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 Four — New Caledonia—Anchor Block and Allied Base
New Caledonia—Anchor Block and Allied Base
To employ natives for work in the camp it was necessary to engage them through recognised official channels, the proceedings being controlled by a gendarme, and this was followed when Kanakas from Poya (a small township about 15 miles north of Moindah) were engaged to construct bures in the Moindah camp. The natives, brought from their villages by truck, were for health reasons camped in tents a short distance away and brought into camp each morning for their meals and to do the construction work. Their requirements were supervised by a signalman. Using only niaouli in its natural state, the natives constructed three large bures which provided messing accommodation for the officers, sergeants and men respectively. Some time later a similar building was provided for recreation purposes. With completely water-proof thatched roofs, concrete floors, laid by members of the unit, and suitably furnished, these buildings, probably the finest of their kind on the island, were extremely comfortable.
Paid like the troops in American currency, it was a happy sight to see the faces of the natives beam as they received their reward. During their sojourn in camp they made many excursions to the bootmaker in an endeavour to be favoured with a condemned pair of issue boots, but the Army did not cater for feet so large and wide which had been padding the earth in their natural state for many years. During one extremely wet period quartermaster Captain South loaned them waterproof capes to wear, but the novelty held more appeal than the prac-page 144tical use, with the consequent result that they were worn on fine days too. Transport was provided each weekend to convey them back to their villages and families.
From the moment of sailing from New Zealand the censorship of private correspondence came into force. All mail was required to pass through the army post office for transmission. Each section within the unit arranged its own mail box and the men posted their letters unsealed to allow for the censoring by the section officer. Naturally this gave a feeling of hardship to many at first; to use a colloquialism, 'it cramped one's style.' Domestic topics which would normally have been put on paper were left unwritten, but this restraint was gradually lost. Censors found also that, on learning the individual trend of writing by their personnel, it was not necessary to read the average letter. Special envelopes were available to those who desired to communicate on essentially private matters and these were censored at base only. Parcels and papers were invariably accumulated in New Zealand for a few weeks before being forwarded by surface mail so that it was either a feast or a famine, but letter mail was always regular in its despatch and arrival, and no effort was spared to ensure a prompt delivery whatever the hour, day or night. Postman Lance-Corporal C. F. Bell and Signalman H. R. Hooper were always on the job. The average time taken by letter post from New Zealand was in the vicinity of a week to ten days, but a record in prompt delivery was established when a signalman one evening received a letter written from home during the morning of the same day. Other cases occurred of only one and two days in transit, but in general these windfalls came only on the odd occasions when special aircraft flying up from New Zealand had insufficient other cargo to make a load. Outward mail, including parcels up to seven pounds in weight, was postage free. Morale was good on mail day.
Unit linesmen grouped round an iron telegraph pole which was bent to this shape by the hurricane which swept over Suva in February 1941. Left: In Fiji distilled water for battery recharging was provided from this still which was made from old tins and tuaing. Below: Fifty and ten line exchanges were operated by J section signals in underground signal office at force head-quarters, Tamavua, near Suva
Signals first Christmas dinner at Moindah in New Caledonia was a great success and was celebrated in the open among the niaonlis. Above is a view of the tables during the meal. Left is a closeup of signals in action, and below are Five of the large cakes iced and decorated by the unit cooks. One of the open-air cookhouses can be seen in the background
New Caledonia has a moderate climate and for nine months of the year the temperature remains between 61 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit—very hot during the day, cool during the night. It was not long after arrival, therefore, that most bodies were displaying a very dark tan. Winter days were very pleasant and could perhaps be compared with summer in New Zealand, but rain was not an unknown quantity, winter or summer. Preceded invariably by heavy thunder and lightning, tropical downpours periodically flooded rivers (which at times delayed despatch riders) and created quagmires of the roads and camp areas. Camp drainage was therefore an important factor. Everyone dug a drain around his tent, and filled it with stones, and throughout the camp areas drains of more elaborate dimensions were dug to carry away the surplus storm water. Frogs appeared in thousands as if they, too, had dropped from the skies, for they were never seen prior to or after the rain. Ablutions were easy on these rainy occasions; this merely meant 'soaping up' and standing outside the tent in a shower. One batman will not forget the afternoon he left a bundle of his officer's clothing on the boulders alongside the Moindah riverbank while he returned to camp. On his return a few minutes later his concern can be imagined as he viewed a river extended double in size and his washing swept away. As it was a beautiful sunny day he did not anticipate such a happening, but it was raining at the river's source ten miles away. Precautions were taken to safeguard property in the event of a hurricane, and bures were wired to the ground for such an emergency.
The health of the troops was good and there were very few instances of serious sickness. In the earlier stages diarrhoea and dysentery were unpleasant experiences for many, but a few trips to the regimental aid post for an administration of 'concrete' usually did the trick. Fly-proofing of the latrines and the provision of bowls of disinfectant for the rinsing of hands saved inestimable discomfort to personnel. From time to time small waves of somewhat similar stomach pains would be evident, but their causes were hard to trace. Extreme care had; to be taken in the cook-houses to ensure that all unfrozen meat was fresh and that all frozen meat was deiced before cooking. The page 146common ailments among those attending sick parades were skin infections, such as dhobies itch, ringworm and tinea. Although very few cases were chronic enough to be withheld from duty-through these causes, those who experienced dhobies itch will well remember its discomfort, especially when treated with 'brilliant green.' Perspiration was the contributing factor to these complaints. Boils were common, some men having more than their share.
Field hospitals were established in the brigade areas and the United States 109th Station Hospital, at Kalavere, which was situated five miles from divisional headquarters, continued to function for some weeks after the arrival of the New Zealanders on the island, until the 4th General Hospital at Boguen Valley, a short distance from Bourail, was fully in operation. Consequently some signals personnel had the experience of being-patients in the American hospital. On the movement northwards of the 109th Station Hospital its area was occupied by the 2nd New Zealand Convalescent Depot, where patients recuperated after discharge from hospital prior to return to their units.
On 22 February an infantry weapon training course for members of the unit stationed at divisional headquarters was commenced under the control of Lieutenant D. M. Shirley, assisted by two infantry NCOs. Dubbed 'Commando Course/ it lasted from 8 am on Monday morning until the following Sunday evening. Duties were arranged to allow 25 per cent of the unit to be released at a time, and within one month all personnel had participated in the training. Members of the unit had been working operationally since leaving New Zealand, but the course proved something of a physical effort not generally experienced in signal work, camp contruction excepted. About the third day the physical and educational benefit of the course was beginning to be appreciated, and the majority expressed regret when it terminated On the Sunday. The programme of training covered all forms of weapon and bayonet practice, unarmed combat, compass reading with actual trials at night, patrol work (this included the infiltration through picketed camps in the area and a dawn attack on the camp), grenade throwing, tactics, and range practices alternating with battle practices. The latter were carried out in the most realistic manner. Complete with steel helmet, web, ammunition, respirator, rifle and bayonet, personnel advanced page 147into the 'jungle' to be greeted with electrically operated explosions from ground mines, live bren gun fire at an uncomfortable height (just above prone bodies as they hugged the ground) and gas attacks which required the speedy adjustment of respirators. In addition, some hundreds of Japanese faces, the product of the draughtsman's imagination, cartooned on pieces of cardboard, were to be seen affixed to the trees and generally hidden in the surroundings of the path of advance. On seeing a 'Jap' one immediately fired, each man expending some 60 rounds of ammunition in the course of his encounter with the enemy. An examination of the targets always showed a high percentage of hits scored. During this battle practice Signalman S. M. Moore was accidentally hit in the lower part of the leg by a bullet which had ricocheted. After a period in hospital Stan was eventually returned to New Zealand. In these training manoeuvres opportunity was taken to test in practice the No. 48 wireless set which was new to the force. Intended for the use of the battalions, it was carried on the back of the operator, and superseded the No. 108 set previously used.
It was during this training period when, at the conclusion of a hard day, Signalman C. M. (Darkie) Patterson decided to have 'forty winks' and turned in on his cot. Waking after a short nap, Darkie inquired the time from his tent mates, who told him it was six-thirty. Being under the impression that he had slept all night and was running late for a parade scheduled early 'that morning,' he leapt from his bed, made a dash to the water cart for shaving water, and commenced to remove the bristles. His tent mates, however, could restrain themselves no longer, and following a round of good-natured banter he was told the joke.
Early in March Major Wilson, officer commanding No. 1 company, returned to New Zealand to participate in a senior command course, and Captain Hanna temporarily assumed command of the company. A visitor to the unit from New Zealand was Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Ashe, senior staff officer signals, Army Headquarters, who inspected communications within the island and engaged in conference with Colonel Burns. To members of the unit assembled in the mess Colonel Ashe gave a talk on recent developments in the signals experimental establishment in New Zealand and on the improved equipment the men would be receiving with which to work on their engagement in combat page 148with the enemy in the near future. Another visitor to unit headquarters and to some of the sections was Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, the United States Army signal officer in charge of communications in New Caledonia. Other officers and men of the United States Signal Corps were entertained by the unit from time to time and members of the unit frequently visited American signal camps, particularly that of the 43rd Division Signal Company, where friendships were made destined to be renewed later in the forward areas.
Changes in the commands of the officers within the unit saw Lieutenant Wilton transfer from B cable section to officer commanding J section in place of Captain Parkhouse who was returning to New Zealand on a course. Second-Lieutenant Dyson went to Plaine des Gaiacs as officer commanding X section, in place of Captain Murphy who returned to Moindah as officer commanding A wireless section. Lieutenant Hester relinquished his command of the coast-watchers to become officer commanding base signals with Lieutenant H. S. Brown as second-in-command. Lieutenant K. H. Barron joined A wireless as second-in-command of that section.
News bulletins containing the latest war news were issued daily by the various intelligence sections of the force and the Army Education Welfare Service (AEWS) for display on camp notice boards. Additional reading interest was provided when a news sheet under the headlines of Niaouli News appeared on the notice board in the Moindah camp. Edited and produced by Corporal Nicol, this duplicated sheet written in a lighter vein on the activities of personnel and the camp in general, gradually became looked upon as an integral part of camp life. Because of the shortage of paper some of the earlier copies were limited to a few carbon copies, but assistance from the AEWS and the receipt from New Zealand of a case of newsprint purchased out of regimental funds enabled a wider distribution within the unit. A 'breakfast edition 'produced on toilet paper provided a diversion when issued at breakfast one Sunday morning. Containing radio-received New Zealand news, it was published and printed during the night. The paper economy effected by this move was worthy of note. Some 350 copies took only three-quarters of a roll of perforated tissue. Printed in Bourail under the auspices of the AEWS, and distributed throughout the page 149division, was the Kiwi News, a professionally set up, illustrated news sheets with periodically enlarged editions which could be sent home. It contained up-to-the-minute overseas war and New Zealand news. In its production, too, signals came into the picture, as much of the home news was received over the rear wireless link operated by base signals to Wellington. An attractively laid out cyclostyled news sheet entitled Daily News, published at Comsopac Headquarters, was another source of the latest news (with an American flavour) at times available to members of the unit.
When a week's leave in Nouméa became available to a specified number of members of each formation throughout the division signals' allocation was one officer and six other ranks, comprising firstly the advanced party to the island and others who had not participated in the seven days' leave granted prior to embarkation in New Zealand. Conveyed to Nouméa in trucks, the parties camped at the Nouméa transit camp, where they enjoyed the pleasure of sleeping in if they wished and leaving the camp just whenever they pleased, while organised trips included Anse Vata beach and sightseeing on the island of He Nou in the Nouméa Harbour. A novel attraction was a French cinema where the commentaries and dialogue of the newsreels and main features were entirely in French. One also had to go prepared to stand through two verses of the National Anthem, the Stars and Stripes and the Marseillaise as an overture to the programme.
To those who journeyed near Nouméa, interest was always held by the sight of a unique one-metre gauge railway which had been temporarily abandoned by the French and taken over by the United States forces for the haulage of war materials to dumps outside the town. Considerably relieving truck-clogged roads, its patchedup primitive rolling stock was capable of carrying the equivalent freight of 16 motor vehicles making eight trips a day at a speed of 25 miles an hour. Passengers' comfort was not considered, however, and those who made the journey had no alternative but to bask in the hot sun atop the freight. When opportunity permitted, visits to the nickel works in Nouméa or to the various mines were well worth while. The mineral wealth of the island is unique inasmuch as it possesses the richest chrome ore deposits in the world, providing one-twelfth of the world's supply. Even the sands on the beaches contain large percentages page 150of chrome. More is washed up as it is exploited. Until recent discoveries in America, New Caledonia possessed the largest cobalt mine in the world, providing 90 per cent, of the world's supply. Approximately one-tenth of the world's nickel is produced there, and the southern tip of the island can boast a recently discovered iron field, the largest in the world, with an estimated yield of 250 million tons of 50 per cent ore. One's attention to the mineral activity was drawn by the test mines visible on the tops of the peaks of La Chaine Centralc which ranged the island, where the red colour of the excavated earth contrasted in disfiguring patches with the green or grey of the hillsides. Japan appreciated New Caledonia's industrial capabilities and was the recipient of almost 500,000 tons of 50 per cent, iron ore annually, exported from the Japanese-owned mines. In fact the Japanese had extensive fifth column machinery poised to assist their forces in their protracted drive southwards.
With the exception of base signals at Bourail, the average signalman, mainly because of His location, had little opportunity to become closely acquainted with the French. Although always polite and warm in their felicitations, the civilian population remained reserved in their relationships and entertained little. The language was, of course, the main difficulty in this respect, although those who delved into their smattering of schooiday French could usually make themselves understood. Generally regarded as signals' interpreter was Captain Gillespie, who could speak the language fluently, and the classes which he held in a store tent during the evenings were enthusiastically attended. Corporal T. S. Mason was certainly among the most ardent students, becoming proficient at both reading and speaking, but it required much patience and forbearance on the part of his tent mates. Perhaps Captain Gillespie's linguist talents were best appreciated during trips to Poya or the native villages where he was able to negotiate on behalf of the unit.
With the organisation of passive air defence (PAD) to contend with air raids and the effects of fire should they eventuate, members of the unit were allocated action stations to which they proceeded on receipt of warnings. In the Moindah camp the PAD was under the control of Captain Murphy, and facilities consisted of drums of water and fire hooks with which to drag burning tents clear. Ammunition and machine guns were con-page 151tinually held in readiness for an emergency, and all petrol and vehicles had to be dispersed on the alarm being sounded. The warning conditions, such as condition yellow, green, red, or black which denoted various stages of alarm, were made known to the units on the island from island command in Nouméa, through the American and New Zealand signal networks of wireless stations and telephone exchanges. These conditions were to become better known to personnel at a later date.
An arrival at the Moindah camp one day was a fox terrier pup which surveyed the surroundings and decided to stay. Never missing a parade, march, manoeuvre or trip, this miniature canine became known as Peep, the camp mascot. Although mastered and fed by Signalman W. Pickering, Peep readily followed anyone in the area. Essentially military minded, Peep showed it in no uncertain terms during a church parade in which members of the unit were participating. It was attended by the general and the Honourable Walter Nash, who had taken up their positions at the head of the hollow square formed by divisional troops. This civilian intrusion was too much for Peep, who, barking very unceremoniously, registered a hundred yards dash up the centre of the parade to tug disapprovingly at the Minister's trousers.
With a view to keeping members of the unit at Moindah fit and at the same time providing some form of diversion from normal duties, hikes across the island were instituted. The trek on which all participated, from the colonel down, entailed leaving camp by troop carrier about 6 o'clock on Sunday mornings to the commencing point at the head of the Poya valley. The first obstacle was within a few minutes of starting where the Poya River crosses the track. Those who removed their boots and hose to make the fording found shortly after that they could have saved themselves the trouble, as it was only the first of dozens of similar crossings necessary in the 18 miles journey and that wet feet were inevitable. Along the track, orange and mandarine trees laden with fruit were plentiful. Each man carried dry rations in his haversack, and the billy was boiled for the midday meal. Following lunch, a stiff uphill climb of a mile and a-half made perspiration flow even more freely, but pleasant pauses were made at the immaculate Kanaka homes situated on the hillside where the islanders came out to offer bananas and page 152oranges. The trampers in turn gave the natives chocolate and any unused-: rations which they still carried. On reaching the summit only five miles of gradual downhill remained to be covered. From here it was invariably a race to see who could finish the journey first, but irrespective of who it was, the sight of the troop carrier waiting alongside the river on the Houailou road, with a container of hot tea and dry clothes, was certainly a welcome sight to all. The 40-miles trip back to camp was accompanied by a lusty community sing of unpublished songs. A similar tramp, of much longer duration, was undertaken on two occasions by some members of the unit on being granted a week's leave. Journeying by motor transport to Nekliai, the parties traversed more or less directly across the island to Ponerihouen, a distance of approximately 35 miles. Divided into three daily stages, the route was extremely difficult and steep in parts. So confusing did the tracks become that the services of natives were enlisted as guides. The huts of the chief of the village were placed at the disposal of the trampers each evening, and the natives were unable to do enough for their guests. Oranges, mandarines and sugar cane were plentiful, the latter being a boon to alleviate thirst and fatigue. The Kanakas were always friendly and trustworthy, becoming firm friends with the parties.
For the first few weeks after arrival in New Caledonia the effects of separation from normal civilisation and its social amenities became apparent. There were no theatres, dance halls, or entertainments where an evening could be spent, so it fell to each section to originate for itself some method of repairing the omission. The artillery signals sections defending the airstrips were fortunate from the beginning in being able to attend already established movie shows held out under the stars almost nightly by the Americans, but at the brigades, divisional headquarters and base a month or two elapsed before similar screenings could be arranged. Shown at outdoor amphitheatres by a mobile projection unit (donated to the force by the Returned Services Association), or from 16 and 35 millimetre projectors belonging to the formations, the latest full-length programmes of 'big pictures' and 'shorts' were screened on regular nights of each week to large audiences. Signals in the divisional headquarters area followed a track through the niaouli trees for about 400 yards to the large comfortable divisional ordnance workshops page 153 (DOW) bure where shows were exhibited twice weekly. The screen in this instance was placed at the end of the bure and an equally large audience could view the show from the rear, the only difficulty being that any lettering or film titles were naturally back to front. The AEWS controlled both the distribution of the films and the mobile projector.
Between the sections and the formations to which they were attached concerts were organised, and rare was the section that could not produce a virtuoso of the mouth organ or a guitar player. Arising from the joint efforts of Captain Hanna and Chaplain G. R. Thompson a concert party of artists from signals and other units in the divisional area was formed. Signalman (later Warrant-Officer 2nd Class) Rex Savers was appointed producer and, following practices held in a camp tent set aside for that purpose, a non-stop variety show was presented on the evening of the opening of the newly erected men's mess at Moindah. Props, costumes and curtains were adapted from anything which could be borrowed or acquired, and the stage lighting controlled by rheostat was the effort of M section. Female impersonators, magician, comedians, musicians and vocalists received deafening applause as they entertained in turn. General Barrowclough with other divisional officers attended the premiere performance which was the forerunner to others of the 'Pacific Kiwis' at DOW, United States 109th Station Hospital, YMCA, at Bourail, Plaine des Gaiacs and the 4th General Hospital.
Following the success of this party applications were invited for the position of producer for an official concert party for the division. Rex Sayers was the successful applicant, and along with Alan Matthews (Alamat the Magician) of signals and some other members in the divisional show, plus those selected from the remainder of the division, they left their respective units to commence full time concert work. Known as the 'Kiwi Concert Party,' or 'Kiwis in the Pacific,' the troupe continuously toured the units of the division entertaining enthusiastic audiences wherever the curtain (or blankets) went up. Most of the shows were held on stages erected out in the open with a tropical sky for a ceiling.
Smokos, although not often held, were a popular feature. These functions were arranged when beer was available in the canteen, and each man was allowed to accumulate part of his page 154ration for the evening. Although ample regimental funds were available for the purchase of eatables, there was no source on the island from which to buy them, so the cooks showed their prowess in the culinary art by making tasty savouries from delicacies men received in their parcels, or tinned oysters purchased when available through the canteen. The programmes consisted of items by various members of the unit, interspersed with community sings and the usual range of stories told at such functions. The opening of the unit's recreation hut was recorded in such a manner in the Moindah camp. A further highlight on the lighter side of activities was the privelege of attending performances of leading American film stars and artists. Visiting the fronts as morale boosters to American troops, under the auspices of the United States Organisation (USO), these artists invariably extended their tours to include New Zealand camps wherever possible. Among some of the better known artists seen were Joe E. Brown, Kay Bolger, John Fogerty, Bob Hope and Frances Langford.
Dances held at base in Bourail were a popular feature for the limited few who were given the opportunity to attend. Partners were the sisters and nurses from the hospital at Boguen, and a few French girls who were usually heavily attended by chaperons. Men in the units invited, who wished to attend these functions, submitted their names, and if the number of names exceeded the stipulated number of personnel allowed to go from the unit a ballot was held to decide who were to be the lucky ones. Those selected had to endure much heckling from their tent mates as they creased trousers and trimmed moustaches in an endeavour to look immaculate—and most of them did! For those who made the journey from division, a trip of 25 miles to Bourail in the back of a truck was necessary, and this over an extremely rough road, with a similar return journey at the conclusion of the dance.
A novel idea was the formation of the Blue and White Racing Club under the chairmanship of Warrant-Officer Holden. The committee accepted horse nominations from members of the unit and acceptances were duly published on the notice board and in an elaborately duplicated race book, complete even to advertisements and a plan of the course. The original 'race' meeting was held in the men's mess before a large crowd from the whole page 155divisional area. The bure had been paid out to represent a race track. Horses were cut out of tin, coloured, and mounted on a stand which the respective 'jockeys' (members of the unit dressed in suitable attire) moved along so many paces, determined by the throwing of two dice. One dice represented the number of the horse to move and the other the number of paces the horse moved forward, the first horse to reach the finishing post being the winner. No effort was spared to make the function as realistic as possible. Totalisator, electric bell, balloon and automatic starting barrier were included in the fixtures, and 25-cent bets could be placed on the tote, which handled 250 dollars on the occasion of the first meeting. Dividends were paid on the first and second placings from the pay out windows of the tote.
With a view to having a track available for future meetings without having to reassemble it every time, a more permanent course was later erected outdoors to the rear of the sergeants-mess. Complete with flood lights, this course attracted even bigger support. The Blue and White shield, manufactured by members of the unit from shell case and packing case, was a much sought after trophy. It was competed for on three occasions. The honour of being first to win it fell to Captain South, whose horse, Yankee Pay by Comparison out of Proportion, was successfully ridden to the winning post by 'Jockey' R. C. Orme in the main event of the evening. Jockey Orme was the recipient of a mounted whip. The shield was later lifted by Sergeant F. D. Dyer and finally by Kew Stables. The tote handled 650 dollars in 25-cent bets on one of these evenings.
On more than one occasion the men's mess at Moindah was packed to the doors for a band recital by the Third New Zealand Divisional Band under the baton of Lieutenant L. R. Fox, whose programme of music covered a wide range of selections in both classical and lighter vein. The acclamation accorded each item was evidence of the band's popularity. It will long be remembered for its frequent presentation of the current musical hit, 'In the mood.' The band also attended other functions within the division, such as ceremonial parades, church services and sports meetings.
A really historical date in the annals of the Third Divisional Signals was 10 May 1943, for on that day a court of inquiry assembled to determine the cause of the disappearance of six tinspage 156of tongues from the ration store. Probably the hardest worked person of the court was the unit headquarters typist, Signalman L. C. Wallace who, in the course of his tedious duties, committed to paper nigh on a hundred pages of closely typed evidence. An amusing piece of information was vouchsafed by an LAD sergeant who, following a gruelling cross-examination as witness, when suggested to him by a member of the court that he was either (a) very very drunk on the night of the disappearance (b) a perverter of the truth, or (c) just plain dumb, replied rather sheepishly but unhesitatingly, 'Please sin, I'm just plain dumb.' The 'tongue case' remained unsolved at the conclusion of a week's sitting!
Sport was high up on the list of activities. This was divided into two categories—first, compulsory sport, in which everybody within the unit participated purely for recreational purposes one afternoon a week, and secondly, inter-unit competitive sport in which selected representative signals teams contested against others in the division and brigade areas. As at home, rugby attracted the widest support and it was inevitable wherever New Zealand forces were situated to see rugby goal posts. The signals first fifteen was led by Signalman M. A. (Torchy) Dobson, a tireless half-back whose team won more games than it lost. Except after rain the playing grounds were like concrete, and an ambulance on the side-line was almost as important as a referee. J section's team had an unbeaten record at brigade headquarters, which was maintained when the team defeated No. 1 company 17-6, but against K section the result was a draw, 3 all. The conclusion of the rugby season came when teams representing all formations in the division met in a knockout contest for a trophy know as the Barrowclough Cup, presented by General and Mrs. Barrowclough. A signals team, drawn from all the sections, went into extensive training some five weeks before the scheduled date of play. The training was tough and included everything from shovelling rocks and 25-mile cross-country treks, to physical training and football, but good as they were the team suffered defeat and was eliminated in the first game. No record would be complete without mention of the 'friendly' officers versus sergeants rugby match. After a battle royal, the sergeants left the field victors, 5-3, but two sergeants were in hospital and page 157another required medical attention. The officers had enlisted the provost marshal to play for them!
Equally enthusiastic teams were fielded for cricket, soccer, basketball and tenakoits, all of which had their share of success. The playing fields on Mr. Tuck's property, on the north side of the Moindah River in the divisional area, always presented a sporting spectacle, as all games were in progress simultaneously. E section fielded a particularly keen cricket team. Among their successes were victories over teams from the 54th anti-tank unit and the divisional signals officers.
Regulation jerseys, shorts, boots, footballs, boxing gloves and baseball equipment were either purchased with unit regimental funds or donated by the National Patriotic Fund Board. Major Wilson purchased and paid for in New Zealand many pounds' worth of cricket gear. The erection of a boxing ring and the laying out of tenakoit and basketball courts within the camp area also gave opportunity for sport close at hand during off duty hours. Signals boxing teams participated in contests held at base. A fillip to the sport was given by the presence of Tom Heeney, one-time New Zealand heavy-weight boxing champion and then in the United States Navy, who travelled as far north on the island as the 14th Brigade to referee boxing matches. Basketball teams from the United States 109th Station Hospital a few miles away looked forward to playing their national game in contests with unit teams on the Moindah court. More than one carnival was held in the swimming pool,, and the first one held on Christmas Day 1942 brings memories of a most pleasant afternoon.
Track, field, cycling and tug-o'-war events were not without signals representatives and unit teams faced the starters on numerous functions. These included the divisional championships, also held on Mr. Tuck's property, on 8 May 1943. Thousands of troops from all units of the division thronged to watch the thrilling sport offered, from a specially constructed stadium complete with grandstand and 'tote.' The uniformity of dress of signals competitors at this function was immediately noticeable. Each man wore white shorts and a white singlet bearing the large letters SIGS across the chest and back. An amusing highlight occurred when Peep insisted on running alongside the bicycle on which the colonel was racing, considerably page 158hindering any effort to gain speed. Competitive shooting attracted wide interest at base signals who fielded two teams with considerable success. A voluntary enterprise which received wide support from the personnel of Moindah camp were the classes of physical training conducted by Corporal J. D. M. Haldane. Rising before reveille, the original class of body-builders was small, but it gradually grew until, in the period of the school of signals, the large parade ground formerly belonging to the defence and employment platoon was required to accommodate the 40 to 50 men who rolled out of bed every morning. The session lasted about half an hour, followed by a splash in the cold pool for those so inclined. The motive of the exercises was primarily to keep fit, but measurements of the participants were recorded and the results of a monthly check-up certainly showed the value of the exercises as a key to improved physique.
With ample funds but little opportunity to spend them, the regimental funds committee was formed by representatives of the sections at Moindah. Meeting periodically under the chairmanship of the colonel, and with the adjutant as secretary, this committee had power to spend for the unit any funds held. These were derived from profits made by the camp canteen and from grants made from time to time by the New Zealand Canteen Board. Anything but liquor could be purchased out of regimental funds, but because of the lack of anything suitable to purchase on the island the main expenditure centred around buying sports gear from New Zealand. Additional items to the fare provided by army rations for the messes was an oft-discussed subject, but here again lack of supply was almost limited to oranges and mandarines which were bought by the truck load. The regimental funds of the brigade and regiment sections were pooled with those of the headquarters to which they were attached, and grants made by the Canteen Board were received direct by these sections. Balance sheets were published regularly and, apart from the correctness of procedure, it allowed members of the unit to see how their moneys were being spent.
American coinage was the universal currency of the force. Although a novelty at first, it was not long before nickels, dimes, quarters and bucks were handled with the same ease as New Zealand money, but the dollar bill due to its convenience was page 159spent much more freely than would have been the case in using British coinage. It was not essential to draw one's full pay, and opportunities were offered from time to time for the remittance to New Zealand of accumulated credit. Favoured by the rate of exchange, a dollar (five shillings) thereby became worth six shillings and a penny on arrival in New Zealand. Actual cash could not, however, be transmitted by mail to New Zealand by individuals. American currency was acceptable at all French shops, 43 francs to a dollar, but any change from a purchase invariably consisted of a mixture of French and American coins. French notes and coins became accepted souvenirs, so the drain on the colony's issue can be readily imagined in view of the thousands of troops who had set foot there. The only exceptions allowed from the normal procedure of signing the acquittance roll on receipt of pay was in the instance of the Kanakas employed in the camp, some of whom could neither read nor write. Their mark of receipt was therefore recorded by the novel method of pressing a thumb on an ink pad and then on the roll in the allotted space.
Wherever troops were stationed a demand was immediately created for toilet requisites, cigarettes and other comforts, so whenever these requirements could be shipped without interfering with the normal war supplies, canteens were established, and this was the instance in New Caledonia. A base canteen, supplying in bulk to the whole division, was established at Bourail and from there units could purchase large quantities of goods for resale in their own canteens. Members of the unit had little or no other outlet for their money, so naturally most of their spendings went into this source.
Commencing business a few days after arrival in Moindah, the canteen at unit headquarters was a flourishing concern. Voluntarily manned, under the supervision of an officer, the canteen was open for limited periods during the day to allow purchases to be made. If something new was to be on sale, bush telegraph had probably told the camp about it in advance and a queue soon singled out the canteen tent prior to opening time. A small profit was made on most items, primarily to make the prices a 'round' figure and thereby obviate odd change in cents, but all profits were transferred to regimental funds. Prices on the whole were very reasonable. Change was a major problem as page 160everyone was paid in dollar bills and smaller denominations just did not exist, so printed tokens redeemable for cash were satisfactorily introduced.
Varied indeed was the range of articles on sale. Leading brands of American cigarettes at 50 cents a carton of 200 constituted the greatest demand, closely followed by chocolate, candy, biscuits, magazines, washing soap, toilet soap, talcum powder, toothpaste, and razor blades. Beer, too, when available, was sold through the canteen on a rationed basis, but personnel were not permitted to accumulate their rations lest it lead to undisciplined parties. American tinned beer was a novelty, but it required an expert to open it and at the same time prevent a large portion of the contents from blowing out the hole made in the top of the tin (like a factory whistle letting off steam) into the eye of the would-be imbiber. From time to time limited stocks of items such as pyjamas became available and in these instances a ballot was held to decide their distribution. The replenishing of stocks presented little difficulty to base signals whose camp and canteen were adjacent to the base canteen at Bourail. X and P sections stationed at the airfieds shared with the American personnel the wide variety of stocks offered from their canteens, or Pxs as they were better known.
Three views of the New Caledonian scene. The men's mess hut at 'Moindah, which seated two hundred men, is shown above. It was built and thatched by Kanakas from native materials and was one of the finest buildings in the Moindah camp. One of the many coast-watching stations manned by Signals is on the right and Below is a water-colour sketcb of part of Divisional Headquarters at Moindah showing the signals office
Nursing sisters and troops of the Third Division watching the horses parade in the birdcage at a 14th Brigade race meeting at Taom, New Caledonia. Brigade units built it
Anzac Day 1943 at Moindah, New Caledonia, when divisional troops paraded and were addressed by General Barrowelough
A despatch rider in Fiji surrounded by natives in a distant village where he had stopped to deliver some messages
A welcome break from the island monotony was offered a small proportion of officers and other ranks from all sections when they returned to New Zealand in batches to attend courses of instruction at Trentham Military Camp and the New Zealand Tactical School at Wanganui. Signal clerking, despatch riding, refresher courses for NCOs, instrument repairing, operating, cable work, small arms, and physical training were among the fields covered. In each instance selected personnel, where practicable, assembled at Moindah, and from there the drafts journeyed in troop carriers to Nouméa prior to embarkation. Members of the first draft had the unpleasant experience of a speedy return to port some hours after sailing on account of enemy submarine activity. Major Heatherwick sailed with this draft to attend a course at the Tactical School, Wanganui, his appointment as officer commanding head quarters company being temporarily assumed by Major J. K. H. Clark, who had recently arrived from New Zealand. Similarly Lieutenant Pratt was replaced by Lieutenant A. W. Fitchett as officer commanding M section when the former officer temporarily returned to New Zealand on a tour of duty. Other officers who journeyed homewards were Captain Gettins who attended a company commander's course at the Tactical School, Wanganui, and Captain Hanson and Lieutenant K. O. Stewart who attended Army School of Instruction, Trentham.
Officers and non-commissioned officers of the sections took their turn as orderly officer and NCO respectively within the unit to which they were attached. At Moindah, where apart from the attached LAD the camp was entirely signals, officers and NCOs carried out orderly duties in daily rotation. Duties commenced at reveille with the hoisting of the flag, rousing the camp, and conducting the sick parade to the RAP in the divisional headquarters area. Mess parades, lowering the flag, tattoo, and lights-out were indicated by bugle calls blown by Signalman N. K. Freeman, but periods such as smoke and mail call were announced by the sounding of a gong by the orderly NCO. In these instances one ring was sufficient! The gong was an empty 25-pounder shellcase suspended from a niaouli tree in the centre page 162of the camp, with a nondescript piece of metal hanging alongside as a striker. The bugler naturally had an unenviable task, endeavouring to please with routine calls such a fastidious audience as was found in signals, but variations with a trend towards the 'boogie woogie' were sometimes to be heard wafting through the stillness of the night at lights-out. Further functions of the orderly officer consisted of the supervision of mess parades, inspection of living quarters and camp fixtures generally, inspection of camp pickets during the night hours, and contending with any eventuality and reporting any inconsistencies seen in the camp during his 24 hours of duty. The periodical visiting of members of the unit who were sick in hospital also fell into the category of his duties.
Due to efficient sanitation, flies were reduced to a minimum, and to this, perhaps, can be linked the low sickness rate in the camp. At home the fly is listed as a nuisance but in the hot islands it is a disease carrier as potential a killer as the enemy. Fly traps installed in the vincity of the cookhouses, men's mess, and latrines proved their worth many times over. Ants were always present, delighting in making a headquarters in cake, candy, or sweet foodstuffs,, and especially in the sugar on the mess tables. However, they were at least found useful on one occasion. Encouraged on to a fly-blown blanket they completely cleared it of eggs in a short time. Black widow spiders, the bite of which can prove fatal, were often found in dark corners. One signal victim was recorded, but without the allegedly fatal consequences. Next came the crickets, which seemed to thrive on perforating holes in woollen garments, such as socks and pullovers, must to the distress of the owners who had to darn them. Rats and mice found themselves equally at home in kit bags or quartermaster's stores. This led Lance-Corporal T. D. Scott to design a revolutionary rat trap, a camp show piece, which was responsible for the extermination of 19 mice and 12 rats in the first day of its use. The barrel of one's rifle was the favourite hide-out of the mason bee, and so successfully did it 'dig in' that the pitting in the metal on numerous occasions could be attributed to this source.
During July, with the disbandment of the 28th Heavy Antiaircraft Regiment and the 33rd Heavy Coastal Regiment imminent, and the probable arrival from New Zealand of two addi-page 163tional field regiments (only one did arrive), it became apparent that the artillery signals organization would no longer be required. Divisional signals was therefore re-organised into a unit headquarters, headquarters company, and three operational companies, placing it more in line with British establishments and that of the Second Division in the Middle East. Unit headquarters, headquarters company, and No. 1 company were increased in strength. No. 2 company provided for an officer commanding, a company quartermaster-sergeant, and E, G and X sections. No. 3 company also had an officer commanding, a company quartermaster-sergeant, and J and K sections. The personnel from the disbanded artillery signals headquarters and headquarters section were then used to bring headquarters company and No. 1 company up to their required strengths. B cable section was, for instance, expanded 50 per cent, in personnel. Captain Clark and Captain Gettins then assumed command of No. 2 and No. 3 companies respectively. In addition, provision was niade for a unit medical orderly. Sergeant J. D. Forrest became attached from 22nd Field Ambulance, and the unit's own regimental aid post became established at Moindah. A further attachment to the unit was Padre W. H. D. Hartley, who became assistant to the divisional headquarters chaplain, Padre Thompson. The strength of divisional signals was in the vicinity of 500. The attached light aid detachment was 15 strong. No one ever thought of making comparison with the relative strengths until one day the colonel was opening his mail. He commenced to tear open an envelope, then, sensing something unusual, looked at the address again. It read:—
CO, 3 NZ Divisional Signals
67th Light Aid Detachment
The colonel did not smoke his pipe much more that day!
Each section possessed its own motor transport in the form of jeeps, six-by-fours (six wheels, four-wheel drive) and quads (British, four wheels, four-wheel drive), all of which travelled many miles transporting men and equipment. Quads were used extensively for the movement of wireless stations during reconnaissance or test schedules from remote parts of the island. In the early months in New Caledonia, to travel anywhere by road in a truck was not an enviable experience. The roads were page 164narrow, potholed and corrugated, so that extreme care had to be taken by drivers. Provosts on motor cycles maintained a vigilant patrol at all hours for offenders exceeding the prescribed speed limits of 25 miles an hour for trucks and 30 miles an hour for jeeps and cars. Needless to say a few drivers were 'tagged' and signals drivers were represented among those who were 'grounded' or received disciplinary action for such offences.
Whilst the imposition of a 25 miles an hour speed limit for trucks was governed by the safety factor (in many places it was just a sheer drop down the sides of Route Coloniale) it was certainly slow enough to ensure that passengers riding in the vehicles did not miss any of the bumps, and the driver's head colliding with the roof of the steel cab was a common occurrence. Accidents did happen, but they were mostly confined to vehicles sliding off the narrow roads during the passing of others rather than to actual collisions. On the Moindu Pass, about 11 miles south of Bourail, so narrow was the winding mountain road for a distance of 10 miles that only one-way traffic was permitted. Connected by telephone, controlling stations at either end of the pass gave the movement orders to the waiting queues of vehicles. Later, with the arrival from New Zealand of road graders, engineers lost little time in effecting improvements which were in marked contrast to the pick and shovel efforts of the French and Javanese road gangs.
Always looked upon as the man who had everything and released nothing was the quartermaster. He was not always a popular person yet, behind the scenes, the quartermaster and his staff (headquarters company) worked long hours to ensure the best available supply of operational equipment and facilities for the unit. Naturally, all that concerned the average signalman was whether he could change his sox or get a new shirt—that was important, too, but only a fraction of the supply problems that surrounded Q. Every single item which helped make the unit 'tick,' from a pair of rusty handcuffs to high power transmitting stations, passed through the stores. In between those were rations, petrol, oil, footwear, clothing, rifles, pistols, web, tents, stationery, tools, machetes, technical equipment, spares, spares and more spares, but they weren't always plentiful. Spares for No. 108 wireless sets which were ordered in Fiji caught up with the unit in New Caledonia. Solder was at times page 165unobtainable, and an appeal by M section for parcel tins to allow them to melt the solder off to use in repairing operational wireless sets was made on more than one occasion. Spare switchboard cords and line units seemed just not to exist. When approximately 600 men wore out their two cellular shirts at the same time, the unit's share for replacement was 126 shirts. Poignant was the statement that appeared in the New Zealand press at the same period to the effect that the satisfactory position in regard to drill and tropical wear for troops in the Pacific had allowed a reduction in the factory output. Comment on this statement was not complimentary.
Still, in spite of this, the turnover of the Q department was large. A 3-ton truck left Moindah on an average of once a week for base ordnance depot at Bourail loaded with worn-out equipment, to return with fresh supplies which were in turn distributed or stored as stock. Unfortunately, procedure for the obtaining and distribution of technical equipment was not just a matter of indenting for it and then 'handing it out, as seemed the simplest expedient in the eyes of the layman. The unit was confined to the army-compiled war establishment table—commonly known as the 'ten ninety-eight' or 'Bible '—which contained a list of most of the equipment required by a unit. Alongside each item was the number or quantity that each respective unit was allowed to have in its possession. This presented known anomalies, an example being hydrometers. Each section was allowed one hydrometer and in the event of its being broken it became necessary to return it to headquarters—a distance sometimes of over 100 miles—for a replacement. It certainly did encourage the care of equipment, but sections often felt that at times they were being victimised through their distance from the parent body. The quartermaster was the chopping block. The accounting work or 'bumph war,' under the regimental quartermaster-sergeant, was sizeable and occupied a full-time staff. Every item received or despatched required listing on packing slips, vouchering, and an entry on a ledger card. The unit possessed some 250,000 individual listed items of equipment covering a range of 5,000 different articles, and they all had to be accounted for. The preparation of ration states, which had to be prepared and despatched to the ASC seven days a week, were but a minor part of the day's activities. Within head-page 166quarters company was the domestic side of the unit—the quartermaster's staff, M section which was responsible for the repair and maintenance of technical equipment, the truck drivers who covered long distances over rough roads hauling supplies, men who serviced the vehicles with petrol and oil, cooks, butchers, sanitation corporal, the bootmaker and the storeman. They were all busy men with no set hours. One interesting feature was the work accomplished by the 'snobbie' to the unit. His last was purchased in Hamilton, New Zealand, prior to the unit's departure for overseas, at a cost of three shillings and sixpence. During the life of the last—it really had nine lives, for it was welded together on no fewer than eight occasions—Corporal Haldane used this amateurish piece of equipment on which to repair some 3,700 pairs of army boots.
Memories will need little reminder of the fare of tinned and dehydrated foods on which everyone lived for the duration of his service in the Pacific. Most of the rations were of American origin, and cooks had to revise their recipes for the preparation of the different types of food, some of which were palatable to the New Zealander and some not. Rations, based on the number of personnel in the camp, were delivered every ten days by the ASC, whose vehicles would roll into the camp area at any hour of the day or night. It was not unusual for the Q staff to be roused from their beds in the vicinity of three in the morning to commence unloading. Although a cook was on the establishment of each section, the sections messed with the formation to which they were attached, and the signal cook went on duty with the other cooks of the camp. In the Moindah camp a 200-men and a 50-men drip feed diesel oil stove were in operation, in the men's and in the officers' and sergeants' cookhouses respectively, in addition to a number of portable cookers. Using white spirit, the latter cookers threw a flame along a trench in the floor of the cookhouse, over which were placed the containers of food to be cooked. Although portable and efficient while working, they were a nightmare to M section fitters who were constantly servicing them.
On the arrival of the rations (two truck loads) they were unloaded into the ration store and packed on packing-case shelves by the ration storeman. A menu for the ensuing ten days was then compiled by the quartermaster and submitted to a messing page 167committee comprising the administrative officer, representatives of headquarters and No. 1 companies and the LAD, the messing sergeant and the corporal cook. This committee was at liberty to make suggestions or alter the menu in any way it pleased provided the available quantities of food were not exceeded. It also had the opportunity of visiting the ration stores whenever it wished (as representatives of the members' camp mates) to satisfy itself that the fullest use was being made of the rations. The only diversion from the menu was on the arrival of fresh meat or vegetables, which were immediately substituted or served in addition to that laid down. The scheme worked exceedingly well but, like everything else, it is impossible to please everyone, and that is particularly so in the army where meals are concerned.
An army issue of New Zealand cigarettes, pipe tobacco and toilet soap for general distribution was also received with the rations, but after some period the supply of cigarettes was discontinued. They did not keep particularly well in the hot climate, and in addition, personnel could readily purchase very cheaply the leading brands of American cigarettes which they seemed to prefer. Fresh bread baked by the field bakery was delivered daily. The ration varied according to the flour stocks available on the island, but it was seldom that two full slices a man, each day, were not available. Appetites were not large in the tropics, although admittedly there were times when it was felt that a little more to eat would have been satisfying. Those engaged on manual jobs, such as the linesmen or LAD personnel, found themselves in the Oliver Twist category.
One of the outstanding contributions to this war (for those on the supply side) was dehydration. Effecting enormous savings in shipping space, it also offered the opportunity for troops in the forward areas to receive rations which they would otherwise have been without. Some idea of the saving was illustrated by the fact that a 4-gallon tin contained sufficient potatoes to feed 400 men. Dehydration was confined to vegetables, and potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots and beetroot were items found on the regular diet. They were not very popular. The story is told of 'Darkie' of the LAD leaving camp by truck one day to obtain a load of shingle for the section's workshop floor. On his return to camp some time later, he was greeted by Sergeant-Major G. Bull, who asked the reason for the meagre pile of page 168stones in the centre of the truck tray. His reply was to the effect that 'if a man gets fed dehydrated meals you can only expect a dehydrated load.' Meat was the basis of most meals. Sometimes this was fresh New Zealand mutton or pork, but such rations were minute compared with the tins of corned beef, hash, M and V (meat and vegetables), spam and vienna sausage consumed. If flour was available, a camouflage of batter provided a welcome variety, but however vienna sausages were served, whether fried, boiled with sauce, or in batter, the taste of their content defied alteration. New Zealand M and V pie with a pastry crust was certainly the most popular dish. Three American preparations which no one really learned to enjoy were chili con carne, sauerkraut, and hominy, and they were invariably deleted from the unit's list of ration requirements. The only unfortunate aspect of making deletions in this direction was that no alernative was offered or supplied in their stead.
A welcome change from powdered eggs was the arrival on a few occasions of a few chilled eggs. In this instance, the extra time entailed in waiting for the eggs to come straight out of the frying pan at the cookhouse was well warranted. Members of the line party and despatch riders who were often on the roads sometimes found opportunity to purchase eggs from the French, and the cooks were only too pleased to assist by cooking them. Tinned fruit, which was to be found on the menu four days out of seven, was naturally popular, and the use of concentrated tinned milk as cream enabled an attractive dessert to be served. No fresh milk was available for consumption by troops. It took more than 800 tins to meet the requirements of the Moindah camp for the 10-day ration period. Grapefruit juice, pineapple juice or synthetic lemon were served in lieu of tea or coffee with the midday meal, but on no occasion was thei'e sufficient to serve the former two refreshments at full strength, or to enable each man to have a mug full. The synthetic lemon drink was commonly known as 'battery acid.'
There were no fewer than 90 items in the rations supplied, ranging through everything from pepper, salt, spices, raisins, cereals, fruit, vegetables, meats, milk, hard biscuits, tinned butter (invariably rancid), sugar, flour, rice, spaghetti, beans et cetera, et cetera, plus items such as toilet paper, sandsoap, and washing powder which were supplied from the same source. Mess order-page 169lies served the meals from serveries established for each meal on either side of the mess entrance and as the parade, under the surveillance of the orderly officer and orderly NCO, marched along the path leading to the mess room, eating utensils were required to be rinsed in tubs of hot water as a precaution against the spread of dysentry. During the meals the orderly officer for the day visited each table enquiring for complaints, which were often numerous but not always reasonable. A typical one was the taste of the tea. All drinking water in the camp was, for health reasons, chlorinated, and on the water being brought to the boil for the making of tea this none too pleasant taste was accentuated, with the above result. Meals on the whole in New Caledonia were fair, and genuine complaints were always investigated.
A serviceable fixture was the 'washingup stand, situated in a handy position alongside the path which, at Moindah, ran from the cookhouse to the men's mess room and was built by men engaged on camp construction under the supervision of Major Heatherwick. Made almost entirely of 44-gaIlon petrol drums, a few acquired taps, and heated by a portable cooking unit, the circulators were capable of supplying over 40 gallons of hot water in 25 minutes. A series of four troughs, filled alternatively with soapy and fresh water, allowed the large number of men coming out of mess speedily to wash and rinse their utensils.
July 1943 was a month mixed with rumour and restlessness. Early in August ever-increasing truckloads of equipment arrived from base ordnance, and the quartermaster's staff began to construct wooden cases and to pack. Speculations as to future movements became twopence a dozen. At this period the 8th Brigade was rested on the far side of the island at Thio, and operators from J section were detailed to that area to maintain wireless communication across the island to brigade headquarters. On 4 August unit headquarters received a most secret memorandum from divisional headquarters outlining details of the movement of the division to a more forward area. This was naturally not passed on to the unit, but when all web, anklets and accessories were camouflaged with green paint, and canvas jungle boots with thick rubber soles were issued to all ranks, it was obvious that a move "was afoot. Members of B cable section who had been camped in the bush between base and Bouloupari returned to page 170camp and the gradual dismantling of camp fixtures began in earnest.
To save dislocation of the section and to enable functioning of advanced and rear parties, or for any special assignment, D section was divided into four self-contained groups, each capable of performing the entire duties of a signal office. These subsections were known as A, B, C and D, but remained as before under the command of Captain Wilton. A further new arrangement was the withdrawal from No. 1 company's sections of personnel to form a signal section for attachment to the Field Maintenance Centre (FMC), a new administrative centre for the handling of men and equipment destined for the forward area. This section of 19 other ranks came under the command of Lieutenant Barron. On 11 August Colonel Burns returned by plane to New Zealand for a week to investigate the unit's supply and equipment difficulties. Meanwhile, a detachment from P section at Tontouta left for Nouméa to install telephone communications in the area of the nickel docks in preparation for the division's move. Within the sections, each man was relieved of his kit-bag for deposit in specially constructed kit stores at base until his return. Apart from a haversack and pack, a sea-kit was now all a man had in which to 'pack his troubles.' Shirts with short sleeves and shorts were not allowed to be worn or taken forward and, to maintain security, identification of personal and unit equipment was confined to a serial number only.
With the movement of the division into action imminent, it became necessary to form a pool from which could be drawn trained men as replacements for possible casualties in the forward areas. A large base training depot (BTD) was therefore created in the Tene Valley into which were marched all troops surplus to the division's immediate requirements, plus drafts coming from New Zealand. All formations of the force were represented in the depot, and divisional signals formed what became known as the School of Signals—an integral part of the composite wing. Accompanied by two sergeants and three corporals, Lieutenant J. M. Gould, who was temporarily appointed officer commanding the school, left Moindah with a mobile orderly room for new headquarters in Tene Valley. Incidentally, this vehicle with a 3-ton capacity was none too large to carry the baggage and chattels of the small party.page 171The first arrivals at the school were members of the regimental signals from the Ruahines and Scottish Battalions, which had been dissolved when the 15th Brigade was disbanded. These men continued training until required as replacements for the regimental signals in the battalions of the other two brigades. Their training and equipment was kept distinctive from that of divisional signals trainees, who entered the camp shortly after. There were, however, no distinctions between the friendships and sporting activities of the two groups. Two complete sections, namely G and L, which arrived from New Zealand within a short time of each other, became absorbed in the school as individual reinforcements.
The first call on the school's personnel was made shortly before the division's move, when a number of divisional and regimental signallers were selected to bring the divisional, brigade and battalion signal sections up to strength. On 19 August an advanced party from the school left base training depot for the divisional signals camp at Moindah with the dual purpose of acting as a rear party to unit headquarters, headquarters and No. 1 companies, and establishing a new home for the School of Signals in the vacated area. The area had decided advantages over the Tene Valley location, and the swimming pool was one of them. The entire divisional set-up of signals left the Moindah camp on the night of 21 August, and the following day—Sunday the School of Signals moved in convoy from Tene Valley to this site. The school was still an element of the composite wing of base training depot, and although some 30 miles apart the correct channels of communication with any outside unit remained through the wing headquarters. Major J. K. H. Clark who had been acting administration officer and officer commanding headquarters company during Major Heatherwick's absence in New Zealand relinquished this command on the latter's return, to become officer commanding the School of Signals. Lieutenant Gould then became adjutant, and Warrant-Officer Rose-—who was formerly company sergeant-major of the now disbanded artillery signals—became company sergeant-major. Tents had to be erected, and much work was required to put the camp in order once again, so it was a few days before training recommenced on its former scale.
On the disbandment of the 28th Heavy Anti-aircraft Regi-page 172ment, P section, comprising 29 other ranks under the command of Lieutenant Eady, left Tontouta to swell the school's ranks, thus bringing the total strength to 140, including 17 officers. The dread of all camps—fire—did not escape the unit, and at 4 o'clock on the morning of 1 September personnel were awakened to extinguish flames which had secured a good hold in the men's cookhouse. With coolness and efficiency, a quickly formed chain-gang emptied the stores from the two adjoining 1PP ration tents in a matter of minutes, while others endeavoured to drive away the water cart standing outside the cookhouse. The metal bodywork proved too hot for handling, so the alternative was to release the brakes and 'pat' the vehicle along. The fire then spread to the almost empty ration tents. Weighing nearly a third of a ton and stayed to the ground, one of the two tents was dragged to safety by sheer weight of manpower, but the other was more securely roped to a railing and could not, safely, be cut away in time. Fortunately, the surrounding niaoulis into which the flames leapt were wet with rain or the fire may have spread throughout the entire area. All that remained of the cookhouse was the large oil-burning stove, standing amid the debris, with a container of water for the breakfast brew of tea still on top, triumphantly boiling. Contrasting with the pyjama-clad fire-fighting team was an officer who unthinkingly gave away the hour of his return from a dance at Bourail by appearing on the scene in his dress uniform and peaked cap. A court of enquiry which sat the same day disclosed that the fire had been caused by a flame from the oil drip feed on the stove spreading to the niaouli bark of which the building was constructed.
The quartering side of the school was kept particularly busy at this time, and on behalf of divisional signals returned to ordnance a considerable quantity of equipment, plus P and L sections'full effects. Simultaneously, the school's stores of training equipment were considerably extended. With liberal equipment, similar to that being used in the forward area, training never became stale through lack of variety in technical appliances. In fact, divisional signal clerks, operators, linesmen, mechanicians, drivers, and cipher personnel trained almost as if doing the routine duties of a section. An exchange with connections to units in the area and trunk lines to base was operated continuously.page 173
Variety and mild excitement were provided personnel one afternoon when advice was received from a French source that Japanese had been landed in the vicinity of Poya from a submarine. Most of the men were engaged in recreation at the sports ground when the warning was received, so were speedily recalled. Each man, with his steel helmet, web and rifle, received an issue of 10 rounds of small arms ammunition, and took up an allocated defensive position within the camp boundaries. A radio crew, with a No. 48 set netted to a similar station in the camp, left by jeep for the reported scene of activity to relay any signals required. The presence of any enemy proved to be unauthentic, and the operators returned to camp as darkness fell. The 67th Light Aid Detachment remained in the same area as the School of Signals.page 174