The Tanks: An Unofficial History of the Activities of the Third New Zealand Division Tank Squadron in the Pacific
II. Divisional Ordnance Headquarters
II. Divisional Ordnance Headquarters
When B force was increased to divisional strength in January 1942 a small divisional ordnance headquarters staff was sent from New Zealand, followed a few weeks later by Captain M. S. Myers, as deputy assistant director of ordnance services. The new headquarters staff gained, at first hand, experiences that enabled them to appreciate the work of men of the division employed in preparing defence works in Fiji, when several members of the staff were detailed to assist feverishly in excavating for a force operational centre below ground level, prior to the setting up of ordnance headquarters. The temperature in the tunnels was unbearable, and men working, some in shorts, some in loin cloths, with picks and pneumatic drills, fought not only soap-stone but breathless, steaming, sultry heat. At that time this sort of work was an urgent priority job all over the island. In the gang in which divisional ordnance men worked 18 started work, and 14 days later nine of them were in hospital with internal disorders and serious fungus complaints of the skin. Without doubt this race against time and the enemy, in Fiji in 1942, was one of the unsung feats of the Third Division.
Temporary and permanent provision of armourers, shoemakers, tailors, ammunition officers, and a host of other tradesmen, as well as salvage, proper care of equipment, unsuitability of supplies in certain climates, the scrutiny of indents, and the equitable distribution of supplies, are but a few. of the responsibilities making up the work of a DADOS office. A team of 16 ammunition men under Sergeant K. F. T. Allen, assisted later by Corporal Hinton and Warrant-Officer Harvey, were also under the control of DADOS. These men performed a tremendous manual task under the hot sun, without any mechanical aids. Interest at divisional ordnance headquarters often centred round the Antics of Andy, a man of many parts, a keen humourist, and probably the only soldier in Fiji who carried an umbrella. The staff arranged trips, when on leave, to Bau Island, and out to the amazing submarine coral 'gardens' of the Suva reef, and were accompanied by Captain Myers, who contributed much to the enjoyment of the outings.
Each day an Indian fruit vendor arrived at Tamavua camp. carrying his wares in baskets that balanced each other on the page 151ends of a long pole, which lay across his shoulders. With the turbaned and bearded Sikh came his nine year old son, Mahandara Singh. The father sat uncomfortably on the pole, and the boy, being apparently the linguist, did most of the talking. Mandarins, pineapples at threepence each, and bananas at two a penny, and sometimes pawpaws, guavas and granadillos were bought and eaten most of the year round. 'Yes-please,' who came and went twice a week with laundry was another character well known to the DADOS staff. His white suit and canvas shoes were 'topped off' with a brown velvet smoker's cap, and although he must have collected and delivered washing for several hundred men, mistakes were relatively few; but when an argument did occur about somebody's shirt or shorts there was no end of a commotion, and his knowledge of English being practically limited to 'Yes-please,' only added to the confusion. Miraculously, however, old 'Yes-please' would turn up the following week with the missing garment resurrected from some distant camp, explaining 'Soldier Samambula gettim. Mistake. Sorry.' The old Indian knew no one by name, and dealt with the men by memorising their beds in dozens of huts in various camps, a method that provided some surprising complications when changes and transfers took place.
There is one ineffaceable Tamavua scene that DADOS men will always remember. Dawn was just breaking, when the alert was sounded on the camp siren. To the men it was just the usual routine of an alert: out of bed, dress in battle order in the dark, and proceed immediately to hill-side trench positions covering possible approaches from the sea, to await orders. Within half an hour the main road over the hills out of Suva suddenly became the tragic scene of a city's people in flight before an invader. The large native population in and around Suva had apparently been ordered to evacuate. It was probably a practice alert; but it was obvious they believed they were fleeing far safety from an invading Japanese horde. The men's presence in steel helmets, and armed, marching in single file along the sides of the same road back to camp only added to their conviction. Indians carrying stretchers and mattresses on their backs, and natives with cane chairs, odd pieces of furniture, and anything they could hurriedly bundle up and carry in their headlong flight, swarmed along the road out of the town. On their faces were all page 152the unmistakable signs of fear. Women, often crying, half walked, half ran, beside them, with small bewildered-looking children following at a trot, trying to keep up. Dogs, glancing frightenedly at the confusion around them, kept very close to their owners' bare heels. Decrepit old cars chugged by laden with large Indian families, with every imaginable household article piled all over them. The whole desperate column moved in one direction—away from the city. Several DADOS men tried to explain the situation to the evacuees nearest them, but they were too panic-stricken, there were too many of them, and none were found who understood English. As the procession of frightened people moved all that morning, like a black ribbon, through the hills, DADOS men shared with other troops one conviction—this must never happen in Auckland, or in Wellington, or in their own home towns. The scene they had witnessed gave new purpose to their part in the defence of Fiji—the northern outpost of New Zealand. There was one more occasion about that time when DADOS men again realised what they might have to expect. Divisional headquarters men were lined up in the hot sun listening to a talk on the duties of a prisoner of war: 'Always remember, no matter what the enemy does to you, under the conventions of war, you need tell only your name, rank and number. Never betray your cobbers; never disclose what your unit was, though the enemy will try hard to make you.'
F. Mahon, R. Butler and A. Johnson of the Ordnance Workshops unit in Fiji, decide 1o go native.
An hour off for a swim at Saweni Beach, a popular resort for all troops in the Western area
Right: Finalists in a sun-tan parade in Fiji.
This turbanned fruit vendor was a familiar sight to personnel of Divisional Ordnance Headquarters at Tamavua, near Suva. His baskets of pawpaw, pineapple, bananas and other tropical fruits were always a welcome addition to the menu
Saweni Beach, a sheltered stretch of sand not far from Lautoka, in western Fiji, was one of the most popular bathing beaches in the area occupied by New Zealand troops. Graceful palms overhung the inviting coral sand and the tepid water
The Governor-General, Sir Cyril Newall, with members of the Base Ordnance Depot at Bourail. Left to right: Major S. A. Knight, Warrant-Officer McVeigh, Second-Lieutenant Pascoe, Corporal W. Minty, Corporal T. White, Private G. Brightwell and Private J. H. Robinson
Within the tunnels were to be seen pint-sized 'Pete' and six-foot 'Lofty.' These two had paired together through the good nature of 'Lofty,' the other store-men finding difficulty in working alongside 'Pete' because of his size and his inexperience as a newcomer. The sight of the six-footer and the four-and-a-half-footer carrying a heavy ammunition box between them was unforgettable, the taller of them stooping sideways like a mast bent before a gale, with the small fellow scuttling along in a cross between a hop and a run to keep pace with his mate.
On both sides of the island the 'ammo boys' did sterling work at a particularly exhausting job, which was often performed while they were suffering from prickly-heat and other aggravating skin complaints, due to being constantly bathed in sweat from heavy manual labour under tropical conditions. When finally loading out stocks for shipment to New Zealand they appreciated the assistance of stalwart Fijian natives, accustomed to the heat, who were attached as working parties to help with the last big movement of ammunition in Fiji.