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 Six — Signals In Battle
Signals In Battle
North-west of Guadalcanal lies the New Georgia Group of islands. On New Georgia itself, American and Fijian forces landed early in July 1943 to begin the extermination of the Japanese. Six weeks later, on 15 August, American forces landed on the south-east corner of Vella Lavella. This later invasion was not on a large scale but sufficient foothold was secured to commence the construction of an airstrip alongside the sea at Barakoma and later to establish a perimeter from Barakoma to Joroveto. Some prisoners were taken and they included Jap survivors from the Vella Gulf naval battle on 6 August when naval units intercepted and destroyed three large Nip destroyers. Kolombangara, the other adjacent enemy base (with a fighter airfield at Vila), was now sandwiched between New Georgia and Vella Lavella, and units endeavouring to leave Kolombangara had to run the gauntlet of allied naval interception. A determined effort by the Japanese to retake Vella Lavella was made by over 2,000 Japs almost immediately after the American landing but in their attempt to reach the island only 300 landed, the remainder being either killed or taken prisoner. The Jap forces on Vella then moved unopposed to the north-west corner of the island. On New Georgia the enemy was restricting the allied progress to a yard by yard struggle through dense jungle. Bairoko, the last Japanese stronghold, fell on 30 August after 59 days' fighting for the island, major prize of the victory being the Munda Point airstrip. The enemy, however, still remained on Vella Lavella, and their clearance eventually became the task of the 14th Infantry Brigade Group which, with an advanced page 190divisional headquarters, sailed from Guadalcanal on 17 September 1943.
Overture to the movement of divisional signals was the departure by air of Lieutenant-Colonel Burns and Captain Gillespie (cipher officer) from Guadalcanal at 7.15 am for Munda, New Georgia, on 15 September. No one had been told officially the name of the next location in the protracted move, but the portion of K section under Sergeant P, I. Gould, E section under the command of Lieutenant L. C. Stewart (as elements of the 14th Brigade), the officer commanding No. 3 company, Captain Gettins, and the advanced party from No. 1 company of 28 other ranks under the command of Second-Lieutenant (later Lieutenant) Simpson had a fair idea of their destination when they boarded invasion craft on the palm fringed beach at Kokombona, Guadalcanal, on the afternoon of 16 September. It was the real thing this time. As the vessels received their complement of personnel they withdrew to an anchorage about a mile off shore. Their wireless sets and equipment had been loaded the day previously. Headquarters company, the remainder of No. 1 company, a portion of K section, and G, J and X sections still remained on the island, but to those whose stay had concluded, Guadalcanal had been an uneventful interlude with the exception, perhaps, of air raids and plenty of practice at digging holes, although signal traffic had been heavy by line and despatch. The odd rhythm of enemy aircraft was heard over the island again during the evening but the convoy remained unnoticed and when the troops awoke the next morning they found themselves off Savo Island, having been under way for some hours on the second stage of the Third Division's move to a forward island in the Solomons.
Inside the destroyer screen, an assortment of ships carried their quota of men and equipment. This was the division's first movement on ships of these types, a wartime weapon, distinctive from the battle-grey mercantile transports which ventured from the rearward bases to Guadalcanal only. One type of these invasion craft was known as an LST. Of shallow draft, it pushed its bow through the breakers to the beach, opening bow doors and dropping a huge steel ramp. Inside was a vast parking floor from which trucks and tanks were driven ashore. Accommodation and air conditioning were definitely superior to that experi-page 191enced on the unit's previous sailings, but their appearance did not belie the nick name with which the troops dubbed them—Large Slow Targets. Maybe they were, but they packed a heavy punch from their numerous guns, as many a Jap bomber could testify. Some of the men travelled on destroyers of last war vintage, remodelled and rechristened APDs. They had a better turn of speed than the LSTs or their kindred craft, the LCIs, which also charged the beaches and landed their cargo of men over steel bridges flung from their bows. The crews were US Navy personnel whose interest in the welfare of the New Zealanders earned the appreciation and praise of all ranks. That day at sea was uneventful; there were few fatigues to be performed, which made it a red letter day in itself. The food on the LSTs was good, with fresh eggs and liberal helpings of tinned fruit on the menu, coffee was on tap all day. It was a slightly different story on the LCIs where the fare consisted of dry K rations.
An event of unique importance occured when troops on board the ships were given the opportunity of recording their votes for their choice in the New Zealand Parliamentary elections. A similar opportunity was given to the remainder of the division still located on Guadalcanal and New Caledonia, the results of the voting being later transmitted in cipher over the rear link to New Zealand by base signals. That night the moon came up in all its glory. It was a perfect night, perfect for only one thing in that part of the tropics—bombers. A general alarm was sounded during the evening but nothing eventuated. Across the water at Munda the flashing of guns could be seen and fires showed where the enemy bombs had fallen. In the early hours of the morning a further alarm was relayed throughout the convoy, and two protecting destroyers on the flanks opened fire on enemy aircraft. No damage to the convoy resulted from the enemy activity.
As they neared Vella Lavella, to starboard the muffled roar of explosions and flashes of fire told of air activity over New Georgia, where the enemy on Kolombangara was taking a tough pummelling. The suspense died away as the ships berthed on the shores of Vella Lavella at 8 am on 18 September 1943. Bulldozers pushed the earth and coral up to the landing ramps of the LSTs, and perspiring signalmen commenced to unload their instruments of war in the torrid heat. The advanced party of No. page 1921 company was met on its arrival by Colonel Burns and Captain Gillespie who, following their arrival at Munda by plane, journeyed to Vella Lavella by patrol torpedo (PT) boat arriving the previous night. Brigadier Potter had also journeyed northwards in advance of his troops and was accompanied by the officer commanding K section, Lieutenant Harris, who met his section on arrival. Then later, at 12.15 pm, the Japs came, dive bombers and fighter escorts, in the first serious raid the New Zealanders had experienced. There was a wild scramble for the cover of the jungle and for protection by hugging the earth as never before when bombs began to fall and anti-aircraft guns stippled the sky with black rosettes. If the enemy's objective was the big ships unloading on the beaches, those Japanese who lived to tell the tale must have been bitterly disappointed. A hail of anti-aircraft fire and a force of fighters which included RNZAF representation tore the raiders apart. Dive bombers peeled off to attack an allied crashboat half a mile from the shore. The ship sent two Jap planes crashing in flames and probably scored a third. Fighters accounted for the balance of seven enemy machines that never returned to their bases. The rest fled for home.
A No. 9 wireless set in use by members of the School of Signals at Moindah, former site of Divisional Signals camp. Left: Linesmen at the school using spiked pole climbers with which to scale trees. Tt was good practice for the jungle. Below: Drivers at the school parading with their mobile signal offices and also the wireless vans
Two pictures from the jungle on Vella Lavella. Above: A group of Divisional Signals personnel taken at Warambari Bay. Below: A composite line party from No. 1 company and E and K sections after spending fourteen days in enemy occupied territory laying cable through jungle country which was often indented with coral inlets
E section landed from its APD at Uzamba, slightly north of where the No. 1 company advanced party landed. From this beach to Gill's Plantation at Joroveto (at the northern end of the American perimeter), where the 14th Brigade Headquarters and 17th Field Regiment were established, was approximately six miles. It was therefore necessary for the section to march this distance along a muddy jungle track. Rifles, full packs and sea-kits were carried on this sweltering trek. Highlights of the march were a hasty retreat to the cover of the jungle during the midday air raid, and the wading of the Joroveto River which at that stage did not possess a bridge. That afternoon the section had an exchange in operation. Linesmen laid lines locally and one almost as far as Maravari to the 35th Battalion switchboard, which in turn was connected to the 12th Battery. This entailed the recrossing of the Joroveto River. There wasn't much life left in some of the bodies as they tumbled into their fox-holes that night, but Tojo was determined there should be no sleep. From 8 pm until 5 am the next morning enemy planes were continually overhead and on one occasion members of the section were sprayed with dirt and shrapnel as a bomb exploded perilously close. Fox-holes became much deeper after that! Pickets were posted each night with the instructions that all objects moving above the ground were the enemy. The portion of K section, plus three personnel detached from X section, who were accompanying the 207th Battery, went ashore at Maravari, An ingenious idea was the transplanting of phosphorous plants along the mud tracks of the area as guidance for the speedy movement required to reach fox-holes during air raids. It rained in tropical quantities every night, and with little sun getting through the dense foliage the ground remained a quagmire. Camped alongside advanced divisional headquarters were the Fijian commandos whose prowess on patrols had become legendary.
The defence of the perimeter extending from Barakoma to Joroveto was the responsibility of the 4th US Marine Defence Battalion. Inside the perimeter were the American units, New Zealand Divisional Headquarters, 14th Brigade, the airstrip and a naval boat pool at Biloa, just south of the strip. From an page 194 page 195overgrown native garden—the only clear spot for miles around— a wireless section established a link with rear divisional headquarters on Guadalcanal, using a ZC1 station. A No. 11 set was linked with 14th Brigade Headquarters, and the operation of the US 25th Division link to the XIV Army Corps on Munda, New Georgia, was also undertaken by the section using the American 191F station operated in a bomb crater fox-hole, half a mile from divisional headquarters. There were six stations on this link. Lieutenant Simpson, Sergeant (later Second-Lieutenant) F. D. Dyer and Lance-Corporal R. E. H. Crabb carried out a reconnaissance of the existing island setup and shortly afterwards the American 'Dog Ear' message centre (signal office) and exchange, both situated in a cave, were taken over by D section. A 'Chorehorse' generator operated by Signalman H. D. Clough of M section kept available a supply of freshly recharged batteries. Reception between and within these jungle blanketed stepping stones during daylight hours was only fair; after darkness it deteriorated even further. Air raids continued nightly with unfailing regularity. With the object of making Vella Lavella secure, the extermination of the Japs who had moved in their entirety to the north-western corner of the island became the objective of the Third Division. To accomplish this mission the 14th Brigade Group, comprising the 35th and 37th Battalions (with the 30th Battalion in reserve), under the command of Brigadier Potter, left the Joroveto area on 20 September by sea in Higgins boats. The two battalions moved in opposite directions around the coast, landing at widely separated points—the 35th at Matu Suroto in the Mundi Mundi district and the 37th at Boro at the head of the Doveli Cove—on the western and northern coast lines. The enemy was somewhere in the jungle between these two points.
As K section had not arrived on the island with its full complement it was decided to amalgamate it with E section and then split the combination into two similar working parties. Members of both sections were therefore mixed for the purpose of the campaign. Lieutenant L. C. Stewart remained in command of E section which was attached to the combat headquarters of the 37th Battalion. Lieutenant Harris commanded K section as formerly, the section remaining attached to brigade headquarters. On 24 September a wireless team from each section was page 196despatched from Joroveto to join the combat teams on the opposite side of the island. Using No. 11 sets they endeavoured to establish communications with brigade headquarters (still at Joroveto), but owing to atmospheric conditions only the link with the 37th Battalion was successful. After a week on the island, during which time they had experienced continuous air raids, lived, worked and slept in mud, heat, and tropical rain, K and E sections prepared to leave for the battle zone. K section accompanied an advanced brigade headquarters and both sections left Maravari Beach for their respective journeys by Higgins boats around the opposite ends of the island, on 25 September. A rear brigade headquarters was left at Joroveto, to which was attached a portion of K section personnel.
Almost simultaneously with the departure of the sections from this area was the arrival of the remainder of K section tinder the command of Second-Lieutenant Crawley and a portion of headquarters and No. 1 companies in a further echelon from Guadalcanal. Their mode of travel was similar to that of the original contingents, and was not without its share of tenseness due to enemy activity. After landing at Uzamba and Z beach (nearer Maravari), the signals complement assisted with the unloading of the LSTs and concurrently sampled the enemy's air fury. One LST was badly damaged, but there were no signals casualties. This portion of K section then trekked through the mud to rear brigade headquarters. Similarly, 23 of the 54 other ranks of headquarters and No. 1 companies under Lieutenant Fitchett went to the future area of divisional headquarters, also in Gill's Plantation, Joroveto (near brigade headquarters). Previously, Colonel Burns with other divisional officers had reconnoitred this site and found it suitable for the ultimate location of divisional headquarters. Five other ranks of the draft went to Barakoma where the advanced party of No. 1 company was still operating, and the remaining 26 of this latest draft—members of B cable section—camped with the 20th Field Engineers at a site between Maravari and Joroveto. Later 11 of these were detailed to prepare for their movement to Matu Soroto.
Sergeant A. T. Blampied, BEM, who landed with the advanced party of No. 1 Company, had accumulated considerable data on the existing (American) cable system within the perimeter and this proved of value to the cable section when, under page 197Lieutenant Dreaver, they commenced the construction of four main lines from Gill's Plantation to island command at Barakoma. The cable men of all the sections worked extremely long hours under exacting conditions as they climbed tall coconut palms and jungle giants to tie their cable. They used spiked climbing irons attached to their feet to scale the trees while a sweat saturated belt around their waist and the bough were only safety measure. A slip resulted in painful burns from head to foot and the slightest body scratches readily turned septic. A worthwhile innovation was the close liaison with the engineers to ensure that the laid lines were in a position free from the interference of bulldozers and other road-making machinery. With the safe arrival of E and K sections at their respective battle stations the immediate task was the establishment of a rectangular wireless net between advanced brigade headquarters (K section at Matu Soroto), 37th Battalion combat headquarters (E section at Boro), rear brigade headquarters (K. section at Gill's Plantation) and advanced divisional headquarters (No. 1 company at Barakoma). The 35th Battalion was at this stage still with advanced brigade headquarters at Matu Soroto, with whom they maintained communication by field cable. The wireless net was inaugurated on the day following the section's arrival. Conditions at Matu Soroto proved extremely bad for wireless reception and transmission, while at other stations throughout the island they were only mediocre even during daylight hours. After dark, conditions became impossible with the type of sets in use. In an endeavour to improve the position of the advanced brigade station, Sergeant H. G. Jamieson, with a party of eight men from the section—four of whom acted as a bodyguard—took another No. 11 set through the jungle to the hills at Mundi Mundi, a distance of about three miles, where they used the altitude of the location and all their operating resources to try to combat the heavy electrical Interference and screening of the wet jungle. They were completely isolated in enemy territory with the actual battle only a short distance away. Meanwhile Sergeant Gould persisted in his efforts to overcome the existing difficulties with the sections' original station.
Also set up were the signal office, cipher section and exchange through which passed all inward and outward transmissions together with telephone calls within the headquarters area and to page 198the combat team. Not the easiest of tasks was that of the runners who carried the messages between the signal office and the wireless set. With the station located some 200 yards away in the jungle the runners had to contend with the extremely dangerous task of penetrating the picket defences of brigade headquarters on each occasion they made the journey. To maintain security all messages on the major network were transmitted in cipher. The enciphering of unnecessarily long messages in some respects caused delays in transmission, and a further problem facing operators was the overloading of the net with traffic. Some delay resulted from the utilising of a disused and weather-beaten line for communication between the rear brigade and advanced divisional headquarters stations. This line was often 'out' and consequently required regular attention. It did not seem to be signals day in the wireless field. This same day the 35th Battalion combat team moved forward from its position at Matu Soroto to Pakoi Bay in the initial stages of squeezing the enemy into a coastal strip where he could be eliminated under steady pressure. On 27 September Colonel Burns arrived at Matu Soroto to obtain a first-hand insight into the progress of signal operations, and to review the serviceability of equipment under the conditions prevailing.
On the opposite side of the enemy, at the 37th Battalion combat headquarters at Boro, E section quickly settled down to the task in hand. No exchange was set up, but direct lines were laid between the 53rd Anti-tank Battery, 35th Battery and combat headquarters. Attempts to communicate with the 12th Battery attached to the 35th Battalion using a No. 21 set were made but were unsuccessful. A No. 11 set was fully employed on the brigade net and conditions in this area were a little better than those experienced by their contemporaries at K section. It was almost a week before the infantry made any major contact with the enemy, apart from one skirmish on the coast, when a Jap barge was captured and 13 Japs killed. Participating in this successful patrol and action was Signalman M. J. Carroll whose duty as an instrument mechanic was to keep a watchful eye on the patrol's No. 21 set, the only means of communication back to combat headquarters. This barge was later renamed the Con fident and was a familiar sight around the shores of Vella Lavella, conveying stores to the various units.page 199
The dawn of 1 October heralded an eventful day. No. 1 company's No. 11 wireless station on the island net was transferred to the site of divisional headquarters at Gill's Plantation where signals personnel of the second echelon had been actively engaged preparing installations for the movement there of the entire setup from Barakoma. It took almost seven hours to move the distance of six miles to the new site along the roughly hewn roadway which was a sea of mud and fallen coconut logs. In addition to the other wireless links, the American net to Munda was still continued by A wireless section following the move. By this day, too, B cable section linesmen had completed one of the new 'urgently required' trunk lines being laid between Gill's Plantation and Barakoma, thereby enabling the abandonment of the worn out line. Although the smallest, probably no echelon was more welcome than the 15 other ranks who arrived on this day bringing with them three specially designed wireless vans and other technical equipment, including new ZC1 wireless stations. Landing with the 209th Battery at Niarovi were also two divisional signallers detached from X section. As usual the arrival of the convoy had not escaped the watchful eyes of the Japanese and, like its predecessors, the convoy suffered casualties and damage during the unloading operations from ferocious air attacks. The LST from which the 209tb Battery was landing received a direct hit, killing 15 members of a New Zealand bofors gun crew, all in action at their posts on the deck of the landing craft. Among the wounded was divisional signals first battle casualty, Signalman J. J. Ford who, although himself severely wounded, carried a wounded comrade from the hold of the bombed LST—during the actual dive bombing attack—down to the safety of the shore where he collapsed from the loss of blood. The following day, 2 October, No. 1 company moved with advanced divisional headquarters at Barakoma to the new area in Gill's Plantation, Joroveto. About this period the troops on both the east and west coasts witnessed, in the blackness of the night, the glare of naval guns in action, and the curved paths of colourful tracers from the guns of Admiral Halsey's naval forces as they intercepted the enemy attempt to evacuate some 8,000 of his troops from Kolombangara. The navy destroyed over 150 enemy barges during this episode and for weeks after, Jap bodies were seen in the sea and washed up around the coral coastline of page 200Vella Lavella. E section with the 37th Battalion had now moved forward from Boro to Tambama, leaving behind one sergeant and 12 other ranks as a rear party to continue operation of the wireless link to Joroveto, in addition to communication with Tambama. At Tambama the section again laid lines, linking direct the battalions and combat headquarters, and 'one to one' working was established with advanced brigade headquarters.
The arrival at advanced brigade headquarters of ten members of B cable section under Sergeant E. H. Farrelly, together with an escort of one officer and ten other ranks from the 4th Field Security Section, to amalgamate with linesmen of K section commenced a period of endurance seldom asked of linesmen in the field. Their arrival at Matu Soroto coincided with an attack from approximately 30 enemy dive bombers, which peeled off to strafe the advanced brigade headquarters area. Lines were broken but no signal casualties were suffered. The party's first task was the laying of a line from Matu Soroto to the wireless station at Mundi Mundi, through jungle and mangrove swamp. On the conclusion of this task Sergeant Farrelly, because of sickness, returned to advanced divisional headquarters and the linesmen came under the leadership of Lance-Corporal A. C. Oldham. Communication between advanced brigade headquarters and 35th Battalion combat team (which was gradually moving in on the enemy, northwards from Pakoi Bay) was initially established by utilising a line laid by artillery linesmen to the artillery observation post. The cable party therefore laid a further line direct (well, as direct as the jungle would allow), and this was the only type of communication between brigade and the advancing combat team. Progress, to the accompaniment of torrential rain and air attacks, was slow in the heavy jungle undergrowth, but the party showed a marked aptitude for coping with the difficult conditions. There were no roads, and the self-made tracks were the only means of progress as they hauled and laid the heavy WHO cable. The weight of the half-mile drums was 98 pounds. Two linesmen from K section then remained with the battalion to extend further and maintain the line as they overcame the enemy.
Because of the distribution of personnel by the sections, the signal officers, operators, cipher clerks and linesmen were working long hours with little sleep. Every night the enemy was over-page 201head, both bombing and endeavouring to parachute supplies to their own hard pressed troops whose gradually diminishing territory was daily becoming more untenable as the combat teams moved in from either side of the battle area. A controversial subject among wireless men was the belief that Jap planes were 'homing' on the 'send' beam of the unit's radio stations. Some operators therefore took no chances on being on the receiving end of a stick of bombs and they promptly switched off their sets on the approach of enemy planes. The arrival at advanced brigade headquarters and at the 37th battalion headquarters, Tambama, of Signalman P. R. Back and Corporal R. S. Haigh from A wireless section, each with a new ZC1 radio station, was to the overworked operators there like a breath of fresh air. The new arrivals replaced the battered No. 11 sets on the island net. The improvement in reception and transmission with these higher powered stations was immediately noticeable and delays were considerably reduced, although the operators had had little time to familiarise themselves with the sets'capabilities.
On 3 October Lance-Corporal D. E. Smith, Signalman C. A. Muir and M. G. Dwyer of E section, with a No. 21 set, participated in a landing by an advanced party of the 37th Battalion at Su Su Bay, and were joined the next day by a further draft from the section. On the discovery by the infantry of the enemy's evacuation of this point a return was made to Tambama and preparation set afoot for a movement on 5 October when the section travelled in assault barges with the battalion to land under heavy automatic weapon fire at Warambari Bay. Signals were actually in the second barge to land, with the enemy less than 80 yards away, and their equipment was unloaded as bullets thudded into the trunks of the coconut palms fringing the water's edge. Local lines were laid within a confined perimeter, and wireless communication with advanced brigade headquarters was achieved 'first call' by the ZC1 operator. Rear combat headquarters was also worked by wireless. Here, the wireless operators made the uncomfortable discovery that their set was only 50 yards away from an enemy sniper engaged in leisurely picking off troops from his tree top hideout, but a burst of bren gun fire put an end to his activities. Lively skirmishes continued during that afternoon and night with members of the section remaining under fire as the beach-head was gradually enlarged. During the night the page 202artillery commenced to shell the enemy positions, the shells falling barely 200 yards away from the perimeter. To members of E section inside the perimeter the thought of a 'short one' was uppermost in their minds as they hugged the ground. During the first five days of October, No. 1 company at advanced divisional headquarters had handled 1,000 despatches for transmission by despatch rider and safe handbag (air) while messages containing 14,887 groups, most of which were transmitted by wireless, had passed through their signal office.
On the completion of the composite cable party's task on the 35th Battalion side of the battle, its members were conveyed by barge to the 37th Battalion's field of activity, landing at Tambama to amalgamate with E section's cable party and commence the construction of a line through unpatrolled enemy territory to the 37th Battalion, newly dug in at Warambari. Allowing an extra mile and a-half of cable for the unpredictable route of the jungle, the party carried 882 lbs of WHO cable in addition to their own personal effects and weapons as they commenced their expedition through the jungle—a map distance of three miles. With native guides (who were not always sure of their position in the jungle, but possessed an uncanny sense for 'Smelling out' the enemy) line was laid across knee-deep mangrove swamps and crocodile infested rivers. Visibility at its best was limited to 25 yards—it was usually not more than five yards but protection was still being accorded the party by the field security section. K rations and coconuts provided the only nourishment and at nightfall the party slept in a circle with every fourth man awake for a two-hour picket. To complete the nervous tension, no movement, no talking, and no smoking was permissible. Work commenced again at daybreak. On the second day the cable ran out, necessitating a request (over the line) for further supplies to be brought around the coast by barge. The cable soon arrived, together with a much appreciated replenishment of fresh water, and the barge returned to Tambama with a member of the party suffering from dysentry.
Although in enemy territory no Japs had been seen but it was generally felt that the party's activities had been observed and relayed by the enemy to dive bombers who came over during the second night to bomb, without success, the area in which the linesmen were bivouacked. On the third day the crack of a Jap page 203rifle, followed by bren and machinegun fire and the explosion of grenades quickly deployed the linesmen at the rear of the party. They soon discovered that the original fire was from a Nip rifle in the possession of their native guide who had sighted and shot a Jap in an enemy bivouac area upon which they had come. Following a strafing of the area with automatic fire the linesmen advanced to find that the shot Jap had been the lonesome occupant of a freshly evacuated camp. Had the party not been delayed through running out of cable on the previous day it was probable that they would have encountered a force of some size.
Corporal Oldham's party again ran out cable and being uncertain of their location they then left the line to concentrate on reaching Warambari. It was late afternoon when the guide climbed a tree in an endeavour to view their location and reported hearing what was interpreted to be the sound of a battery charger. About 5 pm the fringe of the jungle on the edge of. Warambari Bay was reached, where, across the bay, New Zealanders could be seen bathing. In response to signals from the field security officer, while the remainder of the party stayed under cover, a Higgins boat was despatched from across the bay to effect the party's rescue, but not without precaution, and the protection of three bren guns mounted on the craft in case it should have been a Japanese hoax. A few minutes later, an almost exhausted party was in F. section's encampment at the headquarters of the 37th Battalion combat team. They then learned that their exit from the jungle was covered not only by bren guns but also by mortars, trained on the spot for an eventuality. Over nine miles of cable had been laid on this uncompleted line and, as mentioned before, it was an estimated map line journey of three miles. Throughout the arduous journey the line had been checked for faults every half-mile, and following its completion by linesmen the following day successful telephone communication was established on 9 October.
On the nights of 6 and 7 October it was estimated that nearly 500 of the enemy were evacuated by sea near Warambari but in view of the naval activity which ensued a few miles north of the island it was doubtful whether any of these reached the refuge of another base. The 35th Battalion combat team advanced to Marquana Bay (only a few hundred yards from Warambari) for the conclusion of the campaign and linesmen page 204quickly linked the two battalions by cable, thereby providing telephone communication along a line then extending from Tambama to Matu Soroto. The Jap had been decisively defeated in his first encounter with the division. Very few prisoners had been taken but over 200 Japs had been killed. There were no divisional signals casualties during the land operations, and the health of the unit was good despite the conditions and dry fare on which everyone lived. E section subsidised its rations with rice, left by the fleeing enemy, and found it a palatable sustainer. Morale received a considerable boost, too, by the arrival of New-Zealand letter mail at the commencement and conclusion of the campaign. When the noise and strain of the fighting died away the coral beaches took on a slightly more attractive appearance, and opportunity was taken to soothe tired feet and bodies in the salt water. Wet clothing that had clung to the skin for three long weeks was washed and dried. Some men shaved, but others were proud of their 'growth' and decided to retain their beards as long as orders allowed. 'I would rather suffer the monotony of seeing mile upon mile of endless desert than the claustrophobia of the jungle fastness,' said one man who had experienced both theatres of war. 'The desert lets you travel where you will; the jungle dictates its own terms. I have never known such difficulties in transport and supplies.'
During the action natives, proud members of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force (BSIPDF) had rendered invaluable service as guides to infantry patrols and line parties whose duties took them through enemy territory. The natives also used walkie-talkie wireless sets over which, in their Biloa and Roviana languages, they passed messages that naturally defied interpreting by the Japanese. Throughout the period signals had virtual radio communication from the front line to Army Headquarters, Wellington. The link commenced from E and K sections to No. 1 company on Vella Lavella, from No. 1 company to FMC signals on Guadalcanal, from FMC signals to base signals at Bourail, New Caledonia, and from base signals to Wellington—an entire divisional signals network, covering a span of approximately 2,500 miles. In addition divisional signal safe handbags, carrying many hundreds of despatches, were simultaneously transported between the islands by aircraft, page 205enabling delivery to the addressee within a few hours of their being lodged at the respective signal offices.
E section with the cable men from No. 1 company then returned to Boro where the cable parties commenced the construction of an earth return circuit from Boro to Varusi, a distance of four miles. B cable section linesmen, however, assisted with only the first mile of this project before returning to Joroveto and members of K section moved up to assist in the completion of the line. Further members of E section accompanied an infantry patrol which left for Karaka from where operators E. J. McCool, T. R. Morrison and Carrol (mechanician) using a No. 21 set maintained wireless communication with 37th Battalion Headquarters, and when E and K sections left Boro and Matu Soroto respectively to return around the island to their permanent camps at Joroveto about the middle of October, Sergeant W. J. Butt, of the former section, remained behind to supervise battalion personnel laying a jungle telephone line between Boro and Paraso Bay. K section linesmen under Second-Lieutenant Crawley continued then to lay lines in the northern area to connect with lines laid by No. 1 company on the eastern coast to the PT base at Lambu Lambu and with the assignment to encircle the island with cable for line communication. This task was considerably facilitated by depositing the cable in dumps around the coast from barges, thereby obviating the need for manhandling the heavy drums through the jungle. The 35th and 37th Battalions remained at Watoro and Boro, and to each of their headquarters was attached radio operators from K section with ZC1 stations to maintain links with brigade headquarters which had also returned to Joroveto. Due to atmospheric conditions much of the traffic on these links was transmitted in speech in lieu of the morse normally used. At this period, also, the unit received a visit from the Lethbridge Military Mission which comprised Brigadier Bartlett (Royal Corps of Signals) and Lieutenant-Colonel Cummins (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals), accompanied by two colonels of the United States Army. They engaged in conference with Colonel Burns and later met officers and other ranks of the cable, wireless and maintenance sections with whom they discussed, and witnessed, signal problems as they affected the unit under jungle and front line conditions.
On 10 October No. 1 company was also in wireless communi-page 206cation with a small force which had landed on Gizo Island, a former Japanese naval headquarters, south of Vella Lavella. This station, with the invading party, was operated by Signalman C. T. Coombs, of A wireless section. Nine days later another A section operator, Signalman I. S. Russell, accompanied a similar force to Ganongga Island, but unfavourable conditions rendered reception difficult at divisional headquarters. Between these dates, on 14 October, a further draft from Guadalcanal, comprising six officers and 61 other ranks from HQ and No. 1 company, together with Padre Hartley, the unit medical orderly, and three pigeoneers of the 831st US Signal Service Company, disembarked at Maravari Beach and went to Gill's Plantation. The bulk of the unit's equipment also arrived in this echelon.
With the invasion of the Treasury Islands on 27 October by the 8th Brigade Group a further wireless link on which the traffic became very heavy came into being. Peak period for transmission and retransmission—for many of the messages were for retransmission to Guadalcanal—was reached on the last day of the month when the number of groups handled in a 24-hour period created a new unit record. The feat was all the more noteworthy because of the shocking atmospheric conditions prevailing. The signals were at times almost too weak to be read. The operators were Lance-Corporal P. R. Back, Signalmen G. D. McDonald, L. M. Moran, and A. N. Palmer, who completed their watches almost exhausted. In recognition they received the following memorandum:—'Personnel 2FS—5DK W/T set. The commanding officer has asked me to compliment the operators on this link in handling 4,175 groups during the 24 hours period—0800 30 Oct. to 0800 31 Oct. Lt.-Col Burns considers this quantity of work a probable record. May I also extend my own congratulations and express my sincere appreciation. (Sgd.) T. R. Murphy, Capt. 31 Oct. 43.'Under the supervision of Regimental Sergeant-Major Holden the camp of unit headquarters, and headquarters and No. 1 companies, hidden from the air under the natural camouflage of the neatly spaced coconut palms in Gill's Plantation, began to assume a laidout appearance as roads and tracks were constructed and the undergrowth cleared from around the tents.
To enable its functioning during air raids, D section's two BD 72 exchanges were placed underground, and there was plenty of page 207sweaty pick and shovel work in the hard coral, digging fox-holes, latrines and an 18 foot water well. The well on completion provided ample fresh, although slightly brackish, water for showers which were erected from a wide variety of 'acquired' accessories. Piping, roses, airstrip metal matting—all rarities—together with the proverbial 44-gallon petrol drums were utilised in the construction of this camp luxury. A hand pump was used at first to draw the water for filling the tanks but the mechanical mind of M section soon devised a labour-saving substitute in the form of an electric pump, run from batteries, which automatically commenced to operate when the water level in the tanks fell below a certain level. The 'Grand Hotel' of the fox-holes was a large one constructed for certain officers, complete even to embrasures. A cookhouse was erected, and IPP tents were utilised for quartering and ration stores. Messes were IP tents at first, but later a men's mess of liberal proportions was constructed using tarpaulins and coconut logs.
Unit headquarters, the signal office, exchange, cipher section and wireless stations were all housed either underground, in tents or in wireless vans adjacent to divisional headquarters on a ridge which rose above the actual camp area. Access to this scene of activity from the camp was by steps cut in the hillside and, although they were not exceptionally long or steep, so humid was the atmosphere during daylight hours that the wartime catch line 'is your journey really necessary?' readily loomed before anyone contemplating the climb. Within a few hundred yards of divisional headquarters, too, were E and K sections where each had similar individual camps in the jungle, wireless, telephone and despatch rider channels of communication to their formation units. Progressively received with the echelons were the sections' jeeps, six-by-fours, quads and wireless vans, which became actively engaged in assisting communication tasks. The wireless vans were a new acquisition, in use under active service conditions for the first time. Designed and constructed in New Zealand, the vehicles were complete with ZC1 radio stations and ZA1 50-watt amplifiers, generator for battery charging, electric fans for interior coolness, blackout screens to enable the continuity of transmission during air raids, and built in desks and cupboards. Their mobility, like that of other vehicles in the jungle scene, however, was limited to clearings or prepared pathways.page 208
As the brigade and the divisional headquarters began to settle down in their respective defence areas communications again assumed the more familiar static role with a local coverage embracing the entire island. E section handled the flow of traffic between headquarters of the 17th Field Regiment and its batteries, and was linked by trunk line to brigade headquarters. From brigade headquarters K section transmitted messages and despatches to the two dispersed battalions, to the nearby 30th Battalion and supporting units within the group. The section also established a report centre at Maravari which became the transmission point for all despatches sent by barge to the companies around the coast. The switchboard at K section was then in turn linked to the underground exchange of No. 1 company at divisional headquarters by two trunk lines. From this latter board extended some further 50 telephone circuits connecting division to the naval base, air operations, the field companies, forward ordnance depot, 22nd Field Ambulance, ASC and a host of other New Zealand and American units. To all these areas lines had to be laid and to assist in the maintenance of the myriads of them faultmen were required to remain camped at various points to ensure speedy repairs as faults developed— whatever the hour of the day. The lines received no respect from bulldozers, electrical storms and falling trees. WHO cable was used for the majority of permanent lines while for the trunk lines from Joroveto to the naval base, at Biloa, 'spiral 4' came into use. The neat appearance of the lines as they entered the divisional exchange from their coconut tree terminal was certainly a reflection of credit on the workmanship of D section linesmen who operated under Corporal J. R. Stephens. A further task which engaged the linesmen of B cable section was the laying of a 'hot loop' to the defensive anti-aircraft guns bordering the coastline.
After every rainstorm mud rose to the floors of jeeps on the roads through the jungle. Left: Sergeant E. Marriot, a member of the cipher section, coding a message for transmission by wireless. Below: A No. 48 wireless set in use during operations in the jungle met with on Vella Lavella
Linesmen of D section at work on a jungle 'telegraph pole' where a network of telephone cables converged to enter the exchange situated at Divisional Signals in Gill's Plantation
The coast road on Vella Lavella before it was formed by the engineers. Right: Corporal R. Macdonald and Lance-Corporal A. W. Harvey operating a No. 11 set on Vella Lavella
Scene of activity for many personnel was the naval base at Biloa. a short distance past the airstrip. Here, faultmen lived together with operators of both D and A sections who provided wireless and landline communication with divisional headquarters. This location often fell within the target area of Jap bomber sights and those stationed there experienced 'close shaves' on more than one occasion, At the same site was a store of American signal supplies and equipment which came directly under the control of divisional signals. Two B cable section faultmen also remained nearby at air operations headquarters. Fullerphones were used originally in the land link to navy from the signal office at divisional headquarters, but with the arrival from New Zealand of the new long range telegraph sets—a development of the SEE—they were immediately replaced by the latter instruments. The function of the two machines was similar in that they both transmitted morse signals which could not be intercepted by tapping the lines, but the increased range of the LRTS coupled with its crystal clear note, which was music in the ears of operators, made it a more acceptable instrument.
The movement from the island of the First Marine Corps page 210shortly after Christmas resulted in an additional six lines being added to the divisional switchboard and further lines coming under the maintenance of New Zealand linesmen. On 6 January 1944 E section with regimental headquarters of the 17th Field Regiment moved from their location near the 14th Brigade Headquarters to Ruruvai (a few miles north of Joroveto) thus necessitating the reestablishment of the signal exchange, and lines to subscribers at the new site. In January, also, Signalmen T. C Manley and H. I. Leonard, of K section, accompanied further infantry patrols to Gizo and Ganongga as operators of a ZC1 station with which they maintained contact with their parent headquarters. Events were moving fast in the Solomons and by now Vella Lavella had become but a name in a growing chain of successes against the enemy in the South Pacific.