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In the Pacific

page 165

In the Pacific

The first RNZAF chaplains to go overseas were Padres Taylor1 and Williams,2 who arrived in Fiji in September 1942. On arrival, Padre Williams was stationed at Suva, while Padre Taylor went to Nandi, on the opposite side of the island. New Zealand Air Force personnel had been stationed in Fiji since the end of 1940, and when the chaplains arrived the organisation comprised a headquarters in Suva, an aerodrome at Nandi, one at Nausori, fourteen miles from Suva, a flying-boat base in Suva Harbour, and another under construction at Lauthala Bay nearby.

Padre Williams found conditions at Suva very satisfactory and the opportunities for religious observance adequate. Recreational facilities were good, and tennis, football, yachting, launching, and swimming helped the men to occupy their spare time. In addition, a number of the European residents opened their homes to them and provided entertainment. There was little need for the chaplain to devote his energy to general welfare work, and much of his time was spent in helping the airmen with their individual problems. Inevitably they were numerous. Men wanted advice on domestic troubles at home. Others, youngsters away from home for the first time, found it hard to fit into their strange surroundings and suffered from depression and loneliness. A few indulged in escapades which involved them in trouble with Authority. To those who wanted him the chaplain was available for advice and assistance.

Padre Taylor, at Nandi, had different conditions with which to contend. The station was isolated, cut off from Suva by the width of the island, and in contact with it only by air or by the long, winding coastal road. The white population of this side of the island was sparse and scattered, and the area had none of the amenities of urban civilisation which Suva possessed. Padre Taylor directed his activities into two main channels. As a churchman he found plenty of work to do among the men, many of whom had been at Nandi for a long time, during which they were without a chaplain. He held weekly services and Bible Classes for the page 166 RNZAF personnel and regularly visited the gun positions of the anti-aircraft battery which, scattered throughout the area, formed part of the defence of Nandi. On Sundays Padre Taylor took up to four services for them, besides his own. There was plenty of social work for him to do, too. He joined forces with the two YMCA secretaries at Nandi and, helped by one of the local residents, they gave a lot of time and energy to providing entertainment for the men.

At the end of the year, Nandi was handed over to the United States Air Force and the RNZAF unit transferred to Nausori. Here Padre Taylor found his work easier. Living conditions were bad at first for the camp was not completed, but the station was within reasonable distance of Suva, and in the village of Nausori itself there were white residents who helped to entertain the men. Moreover, he was within a few miles of Padre Williams, who was now stationed at Lauthala Bay, and the two were able to work together for the benefit of all the Air Force personnel in the Suva area.

After six months at Nausori, Padre Taylor was replaced by Padre Churchill3 and was posted to Espiritu Santo, being the first RNZAF chaplain to be stationed in the New Hebrides. The island had been occupied by American forces in mid-1942 and developed as a forward base from which to launch the attack on Guadalcanal. RNZAF units had been stationed there since October. His arrival was the first provision for the spiritual needs of the New Zealanders there. Up till then, those who were actively interested in religion had gone to the services of American units nearby and at times an American chaplain had visited the camp; but no religious observance was officially organised. A short time afterwards a YMCA hut, which included a small chapel and a padre's room, was built.

Padre Taylor spent three months at Santo and worked hard to improve the spiritual and material welfare of the men. He was helped by the co-operation of the American chaplains on the island, who were always very willing to assist. Until the YMCA hut was built, he held Sunday services in the airmen's mess and had a small tent for weekly Bible Class meetings. The response to his work was good, and the Sunday evening services drew an increasing page 167 number of men. During his stay there he officiated at the only RNZAF wedding to take place in the forward area—the marriage of a New Zealand airman to a French girl.

Although he found much to do at Santo, Padre Taylor felt that he should be stationed at Guadalcanal, at that time the RNZAF's most forward base, from which aircraft were operating daily against the Japanese; but it was not until late in September that he was able to go there for a few days before the end of his tour of duty in the tropics.