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 Eight — Sweating It Out
Sweating It Out
With the captured Munda airstrip on New Georgia and the newly constructed coral runway on Stirling Island in use by allied air forces the Jap began to feel the effects of increased bomb loads on his northern Solomon Island bases; consequently enemy air raids on Vella Lavella became gradually fewer as the weeks went by. After each action followed a period of duty, training and boredom. A few grumbled (this habit was known as 'bitching') but the majority made the most of it and soldier humour was never lacking, despite the adversities.
With a view to providing relaxation during the heat, an order was issued through the division outlining a scheme whereby duties were to be confined to the earlier hours of the day. This was applied where possible throughout signals, although, due to the extensive nature of the communication network which operated 24 hours a day, it was not practical to allow all signalmen to participate. Those who were fortunate in being relieved in the afternoons, however, made the most of it and swimming in the sea was a major attraction. The tepid water was refreshing but like most other things in the jungle arena there was a 'catch in it' and care had to be taken to avoid coral scratches which soon turned septic. Rubber soled jungle boots were the approved bathing costume. Further encouraged pastimes were the making of jungle knives, watch straps, trinkets and other novelties from ivory nuts, teak, mahogany, perspex, duralium and even toothbrush handles. As an antedote to the tediousness of duty in the tropics these crafts proved of immense occupational therapy value. Crashed aircraft on the airstrips of Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella and the Treasuries proved a good source for working page 223materials and the remark by a member of the ground crew on the Vella strip to a signalman that 'you Noo Zealanders are worse than a pack of Boston Bums' was undoubtedly no exaggerated description of a Kiwi's persistence to get what he wanted for craft-making purposes. Some men commercialised their handicrafts by selling them to other servicemen but the majority kept them as souvenirs and as samples of their creative ability. The standard of work was high, and arts and crafts exhibitions staged within the force produced some outstanding exhibits. It can be safely said that the less a New Zealander had in the way of amenities—and the list was a long one—the more revealing was his methods of overcoming such handicaps. This was apparent wherever one went, both in the appearance of the camps and in the many ingenious contraptions to be found there. Typical were the Heath Robinson stoves found alongside most tents. Constructed from a size 10 fruit tin, six feet of three-eighths metal tubing and a small valve—the last two items being by-products of crashed aircraft—this petrolfed device was equally ideal for boiling the billy, washing clothes or cooking acquired rations. Other signs of the times were the locally manufactured stills which produced a weird kind of alcohol under the concealment of the jungle or in fox-holes. Although not officially encouraged their output of proofed spirit found a ready market among allied servicemen at 15 to 20 dollars a bottle. Just how the fruit, raisin and sugar components were obtained is another story.
Centres of attraction for most off-duty personnel in the evenings were the YMCA tents, or as in the instance of those stationed near unit headquarters, Padre Thomson's recreation tent, where cups of tea and biscuits were dispensed daily by the hundred. Much used furnishings were the writing and reading table, where dogeared magazines and newspapers were read many times over. Quiz sessions, which sharpened the minds of audiences and competitive unit teams alike, were another popular evening feature. A further well patronised place for those on Vella Lavella was the former home of Mr. Gill, alongside the plantation bearing his name at Joroveto, where many of the divisional and brigade troops were camped. Transformed into a road house it was widely patronised by allied troops intent on a cup of tea, a game of cards or a quiet chat. It was here that two Americans when overheard discussing the abbreviation page 224NZEF, came to the embarrassing conclusion that it represented 'New Zealand Efficiency Force'! Other entertainment was extremely limited and was confined almost to motion picture shows at hillside amphitheatres carved out of the jungle wherever troops were stationed. For seats, felled logs were used, providing in many instances accommodation for upwards of 2,000 patrons. In the days when air raids were prevalent tin hats were a comforting accessory, but always carried was an allegedly waterproof cape as some protection from the rain which was usually a recognised addition to the programme. The films were all recent productions. Close competitors to the absurdity of women's hats were the jungle hats worn by everyone and an amusing spectacle at gatherings such as these was to look across the sea of heads and witness the standard jungle headgear distorted into almost limitless individual shapes of design. A novel source of entertainment for those at unit headquarters was the employment of a public address system to dispense news, camp talent and to rebroadcast radio programmes. With the speaker mounted high up on the trunk of a coconut palm, programmes were wafted through the plantation to all corners of the camp, including the 22nd Field Hospital beyond. Not the least popular were the programmes rebroadcast of the English-speaking Japanese commentator 'Tokio Rose,' whose statements produced many a laugh and much ribald comment. Five hundred evenings held periodically in the mess room were a popular attraction for those at Joroveto, while at J section on Stirling Island the time-proved game of housie was played every evening with enthusiasm by a wisecracking throng. Apart from tenakoits, which provided a keep-fit game in the cooler hours of the day and was easily played because of the simplicity of the equipment required, any notions of playing the more familiar sports were promptly left behind on entering the Solomon zone. On Guadalcanal keen interest was shown by signalmen stationed there in the South Pacific boxing championships in which New Zealanders participated.
An official artist's impression of soldiers unloading equipment from an LST on Falamai Beach, Mono Island. 8th Brigade troops landed here
Japanese radio transmitters and receivers captured by the infantry on Vella Lavella. These sets bore the insignia of the Japanese Navy
Anti-aircraft guns pointed to the sky and an umbrella of aircraft maintained a watch overhead as the LSTs and LCIs unloaded their complements of men, vehicles and equipment during the Nissan Island landing. These two pictures were taken inside the lagoon, the entrance to which can be plainly seen to the right of the LST unloading in the upper picture
Rations in quantity and quality were not the best. Originally supplied from open dumps which had to withstand the rigours of the climate, the tins of food rapidly deteriorated. From the supply, which was initially light, the loss of 'blown' tins as the ration period progressed further decreased the quantity of food available. Morale correspondingly fell and one signalman who adopted the wrong avenue to express his feelings on the subject of meagre rations found himself the recipient of 90 days' field punishment. From time to time fresh meat and vegetables did arrive from New Zealand but the vegetables were seldom consumable; sugar and tea were luxuries. Perhaps aggravating the situation from the layman's point of view was the fact that American units who camped alongside appeared to receive ample page 226quantities of fresh New Zealand meat and butter. J section was fortunate in being able to divine a fresh-water well which was ideal for washing and toilet purposes. The well, barely six feet in depth, was just a few feet in from the sea. Fresh water for cooking and drinking purposes on Stirling Island came from a small lake named Soala, while on Mono Island clean running rivers supplied this all-important commodity. In each instance it was cholorinated before being used. On Vella Lavella ample fresh water for drinking and cooking was drawn twice daily in 44-gallon drums from a controlled water point at a stream in Gill's Plantation. No. 1 company's efforts to add to the larder by trawling for fish with a camouflage net from an assault craft were not very successful, but the amusement derived by the spectators seemed adequate compensation. One lone ranger from this company did prove there were fish in the sea, however, and on one occasion, following an early morning expedition, he returned to camp with 148 medium fish for the camp's breakfast. No one asked how they were caught, but it was never suggested that a line or net had been used. With the rations each period came a free issue for all personnel of 20 cigarettes a day together with free washing, toilet and shaving soaps, razor blades, razors, candy, toothbrushes and tooth paste, all of American origin. In many instances this generous issue had an estimated value of approximately 25 shillings.
A notable visitor to all New Zealand camps was his Excellency the Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Cyril Newall, GCB, OM, GCMG, CBE, who took a keen interest in signal activity and accepted every opportunity to speak to personnel. While on Vella Lavella, his Excellency held an investiture and presented awards won during the action on the island. Many signals personnel witnessed this impressive ceremony in the Joroveto village. For the purpose of reviewing signal equipment under the stress and strain of tropical warfare and to accumulate technical data for use in the design and construction of equipment for the Pacific theatre, Major P. Barcham, of the signals experimental establishment, Wellington, made a tour of duty which included a visit to all sections of the unit. The major was kept fully engaged in conference with signal officers and in actually reviewing working conditions in the jungle alongside the man on the job, where the problems existed. He also flew to the page 227Treasuries for a further insight into the performance of the sections' equipment under the conditions as they prevailed there. Lieutenant L. C. Stewart accompanied Major Barcham on his return to New Zealand for temporary duty with the signals experimental establishment, his relinquished command of E section being assumed by Lieutenant Eady.
An event which nearly spelt disaster for base signals in New Caledonia occurred one afternoon in November when the crew at the Gracefield radio station noticed the dry grass which covered that area burning fiercely along the river roadway and about 150 yards away from the transmitters on the hill above. They immediately informed their commanding officer who arrived on the scene a few minutes later with the cable party as firemen. A start was made to create a firebreak around the buildings of the station while the five members of the station staff hurriedly gathered together the valuable equipment from the huts. Smartly removed was the petrol, and preparations were made for the quick disposal of the large generators, the 500 and 100 watt transmitters to safety if the situation warranted it. Reinforcement fire-fighters from other units, together with Kanaka prisoners from the nearby French prison, soon gathered to assist in quelling the fast approaching flames which were being fanned by a steady wind. After burning for over three-quarters of an hour, and just as the flames were getting perilously close, a miracle happened—the wind turned around and blew the flames away from the endangered station. The fire, however, continued to travel, and singed the stays of one of the outer aerial masts as it moved right along the rear of the station and township. It was brought under control some hours later.
As a goodwill mission and to enable medical aid to be rendered to the many natives of the twin islands of Naravo and Simbo, whose health had suffered through neglect and lack of supplies during the Japanese occupation of their islands, a party of New Zealand troops journeyed there from Vella Lavella. Included in the three-day patrol were members of A wireless section who used ZC1 stations to maintain communications with divisional headquarters, both from the barge en route and from the islands. Long before the barges reached the shores of Naravo native voices could be heard across the calm water singing songs of welcome, and on landing, in addition to fulfilling page 228the communication tasks, the signallers accepted and enjoyed fully the hospitality which was extended to them. The natives had not seen a white man for over two years, consequently the padre who accompanied the party was kept fully occupied with weddings, baptisms and other duties which had got behind schedule, though the lack of any service appeared to have made little difference. On the first night there the natives provided a musical treat fof the New Zealanders by staging a concert in true native style, although a gentle reminder that the war was still raging occurred when the entertainment had to be stopped, due to the presence of a Jap float plane overhead. Feeling that fellow operators on Vella Lavella should also share in their novel experience the enterprising wireless team broadcast the proceedings. This welcome was similar to that extended to the troops when they moved to Simbo village on the other island in the course of their tour of duty. A feature of the natives' insistence to carry baggage and equipment for their 'guests' was the ability of a native to carry with ease a 300-watt battery charging set for a distance of half a mile. These generators were an awkward load of about 100 pounds in weight. During the movement around the islands a No. 48 set was used to maintain communication with the ZC1 station left static near the place of arrival at Naravo Island. An amusing incident occurred when Corporal H. Denton showed a native boy how to make marks on a piece of paper with a pencil, and then rub them out with an eraser. Was his face red when, on being given the pencil, the lad calmly wrote his own name, Pita (Peter) ! When the operators returned to headquarters they brought with them almost a barge load of pineapples, oranges, pawpaws, sweet potatoes and nuts, together with souvenirs of fishhooks made from trocus and tortoiseshell. For all these they reciprocated with clay pipes, tobacco, razor blades, matches, candles, sweets and monetary donations to the missionary funds.
There still remained on Guadalcanal approximately 50 members of headquarters and No. 1 companies under the command of Major Heathenvick who were officially supplying the communications for rear divisional headquarters but who were in effect assisting to fill the role assigned to the understaffed FMC signal section. Major Heatherwick's additional task (prior to his own movement to the forward zone) at this centre was the page 229liaison with ordnance to ensure the quickest despatch to the battle areas of divisional signal requirements, To enable headquarters and No. 1 companies to be brought up to their full strengths on Vella Lavella it was then deemed advisable to transfer personnel at rear divisional headquarters to the strength of FMC signals (giving them an establishment of 73 all ranks) and bring forward sufficient reinforcements from the School of Signals in New Caledonia to restore headquarters and No. 1 companies depleted strengths. This was put into effect early in December.
Life under active service conditions in the tropics and jungle was extremely trying and with a view to maintaining the vigour of the force and at the same time give an opportunity to other officers who had not had battle experience a survey was conducted throughout the division to record the particulars of all officers over the age of 41 and all other ranks over the age of 35. In signals, Major Wilson, officer commanding No. 1 company, Captain Gillespie, cipher officer, and Captain Watts, adjutant, together with a handful of signalmen, came into this category and, with the exception of Captain Gillespie (who was retained for special duty with divisional headquarters) were placed on the New Zealand roll or returned to rearward bases. Captain Clarke, officer commanding No. 2 company, had earlier asked to be allowed to return to New Zealand for business reasons. These movements then commenced a series of changes in commands which affected almost every officer in the unit. Major Clark relinquished his appointment as officer commanding the School of Signals to fill a similar role as officer commanding No. 1 company; Captain Wilton became adjutant vice Captain Watts; Captain Hanson became quartermaster vice Captain South, who became officer commanding the School of Signals; Lieutenant Harris became officer commanding B cable section vice Lieutenant Dreaver, who was transferred to FMC signal section; Captain Hanna became officer commanding K section vice Lieutenant Harris; Lieutenant Gould became cipher officer vice Captain Gillespie; Lieutenant Eady was promoted to captain and became officer commanding No. 2 company vice Captain Clark; Lieutenant Brown relinquished his appointment with base signals to become officer commanding E section vice Captain Eady; Captain Gettins was appointed officer commanding FMC signal section and was replaced as officer commanding page 230No. 3 company by Captain Parkhouse; Captain Garters succeeded Captain Parkhouse as officer commanding J section with Lieutenant G. C. O'Hara (ex Tank Squadron) vice Lieutenant Gowland as second in command; Lieutenant Goff replaced Lieutenant Dyson in the command of X section on the latter's return to the School of Signals as adjutant; Captain Murphy became officer commanding D section; Captain Barron became officer commanding A wireless section; Staff-Sergeant F. Bool became regimental quartermaster-sergeant with the rank of warrant-officer 2nd class vice Warrant-Officer 2nd Class Orme; Sergeants F. D. Dyer, E. H. Farrelly, R. J. Henry (base signals) and G. W. Clausen returned to New Zealand to attend an officers' cadet training unit. It was during one of these movements when Captain Hanson, coming forward from base, became the victim of a practical joke when he accepted—and signed for on a clothing card—a shroud, which members of the graves registration unit on Guadalcanal led him to believe was 'issue' to all officers entering the forward area!
A privilege accepted by many was the opportunity to attend the dedication of the memorial chapel built by the Solomon Island natives alongside the graves of the New Zealanders and Americans killed in action against the Japanese on Vella Lavella. Situated at Maravari, the chapel was a labour of love and a token of gratitude to the forces who drove the enemy from their homeland. To aid in its construction natives came from small distant islands and parties went into the jungle to select the special timbers required. Half forgotten crafts were recalled and under the close supervision of betel-chewing elders, the young men began the task of plaiting sufficient material for roofs, outside walls, and the interior. To provide contrasting colours in these plaited panels, bark from a rare tree was dyed black by an ancient process of soaking it in a mangrove swamp for several weeks. Mahogany, teak and a native wood called nara, of highly attractive grain, were the timbers chiefly used. Perched on the thatched ridge of the chapel were carved replicas of native birds from all the islands. One of these birds, foreign to those parts, was that of the kiwi, emblem of the Third Division. The natives scorned the tools offered by the engineers, preferring to use their own primitive implements. At the dedication, natives—women in their bright frocks and men wearing their best clothes—made a colourful setting against the church, palms and blue Pacific be-page 231yond. At a sign from the old chief native choirs burst into song and sung hymns as they formed processions and slowly walked around the cemetery to enter the chapel. The band of the division played the National Anthem and the Star Spangled Banner while the colours of both nations were deposited in the chancel. Chaplains of both forces conducted brief services and the act of dedication following which the native choir brought this touching service to a close. The natives were extremely friendly; most of them spoke exceptionally good English and Christian name greetings were always exchanged as friendships grew. Many men took the opportunity of attending the open air church services held by the natives in the jungle on Sundays. Deprived of their churches through enemy action the natives used logs to form a rostrum and seating accommodation for the congregation. The services were in native tongue interspersed with hymns by the Kiwis but the spontaneity of the strange native voices singing familiar hymns in four-part harmony was indeed a musical treat. On one occasion at Maravari the New Zealand band added to this scene of native sincerity which was exemplified by daily conduct and in the assistance given to the New Zealand forces.
Shortly before Christmas permission was granted base signals to become self-contained in a camp of their own. From this authority evolved a camp, known as Hinsdale, of prefabricated sleeping huts, mess rooms, canteen, orderly room and wireless receiving shack on the guava-covered hillside overlooking Bourail. The entire camp was erected by personnel of the unit and the wireless operators who formerly lived and performed their shifts at the Gracefield transmitting station then transferred to Hinsdale with the remainder of signals. The transmitting was then performed through the former transmitters by remote control. The advent of the ZC1 radio stations also brought about another change and enabled the replacing of the No. 9 sets on the Bourail (base)—Nouméa (sub-base) link. In powering these sets the operators had the advantage of being able to utilise the unit's 230-volt generators instead of the usual cumbrous batteries. This link was also remotely controlled from Hinsdale.
In addition to the heat there were deluges of rain with as much as six inches falling in one day. Clothes drying became a major problem and on one occasion on Vella Lavella, after five weeks of incessant downpours, it became necessary to utilise a page 232tent, empty petrol drums and a field cooker to provide a drying room. An experience not generally expected in that part of the world was that of feeling the earth tremble during earthquakes in the Treasury Islands just prior to and on Christmas Day. Ciristmas was again spent in the field and for some members it was their fourth overseas. For the sections in the forward areas facilities were limited, but no effort was spared to arrange suitable services, additions to the rations and entertainment in some way that would give variety from the daily grind of activity in these areas. On Christmas Eve festivities commenced at concerts, smoke concerts and other informal gatherings in the tents of personnel. At unit headquarters a smoke concert was held in the men's mess where a bright programme of vocal and musical items interspersed with community singing and the proverbial stories provided an enjoyable evening. An appreciated musical feature was the playing of K section's versatile swing band whose services were constantly in demand amongst surrounding units. The only unfortunate aspects of these functions was the absence of a large number of signalmen who were retained on duty maintaining communications day and night, irrespective of the day or occasion. At regimental headquarters of the 17th Field Regiment, Signalman Harris of E section produced a bright variety show which entertained hundreds of troops in that area.
On Christmas Day the camps near divisional headquarters were awakened by the voices of native choirs which wended their way between the tent lines singing carols. A more fitting introduction to this holy day could not have been imagined. Church services were held in the tropical and jungle settings of the re-spective areas during the day and dinner that evening was as traditional as circumstances permitted. An amusing incident was the arrival at E section's camp by jeep of 'Father Christmas,' who distributed balloons (local pattern) to his 'children.' A few days previously, additional rations had been received to enable plum puddings to be made; fruit cake was supplied by the field bakery and a beer issue (a rare sight for those in the forward area) of seven bottles a man became available for the Christmas-New Year period. There was an air of joviality that night as over 600 officers and men of divisional signals—spread out in sections over New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella and the page 233Treasuries—sat down, in most instances, at a log table under a tarpaulin roof to enjoy their dinner. The menu read: Pea soup, salmon, turkey, cranberry sauce, mutton, baked potatoes, beans, peas, fruit salad, cream, steam pudding, Christmas cake, candy, tea, cordials and beer. The cooks were fine fellows—if only for a day! At unit headquarters General Barrowclough visited the signals mess and chatted with the men as he walked around the tables. From Admiral Halsey, within whose command the division under General Barrowclough was serving, the following greeting was received: 'To all hands in my South Pacific jungle-smashing, sea-sweeping, sky-blazing crew I send best wishes for a Merry Christmas. Though your hardships and sturdy efforts may be required on that day as on all others, you may take pride in the knowledge that your magnificent performance is hastening the brighter days that lie ahead for us all. On this day, with due reverence, let us pay homage to those stout hearts who have made the supreme sacrifice, that our cause may victoriously march on.'
Each man received a free issue of the division's Christmas card—a reproduction of a painting of a jungle fighter by the official war artist. Lieutenant A. B. Barns Graham—for posting to his relations and friends. A keenly sought unit souvenir, which unfortunately had a limited circulation owing to production difficulties, was the 16-page Christmas edition of the unit news sheet, the Coral News (formerly the Niaouli News). Although only duplicated, it was wholly produced within echo of the front line and possessed a two-colour cover with attractively laid out pages of articles and humour. In a message to the unit, Colonel Burns wrote: '… To look back for a moment over 1943, we can say that we have done something really constructive for the war effort. After months of training and preparation we have at last met the enemy in battle and beaten him. Every man in the Corps of Signals, NZEF IP, whether he has been at base or up with the forward troops as a target for snipers, can take some credit for this result. The division could not have been organised, it could not have been moved and it could not have fought without a signal system …'
On Boxing Day a swimming carnival was held for the troops on Vella Lavella and an aquatic carnival of PT boat races, swimming and yachting in Blanche Harbour, Treasury Islands, was the venue of attraction for those stationed in that theatre. page 234Organised by energetic committees representing the formations, no efforts were spared to make the functions the success they were. The swimming carnival was held in an improvised 50-yard sea bath at Joroveto, opposite the roadhouse, where large floating jetties formed starting and finishing posts, while coconut logs laid along the foreshore provided seating accommodation for thousands of soldier spectators. Native swimming and canoe races were on the programme also and proved one of the highlights of the afternoon's sport. Besides being very active competitors, signals played a further part in the proceedings by announcing the results over a public address system and by displaying the results on a large scoreboard. In each instance, telephones were used to gather quickly the desired information but an amusing situation developed as the afternoon progressed when the seaward end of a jetty commenced to sink and the telephonist there found himself standing knee-deep in water. New Year's Day was ushered in with appropriate functions throughout the force. On Vella Lavella a nonstop variety show of which the principal participants were the Kiwi concert party and the Third Division band, was the major attraction.- The brigade's outdoor amphitheatre was packed to capacity for the occasion. The scene at midnight provided an inspiring spectacle as some 3,000 troops from two nations, encircled within a wall of coconut plantation and jungle, looked up at the same stars as their own free folks at home could and joined hands to sing Auld Lang Syne and wish each other a happy New Year. New Zealand letter mail arrived regularly every week by air and there was no need to announce a mail parade twice on those occasions. Parcels and papers were not so frequent, however, being dependent on shipping space which naturally grew slimmer as the division drew away from its base. A well intentioned thought which went slightly astray due to the unavoidable delays in parcel mail provided a diversion for the recipient's tent mates when the parcel containing the gift was opened by a sweating signalman; it contained a woollen pullover!
Base signals seemed destined to have to withstand further trials and the 80 miles an hour gale which whipped their camp and installations early on the morning of 18 January certainly presented them with a test for ingenuity when communications had to be restored under overwhelming odds. Commencing at page 2353.IS am the wind soon reached hurricane force, lifting roofs from the huts and then flattening the huts themselves. Timber was flying everywhere and many narrow escapes were experienced as personnel groped in the darkness. Torrential rain fell and the night was bitterly cold. Fortunately the receiving shack at Hinsdale and the hut housing the high-power transmitters at Gracefield withstood the buffeting, in spite of their exposed positions, but with 13 transmitting and receiving aerials a tangled mess on the ground it became obvious that the station could not continue, and the Q signal was reluctantly transmitted to Guadalcanal, Wellington and Nouméa. Despite the difficulties through having their cookhouse a shambles around their feet, the cooks did an admirable job of providing a hot breakfast which did much to brighten the spirits of the drenched personnel. Rain flooded the main highways into Bourail, isolating the township, and all the telephone lines in the area were 'out,' but it was impossible to reach them to effect repairs until the water subsided. A humorous sidelight, characteristic of that which creeps into all army life, no matter how tough the going, occurred when the cipher officer handed round a bottle of the 'doings' to warm up the frozen signalmen. The climax of his generosity came when the officer decided to have a sip himself, only to discover that it was a precious bottle of whisky he was handing around in the darkness, and not wine, as he had thought. The storm had abated by 8 am, giving the mechanicians and operators an opportunity to erect temporary aerials and power lines. At 10 am their efforts were rewarded when transmission and reception were restored, but this was only with the 500-watt transmitter and the frequencies had to be changed continually to service all channels. The irony of the first message received will long be remembered by the station operators—it was a hurricane warning!
On Vella Lavella and in the Treasuries ants were more plentiful than ever, while land crabs delighted in rummaging amongst personal effects and sharing fox-holes. A familiar sight in the evening hours was large migrations of crabs crossing the roadways to the sea; as often as not many of them became the victims of jeeps or other passing vehicles. Snakes were not so prevalent but quite a few signalmen could testify to meeting one of these unwelcome reptiles. Lance-Corporal Bell will remember the night he was on duty at unit headquarters and, on casually page 236looking around the tent, discovered a three-foot snake neatly coiled up on the stool alongside him. A bright spot in an otherwise routine day occurred one afternoon when a four-foot iguana decided to take a short cut through one of the unit cookhouses, causing the orderly there to establish an unofficial world's high jump record. Most rivers contained crocodiles which were to be seen at times when they came up for air or to bask in the sun, and some members of B cable section tried to shoot one at the Boko mission while engaged there on line work. A tragic day was the one on which Peep, the unit's canine mascot, disappeared from unit headquarters on Vella Lavella. Smuggled all the way from New Caledonia, Peep was equally at home in the forward areas and, as previously, accompanied despatch riders and other member of the camp wherever they went. An intensive search failed to reveal the dog's whereabouts although it was generally felt that a nearby parachutist corps knew more about Peep's disappearance than they cared to reveal. Following the actions and when the tactical situation allowed the resumption of more or less normal routine, shaving became compulsory in the sections and beards were not allowed to be grown. Keen interest was displayed therefore in the cultivation of moustaches, some of which became lengthy affairs. Pride of first place was generally accredited to Signalman J. J. Duffy, of X section, whose 'handlebars' grew seven and a-half inches long. He was closely followed by a fellow camp mate. Lance-Corporal E. G. Gettins, who faced the judges with a broadside of six and five-eighth inches. Signalman W. R. A. Kerr, of No. 1 company, was another who displayed the effect of saving razor blades by avoiding the top lip in the course of his daily 'scrape.'
Bogey of the unit on all the islands was the climate and the resultant condensation which day and night played havoc with wireless sets, switchboards, telephones, tents and personal effects. Mechanical equipment which possessed no apparent technical faults just suddenly ceased to operate due to the tricks of nature, thus keeping constantly employed section technicians and maintenance sections in fulltime opposition; warming devices were required alongside many of the switchboards and many ingenious arrangements were devised to assist. A visual example of the severity of the climate was witnessed when a new canvas kitbag became completely covered in mildew within two page 237hours of being put into use; the comparative effect on delicate mechanical instruments was not hard to imagine. Not the least of maintenance activity was the recharging daily of wet batteries (the unit possessed 900) for powering the many wireless stations in use. In fulfilling this task generators with the battalion attachments at brigade and divisional headquarters ran long hours under the supervision of mechanicans. The lack of an adequate supply of fresh dry batteries was always a constant problem, The unit used large quantities in varying voltages to supply power for telephones, switchboards and No. 48 pack radio sets but their life was limited in tropical latitudes. This was especially so in the instance of the dry radio batteries which had exceeded their shelf life by the time of arrival from overseas sources. To overcome this an improvement was effected by substituting New Zealand made low tension batteries and vibrator packs, designed and constructed for the purpose of the signals experimental establishment, Wellington. An interesting experiment, although not entirely successful, was the attempt to shoot wireless aerials over the tops of the coconut palms to facilitate the erection of aerials and gain additional height. The normal procedure was for an operator to scale the lofty palms, using pole climbers for support, but the height gained depended on the ability of the climber. The basis of this new scheme, suggested by Captain Murphy, was to attach a length of cable to a grenade and fire it from a cup discharger over the tree tops. Probably the most adept member of the unit at scaling the plantation giants was the headquarters company cook, Signalman H. A. G. (Snow) Campbell who, with pole climbers attached to his legs, could provide serious opposition to the prowess of any native at scaling as high as the coconuts. One may have asked why 'Snow' was a cook and not a linesman. The answer probably lay in the fact that in signals everyone had to be versatile!
An incident which later raised smiles, but at the time involved considerable energy, was the detection of a 'foreign' radio station intercepted transmitting from somewhere on Vella Lavella. Continuous listening watches were maintained and directional aerials were built to assist in the search. After a few days' activity the bogey was discovered to be an American station using Indian operators who avoided the use of cipher by passing messages in their native tongue. Although the unit itself was page 238never directly responsible for the capture of any Japanese signal equipment, keen interest was always displayed by signalmen in the examination of the wireless sets, telephones, a test set and the novel cable joining gadgets which were forwarded from the infantry and others for inspection. The wireless sets were found to be of poor quality with a very limited range but many of the field telephones were put to practical use in the battalions and the test set—a prize of the Treasury campaign—proved a useful asset in the mechanicans' shop at J section.
Two bright duplicated news sheets which made their appearance on Stirling Island were those of J and X sections and edited by Signalmen G. H. A. Smythe and R. N. Kennedy respectively. They reported such imaginary items as an interview with the president of the war field ration board from whom they gleaned details of a new field ration. It was to include one dehydrated fox-hole, two automatic Jap detectors, one box of cigars, one box of candy, six copies of 'funnies,' one picture of Betty Grable, one tin of dehydrated home brew, one packet of party decorations including toy trumpets and paper hats. To the reader at this late date the above may imply that the editors were 'troppo,' whereas it was humour such as this which actually saved the editors, and their subscribers, from suffering that fate.