2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
THE war was far from Cairo in the summer of 1943 and the night-time blackout became a ‘blue-out’. In Maadi Camp the artillery units were quartered close together in and around what had been the Artillery Training Depot (later the 32nd Field, the training regiment at Base), except for the 14th Light Ack-Ack in a tented camp in Q Area. There was an artillery NAAFI, the Lowry Hut, the new El Djem open-air theatre; the YMCA and Shafto's ramshackle cinema were not far away, and in the shady outskirts of Maadi proper there were the cool Maadi Tent, with improved facilities, and the camp swimming pool. If it was not home it was the next best place.
Training began in earnest in the heat of mid-July—marching drill, gun drill, rifle drill, signalling, and even route marches, culminating in a Divisional Artillery parade and march past at the end of the month. The day before this, in a sports contest with the 6th South African Divisional Artillery, the honours were shared, the South Africans winning the cricket and athletics and losing the swimming and tennis. At a divisional sports meeting on 11 August the 14th Light Ack-Ack were equal first with the 20th Armoured Regiment and the 4th Field were third.
In the meantime the field regiments had received new 25-pounders and had calibrated them, and the Divisional Artillery had moved to a training area in the desert not very far from the Pyramids. There the gunners spent three weeks, first in battery training, then regimental training, and the final week in Divisional Artillery training.1 It was a thorough course of advanced training. Some features of it were necessarily tied to desert conditions; but desert formation was dropped and the regiments and batteries deployed off roads and tracks with careful attention to march discipline on the road. In the course of the observed shooting the CRA had a contest with Major Fisher of the 5th Field to verify a short bracket and Fisher won. The judge's decision, however, was later disputed. Despite Fisher's excellent shooting, it was alleged that he had failed to establish his short bracket. But the enduring question is whether page 516 it is courage or temerity when a battery commander in such a contest allows it to be claimed on his behalf that he beat his CRA.2
The exercise ended with two days in the desert near Helwan, starting with a night occupation of a divisional position. A ‘pilot gun’ from the 4th Field accompanied the reconnaissance party from the Mena area and registered targegts as soon as a gun position was established. Meteor corrections were obtained from airbursts and the concentrations fired on this information were particularly accurate.
Brigade exercises followed. With 6 Brigade were the 6th Field and 31 and 41 Batteries. With 4 Armoured Brigade—infantry converted to armour—were the 4th Field only. Finally, with 5 Brigade were the 5th Field and 32 and 42 Batteries. The 14th Light Ack-Ack had the good fortune to go, battery by battery, to a practice camp near Alexandria and there enjoyed plenty of swimming. The artillery with 6 Brigade also had swimming—in the Red Sea—at the end of the exercise.
Meanwhile those destined to go home on furlough under the Wakatipu scheme left their units and there were many new arrivals from the 9th and 10th Reinforcements. The latter included many ‘dehydrated officers’-NCOs who had previously held commissions in New Zealand-and some of these even gave up their ‘stripes’ to expedite their posting to a unit. The CRA had interviewed selected ones and the most promising of these were in due course reinstated as officers before being posted.3 Since the Ruapehu and Wakatipu schemes had removed many of the most experienced officers and other ranks,4 this increment of men with prior experience in positions of responsibility was doubly welcome.
3 Others were recommissioned when they proved themselves in action.
4 The only senior officers who went in the Ruapehu scheme were Lieutenant-Colonels Sprosen and Stewart. Sprosen's place in the 14th Light Ack-Ack was taken by Lieutenant-Colonel Kensington. No regimental commanders left under the Wakatipu scheme until Lieutenant-Colonel Philip of the 4th Field wnet from Italy in December.