Pacific Service: the story of the new Zealand Army Service Corps Units with the Third Division in the Pacific
II — Norfolk Island
On 9 October, 1942, the Wahine arrived off the coast of Norfolk Island with N Force troops on board, including the ASG detachment previously mentioned, and the passengers studied with interest that small place of land rising so abruptly from the sea. At that time the Japanese in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea strongly menaced the lines of communication of the allies from Australia and New Zealand to the United States, and it was vital that these be page 34kept open. Norfolk Island is a lonely speck on the map, five miles by four, which suddenly became of strategic importance because of its location 600 miles north-west of Auckland and 800 miles east of Australia. This Commonwealth territory discovered by Cook in 1774, was a convict settlement from 1788 until a hundred years ago, and still numbers among its small population descendants of Bounty mutineers who transferred there from Pitcairn with some Tahitians in 1856. The island has a temperate climate, and grassy country dotted with the distinctive Norfolk Island pines rises from the high, irregular coastline to a height of 1,000 feet in the middle.
The day the ASC detachment with N Force arrived at the island there was a lurching sea, as is often the case, and the passengers let themselves down rope cargo nets which had been slung over the side of the ship, and dropped into whaleboats which rose and fell alarmingly. The islanders who manned the boats were practised seamen, and they ran boatloads of men and small cases of landing rations in through the narrow reef entrance on combing waves up to the broken down stone jetty, built at Kingston by convicts in the old days.
N Force was a battalion group of about 1,500 men, comprising the 36th Battalion with engineers and other ancillary troops added, and the ASC detachment's task was to handle the supply work. Although the waipori with stores, equipment and supplies had arrived a few days before, unfavourable weather had prevented unloading and most of those who landed from the 'Wahine had to sleep in the open and improvise shelters out of groundsheets, rusty corrugated iron or anything else available. Owing to the way in which the cargo was stored in the Waipori, the 12 days' reserve of bully beef, army biscuits, jam and tea left by the Wahine was almost exhausted before further supplies came ashore in any quantity, and then they consisted of more bully and biscuits. In order to relieve the monotony of that diet the ASC bakers used the oven of a local tradesman to turn out a batch of bread with ingredients borrowed from the scanty local stocks.
There is no harbour at Norfolk Island and unloading was normally slow and often hazardous. There is almost always a heavy swell running on to the island, and it depended on the direction of the wind whether ships were unloaded at Kingston on the south coast or Cascade on the north coast. Even though the weather was fine, rapid changes in wind would often make the landing places unworkable in turn.page break
The American ship San Antonia, 20,000 tons, which was berthed with great difficulty at Lautoka in 1942. Personnel of the 4th MT company below, Watching a Fijian meke in the village of Vuthi
Men of the 16th MT company chaining rations up the boggy slope of the Kaimai Ranges during the Division's jungle operations before leaving for New Caledonia.
Below: Another view of the men at a ration dump in the bush, Heavy rain fell during the operations
Since dry storage space was very limited, supplies were scattered in a couple of small halls, a boatshed and the ground floor of an old two-storey stone building in Kingston. History repeated itself in the case of that building, as it had been erected as a storehouse for the Commissariat Corps when imperial troops had garrisoned the island in convict days. It was a month before there was a sufficient variety of supplies ashore to issue a complete ration, and by 8 November, Aldershot ovens had also been landed and set up with bricks borrowed from the local Administrator, so that bread was on regular issue. At first hardly any fruit or vegetables could be purchased, as there was only sufficient to satisfy the needs of the local inhabitants—in fact, in almost every respect the force had to be self sufficient. Crops of vegetables were planted and tended by the ASC, particularly in Watermill Valley, where a stream was available for irrigation, and as the venture was a success, at a later stage troops were able to welcome issues of fresh vegetables. So many kumaras were produced, however, that the vegetable lost most of its friends among the garrison.
In order that the island's small herd of cattle should not be exhausted the Administrator forbade killings for the New Zealanders, though the rule was occasionally relaxed in respect of a beast or two. The arrival of the Christmas dinner for N Force was a dramatic event when on 25 December, two RNZAF Hudsons appeared over the partly finished airfield to drop lamb, shelled peas and new potatoes by parachute. As some of the parachutes from the first plane failed to open, the field was quickly strewn with vege' tables, so the second plane circled several times and then made the page 36first successful landing on Norfolk Island, amid enthusiasm. New Year's Day also saw a strange sight when the Karitane brought 300 live sheep from New Zealand. With the drowning of only one animal they were unloaded on to a flat topped barge on which pens had been built. There were no sheep dogs, so there was a great deal of shouting and running before the flock was guided from the jetty to a large pasture which had been rented. From that date killings of 30 were made twice a week in a small slaughter house which was erected. Units collected all their ration issues from the ASC detachment, which was essentially a supply section, and it was fortunate that the corps was not greatly concerned with transport, as the island had no metal suitable for the construction of all weather roads. When it was dry, trucks scattered fine, red clay dust everywhere, but a small amount of rain was sufficient to turn the road surfaces into quagmires.
The members of the ASC detachment were hospitably received by the residents of Norfolk Island, who lead a simple life, and the kindness of these easy-going folk is a pleasant memory to them. The conversation of the islanders, full of English dialect and Tahitian turns of speech, was a reminder of their strange history, and when ASC men in after days were heard to exchange greetings such as: 'What-away you?' 'I' m cushoo', they were singled out as members of the small detachment which had been with N Force. By March, 1943, the situation in the north was much improved, and the 3rd Division troops were relieved by a territorial unit from New Zealand. The main body sailed north to rejoin the division on 7 April, 1943.