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New Zealand Engineers, Middle East

Forestry Group

Forestry Group

The strengths and locations of the units of the Forestry Group, NZE, as at 1 March 1943 were:

Company Location Strength
Offrs Other ranks
Headquarters Chippenham, Wilts. 6 17
11 Company Cirencester, Glos. 7 159
14 Company Chippenham, Wilts. 4 98
Burbage, Wilts. 2 58
Charfield, Glos. 1 14
15 Company Langrish, Hants. 2 54
Arundel, Sussex 3 80
Woolmer, Hants. 2 29
27 509

A weekly average of 326 Pioneers worked under the direction of the Group, 95 with 11 Company, 147 with 14 Company and 84 with 15 Company.

It was announced that owing to the considerable variation in the weekly hours worked by forestry units, the War Office, on page 477 request, had regularised the position. Commencing on Monday, 15 March, the weekly working hours were increased from 40 to 45, which meant a nine-hour day, but the actual times for starting and stopping were left to company commanders. Saturday mornings were to be devoted to training, while the days of collective training were increased from ten to fourteen every six months. Attention was also drawn to the fact that frequent attacks by low-flying enemy planes had been made in the Southern Command recently and that all troops had to be prepared to take retaliatory action.

map of southern Italy

Production continued to run at a satisfactory level until new specifications were received from the Ministry of Supply in April. Concern was expressed over the high proportion of the thicker sizes of square hardwood planks and boards which military mills continued to produce for the National Stock. The greatest demand was for 1½ in. and 2 in. thicknesses and the largest single item was timber for ammunition boxes. It was admitted that the cutting of such small sizes would curtail the output of mills employing circular saws, but this loss, it was suggested, would be more than counter-balanced by the saving in labour and transport during later handling and conversion.

Little of note occurred during the period April to July; there was a drop in production through major breakdowns in the hauling equipment and the Arundel East mill was closed down for lack of timber.

The furlough scheme in 2 NZ Division was not considered as being applicable to the Forestry and other New Zealand personnel in the United Kingdom, and consequently the reorganisation and elimination of non-divisional units that took place in Egypt had no counterpart in England.

The later policy of returning specialist groups to civilian life was in due course extended to include the New Zealand Forestry Group. This was mentioned when the decision was communicated by the New Zealand Government to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs:

‘Because of the very heavy demands for timber construction work for the United States Forces in New Zealand and the Pacific, consideration is also being given to the withdrawal of one or more of the New Zealand Forestry companies, which since 1940 have been stationed in the United Kingdom. This matter will be the subject of a later message.’4

page 478

Lieutenant-Colonel Eliott relinquished command of the Group on 1 July 1943 and Lieutenant-Colonel H. M. Reid, last mentioned as having been recaptured in a hospital in Tripoli, became CO NZ Forestry Group the same day.

The sappers were doing their half-yearly training in field works at this time, and before timber production was resumed Colonel Reid was instructed to assemble at Cirencester all Grade III men and all men married in New Zealand in preparation for their return about mid-August.

Hard on the heels of this instruction came the news that Allied Force Headquarters in North Africa had asked for the early despatch of a forestry company for operations in that theatre, and that the New Zealand Government had agreed to form one company for service under Allied Force Headquarters. The remaining men would return to New Zealand.

Fourteenth Company was selected to proceed to a tropical destination at an early date, but not as then constituted. The Group was to be reorganised on a medical grading basis with all Grade I men transferred to 14 Company; men married in New Zealand and all single Grade III men went to 11 Company, and men married in England and all single Grade II men to 15 Company.

Fourteenth Company handed over its equipment and plant to the appropriate authorities and thanked 1 Spanish Pioneer Company for its goodwill and efforts over the two years they had been together, efforts that had helped materially in the creditable showing made in competition with all the forestry companies in England.

The new 14 Company was assembled for the first time on 28 July and went on embarkation leave the next day. On return it crated two portable mills, entrained on 11 August and sailed on 16 August 1943 for a tropical, but officially unknown, destination.

The command of 14 Forestry Company at the date of sailing was:

  • Major D. V. Thomas

  • Captain K. O. Tunnicliffe

  • Lieutenant A. P. Thomson

  • Lieutenant L. J. McKenzie

  • Lieutenant W. L. Cook

  • Lieutenant A. N. Sexton

  • Lieutenant J. T. Pasco

page 479

The day after 14 Company entrained, 11 Company was warned to be ready to move overseas on 4 September and went on embarkation leave forthwith. This left the reorganised 15 Company the only New Zealand unit working in England. It was during this period that the following appeared in Southern Command orders:

Act Of Gallantry

On July 1st 1943 an aircraft crashed and burst into flames. No. 12887 Sapper O. N. Stokes5 and No. 35563 Sapper B. Leydon,6 14 Forestry Company, New Zealand Engineers, showing complete disregard for their own personal safety, immediately ran towards the aircraft and, in spite of exploding ammunition, burst petrol tanks and flames, made a gallant effort to rescue the crew.

The G.O.C.-in-C. wishes that a record of this act be made in the documents of Sappers Stokes and Leydon.

There was not a great deal of cutting done in August because of cleaning up and reorganisation. Langrish and Woolmer were short of labour and Arundel had trouble with large logs that had to be blasted open, and with dry logs requiring the frequent changing of saws. Fifteenth Company's troubles came to an abrupt end on 30 August when a telephone message ordered the Company to prepare for embarkation with 11 Company, whose sailing date had been altered to 18 September.

The Company ceased operations on 2 September with a tally of 3888 cubic feet of sawn timber, bringing the grand total of sawn timber produced by the New Zealand Forestry Group in the United Kingdom to 3,255,339 cubic feet.

New Zealand bushmen had been felling timber in the south and west of England for three years. During that time the output of the Group was consistently higher than that of like formations from Canada, Australia, Newfoundland and the United Kingdom. As with the sappers of the other non-divisional units, the Kiwi bushman stood in no man's shadow.