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Royal New Zealand Air Force



When the RNZAF originally moved into the forward area there was no intention that any works personnel should be sent. Although a party had been sent to New Caledonia in July 1942 to erect prefabricated huts for No. 9 Squadron, generally speaking RNZAF units in the tropics had at first to fend for themselves under active-service conditions.

Early in 1943 it was agreed that all RNZAF units should arrive at their destination with tents for accommodation and with cooking and other amenities in keeping with life under canvas. American supply services were to be responsible for equipping the camps on a similar scale to that provided for their own squadrons in the area. For many months the Americans were unable to give much assistance in the construction of RNZAF camps, and during the first part of 1943 many urgent requests were received by Air Headquarters from No. 1 (Islands) Group for additional domestic and technical accommodation. As the number of men in the area increased the problem became more pressing.

Since the Americans could not help in bringing the New Zealand camps up to the required standard, it became necessary during 1943 to send more and more works personnel overseas. The first party, consisting of about fifty men under the command of Flying Officer Puddy,1 left New Zealand by ship in mid-January and arrived at Guadalcanal on 7 February. It consisted of tunnellers, bushmen, carpenters, tractor drivers, and men in other similar trades. It took with it a small sawmill plant so that it would be able to mill its own timber.

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The most urgent need at Guadalcanal was the provision of dugout accommodation to give the personnel of No. 3 Squadron protection from the nightly Japanese air raids. This was achieved by driving a tunnel right through a ridge close to the squadron's camp site. When that was complete, the works party built a new RNZAF camp. Hitherto the New Zealanders had been living in tents in a jungle-clad gully where rain, mosquitoes, and mud made life very trying. The new camp was built on a nearby ridge, and eventually, when board floors and mosquito-net sides had been made for the tents, it became relatively comfortable.

During March and April No. 3 Squadron was joined at Guadalcanal by No. 52 Radar Unit and No. 15 Fighter Squadron. In each case the units had to set up their own camps with what assistance could be given by the overworked Works Detachment, and it was some months before all units were adequately housed.

Another works party was sent to Santo in March and was immediately employed in moving the original RNZAF camp, which had been built in the jungle, into an adjoining coconut plantation. The Americans assisted with the clearing of the undergrowth, the formation of roads and some construction work. All other work, including internal work on all buildings, provision of water supply, electric lighting and sewerage, was done by the small RNZAF works unit.

At the end of May more than a hundred additional works personnel were sent to Guadalcanal and Santo to assist in construction and maintenance work in the various camps, and particularly to help in the erection of buildings for No. 4 Repair Depot. Towards the end of the year the unit known as No. 1 (Islands) Works Squadron was formed within No. 1 (Islands) Group, and became responsible for all camp construction carried out by the RNZAF. Throughout the rest of the war it consisted of a number of detached flights which were stationed wherever construction work or sawmilling was needed.

1 Fg Off W. E. Puddy; Greymouth; born Dunedin, 8 Jan 1901; civil engineer.