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2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The Third Echelon

The Third Echelon

Back at Hopu Hopu the 6th Field had begun to assemble on 31 January 1940, under Lieutenant-Colonel C. E. (‘Steve’) Weir, with WOI Mossong21 as RSM. Wet weather in the next three months made the camp increasingly unpleasant and the gunners were glad to pack up early in May and move to a new camp at Papakura. This was well appointed and comfortable, page 12 with asphalt paths and parade-ground, rainproof huts, and good recreational facilities. Training progressed rapidly.

This unit was to complete the field artillery of the Division and its composition may be taken as typical of the gunner units. Only a novelist could attempt to estimate the character and quality of the men; but the historian can offer some factual information and perhaps correct some misconceptions. For one thing, the men were predominantly from the North Island. Of the 661 original members of 6 Field Regiment, only 157 came from the South Island, the main contributors there being Christchurch (80), Dunedin (20), Invercargill (12) and Ashburton (10). The main North Island contributors were Auckland (253), Wellington (116), Napier (17), Palmerston North (13) and Gisborne (11). As these figures suggest, far more recruits came from the cities than from the country districts. Two-thirds of the men were unmarried. In religious affiliation 353 were Anglicans, 141 Presbyterians, 80 Roman Catholic, 43 Methodist and 5 Jewish. In age they were grouped as follows:

Age in years 20 Numbers 13
21 116
22 66
23 70
24 47
25 47
26 48
27 31
28 34
29 35
30 18
31 28
32 19
33 27
34 14
35 26
36 6
37 6
38 2
39 1
40 2
41 2
42 1
45 1
47 1

colour map of north of egypt

page 13

Thus, while youth was well to the fore, there was a good sprinkling of experience. Average heights might seem at first glance disappointingly low; but alongside contingents abroad they were seldom overshadowed:

Height Numbers
5 ft to 5 ft 3 in. 21
5 ft 4 in. 21
5 ft 5 in. 41
5 ft 6 in. 71
5 ft 7 in. 98
5 ft 8 in. 122
5 ft 9 in. 99
5 ft 10 in. 77
5 ft 11 in. 60
6 ft 31
6 ft 1 in. 13
6 ft 2 in. 6

The range of civilian occupations represented was extremely wide. There were 98 labourers, 97 drivers and mechanics, and 53 salesmen. The only other occupational groups that reached double figures were grocers (10), farmers (17), engineers (14) and carpenters (11). The professions were lightly represented: one medical practitioner, six bank officers, three schoolteachers, and no lawyers or solicitors (in this, perhaps, the 6th Field was not typical). Apart from tradesmen there were only seven public servants. Of the 661 gunners, 428 had had previous military service, 59 as cadets only and 342 as Territorials. Another 13 were Regulars and 11 more had served in regular units of the United Kingdom or Australian army. Five had served in the Royal Navy, one in the RANVR, and six in the RAF or RNZAF. One had served in the White Russian Army.

Alongside the 6th Field at Papakura the fourth battery—officially the 33rd—of the 7th Anti-Tank trained under Major R. E. Sleigh. The field gunners conducted a live shoot at Whata Whata in mid-August and the anti-tankers with their 18-pounders on Beach platforms did likewise at Tuakau. A draft of artillery reinforcements included 20 men under Captain Kensington22 who were later to form 1 Survey Troop. All marched through Auckland on 26 August 1940, paraded before the Governor-General, and then entrained for Wellington. Next page 14 day they boarded the Mauretania and sailed, with the rest of the Third Echelon, for Egypt, calling at Fremantle and then at Bombay.

There the troops left the comfortable Mauretania for HMT Ormonde, a cheerless troopship in a filthy state. Gunners set about cleaning up their quarters, including lavatories, and removed large quantities of evil-smelling grease from the galleys. On a nearby wharf lay piles of uncovered meat in the blazing sun, and when the gunners saw this being loaded into the Ormonde they were disgusted. Complaints about the food effected no improvement and dissatisfaction increased. In the afternoon of 19 September some 20 angry gunners took possession of the bridge to prevent the ship from sailing. Their action was tantamount to mutiny; but it was warmly supported by other troops on board, including infantry. Lieutenant-Colonel Weir was Officer Commanding Troops and he had already done his best to remedy grievances and improve conditions, asking for New Zealand beef from the Mauretania to replace the tainted meat aboard and for 400 men to be disembarked to relieve overcrowding. The co-operation he received from the authorities on the ship and ashore was disappointing. Little was done to improve matters. But he had no doubt that the men chiefly responsible would quickly respond when they learned of the efforts already being made on their behalf.

Weir went up to the wheelhouse and spoke to the men. He told them to appoint a small deputation to see him in his cabin and the bridge was promptly vacated. The master of the ship was not content with this, however, and insisted that he would not sail until the troops were under control. The ship was placed under arrest and a gunboat circled it. Lieutenant-Colonel Wilder23 of 25 Battalion, which was also aboard, refused an offer of naval assistance to restore order. Had the naval, embarkation, and ship's authorities acted as promptly and with as much determination to rectify the appalling conditions which led to the disturbance it would never have happened.

The convoy sailed without the Ormonde and Weir and Wilder took up the matter with authorities ashore, who took a very serious view of the affair. They had largely brought it on themselves, however, by tolerating inefficiency and filth which were page 15 more than the New Zealanders were prepared to put up with. In hot, humid conditions with periodic downpours of rain which drove the men down into the stifling and smelly quarters below decks, feelings had got out of control. The particular circumstances of a wartime convoy with its careful time-tabling gave the affair an importance which accentuated what became apparent in many a less serious situation: that New Zealanders would not accept living, cooking and sanitary conditions which British troops, especially regulars, seemed to accept all too often without demur.24

Weir, though aware of the serious implications, was sympathetic to the complaints of the men. He knew that good sense and discipline would quickly conquer the momentary belligerence. There was no cure for the overcrowding, though conditions improved when the Ormonde sailed, eight hours late, and a sea breeze tempered the oppressive heat. As many men as could be accommodated there slept on deck, which made things easier for all. The tainted meat was tipped overboard and replaced by tinned rations drawn from the reserve on board. For the time being guards were posted on the fo'c'sle, bridge, auxiliary steering gear and engine room; but they were not needed. The men accepted Weir's assurances that everything possible had been done; but they remained far from pleased with the Ormonde for the rest of the voyage. If the episode reflected unfavourably on ‘Steve’ Weir in official circles in Bombay, this was more than counterbalanced by the renewal and strengthening of the high esteem in which his men held him. And it was with his gunners and not with the Bombay port officials that he would in due course have to face the enemy.

An inquiry was held in the course of the voyage to Egypt; but no disciplinary action was taken against any of the men concerned.25 The New Zealand Government, when it heard, was not averse to taking the matter up with the British authorities; but General Freyberg thought it best to let things rest. The page 16 ‘Bombay Mutiny’ therefore ended without recriminations. There is nothing on record to suggest that the gunners regretted their action. A New Zealand embarkation staff was afterwards stationed at Bombay.

The Admiralty had regained confidence in its ability to pass convoys through the straits of Bab el-Mandeb and the Third Echelon and its Australian colleagues passed through without incident and steamed on to Port Tewfik, where the much-disliked Ormonde dropped anchor on 29 September.

At Maadi Camp the 6th Field, 33 Anti-Tank Battery, and 1 Survey Troop, following in the footsteps of the 4th Field and 34 Anti-Tank Battery, took up occupation of the artillery lines. They were met by a party from 2/2 Australian Field Regiment, which had prepared tents and had a meal ready.

21 Capt L. Mossong, MBE; Auckland; born NZ 14 May 1898; Regular soldier.

22 Lt-Col E. T. Kensington, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Auckland, 11 Apr 1903; PWD engineer's assistant; OC 1 Svy Tp Dec 1940-Jun 1941; 36 Svy Bty Jun-Sep 1942; CO 14 Lt AA Regt Jun-Dec 1943; CO 5 Fd Regt Dec 1943-Apr 1944; CO 6 Fd Regt Apr-Aug 1944.

23 Maj-Gen A. S. Wilder, DSO, MC, m.i.d., Order of the White Eagle (Serb); Te Hau, Waipukurau; born NZ 24 May 1890; sheep farmer; Wgtn Mtd Rifles (Maj) 1914-19; CO 25 Bn May 1940-Sep 1941; comd NZ Trg Group, Maadi Camp, Sep-Dec 1941, Jan-Feb 1942; 5 Bde 6 Dec 1941-17 Jan 1942; 5 Div (in NZ) Apr 1942-Jan 1943; 1 Div Jan-Nov 1943.

24 A furlough detachment, including many New Zealand gunners, going to England in February 1944, for example, bluntly refused to accept accommodation offered them in a transit camp at Port Said until it had been cleaned up. The New Zealand officer in charge fully supported them; but he had to take his case up to the GOC of the Area before getting a sympathetic hearing. The GOC ordered the local authorities to put the camp in good order at once.

25 The finding of the court was that junior officers should have kept control and prevented the demonstration at the wheelhouse; but this was strongly resented. These officers had done everything in their power to alleviate conditions on board and, but for their good work, the outbreak would certainly have been more difficult to deal with.