Pacific Kiwis: being the story of the service in the Pacific of the 30th Battalion, Third Division, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Chapter Five — Karaka North To Matamata
Karaka North To Matamata
The main body of troops had returned from leave to Papakura Camp by 28 July. On 4 August the battalion marched out of Papakura to a camp at Karaka North, which had been erected for and recently vacated by American soldiers. The camp was a comfortable one, although its distance from the railway station militated against frequent leave. Many changes took place among the personnel of the unit. Reinforcements were needed to replace those who had been medically boarded and these came in the main from Hawke's Bay and Taranaki territorial regiments. Lieutenant-Colonel Patullo relinquished command of the battalion, in whose stead Major J. V. M. Cauty, MM, acted as temporary commander. The future of the unit was the subject of much speculation among all ranks. The Third Division had been reorganised and brought up to full strength, with the returned Fiji forces as its nucleus. Fighting was taking place in the Solomon Islands and this presaged further service in the Pacific for New Zealanders. Lieutenant-Colonel S. A. Macnamara, DCM, who had been appointed to command the battalion, joined the unit at Karaka on 21 September.
A view of Government Buildings, Suva, first headquarters of B Force. A corner of the park where Kingsford Smith landed the Southern Cross is shown in the foreground
The Fijians are famous for their hospitality. Here is a scene at Samambula Camp when the natives of Kandavu Island presented large quantities of fruit and vegetables to the New Zealanders
This native belle dressed in brilliantly coloured clothes is about to take part in a meke or native dance. Below: Soldiers watching a kava ceremony, in a Fijian village. The presentation and drinking of kava is a great feature of native life
In common with all other units of the Third Division in the Auckland area, plans were being made for the evacuation of the battalion to the Waikato. American troops were due to arrive in Auckland and all available camps were to be handed over for their use. In the draw for camp sites, Colonel Macnamara drew Matamata, which was a very happy choice for his unit. On Sunday, 4 August, Padre Nairn, the battalion's new chaplain, conducted his first church service with the unit, this being followed by a short address from the colonel. The next day the battalion marched out of Karaka en route by foot for Matamata racecourse. As a prelude to the longer maches to follow the first leg was but a short one to the Pukekohe recreational grounds. Troops attended the local cinema that night and on returning to the bivouac, bedded down under the hedges of the reserve. In the morning the companies, joined by the 35th and the 37th Battalions whose final destinations were Waiorongamai and Te Aroha respectively, set off for Mangatawhiri, a 17-mile march. Troops bivouacked in the school and the hall areas that night. Mangatarata was reached by the next evening, a march of 20 miles. By the afternoon of the fourth day after a 21-mile march, Tahuna was made, but just as the evening meal was being served heavy rain fell and plans were hastily changed. Motor transport was used to take the troops to Matamata where they arrived at nine o'clock at night. The battalion had marched in all 65 miles.
Everyone retains pleasant memories of his associations with Matamata. A battalion of strangers marched in but friends were legion by the time it came to leave. Flashbacks to those days of 1942 show page 36us scenes of garden parties, of horse riding, swimming in the hot springs, house parties and suppers, of creeping into camp in the early hours of the morning, of 'Braeburn' personalities and the very hospitable folk of Matamata. This round of gaieties was, however, leavened with grimmer army moments, chief of which were 'the battle of the Kaimais', a 20 mile route march with full pack, and manoeuvres in the Te Poi area. A night spent on the top of the Kaimai range recalls a scene of singing soldiers huddled round dozens of fires whose smoke curled into the chill night air. A football match, The Officers versus The Rest was played on the Matamata ground, the officers being well trounced. A battalion side also played a Matamata district team.
The 'battle of the Kaimais' was devised as an exercise to bring out the lessons of supply, the tactical side being a secondary one. The Kaimai mountains were chosen as a venue most likely to simulate jungle conditions. Rain fell for the greater part of the six days in the hills, and greatcoats, battledresses, blankets and bread were saturated alike. Fires ringed with infanteers burned throughout the night and caked the mud into one's clothes. The issue of a tot of rum in the evening was doubly welcome, for sleep was well nigh impossible. Water and food, rations consisting mainly of bully beef and biscuits, were hand carried up the greasy, jungle-like slopes. It was an exercise that tried one's endurance but nevertheless it was one from which the men felt they had learned something. On the seventh day, 28 October, the troops returned to the racecourse camp, It was on this day that a battalion advanced party left for an overseas destination. New battledresses were issued to the men, while the battalion availed itself of a kind offer made by the womenfolk of Matamata to launder those soiled in the Kaimai. Personnel within the next few days proceeded on 14 days embarkation leave.
By November 14 furlough parties had returned to Matamata Camp and next day, Sunday, visitors were welcomed and the Matamata brass band was in attendance. Everyone will have his own personal recollections of the final days in Matamata. Suffice it to say that the township and country people were warm hosts to many soldiers at informal gatherings. A concert attended by civilian guests of the battalion was given in the theatre, the officers ballet item providing a good laugh. On 27 November an advanced loading party left for Wellington, while motor transport and motor cyclists left page 37for the same destination via Waiouru. The final church parade on November 29 was attended by the Matamata brass band. On the morning of departure, 2 December, a unit sports meeting was held in the domain. The battalion's departure that afternoon was no military secret for all Matamata seemed to be gathered on the station to wish its adopted infantrymen 'God speed'. As the train pulled out to a crescendo of cheering, moistened eyes smiled their farewells to the soldiers crowded at the windows.