Base Wallahs: Story of the units of the base organisation, NZEF IP
Chapter One — Advanced Party
In those critical days of the spring of 1942 there was a concentration of troops in the Waikato. These troops were the men of the Third NZ Division who were to be sent to the islands north of New Zealand to assist in denying the enemy further progress in his drive south. In command was Major-General H. E. Barrowclough, CB, DSO, MC, recently returned from the Middle East. The general had embarked the division upon a vigorous set of manoeuvres in the difficult back country of the Kaimai Ranges, and it was while these manoeuvres were in progress that the advanced party of the division was assembled in readiness for an early move. It was on 28 October 1942 that the party, comprising 140 all ranks, embarked on an American transport. This marked the beginning for most of us of an association with our powerful ally, upon whom we were destined to become dependent for nearly all our means of existence, and to whose command we were to be committed. Travelling on the same transport were units of the US Marine Corps, en route to Guadalcanal.
'Whither bound?' had been the dominant thought in our minds ever since we had been assembled together and it was not until the second day at sea that we officially learnt that our destination was New Caledonia. We were informed that the party had been designed to make members familiar with the location of US Forces units, dumps, installations and defences generally and to contact corresponding branches of the US units. The island of New Caledonia is an important point on the air and shipping routes between Australia and North America and lies at the south western approach of the numerous islands which extend north page 10eastward to Hawaii. Enemy occupation of New Caledonia would have closed the most practicable line of communication between Australia and North America.
The role of the division was to take over the northern half of the island and the members of the advanced party were to be accommodated in American camps whilst they made reconnaissances of the area and selected camp sites for all the units of the division. On the morning of 2 November we sailed into the blue lagoon inside the coral reef that surrounds New Caledonia and dropped anchor in the beautiful harbour of Nouméa. There, all around us, were scores of warships of the American fleet; Nouméa itself was nestling under the protection of barrage balloons.
We had a very cordial reception at the US Camp Barnes, just outside the town area of Noumea where we were quartered for the first night. During the next few weeks we met many officers and men of the US forces and we were all very much impressed with the welcome they gave us, at their readiness to help in every way and by their friendliness towards us. We found that we had many ideas in common, including a real desire to get things done the quickest way possible.
Comprised as it was of representatives from all units, the advanced party split up into various groups and each group set about its task of preparing for the arrival of the main body and to the needs of their own branch of the service. Some of these groups became dependent upon their own resources, and as they had no equipment of any description of their own, initiative and ability to improvise became valuable and necessary. One such group established itself in the local town hall and managed to get its own cookhouse functioning. Having no transport it snared passing American vehicles and enveigled the drivers into cooperating for an hour or two. The fame of the town hall soon spread and it became a favourite stopping place and half-way house. Most of the other groups, however, were more fortunate, in that they were quartered with the American forces who were extremely hospitable to all members of the advanced party. Reconnaissance trips were organised by the various branches of the US Army and all information, maps, etc., were made available to the Third NZ Division.
The senior representatives of each branch of the service in page 11the advanced party were required to make out a comprehensive report on conditions existing in New Caledonia, and from these reports Army HQ would obtain guidance as to the requirements necessary for each branch of the service to function efficiently. The publication of these reports would undoubtedly convey a better idea of the work done by the advanced party, and perhaps this may be possible when the official history of the division is written.
Gradually, in spite of mosquitoes, of dysentery and of the new-fangled food the immediate necessities—water points, supply dumps and petrol points began to appear. In the early stages the distribution of pay and mail presented great difficulty as members of the party were scattered over the whole island.
Some artillery units of a US division had been equipped in Australia with British equipment. Prior to moving out of New Caledonia their own equipment came to hand and under instructions from the American island commander a portion of the British equipment was handed over to the New Zealand division, including some 25-pounder guns. Personnel of the field artillery took over control of the Moindou-Bourail Pass from US artillery on 15 November and had a bad time owing to the prevalence of mosquitoes. Some troops were so badly bitten that they had to be relieved of the duty. Other personnel of the artillery proceeded to Népoui about this time and spent some time there unloading ships. By the middle of November the main bodies of coast and anti-aircraft artillery had arrived. They immediately took up operational roles.
On 24 November all officers of the advanced party attended a conference at the temporary headquarters of the division at Nemeara, when Lieutenant-Colonel J. I. Brooke summarised Major-General Barrowclough's appreciation for the defence of New Caledonia allocated to the Third Division. The officers were then divided into three groups for the reconnaissance of brigade areas. By 1 December a few service units had arrived and were busily engaged unloading ships and transporting supplies. One amusing incident was the arrival of the field butchery. This unit had arrived complete with its equipment and was all prepared for action when it was discovered that there was nothing to 'butch.' This proved an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how versatile men can be once they are in the army. The situa-page 12tion was dealt with in a flash. There was a great shortage of bakers because the New Zealand bakery unit had been diverted to the New Hebrides to help the US forces, who had lost their bakery equipment when the President Coolidge was lost, so over night half of the butchers were turned into bakers. The remainder of the unit was transformed into market gardeners, the policy evidently being that if the country could not supply fresh meat it could at least produce fresh vegetables.
One of the main considerations had been to ensure that ten days supply of rations were delivered to each camp site before the units arrived, and when the main body of the division arrived on 1 January 1943 units found everything ready for them to settle in.