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The 35th Battalion

Chapter One — Formation of the Battalion

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Chapter One
Formation of the Battalion

Once upon a time there was a—yes, a stereotyped opening but, unfortunately, a very true one—there was a 35th Battalion, and herein is a short chronicle of this battalion's wanderings, trials, troubles-and activities from December 1941 to November 1944. In December '41 yet another dark cloud spread its ugly shadow; this time across the Pacific. To meet this threat the Government decided to augment the force already established in Fiji—the outer bastion to New Zealand's shores. So it was that the 35 th Battalion was formed and, together with two other battalions, was sent forth to join the New Zealand garrison already in Fiji. Here the first taste of overseas duty appealed to few, although everyone realised the necessity for our presence on this outpost in the Pacific. By the middle of 1942 the Americans relieved our force, and the battalion gladly returned to New Zealand. Five months of hard training, uncertainty and rumours followed, to culminate in being despatched to New Caledonia in December 1942. Acclimatization and more training followed before the full meaning of the words 'on active service' were brought home to the battalion.

On up through the questionable paradise of the Pacific the battalion travelled, visiting the New Hebrides and Guadalcanal before coming to conclusive grips with the Japanese at Vella Lavella. Yet months of monotony were endured before another move took place, and Green Island was wrested from the enemy. And there, on a coral atoll, the battalion first started to become a shadow of its former self. The return to industry of men from the Third Division took from the battalion many of its old and valued hands, and broke up partnerships such as can be formed only under the trying conditions of active service overseas.

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The journey south to New Zealand was comparatively fast. Every-body then enjoyed the leave they so well deserved, only to return to camp and find that the old units were no more. Many members of the battalion reached the Second Division in Italy and were in action during the last two months before the German collapse.

Such is the brief background of the history of the 35th Battalion.

On 28 December 1941 Lieutenant' Colonel W. Murphy, CBE, MC, arrived at Papakura Military Camp to form and command the 35th Battalion. Personnel for the battalion were drawn from Northern Military District reinforcements who had just returned from final leave and were expecting to join the Second Division in the Middle East. From these reinforcements had to be formed the specialised groups of headquarters company, vickers and mortar personnel for D company, as well as for the three infantry companies. The officers were drawn mainly from the eighth reinforcements, plus a few from the Tank Brigade, Reconnaissance Battalion and the Papakura training staff.

Listed below are the senior officers at the inception of the battalion:—

Commanding officer: Lieutenant-Colonel W. Murphy, MC
Second-in-command: Major C. F. Seaward, MC
Adjutant: Captain L. A. Kermode
Quartermaster: Captain S. C. Moses
Headquarters company: Major S. A. McNamara, DCM
A company: Captan F. C. Cornwall, MC
B company: Major A. J. E. Campbell
C company: Captain C. C. Moses
D company: Captain C. W. H. Ronaldson

With the above officers appointed, hectic days began, for only a few days were to pass before the advanced guard left New Zealand. The tremendous task of outfitting and gathering stores went on apace, and this job was not made any easier by the arrival of small drafts to fill the numbers of a complete unit. At the same time companies, platoons and sections were being organised into the 'teams' which are the basis of every good unit. In true army fashion training was jammed in between issues of respirators, groundsheets, and equipment, and in these short periods every effort was made to become thoroughly acquainted with the weapons with which we might have to defend ourselves.

On 2 January 1942 the advanced party, comprising 21 officers and 442 other ranks, embarked at Auckland, bound for Fiji. The above numbers were made up of Headquarters company and D com-page 11pany in full, with a small portion each of A, B, and C companies. This trip tested the sailing qualities of all, for the ship rolled heavily for half the voyage. On 6 January the transport berthed at Lautoka, which is the main port for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, in the west of Fiji.

For those whose geography is a little hazy, the following conversation is perhaps of help:

New soldier on the ship's rail: 'How far is Suva from here?'

Old soldier on wharf: 'About 150 miles I think. Takes a whole day by truck at any rate'.

So! The joys of civilisation were not to be ours. To use an army phrase 'We're going out in the so and so cactus.' After an unforgettable trip in the CSR's railway, Namaka Camp was reached. The advanced party immediately started on skeleton pits in preparation for the arrival of the balance of the battalion which arrived on 16 January after a calm voyage. The battalion now formed part of the 14th Brigade under the command of Brigadier L. Potter, who remained in command of the brigade during the whole period of its existence. The task allotted to the battalion was the defence of the Nandi Bay area which included the RNZAF aerodrome.