Pacific Kiwis: being the story of the service in the Pacific of the 30th Battalion, Third Division, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Chapter Two — The Relief Takes Over
The Relief Takes Over
Although not conscious of it at the time, many of the new draft were to remain associated with the 30th Battalion for the next three years. It was the policy of the army at this time that those serving in Fiji would be recalled at the end of six months' service and posted to a reinforcement for the Middle East division. International events of far-reaching effect were to change this plan. On 2 September Lieutenant-Colonel J. Irving, ED, took over the command of the battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Mawson having returned to New Zealand.
The ferry steamer Rangatira leaving Auckland on 11 November 1940 for Fiji with the original 30th Battalion on board. Below: Some members of the battalion line the rail to take farewell of friends on the wharf
Displays of native dancing were popular entertainment. Here are officers and men of the battalion watching an exhibition staged for their benefit
White residents of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company's staff at Nausori very kindly entertained small parties of soldiers in their homes for the weekends, and on one occasion the good folk of Tai Levu acted as hosts to some members of the battalion. Their hospitality become a by-word among the troops and instanced the good feelings which existed between the New Zealanders and the residents of Fiji. Saturday afternoons saw the troops arrayed in their 'monkey jackets', making in taxis for Suva on shopping expeditions. At least many started out on shopping tours, but that pair of silk stockings for the wife became something to be postponed till next pay day, as hubby's circle of friends grew larger and 'shouts' became dearer. Sea shell necklaces, tortoise shell, filigree work and camphor wood chests were popular items with those seeking souvenirs.
In the Street of all Nations, soldiers rubbed shoulders with Fijians in their white sulus, Hindus in their dhotis and accompanied by their Indian womenfolk, who carried themselves so gracefully, dressed in pastel shaded and sequined saris. Many of the boys liked to mingle among the natives thronging the street market places where traders sold bundles of live crabs, fish, fruit, vegetables, and strong smelling" locally-grown tobacco twist which was sold by the foot. In the evening the town's dance halls were well patronised, not only by soldiers but also by visiting naval crews. The girls were an assorted crowd of half and quarter caste Fijians, Samoans, Indo-Fijians, some with shoes and some without, some very attractive and some almost repulsive. In contrast to these affairs were the weekly dances held at the New Zealand soldiers club, which had been erected by the page 18National Patriotic Fund Board of New Zealand. Here the very charming white girls of Suva acted as hostesses to the Kiwis. The municipal baths were a crowded rendezvous on Sundays and a cup of tea at the soldiers club ended a pleasant afternoon.
Unfortunately the unit was not to know the pleasure of Suva's amenities for very long. On 12 September orders came through to cease work on the defence sector, in view of the contemplated move to the western side of the island. The war diary records that since the month of June the unit had used '21 miles of wire, made 330 knife rests, erected 4,200 stakes on the beach and in the mangrove swamps, cut 2,500 feet of mangrove posts for roofing, and filled and used 25,500 sand bags'. A battalion advance party left for Namaka on 12 a September, while the remainder of the unit continued with crating and packing. It was arranged that the 29th Battalion which was vacating Namaka camp for Samambula would use the southern route. On the 18 September the 30th Battalion moved out of Samambula, taking the northern island route and passing through on its 157-mile trip, Kurovou, Nayavu, Raki Raki, Tavua, Ma and Lautoka. There followed the usual settling in period when the troops acquainted themselves with their new surroundings. The climate at Namaka, as opposed to the Suva side, was an equable one, hot by day and cool enough at night to demand the use of a single planket.
Lieutenant-Colonel J. B. Mawson, MC, first commander of the 30th Battalion with his second-in-command, Major M. Steele. Above them is a view of the top parade ground at Namaka during a Fijian entertainment. Below: Pushing supplies across a flooded bridge during the heavy rains of February 1941 at Namaka
The procedure within the battalion now was to have one company and a platoon of D company at Momi Bay, one company on camp duties, and one company on training. Since water was inadequate at Momi, arrangements were made with the CSR Company to have additional supplies brought by the cane train, and work was started on constructing a siding. Bren guns had now come to hand, replacing on an increased scale the old lewis machine-guns. On 13 November the large bure at Momi, which was used as a mess room, was accidentally destroyed by fire in the early hours of the morning.
In November Major-General E. Puttick, CB, DSO, Chief of the General Staff, accompanied by the Hon. F. Jones, Minister of Defence, paid a short visit to Momi Bay and Namaka camp. A night march of 13 miles to Saweni beach was made in November, breakfast brought out from camp by truck. Brigadier L. Potter, DSO, commander of the western side of the island, made an inspection of the battalion on 25 November. One of the accompanying officers noticed that the haversack of one of the soldiers lacked the symmetry and neatness displayed by the others.
'Have you got a groundsheet in your pack, my man?' he asked.
'No sir. Why, do you think it's going to rain?'
It was necessary to strike some of the tents at Momi, and return them to Namaka where they were to be made available to the civil construction unit, consequently only one platoon was retained in defence there. On 28 November an advanced party of 40 civilians of the aerodrome services personnel was accommodated in a camp to the north of Namaka. When the remainder of their unit arrived the battalion cooks had the task of cooking for 440 extra men. On 19 December, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Right Hon. F. Fraser, accompanied by the Hon. P. Webb, made a brief inspection of the camp. By this time many of the troops had served the supposed six months' tour of duty on the island but any signs of a projected move to New Zealand were not forthcoming. Indeed page 21the entry of Japan into the war on 7 December 1941 sounded the death knell of any forlorn hopes that the troops still held. In any speech made by distinguished visitors, the men hung on every word, hoping that there might be revealed by inference some glimmer of hope for their return. That it was very desirable that they should be returned to New Zealand was a conviction easily established by the boys themselves. 'Look at the sick parade' they would say 'dhobies itch, ringworm, septic sores, tropical neurasthenia—the island is getting us all right.' But it was not to be for many months yet.
On Christmas Eve came a hurricane warning. Precautions were taken and although it blew hard the island did not receive the full force of the gale. With the advent of Japan's entry into the war, it had been decided to have a formation of two brigades, plus ancillary units, garrisoned on the island. It is at this stage that the 14th Brigade comes into being, having as its role the defence of the western side of the island. In order to make room for the newly arriving battalions, the 35th and the 37th, it was necessary for the 30th Battalion to vacate Namaka camp. It was the intention eventually for the unit to camp on its battle sector at Momi, but as that area was not ready for troops, Thuvu, near Singatoka, was selected as a temporary bivouac. On New Year's Day, 1942, A company relieved B company at Momi Bay. In the course of the next few days the remainder of the battalion moved by motor transport to Thuvu. On 10 January battle positions were taken up by the battalion at Momi, but the companies returned next day to their camp at Thuvu. One wondered at these times just what were the precise reasons for taking up battle stations. That there were very good reasons for doing so there is no doubt, for 'Pearl Harbour—7 December' was but a month past. Constantly rumours were bruited about of unidentified aircraft overhead at nights, of allusions to Jap aircraft carriers and task forces.
Thuvu was a bright interlude in the battalion's stay in Fiji. In a setting of flowering flamboyant trees, camp was made in and round the CSR company's houses. On 27 January Lieutenant-Colonel H. A. Pattullo, MC, assumed command of the battalion. Duties were reduced to a minimum while at Thuvu, these consisting of the checking of boats, mapping work, and the surveying of possible new roads at Momi. NCOs attended the Natambua school of instruction, some of the seniors acting as instructors on the school staff. Instructors page 22were also lent to the Singatoka home guard. Pleasant days were spent by the boys, surfing or wandering on the reef looking for sea shells or sea snakes. The men were always welcome in the native village to indulge in a spot of kava, and hand round cigarettes or the 'makings' to young and old alike. Then, too, mine host at the Singatoka Hotel, an Australian, always had plenty of cash customers. The stay at the seaside at Thuvu was only to last a month, for by 4 February all the companies had moved to their battle sectors at Momi Bay.