Pacific Saga: the personal chronicle of the 37th Battalion and its part in the Third Division's Campaign
Chapter Two — Fiji
The battalion left Burnham for Lyttelton at 0630 hours on 10 January, 1942. The daylight crossing in the Maori was rough, and no one was sorry to step off the ship at Wellington at 2145 hours that night. Theoretically all meals were to be provided on ship but in practice very few were able to eat anything, with the result that it was a hungry battalion that waited to board the train for Auckland. Movement control had not considered the question of seasick soldiers and consequently no provision had been made for a meal on the wharf. Initiative was shown by company officers, who procured sufficient food out of their own pockets to stave off the pangs of hunger until the next official meal was provided. One of the highlights at Wellington was the arrival on the wharf of an irate officer from Army Headquarters who suggested that the battalion had in its possession certain articles which were alleged to be the property of A block at Burnham. He was referred to the quartermaster, Lieutenant Morgan. The latter officer was righteously indignant at such a base suggestion, and after a heart to heart talk he conveyed the impression to the Army Headquarters official that if A block was carefully searched, property would be found there which rightly belonged to the battalion! Alas! It was a hollow victory.
The train for Auckland left Wellington at 2350 hours and pulled alongside the Rangatira at an Auckland wharf at 1700 hours on 11 January. Advanced parties had been sent ahead, and embarkation proceeded quickly and efficiently. Although the draft contained several men who were taken straight out of detention, Major McLeod was justly proud of the fact that no one had escaped during the journey, although attempts to do so had occurred. The convoy, which comprised the Rangatira, Wahine, Port Montreal, and Leander sailed from Auckland at 1930 hours. Submarine watches were organised and in the absence of bren guns, the AA defence of the ship was page 14handed over to D (s) company. Captain Catley was able to lash securely his 12 vickers guns to the rails on the boat deck, and any Nip low-flying aircraft would have met with a hot reception from the combined fire of these guns. Deck space was limited, but it was found possible to allocate areas to companies so that muster and instructional parades could be held. The usual ship's drills were held frequently, and the battalion quickly settled down to ship's routine. Little did we realise at the time the amount of time we would spend on ships of all types, before our adventures were finished.
OC troops on the Rangatira was Colonel Harry White, DSO, NZSC, and he had his adjutant Captain Stump Perrett, NZSC. These two were an experienced team, having conducted drafts to the Middle East, and under their able guidance life on board was very pleasant. The weather was perfect and the sea like glass. The beer was good and the quarters and meals were satisfactory. On the night of 13 January, the convoy was joined by one light cruiser and two destroyers belonging to the Royal Australian Navy.
Fiji was sighted at 0600 hours on 14 January. The Wahine and Port Montreal set a course for Suva, while the Rangatira made for the reef entrance off Momi and thence to Lautoka, where we tied up at the wharf at 0950 hours. The passage up from Momi, inside the reef, gave most of the battalion their first glimpse of anything tropical—Fiji! The coconut-studded coastline and bush-covered hills and mountains seemed to beckon to one to come ashore and taste the mysteries of the interior. There wasn't one man who did not feel a thrill of anticipation at the prospect of exploring the seductive looking hinterland. Movement control busied itself with disembarkation, which took place under a hot sun and in a humid atmosphere, and during the day the battalion was transported by the Lautoka express and motor trucks to its allotted camping area at Sambeto. The area comprised rolling down country covered with low scrub, and the Sambeto River, which was clean and ran over a gravel bottom, was handy. The site included a Fijian village and an Indian store. A brief survey of the area satisfied the commanding officer that it had been well chosen. There was ample room in which to disperse the battalion on well-drained sites and the water supply was more than sufficient for drinking and washing purposes.
Headquarters 14th Brigade, the 35th Battalion and elements of engineer and supply services had arrived a week previously. The page 1535th Battalion had thoughtfully sent a party over to pitch sufficient tents to house the battalion. Engineers had installed a pumping plant and chlorinating apparatus and the ASC had put in a dump of rations. The battalion dribbled in from 1200 hours onwards, thankful to have at last accomplished the nightmare journey from the wharf to Sambeto. Temporary company areas were allotted and rations distributed. A dip in the river and a meal worked wonders. Life did not seem so dismal as it had been a few hours previously. Our first experience of tropical rain came during the afternoon when, heralded by terrifying claps of thunder and lightning flashes, the heavens opened and released, what we thought, was all the rain in the world. The main elements of the 14th Brigade Group, to which we belonged, were as follows:— 14th Brigade Headquarters, 30th Battalion, 35th Battalion, 37th Battalion, 37th Field Battery, Howitzer Battery, Light Anti-aircraft Battery, 23 rd Field Company, NZE, 16th Composite Company, ASC, 22nd Field Ambulance and the Ordnance Workshop.
The task of the brigade was the defence of the airfield at Namaka, and method adopted was as follows:— The 30th Battalion was at Momi with the task of covering the reef entrance and preventing enemy infiltration from the southern portion of the brigade sector. The 35th Battalion was in defended localities along the foreshore covering the seaward side of the airfield; and the 37th Battalion was mobile reserve with the tasks of (a) counter-attacking the airfield; (b) to fight on a stop line between Namaka and Momi; (c) to fight on a stop line between Namaka and Lautoka.
To carry out (b), a complete battalion defensive position was dug and wired on the Nawai River. The country suited itself admirably to what might be termed a blackboard layout. A company was on the right on a height overlooking the Momi road and had perfect command of approaches from the right flank. B company was 1000 yards to the left of A company in Lloyd's village. The village was on a slight rise and observation to the front and flanks was good. C company was in support on rising ground midway between A and B and 800 yards in rear. Each company had one MMG platoon attached and the layout was ideal from a machine-gunner's point of view. Each company was capable of supporting, with fire, either of the other companies. The motor cycle platoon dug posts in the hills 500 to 600 yards on the left of page 16B company and had perfect observation over the whole of the front. The mortar platoon was in the support area and could cover the whole of the position, while the 37th Battery positions were dug further back with OPs with A company. We were disappointed that the opportunity never occurred to fight the Japs on this line. B company will remember Corporal Joe, the head Fijian in Lloyd's village who was a self-appointed staff officer to Captain Lloyd, and hoped more than anyone that the Jap would arrive. He was an old fire-eater and saw service with the Fijian contingent during the last war. Everyone will also remember the hospitaiity and help given by Mr Humphries, overseer for the CSR, and his wife. The northern stop line was on the Vunda River line between Namaka and Lautoka.
Although all ranks had received training in mobilisation camps in New Zealand, the battalion was by no means ready for action. A progressive syllabus was worked out which included individual, section, platoon and company training following by battalion exercises. The country round Sambeto lent itself to all phases of tactics. The main object to be achieved was to toughen up all ranks and for this reason emphasis was laid on section and platoon treks, with troops living out for four or five days with just what they could carry on their backs, Section commanders were trained in finding their way across country with a compass by day and night, and were sent out with their sections to develop their initiative and independence. Muscles were strengthened by unlimited pick and shovel work, and endurance was tested out by arduous route marches and hill climbing. 'Mabel's Tit," a high point behind the camp, will bring back memories to all ranks. Also the mines behind Natambua.
Four stages of building a native mess hut in New Caledonia where the niaouli and bamboo could be obtained easily. Lengths of bamboo and sapling are being-collected in the picture
The framework of the hut is seen above. On the right the hut is being roofed with niaouli bark which is obtained by stripping it from the tree trunks. Men of the battalion are gathering reeds for walls
A crowd round the totalisator at Taom, where the Northern Racing Club held several meetings on the excellent track constructed by units of the 14th Brigade. Lieutenant Alan Barns Graham, official war artist, sketching a bridge at Taom erected by the 37th Battalion
As has been previously stated, on first arrival in Fiji, stores of all natures were in short supply. Owing to the shortage of tents it was decided that the 35th Battalion, which was on the coast and might have to dismantle camp in a hurry in the event of an invasion, should have all the available IP (Indian pattern) tents and that the 37th Battalion would be housed in public works huts. These consisted of a wooden frame work covered by an eight by ten tent and fly and housed two men each. They were on the whole comfortable, although not as cool or as weatherproof as the Indian pattern tents.
Contracts were let to local Fijians for the building of company mess bures and cook-houses, these being paid for out of regimental funds. National Patriotic funds provided sufficient money to erect recreational bures in each company area. The Indian storekeeper and his family moved out of their premises, these being renovated and reconditioned to house the quartermaster's department. A small Fijian village occupied the centre of the battalion area. Quarters were found for the natives at Nandele, and the village which was on a rising ground and plentifully supplied with bananas, oranges, pineapples and paw paw was taken over by battalion headquarters. The native bures were fumigated, concrete floors installed, and they were used for the orderly room, officers', sergeants' and men's messes, intelligence room and signals centre. The bures were grouped round an attractive lawn, and this became the entertainment centre for the battalion. Many excellent concerts and race meetings were staged in this area, and it was also the setting for the several Fijian ceremonies which were held.
The building phase showed that we had a pioneer section above the average. Sergeant Stan Clifford, the pioneer sergeant, was an page 18excellent tradesman, and he was ably supported by his section which contained carpenters, a plumber and a bricklayer. Shower fittings appeared from somewhere and a good shower system and laundry facilities were erected beside the river. Water duties were taken over by Private Williams, of headquarters company, and he has faithfully served in that capacity ever since. What he did not learn about water facilities is not worth learning. D (s) company sank a good well in its area and developed a shower system of its own.
The major work was undoubtedly the construction of the road from the camp to the main Namaka-Lautoka road, a distance of four miles. When we arrived this was little more than an unmetalled track with a good hard surface in dry weather. After rain it became impassable for transport, and as it was the only line of communication, it became an urgent matter to improve it. Major McLeod took over this task and organised six hour shifts throughout the day and night. Picks and shovels were in short supply, but fortunately there was a civil construction unit working at the aerodrome and this difficulty was overcome. Metal was obtained from the river bed, and at night tip trucks used to appear mysteriously to augment our motley collection of butchers', bakers' and greengrocers' vans. Under cover of darkness a couple of graders were also in commission. Major McLeod, by sheer drive and will-power, built not only the supply road but good roads throughout the whole of the camp area. He also found time to organise thoroughly the camp sanitary arrangements. His daily conferences with company seconds-in-command were classic. He would invariably finish up with: 'so you have no complaints. Well if you have no complaints, you can't be doing your bloody jobs. I'll visit company and if I find anything to complain about I'll have your blood. Don't dare to come to me with no complaints'—all this in the tones of an enraged bull.
Three views of the New Caledonian scene. At the top of the page is a field kitchen at Taom, made by using empty drums and clay. The large picture shows a corner of the 37th Battalion camp among the niaoulis at Taom River. The hooded figure is a sentry protected against mosquitoes which in parts of New Caledonia attacked the soldiers in clouds.
The battalion's MT workshop at Taom, in the north of New Caledonia, was constructed of native materials. The three pictures inset tell the story of training in Necal. The long road at Koumac, along which troops are marching, was familiar to the battalion. Below that is a view of the battalion bivouaced for the night while on manoeuvres. At the bottom of the page is a muddy road leading to the camp at Taom River
When he was last heard of, he was commanding a battalion in the Fiji Defence Force. The battalion owes him a lot. Although he was not with us for very long, his drive and untiring energy left its mark on the battalion, and it would have done his heart good, in later years, to see the camps, roads, bures and bridges which were constructed as a direct result of his early teaching. When he left he took with him as his adjutant, Captain Bernie Jones, the second-in-page 20command of B company. Major Reidy, who was then brigade major, was appointed as his successor and Lieutenant Pithie was appointed second-in-command of B company.
The civilian communication system throughout the island was in a chaotic condition due to the overloading of lines consequent upon the influx of troops. Mr F. C. Gentry, of the Post and Telegraph Department, was loaned by the New Zealand Government to the Fijian Government to overhaul the system. While he was in the brigade area, the battalion signal section, under Lieutenant McKechnie, rendered great assistance to his line and cable laying parties. In return for this service, he made it possible for a complete metallic telephone system to be installed within the camp area. This system displeased the officer comanding, Divisional Signals, who considered it highly improper for an infantry battalion to be so well catered for. Despite his disapproval, the system remained—much to the glee of Lieutenant McKechnie. By the end of April, 1942, Sambeto Camp was a fine one. Each company had a spacious cook-house, mess rooms and recreation hut, and areas had been cleared for sports grounds, including a 440 yards running track. Drainage had dried out the adjacent paddy fields.
Time did not He heavily on one's hands in Fiji. For most of the battalion it was the first tropical experience, and the glamour never quite wore off. During leisure hours trips were made to Nandi, Lautoka and Mba, and the bar at the Lautoka Hotel was the scene of intense activity—especially on Saturday afternoons. Some adventurous souls travelled as far as the gold mines at Vatakoula and the hill resort at Nandarivatu, while many made friends with overseers employed by the cane sugar refinery and visited the sugar estates. Great interest was shown in the sugar refinery at Lautoka. Frequent trips to Sawene Beach were also organised. The ground did not lend itself to rugby because of the difficulty of getting rid of the guava roots after clearing. Hockey was the main game played; and under tuition of Lieutenants Barton, Timms and Sergeant Gray, many good players were developed. Battalion headquarters, headquarters company and D (s) company were able to produce good teams, with the latter company having the edge on the others. Soccer also became popular, platoon and company competitions being played with vigour and enjoyment. Tenakoit and basket-ball also had their quota of adherents. Cricket proved to be very popular under the page 21leadership of Captain Moffat and many enjoyable matches were played against the divisional school at Natambua, Fijian boys school at Dressa, and the Nandi Cricket Club under the leadership of the district officer, Philip Snow. The latter team was mainly Fijian in composition and was a first-class combination. We never succeeded in beating them. Their cricket was pretty to watch, particularly in the field, and every chance was snapped up by their huge hands. Their bowling and batting was also first-class. The main stays of the battalion team were Captain Moffat, Lieutenants Harper, Brown and Smith, Company Sergeant-Major Avery and Sergeant Miller, while the commanding officer and Lieutenant Stan Newman had an occasional game.
A battalion fortnightly paper Bula was produced by the initiative of Padre Jeffreys and Corporal James. The printing press, owned by an Indian in Lautoka, was an old-fashioned apparatus and all the type required to be set by hand. On days of publication, the padre and James would leave for Lautoka at dawn and return at dark in triumph with the edition. It was sold at threepence a copy. One of the highlights was Lieutenant Pithie's series of 'Letters from a soldier to his wife'. The company notes gave ample scope for rude remarks about company personalities. It was an excellent little paper and it was a pity that the paper restrictions in New Zealand precluded its continuance when the battalion returned to New Zealand.
The battalion concert party, which later developed into a splendid combination, had its beginnings in Fiji. In order to find talent, companies, in rotation, entertained the rest of the battalion on Saturday evenings. A treasure was unearthed in Private Maurice Tansley, whose tenor voice has since delighted thousands of allied soldiers throughout the Solomons. Besides being of great value as a soloist, Tansley was a fine performer on the ukelele, and he also built round himself a vocal combination known as the Harmony Brothers. The original members of this popular combination were Tansley, Lieutenant Shirley, Private Bill Davie, Private McCartney, Private Jack Marett. Sergeant Jack Smith of D (s) company was discovered to be an accomplished pianist and could perform well on any stringed instrument, while Private Nash of headquarters company came into his own as a raconteur and a humorist.
D (s) company produced a string band under the leadership of Private Collier and which included the famous Roy Trevena. The page 22latter first came to light as a one-man band. He rigged up various gadgets which enabled him to play a mouth organ, guitar and drums all at the same time. Sergeant Bill Hutchens, the stretcher-bearer sergeant, was a good performer on the violin and the banjo. Private George Bridges of A company, who was later killed at Warambari Bay on Vella Lavella, possessed a pleasing bass voice. Lieutenant Paul Wishart, NZMC, took over the duties of regimental medical officer from Lieutenant Stevely in February, 1942, and he brought with him a Spanish guitar. Mention must also be made of Sergeant George Laing, of the carrier platoon, for his performances on the piano accordion. With such galaxy of talent available, many enjoyable evenings were spent on the lawn at battalion headquarters. 'Ladies' were first introduced when Private Ralph Dyer, of the 35 th Battalion, brought over a bevy of 'damsels' and produced a Russian ballet. To satisfy themselves that these performers were really males, the troops paid many furtive visits back stage. The farewell concert before leaving Fiji was a memorable one. In addition to our own talent, the local Fijians arrived in war paint and war dress and presented traditional dances, including an awe-inspiring spear dance. Their contribution included the haunting melody 'Isa Lei'. The auditorium presented a wonderful sight from front stage. In the soft light of the footlights could be seen first of all the Fijians with their glittering bodies dressed, or rather undressed, in all their old glory. Behind them were rows and rows of soldiers, amongst whom could be glimpsed the red and white uniforms of several sisters from the Namaka Hospital. A half moon was peeping over the tops of the surrounding coconut palms. The setting was perfect. The entertainment culminated in a farewell kava ceremony and the presentation to the commanding officer of the traditional tambua (whale's tooth).
Another source of enjoyment was the race meetings, complete with tote, wooden horses and dice. This sport, in later months, spread like wildfire throughout the division, but credit must go to the 37th Battalion for introducing it in April, 1942. Many good horses competed, among which was Lieutenant Phil Morgan's 'Cheerful Donor' by 'Help yourself' out of 'My store'. Athletics were not neglected. Company meetings were held, followed by two battalion ones. In each of the latter, battalion headquarters proved superior, due to the efforts of Lieutenant Wishart in the sprints, Sergeant page 23Muirson in the field events, and the well-balanced relay team. In an invitation sports meeting organized by the 35th Battalion on the Nandi cricket ground, Lieutenant Wishart won the open 100 yards, and the battalion relay team consisting of Wishart, Freddie Stewart, Muirson and Boyd won the open relay.
The general health of the battalion was, on the whole, good in so far as there were no serious epidemics. A short, sharp bout of diarrhoea swept through all ranks shortly after arrival in Fiji. It was not the virulent type, and was probably due to the orgies of fruit eating—pineapples, paw paw, mangoes and coconut milk. Once digestions settled themselves to the new diet, no trouble was experienced. Due to the lack of mosquito nets during the first few weeks, many were badly bitten by mosquitoes. These bites invariably turned septic if the skin was broken by scratching. In fact, any scratch, abrasion or cut would fester if not attended to immediately. This is common under most tropical conditions. Most of our troubles were due to skin infections—prickly heat, dhobies itch, boils and carbuncles, impetigo, and the worst of the lot, tropical ulcers. These latter were hideous, and would not respond to treatment. Lieutenant Wishart very wisely set up a 'bathing ghat' under the supervision of Private Jimmie Allen. Fires were kept going all day long, 44gallon drums of water were boiled and sufferers were required to report twice a day for hot water treatment. This succeeded better than any other treatment.
As in all organizations, good, bad and indifferent characters brought themselves to notice, and an attempt will be made to recollect some of the more personal stories concerning various members of the battalion. The outstanding personality was undoubtedly Lieutenant now Captain Philip Morgan, NZPS, who served as quartermaster. Throughout his service, his energy, enthusiasm and tongue never flagged. Stories regarding his exploits are legion. He is a veteran of World War I, but is now fully convinced that the lads in the 'present outfit' were just as good as those of the 'last outfit'. Soon after the battalion settled down, a supper party was held at battalion headquarters. As things warmed up, an argument developed between the transport officer and the quartermaster over the matter of a rear vision mirror for the quartermaster's truck. The transport officer had one and the quartermaster did not. The quartermaster was also lacking a windscreen with the result that hornets made merry, but page 24this was a mere bagatelle compared with the necessity for having a rear vision mirror so that the activities of provost personnel could be observed, and countered. From this small beginning the argument raged around the relative importance to the battalion of the transport officer and the quartermaster. There were signs of no decision being arrived at when the quartermaster, to clinch the argument, and also to preserve discipline among junior officers (the transport officer in particular) addressed the transport officer officially as Second-Lieutenant Newman, and ordered him to cease talking—something—rot. It was at the same gathering that conversation turned to working parties and the quartermaster was responsible for the thought-provoking statement that in the 'last outfit' men worked 48 hours a day without complaining.
- 'Molar Crete, here."
- Bellow. 'Molar Crete.'
- Louder bellow. 'Molar Crete.'
- Whisper. 'Quartermaster, 37th Battalion.'
- Security was satisfied.
The adjutant will never forget the look of sheer horror that came over his face when a newly appointed company second-in-command referred to 'kettles camp oval' as 'dixies'. For days things went well in the quartermaster's department and the quartermaster reported to the commanding officer that he had seconds-in-command and company quartermasters well-trained—returns and lists of shortages were coming in up to time and he was supplying everything that companies asked for. Weekly meetings of seconds-in-command, however, did not support these statements. The administrative personnel seemed to be chafing and suffering from a sense of frustration. It subsequently transpired that, in order to exact obedience from the page 25officers and avoid endless arguments over stores, Phil was prefacing all his statements with 'The commanding officer directs—'
This narrative would not be complete without some mention of our colourful Fijian friends. Many friendships sprang up between New Zealanders and those happy and hospitable islanders. In looking back one remembers their child-like delight in the everyday scenes of military life, their delight in riding in the back of a truck when their endless chants would herald their coming and going, and screams of laughter would cheer the late-comer on to victory in his race to overtake an already moving truck. One recalls their eagerness to acquire odds and ends of our possessions, their gifts of fruit and the hospitality of their villages. When the mind turns to their bure building in the camp area, one thinks of their efforts, sometimes ordinary, sometimes furious, especially when a wager had been laid that a job could not be finished in a given time; and then again, when the thought uppermost in their minds was that there was always another day tomorrow. Perhaps, most of all, one remembers their sense of humour and love of a good laugh. Some of the outstanding characters were Williami, the head man of Boutini village, the site of battalion headquarters; Bulamakau, his off-sider; old Ratu Tamoie, the dignified chief of Nandele and Rousevella of Yaloku, who loved to be called Roosevelt and whose hobby was to collect one's pipe and tobacco by the process of admiring them till the iron in one's soul was melted. Then there was Johnny Botatu who spoke good English and who was the battalion guide when new country had to be traversed, and Johnny's father and his sister Mary, who made firstclass lemon drinks. Last but not least was Andi Meri, Queen of Sambeto, and her prime minister, the buli of Sambeto, diplomat and union secretary, alongside whom our politicians are mere apprentices. The main treks and patrols which took parties through the various villages brought all ranks into contact with the Fijians at home, and soon everyone could sink the inevitable kava and join in the ceremony of mixing and drinking it without making any faux pas in the method of drinking, or leaving before the last round had been duly blessed and disposed of. How much more dignified than merely dropping in for a 'quick one'. The tra-la-la in a ballroom roofed with coconut palms and carpeted with green grass was always good fun, especially when it dragged on till chaperons were too sleepy to chaperon.page 26
It was on the first reconnaissance trip over the track to Mba that the signals officer, Lieutenant McKechnie, achieved fame. It had been raining hard, and the grade up towards the 'divide' was getting steeper and steeper. Johnny Botatu, unencumbered, was bounding ahead and had to be called in and entreated to take it steadily. After all, it was a reconnaissance trip and there was much to be studied. Moreover, the pack horse had to considered, and Lieutenant McKechnie, who was probably carrying more than the pack, very rightly decided that frequent halts were necessary. This wise decision was received with hoots of derision from Johnny, who there and then immortalized Mac by naming him 'Two chain Mac' and by that name he was thereafter known to all Fijians. The adjutant, Captain Tony Molineaux, and Lieutenant Standage, who was the Fijian labour overseer in the camp area, accompanied one party. The bush telegraph informed the villages along the route that this was a very important party because it included one who was honoured to the extent that he was permitted to work at a table in the same bure as No. I boss, and another who was permitted to confer with No I boss about the amount of work being done. Such honoured personages deserved a special effort. As the party topped the rise and started to descend towards Yaloku, the village drums could be heard beating out a welcome. Outside the village the party was met by two maidens each carrying a posy of flowers. Grasping each officer by the hand, the maidens led them to the head man, Roosevelt, who made a speech of welcome. Then they were led to a bure which had been prepared for them. The doors were garlanded with flowers, there were more inside and the floor was carpeted with fresh mats. There were also two piles of beautifully soft mats complete with mosquito nets where they were to sleep. The remainder of the day was spent in drinking the traditional kava. During this time the maidens never left the officers, and scorning army rations, prepared native meals for them. When darkness fell everyone assembled in a large bure where a tra-la-la was held. All good things must come to an end and eventually bedtime arrived. The officers crawled under their nets and sank into the soft mats and were saying their goodnights when a small, soft female voice came from the darkness: 'What about us, captain?' It transpired in the morning that they had offended against hospitality in not making use of everything page 27provided and Roosevelt was a very worried man, thinking that perhaps his choices had not met with approval.
Perhaps the most popular officer among the Fijians was the transport officer, Lieutenant Newman. He had so much to offer and our friends soon learned of his big-hearted ways. His particular admirers were Queen Mary of Sambeto and her lady-in-waiting, Emily, a tall and striking looking brunette. One day a note arrived addressed to 'Boss of transport'. Two trucks were required the next day to take the Queen and her Court to the funeral of one of her respected chiefs. Two trucks were not nearly enough. The whole village seemed to decide it was a good enough excuse for a ride. The transport officer was always most conscientious and whenever possible, personally accompanied any of his convoys. Looking back it does seem as though Stan had rather palatial premises, all erected with Fijian skill and craftmanship. There has always been method in all his enterprise. Lieutenant Standage, the works overseer, benefited much from tips received from the quartermaster, who had his own little group for odd jobs. 'Now Chas, the thing is this,' he used to say, 'You've got to be firmer.' His head worker was old Bulamakau, a worthy partaker of kava, who once told Lieutenant Standage very confidentially, that the voice issuing from the quartermaster's store earned its owner the title of Bulamakau far more than he, himself, deserved it. His gang came to an abrupt end when the union secretary pursuaded the workers to strike for better wages. The quartermaster promptly sacked the lot and ran them out of camp. None of them again obtained any work in camp despite the fact that they offered to come back on a less remunerative basis. The quartermaster's handling of the few Indian labourers we had was masterly. They were a poor lot. Phil would roar at them and they would reply in rapid fire urdu. This annoyed him. He would say, "Don't jabber at me. When you can speak my language I'll listen, but in the meantime get back to your jobs.'
A popular form of relaxation both for the Fijians and ourselves was the shooting of wild cattle which roamed the hills and bush behind the camp. The party usually collected at Navusu which was the home of the father of Johnny Botatu and of Mary of the lemon drinks. Incidentally this was the hide-out of the carrier officer, Captain Adams, and his lads, and many an exercise or reconnaissance was staged in this vicinity. The excuse was that the terrain was page 28tactically ideal for carrier training and if one of the carrier brood was missing the first place to search was Navusu. The shooting party would be scheduled to rendezvous at I pm and normally by 2 pm would be gathered some 20 odd Fijians, plus sundry dogs and horses. After the inevitable chatter the procession would set off at break-neck sped over hill and dale, through bush and swamp midst shouting and barking and, on our part, grunts and groans. How fortunate that the natives considered it an honour to be permitted to carry rifles as we had a full-time job keeping up with the hunt unburdened. Just when life seemed no longer bearable and breath was coming in gasps, one would top a hill and have a rifle put into trembling hands and through distorted vision would see a speck about half a mile away which one was expected to shoot. Generally the heart was willing but the flesh was weak, so having dropped in the natives' estimation as a shot, the mounted huntsman and dogs would set off howling and barking to drive the beast to a more advantageous spot. When a kill was made the beast soon became meat and the boys carried out prodigious loads.
On one occasion Lieutenant Standage and a companion entered the endurance race and finally shot three cattle which were well back in the range. Next day at lunch time they received a summons to report to the commanding officer. The unusual hour for such a summons satisfied their appetites quicker than did the rations and with searchings of their consciences they sought the presence to find also the district officer, Mr Snow, and an Indian police sergeant. Quite a luncheon party. Now the feelings that bind the Indian and Fijian are akin to those which unite the master race and the inhabitants of the ghetto, and the execution of a few cattle was just one of those incidents so essential to starting decently a modern war. The two sportsmen, plus the Fijian helpers, were indicted with not only shooting domestic cows, the property of certain Indians, but also doing so in the backyard of the said Indians. Much compensation was indicated. It subsequently transpired that some Indians had collected the little that was left of the carcases and taken them back to their own property. They then called in the local gestapo to view the evidence. However, truth will out, and an Indian went to gaol for giving false testimony.
Such diversions helped time to pass quickly and it was with mutual feelings of sadness that we finally said good-bye to our dusky page 29friends—feelings which were somewhat tempered on their part no doubt, by the fact that they garnered a rich harvest of shoes, clothes and everything which had no place in our already crowded kits for the journey home. Private 'Speed' Cleary was a wellknown member of B company. He was an enthusiast in everything and would enter for every event at a company sports meeting. On one occasion he was recovering from previous efforts when the mile was started. Rather than be left out 'Speed' joined in the race after three laps had been covered and came in with a terrific burst. One of the many positions he held was that of orderly for B company recreation bure. The commanding officer disliked formal camp inspections and rather than be harried by a retinue of orderly officers and seconds-in-command, he preferred to potter about company lines on his own, taste the wares in various cook-houses and perhaps have a pot of beer in a sergeants' mess. On one such prowl he found himself in B company's recreation burs idly endeavouring to throw a few quoits on to the peg. Cleary came up, passed the time of day and suggested 21 up with the quoits. The commanding officer obliged and ran out the winner by 21-18. Little did he know the consternation this caused. Unknown to him 'Speed' was the undefeated quoits champion of B company and he never lived down this defeat.
None of us will forget the morning we disembarked at Lautoka. For most of us it was our first experience of strange people in a strange land. We scrambled aboard the cane train which was to take us as far as the tanks. At a rollicking eight miles an hour the train sped onwards. The passing scenes held our attention to the exclusion of everything else. The tropical vegetation, the Indian women in their colourful dresses, the flamboyant trees and the huge fuzzy haired Fijians, all made a never to be forgotten picture. That train ride will never fade from the memory of one South Island warrior of A company. He sat dreamily on one of the outside seats. He may have been thinking of iced beer and the snow cold mountains of his far away homeland. Suddenly, bounding up along-side the moving train came a big ferocious Fijian clad only in a loin cloth, with a five-inch mat of fuzzy hair crowning six feet three inches of bone and muscle. He was brandishing a nasty looking machete in one hand, and a final leap placed him on the truck along-side our sleepy warrior. What thoughts rushed through the mind of the New Zealander at this sudden interruption of his dreams we will page 30never know, for, in that instant, he leapt from his seat, gave, a horrified yell, and to his eternal embarrassment performed an act-which had not been involuntary since his baby days.
Here are a few cameos of our stay in Fiji, including two incidents concerning slit trenches for air-raid protection. Private Joe Brooky, HQ company, lying in bed naked, mistook the breakfast gong for an air-aid warning, leapt out wearing only his tin hat, into a trench full of water. The intelligence officer, after chiding two of the I section for a noise after lights out (an aftermath of a Lautoka visit) walked out of their hut with a righteous feeling of duty well done and stepped into a slit trench full of water. Hilarity resumed and continued unrebuked.
A notoriously untidy soldier in battalion headquarters decorated his hut with pictures of glorious damsels, thereby deflecting the attention of the inspecting officer from the less attractive features of the hut. This ruse was undetected for some time and proved very effective. Private 'Bull-dog' Durham (Auckland solicitor)—member of I section, lived up to his nickname when with grim tenacity he fished up his Ioguinea dentures from the depths of a 12-foot deep hole. Private Joe Comerford was observed on the back of a truck making for Lautoka—absent without leave. He was spotted by the liaison officer, Lieutenant Edwards, who gave chase. Short of Lautoka, Joe debussed and made for the bush hotly pursued by the liaison officer and was run to earth in a clump of bushes and persuaded to come out by the threat of an empty pistol. Joe considered this most un-sporting and put in a written counter charge against the liaison officer for threatening his life with a pistol. The same soldier's money-making method was raffling his pay on pay day.
Towards the end of May personal letters from New Zealand contained the news that we were to return to New Zealand and rumours were strengthened by the arrival of an American division. The 148th Regiment came to the western area and prepared to take over from the 14th Brigade. Regimental headquarters and one infantry battalion set up camp in the foothills behind Sambeto; one battalion stayed in the Momi area to take over from the 30th Battalion and one camped in the civil construction unit area preparatory to taking over from the 35th Battalion. This was our first contact with American troops and their open-heartedness was a revelation. All ranks of the two battalions exchanged visits and we were soon page 31well supplied with American cigarettes. Lieutenant Stokes went to live with the Americans as liaison officer. Organizations and weapons were compared. The Americans taught us base-ball and we taught them soccer. There were two bands with the regiment and they were soon giving entertainments throughout the area. The reactions of an American audience were amusing. If they did not like an item they said so in no uncertain terms while if they approved they stood up and yelled, exhorting everyone to 'go to town'. A number of American nurses were quartered at the Natambua School and they provided a great source of interest. Sawene Beach became more popular than ever and many excuses were found to visit Natambua. What struck us most was their spontaneous friendliness and utter frankness. A party of them visited battalion headquarters mess. After dinner some elected to play poker while the remainder taught us the latest American songs.
During this period the battalion was busy making crates and on 15 June a trial pack was staged. However, it transpired that we were not to move quite so soon. The 30th and 35th Battalions moved out towards the end of June but the 37th Battalion was detailed to remain until more American troops arrived. The commanding general altered the defensive lay out and we were given the task of mobile reserve and told that we might be used in any part of the island. The commanding officer was appointed to command all New Zealand troops left in the area and the brigade major, Captain McNamara, remained to arrange administration matters in connection with the hand over to the American forces. He became an expert at 'crap shooting'. The battalion eventually left Sambeto on 4 August and embarked at Suva on the President Coolidge. Six days were spent at Suva and this gave the battalion an opportunity of seeing something of the town. The Coolidge sailed on 10 August and berthed at Auckland on 13 August after an uneventful journey. It was our first experience of an American liner. The ship was still on civilian rations and the meals had to be seen to be believed. Due to the number of troops on board only two meals, breakfast and dinner, were provided. With the amount and quality of food available, these were more than enough. The ship's staff (New Zealand) consisted of: OC troops, Lieutenant-Colonel Sugden; adjutant, Captain S. F. Marshall (Div HQ), and the ship's quartermaster, Captain Dave Solomon (Div HQ).page 32
During the period in Fiji the personnel of the battalion changed considerably. Lieutenant Edwards was appointed to command the security section at Div HQ. Lieutenants Adair, Gilchrist and Harper transferred to Fiji commandos, who were being organized and trained for work in the Solomons. These officers subsequently saw plenty of fighting in Guadalcanal and New Georgia where the commandos were working in conjunction with the Americans. Paul Harper was killed while leading a patrol in New Georgia. Lieutenant Jack Rankin, battalion sports officer, injured a leg at football and was invalided back to New Zealand as also was Padre Jeffreys. Regimental Sergeant-Major, Warrant-Officer Ist Class Radonovitch was transferred to Suva and he was succeeded by Company Sergeant-Major, Warrant-Officer 2nd Class R. Smith. Many other ranks were invalided home and the following NCOs were sent back to an officer cadet training unit at Army School and were subsequently commissioned:— WO2 N. Avery, Sergeants Staton, J. R. Moore and Corporal Clouston. Sergeants Taylor, Rennie, Beaumont and Lockett were commissioned in Fiji, the two former being posted to the 30th Battalion and the latter to the 35th Battalion. On 19 May rein-forcements arrived among whom were Second-Lieutenant Dean (A company), Second-Lieutenant Hayes (B company), Second-Lieutenant Bunny (A company), Second-Lieutenant Robinson (B company). The following promotions took place, Captain Moffat to major, Lieutenants Morgan, Pithie, Keith, Rice and Timms to captain and Second-Lieutenants Adams, Newman, Standage, Bartos, Stokes, Smith, Brown, Shirley, Gunn and Barton to lieutenants.