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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The Second Echelon

The Second Echelon

The artillery of the 2nd Echelon comprised the 5th Field and Headquarters and two batteries (the 31st and 32nd) of the 7th Anti-Tank, with a few more details for NZA Headquarters. Some officers and NCOs destined for these units had entered camp before 4 Field Regiment departed. The remainder came in somewhat spasmodically in the next few weeks, starting with page 9 a large draft of recruits on 12 January. The respective Commanding Officers were Major Sleigh,13 a Territorial, and Major C. E. Weir,14 a Regular. The RSMs were WOI Langevad15 and WOI Gilberd.16

The field gunners trained as before, but the anti-tank gunners had to make do with 18-pounders on Beach platforms, since 2-pounder anti-tank guns, extremely hard to get even in England, were unlikely to reach New Zealand for many months. The weather deteriorated and the low-lying camp with its makeshift facilities was neither comfortable nor healthy. Towards the end of February 5 Field Regiment carried out a live shoot at Waiouru, after only sketchy training. Observation of fire was poor and communications were uncertain, while several vehicles were damaged because of inexperience. It was nevertheless valuable training. The anti-tank batteries carried out an antitank shoot at the end of the month with rather more success.

On 1 May 1940 the artillery of the Second Echelon left camp for Wellington and next day embarked in the Aquitania. Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser17 now commanded the 5th Field and Major Queree18 temporarily commanded the 7th Anti-Tank. Besides these two units and the handful of Divisional Artillery Headquarters staff, the group included a first draft of reinforcements for the 4th Field, but these were destined not to join their intended unit, for the convoy (even larger than that of the First Echelon) was diverted in the Indian Ocean. The Admiralty feared Italian interference at the entrance to page 10 the Red Sea, so the Second Echelon travelled by way of the Cape of Good Hope (pausing at Cape Town and Simonstown) to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and then to Greenock on the Clyde, where the Aquitania dropped anchor on 16 June.

This was a time of crisis. The evacuation of Dunkirk was just over, France was collapsing, and invasion was beginning to threaten. The New Zealanders were warmly welcomed along the route in the course of the train journey from Scotland through England to Aldershot, and the gunners soon settled in comfortably in a belt of pines at Bourley, a few miles away. The 50th Anti-Tank Training Regiment, RA, had prepared the camps and had a hot meal waiting.

After two days' leave in London, the gunners settled down to training. By the end of the month a few vehicles and six guns and howitzers arrived (minus dial sights and sight clinometers and therefore useful only for firing over open sights). Brigadier Miles arrived from Egypt to command what became known as 2 NZEF (UK) and the force was quickly reorganised to take up an emergency role in case the threatened invasion eventuated. B Troop with 18-pounders and F Troop with 4.5-inch howitzers became G Battery under Major Oakes19 and the rest of the gunners were turned into ‘infantillery’. Towards the end of July, by which time the preliminaries to the Battle of Britain were warming up, sixteen 75-millimetre French guns (made in 1917) arrived and the ‘infantillery’ role of the 5th Field was dropped. The anti-tank gunners had to continue their infantry training schemes until August, when they collected brand-new 2-pounders from Woolwich Arsenal. At the same time G Battery exchanged its old guns for new 25-pounders, Mark II—the first guns of this type to reach the Aldershot Command and therefore objects of immense interest and respect. Except for dial sights and clinometers, this battery, with two-thirds of its full complement of guns, was ready for war. Field and anti-tank gunners carried out live shoots, and when the invasion crisis reached its peak early in September they moved to take up positions covering in depth part of the Kentish coast.20 Air raids in the neighbourhood became very frequent; but gunners on leave in London had seen far worse. From their Kentish billets they could see the awe-inspiring glow of the page 11 flames caused by the great night attacks. By early November the invasion danger had passed, the Battle of Britain had dwindled to occasional air skirmishes, and the gunners moved back to the Aldershot and Guildford areas. New guns and equipment had been arriving steadily and before the month was out the 25-pounders had been calibrated and the field gunners carried out a live shoot. A similar programme by the anti-tank gunners, however, was cancelled at the last moment. The New Zealand force was to pack up and sail for Egypt to complete the Division there. Advanced parties (including Brigadier Miles) had already sailed in the Oronsay, only to be turned back after two days at sea because of bomb damage. Guns and equipment were therefore despatched, the field guns to Newport, Monmouthshire, and the anti-tank guns to Dumfries. At the last minute the anti-tank gunners managed to carry out a live shoot at Larkhill, near Stonehenge, with borrowed guns.

The anti-tank guns and transport sailed in the Benrinnes, the field guns in the Costa Rica; most of the field gunners sailed in the City of London from Liverpool and the anti-tank gunners in the Rangitiki from the Bristol Channel in mid-December. The weather in the Atlantic was heavy and the City of London steamed alone at first in a storm-tossed sea; but the convoy grew by degrees to a huge gathering of more than thirty ships, heavily escorted. Four days at Durban were more than adequate compensation for the discomforts of the voyage, however, and the Valley of a Thousand Hills, the Snake Park, and the brilliant Athlone Gardens made a memorable setting for hospitality that was almost overwhelming. At Port Tewfik on 16 February 1941, General Freyberg and Brigadier Miles welcomed the troops and they soon settled in at Helwan Camp, some 10 miles farther away from Cairo than Maadi Camp. It was a far less comfortable camp, with few of the amenities which made Maadi relatively attractive; but the gunners were not destined to stay there long.

13 Lt-Col R. E. Sleigh; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 11 Nov 1902; seed salesman.

14 Maj-Gen Sir Stephen Weir, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, m.i.d.; Bangkok; born NZ 5 Oct 1905; Regular soldier; CO 6 Fd Regt Sep 1939-Dec 1941; CRA 2 NZ Div Dec 1941-Jun 1944; GOC 2 NZ Div 4 Sep-17 Oct 1944; 46 (Brit) Div Nov 1944-Sep 1946; Commander, Southern Military District, 1948–49; QMG, Army HQ, 1951–55; Chief of the General Staff, 1955–60; Military Adviser to NZ Govt, 1960–61; NZ Ambassador to Thailand, Oct 1961-.

15 Maj W. Langevad, MBE, MM, Wellington; born Wellington, 7 Apr 1898; Regular soldier; served in 1 NZEF, 1915–19; wounded Sep 1916; Bty Comd, 25 Fd Bty (Japan), 1947.

16 Capt J. G. Gilberd; Wellington; born Napier, 2 Apr 1910; Regular soldier.

17 Lt-Col K. W. Fraser, CMG, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Edinburgh, 1 Nov 1905; asst advertising manager; CO 5 Fd Regt 1940–41; wounded and p.w. 27 Nov 1941; Dominion President, NZRSA, 1957–62.

18 Brig R. C. Queree, CBE, DSO, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Christchurch, 28 Jun 1909; Regular soldier; Brigade Major, NZ Arty, Oct 1940-Jun 1941; GSO II 2 NZ Div Jun-Aug 1941, Jan-Jun 1942; CO 4 Fd Regt Jun-Aug 1942; GSO I 2 NZ Div Sep 1942-Jun 1944; BGS NZ Corps 9 Feb-27 Mar 1944; CO 5 Fd Regt Jun-Aug 1944; CRA 2 NZ Div Aug 1944-Jun 1945; QMG, Army HQ, 1948–50; Adjutant-General, 1954–56; Vice-Chief of the General Staff, 1956–60; Senior Army Liaison Officer, London, 1960–64; Director of Civil Defence, 1964–.

19 Lt-Col T. H. E. Oakes, MC and bar, m.i.d.; born England, 24 Mar 1895; RA (retd); CO 7 A-Tk Regt May-Nov 1941; killed in action 30 Nov 1941.

20 Miles briefly commanded an armoured force at this stage known as Milforce.