The 36th Battalion: a record of service of the 36th Battalion with the Third Division in the Pacific
IV — Swimming
Swimming was at first given little consideration in the battalion sports world, and the first competition was not held until 20 June 1942, in the Suva public swimming baths. No outstanding times page 100were recorded, as there had been very little intensive training. It was a close contest, with HQ company winning by a narrow margin from A and D (S) companies which tied for second place. The fastest swimmers proved to be: R. Starr, E. S. Densem (BHQ), D. W. C. Lange, S. C. Armstrong (A company), J. F. Ryan, R. S. Lawrence [D (S) company].
On Norfolk Island swimming was taken much more seriously. A company had lost a good swimmer in Lange, but B company came to the top with the addition to their ranks of R. K. Wood and J. Hanafin, two fast swimmers over all free-style distances. In the sports held at Emily Bay on 26 February 1943, B company came in an easy first, with HQ company second. The fastest times were recorded by R. Lawrence, R. Starr (BHQ), S. C. Armstrong (HQ company), R. K. Wood and J. Hanafin (B company). Later on 11 March, a force carnival was held, again in Emily Bay, when the 36th Battalion won with a large margin. Both these meetings were held in the open sea, and despite the many difficulties they were excellently run, mainly because of the work done by Lieutenant Leuchars, who had also organised the Fiji carnival.
A feature of the force carnival was the emergence of a battalion surf life-saving team, trained by Lieutenant Leuchars. They gave a good exhibition of reel and beach work, and provided a regular beach patrol, necessary for the rough waters around Norfolk.
Camped on the banks of the Ouenghi River, the battalion found New Caledonia an ideal place for fresh-water swimming. The first carnival held here was a brigade meeting. The pool was formed by two stagings right across the river, making a thirty-three and one-third yards bath, and at this spot the current was negligible and did not impede swimmers. This was the first occasion in which the battalion team had met really good competition, and all the events were keenly contested with our team winning by a narrow margin from the 34th Battalion. Our team swam well and deserved its win. A battalion carnival was held in the same pool on 2,1 August and resulted in a win by one point for B company from D company. This occasion marked the first appearance of R. Gurr who swam for D company.
With our arrival in the Treasuries swimming really came into its own, both for pleasure and for sport. Because of the natural condi-tions it was almost the only sport which could be held, though the page 101battalion team did not have much chance of training as a team, in view of the scattered nature of the companies' positions. Water-polo was played for the first time as a battalion sport, and a number of inter-company games held. B company had the best team, with HQ company holding second place. The battalion team benefited considerably by these games, as was proved when they defeated all-comers at the 34th Battalion gala day held at Malsi and in subsequent games in the brigade competition. New-comers to the swimming strength of the battalion in the Treasuries were R. Shepherd and C. N. Chamberlain, both keen water-polo players and swimmers.
In the first brigade carnival held at Falamai on Boxing Day, we filled fifth place in the final results; our team swam well, but was outclassed. On the later brigade gala day, the 36th Battalion won the surf race from Watson Island to Falamai, with a team consisting of R. K. Wood, J. Hanafin, J. W. Clarke, C. N. Chamberlain and R. Shepherd. In the last carnival held in the Treasuries, on 18 April, we made a poor showing, with a number of our best swimmers not available, although R. M. Gurr took a place in the 50 yards, and R. Shepherd came second in the 2.20 yards.
Although the results in competitive swimming were not outstand-ing in the Treasuries, there has been a great improvement in the general standard of swimming throughout the battalion. All com-panies did considerable work in improving their company swimming areas, and excellent stagings and diving boards were erected. The percentage of non-swimmers, quite high in Fiji, was almost negligible in the Treasuries, where it had shown a greater reduction than in any other place we were stationed. And this is probably the best achieve-ment of battalion swimming.