and receivers permitted the establishment of a wireless net between, force headquarters, Momi, and Namaka, but signal equipment generally was still meagre. This shortage was further illustrated by the fact that only one signalling lamp was available for communication with the island of Nukulau, some five miles from Suva, inside the reef at the mouth of the Rewa River, where the convalescent camp was situated. Typical of the maintenance section's work was the fitting of an ordinary torch with a key to provide communication with the distant station. Telephones in use by the force were D lll's and Ericcson table and wall models. The maintenance section was now provided with a room in which to work and varied was their range of activities. A 20-line switchboard for use in the Samambula Camp and a power ringer for the main exchange were among the items constructed, while electrical installations at headquarters were also within the mechanicians' sphere. A further accomplishment was the designing and construction by Warrant-Officer 2nd Class (now Lieutenant) C R. Anniss and Signalman (later Staff-Sergeant) R. C. Blakey of a still for the distillation of water. Made from benzine, honey and cocoa tins, together with some rubber tubing, this plant was instrumental in producing sufficient water to allow wireless batteries to be kept in use during droughts. It was equally efficient at producing pure alcohol.
Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Frey-berg, VC, commander of the 2nd Division, accompanied by Brigadier Row, inspecting an 8th Brigade guard of honour during his visit to New Caledonia.Below: Notice board of the Blanche Harbour ferry service
The 8th Brigade Defence and Employment Platoon photographed on Stirling Island. Second-Lieutenant D. T. Fitness, who was in command of the platoon, is seated in the second row, fourth from the right
Private C. J. Penny attending to his 'aldershot' oven, which served the officers-mess. The background is a view of Blanche Harbour. Below: A view of 8th Brigade Headquarters showing, right, the Quonset hut occupied by Brigadier Goss
Wading ashore on Stirling Island soon after dawn on the morning of the landing
With a view to security in the event of an attack, engineers of the 24th Army Troop had, early in 1940, tunnelled underground in the soapstone, where divisional headquarters was now situated. Fourteen months later, January 1942, the signal office, switchboard and wireless sets were transferred below ground to this location, and J section occupied similar underground quarters. K section carried out its functions from a variety of buildings, the first of which was a sand-bagged corrugated-iron shed, next the kitchen of a school house, and finally into a native built bure, but on assuming battle stations the signal office operated from the underground 14th Brigade Headquarters at Black Rock. The communications of K section at Namaka were extensive, and included in the many lines radiating from their 100-line switchboard were links to the three battalions of the 14th Brigade and the coastal batteries. The eventual construction by civilian employees of the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department of a three-channel carrier link between Suva and Namaka superseding the previous inadequate and primitive toll-call line, provided direct communication to division from this exchange.
Although the bulk of the traffic for the battalions was handled by telephone, an alternative routing was over the No. 101 wireless stations manned at each terminal by K section operators. Lamp stations were also sited to each battalion, being used daily page 98for the transmission of practice messages and kept available as a third alternative means of communication. Despatch riders travelled daily between Suva and Namaka on a gruelling run of 138 miles. Motor cycles were used until they, or their drivers, fell to pieces, after which the service was maintained by daily transport truck. One vehicle left each terminal with a change-over at the halfway village of Korolevu, one of the most beautiful beaches in Fiji. At this secluded coastal settlement, where the sulphur-coloured sands were backed by graceful palms, was a rest house managed by Mrs. E. M. Hume and her daughter Doris, where the despatch riders received substantial free meals for almost a year (eventually the army did authorise payment for later meals), and many were the signalmen who spent weekend leave there at 'Mum's' expense. In addition to this despatch connection was the twice daily run to Lautoka where the Fijian Defence Forces had barracks and administrative headquarters for the western area.
Employment for switchboard operators was never short when, for security reasons, operating of the civilian exchanges at Nandi, Lautoka, Mba and Tavua was taken over by the section. There were three trunk lines between J section's switchboard at Tamavua and the exchange at divisional headquarters, and two lines direct to the Suva civilian exchange from the section's busy signal office. The brigade's exchange actually consisted of two linked components—a 10-line UC and a 30-line post and telegraph type board. The former was necessitated by subscribers using a number of D V telephones which, owing to their construction, would not drop the shutters of the larger board.
In order to review communications within Fiji, Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) D. M. Burns arrived in March from New Zealand. Submitting a report on signal activity throughout the colony, the major outlined a comprehensive plan of layout and equipment required to maintain efficient communications for any emergency. In this month, also, four officers—Second-Lieutenant (later Captain) G. M. Parkhouse, Second-Lieutenant (later Lieutenant) M. R. Tulloch, Second-Lieutenant (later Captain) T. R. Murphy, and Second-Lieutenant (later Captain) J. A. W. Wilton arrived with a draft of 77 other ranks to swell the signal establishment. They camped at Samambula prior to their dispersal to the sections. Second-Lieutenant (later Captain) A. T. Fussell (afterwards appointed to the command of the Fijian Defence Force Signals) was in charge of a further draft to arrive in May.
A buried cable was laid from 8th Brigade Headquarters to divisional headquarters, a distance of one mile. In a trench dug" by the 34th Battalion the cable was buried in parts to a depth of three feet. Included in the undertaking was the task of cementing the cable into a culvert under By-Pass Road. It followed a devious route, in some places going through the grounds of private homes. This project, entailing the services of every available signalman from J section and No. 1 company, took some weeks to complete. The outlook became brighter when news was received of the United States Naval Forces locating and defeating in battle a southward bound Japanese convoy in the Coral Sea near the Solomon Islands. Time proved the destruction of this enemy force to be a turning point in the Japanese advance towards Australia and New Zealand.
A school of instruction conducted by Second-Lieutenant Murphy, second-in-command of K section, and Corporal (later Sergeant) A. J. McNaughton for the training of Fijian commandos in signalling fully justified the effort expended, as did likewise a further school at Vatakoula, where Lieutenant Murray with Sergeant (later Warrant-Officer 1st Class) N. E. B. McNaughton held refresher courses for the 14th Brigade regimental signallers. The former NCO was also detached to train the 22nd Field Ambulance personnel in visual communications. They in turn reciprocated by teaching him the rudiments of first aid to enable him on his return to K section to become medical orderly to his camp mates. At divisional headquarters, signals page 101carried out an hour's route march each alternate morning, with physical training on the other morning. J and K sections were at first self accounting units, but later they adopted the standard procedure of quartering through their headquarters. Assigned to the quartering duties was Corporal (later Warrant-Officer 2nd Qass) R. C. Orme, who, on the amalgamation, assumed responsibility for the entire unit and was promoted to staff-sergeant. A further alteration in appointments arose when the company sergeant-major, Warrant-Officer 2nd Class Anniss, was promoted in the field to second-lieutenant. Sergeant (later Warrant-Officer 1st Class) N. Holden then became company sergeant-major with the rank of warrant-officer 2nd class. The total signals strength stood at 226. Pigeons were kept by divisional headquarters and K section for message carrying purposes. Under the care of 'pigeoneers,' familiarly dubbed 'wing commanders,' the birds were trained but never used operationally.
As reinforcements arrived tools and spare parts came to hand a little more readily, and fully equipped line parties were operating at this stage. The general health of the troops was good, but many personnel found themselves attending the regimental aid post (RAP) for the treatment of skin troubles such as dhobies itch, prickly heat and tinea, which are prevalent in all tropical climates. Rations for all messes consisted to a large extent of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Pineapples, paw paw, taro and rice were on the menu for most meals. K section at Black Rock was actually camped in a pineapple plantation. Even the gourmet, with a decided taste for this succulent fruit, could enjoy his fill here at the expense of little or no effort. Although at first a tasty addition to the daily menu, it soon waned in popularity as a dish in a land of such plenty. Judge the looks of surprise and dismay on the faces of many of K section's personnel when, on opening with child-like glee and expectation their National Patriotic Fund Board parcels from New Zealand, they were confronted with tins of pineapple, probably grown and picked within easy reach of their own back doors. To the kind-hearted and well-intentioned donors they would have been a boon, but to troops living and almost subsisting on a pineapple diet, familiarity had bred contempt and although the activating motive was deeply appreciated the substance of the gift was naturally not so warmly received. Nothing page 102lowered the morale of the men more quickly than the boredom of the camp surroundings during 'off hours.' Entertainment was therefore a foremost consideration. Swimming at Suva Point, smokos, tra-la-las (native dances)—the attendance at which functions was a breach of orders—or organised trips to outlying islands and native villages were always popular. Cricket, rugby, soccer, tennis and golf were played with keenness. Imitation 'troppo' acts such as playing a cricket match with all the necessary batting, bowling and fielding movements, but without using any equipment whatsoever, or the figure of Sergeant Fred Stamp sitting with his feet dangling over the end of his bed, playing a length of cotton through a knot hole in the floor, 'fishing,' were not without their humour. In the evenings the wet canteen at divisional headquarters was the meeting place of many 'Sigs' in the area. Signalman (later Lance-Sergeant) H. S. McAnnalley will be remembered as the honorary company sergeant-major who conducted the parade (complete with mugs) with farcical solemnity to the canteen. Parodies were legion of such favourites sung in the canteen as 'The Soldier and the Sailor,' 'There's a Troopship Just Leaving Fiji,' 'Three Little Fishes', and the Fijian song, 'Isa Lei.' A Fijian version of 'Bless 'em all' on one occasion by members of signals outside the officers-mess was not officially appreciated, however, and the offenders received field punishment in reward for their efforts. Although a novelty at first taste, the Fijian drink, kava, brewed from the pounded root of the yangona shrub, was not favourably accepted as a refreshment by the New Zealanders. Highlight of the swimming activities was that of Signalman (Jimmy the seal) J. G. C. Davies, whose marathon feats in the Suva baths received mention in the local press. An appreciated institution was the New Zealand Club in Suva, which was opened under the auspices of the National Patriotic Fund Board, where perhaps the most popular of the attractions offered were the regular dances and the delightfully refreshing cool drinks made from the juices of pure fruits. The old capital, Levuka, on the island of Ovalau, was a frequented spot for those favoured with leave. The trip entailed a 40-mile journey to Londoni by wog-waggon, and thence by launch to the island, where warm hospitality was always extended to the visitors.
American forces were now more numerous in the South page 103Pacific, and on the 37th US Division assuming responsibility for the communications on the island, divisional signals, together with the rest of the force, commenced to return to New Zealand. K section was the first to embark, sailing aboard the pre-war luxury liner President Coolidge (since sunk) on 3 July 1942. On arrival in Auckland three days later, members of the section went to Papakura military camp before being dispersed to their homes on leave. The President Coolidge was maintaining a fast shuttle service between the Dominion and Fiji, and on the journey which left Suva on 20 July she carried the remainder of the unit. On arrival in New Zealand they went to Orford's Camp, Manurewa, and then also on leave. Left behind was a party of 13 men under the command of Second-Lieutenant Anniss who, in cooperation with the United States Signal Corps, assisted in the construction of an overland open wire circuit across the mountainous country of the interior of Fiji. Also left were two men who had been sent to the Yasawa Group in a coast-watching capacity; time did not permit of their withdrawal to accompany the main body home. The line party returned to New Zealand three and a-half months later after completing 29 miles of the cross-country project.
Isa, Isa, you are my only treasure,
Must you leave me, so lonely and forsaken,
As the roses will miss the sun at dawning,
Every moment my heart for you is yearning.
Isa Lei, the purple shadows fall,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow,
Oh! forget not, when you're far away,
Pr.ecious moments, beside dear Suva Bay.
Isa, Isa, my heart was filled with pleasure,
From the moment I heard your tender greeting.
'Mid the sunshine, we spent the hours together,
Now so swiftly those happy hours are fleeting.
O'er the ocean your island home is calling',
Happy country where roses bloom-in splendour.
Oh, if I could but journey there beside you,
Then for ever my heart would sing in rapture.