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Base Wallahs: Story of the units of the base organisation, NZEF IP

Chapter Ten — 15th Brigade Headquarters

page 67

Chapter Ten
15th Brigade Headquarters

The decision to form a third infantry brigade, the 15th, was taken in December 1942. It was originally to consist of two battalions, 1st Ruahine and 1st Scots, but it was always understood that a third battalion was to be added at a later date. Brigadier L. G. Goss was appointed to command this brigade and to him was left the task of obtaining in New Zealand a nucleus brigade staff, the remainder of which was to be formed within the brigade overseas.

The brigade commander with the staff captain (Captain L. B. Collins) proceeded to New Caledonia on 29 December 1943. The remainder of the nucleus brigade staff, that is the acting brigade major (Captain Y. K. Fleming) and the intelligence officer, Lieutenant (Temporary Captain) F. M. Foster, an intelligence sergeant, a batman-driver and a cook-storeman, proceeded to New Caledonia with the bulk of the division from Auckland on 29 November.

Owing to the absence from the division of two battalions of the 8th Brigade which were employed as temporary garrisons in Pacific islands, the battalions in the division were re-arranged, 1st Ruahine Battalion being allotted to the 8th Brigade and 37th Battalion coming into the 15th Brigade. The Scots, 37th Battalion and the remainder of the nucleus brigade headquarters arrived in New Caledonia very early in January 1943 and the 15th Brigade was allotted an area on the road from Bourail to Houailou—one of the most beautiful though rainiest areas on tne islands.

The 37th Battalion built its camp on the bank of the Houailou River and about nine miles from the village of the same name page 68which is on the north-east coast of the island. The remainder of the brigade and several divisional units had their camps in the Néméara area, some ten miles from Bourail. All units were allotted camps either on the banks of a river, or within two or three minutes' walk from one, and in all cases excellent swimmingfacilities either existed or were rapidly constructed. Above all the area was probably the least frequented by the various species of mosquito found in New Caledonia.

The summer of 1942-43 was notable for heavy rain and humid conditions which lasted well into May. The rainfall brottght its problems as the local streams rose alarmingly, carrying away bridges and dams and making construction of camp roads and tracks very difficult. However, by the end of January all units by hard work had constructed very comfortable camps. Training was hampered very much by the necessity for providing guards and working parties, but weapon training, minor tactics and jungle training were carried out to the fullest extent possible.

The early days in New Caledonia would have produced com-plete boredom but for the hard work entailed in camp construc-tion. In such humid conditions all hands were tired out by nighttime and had little interest in much else but sleep. By the middle of February camps were in the main completed and the men were able to take advantage of such entertainment as was available. By this time picture shows were staged twice a week for all units, an open air threatre to seat about 2,000 was well under way and splendid performances were staged by various units, notably the 37th Battalion and later 1st Scots. American USO parties of entertainers also began to arrive and these amenities did much to relieve the monotony of training and working parties in a rather uncomfortable climate and far from civilisation. Early in April the 37th Battalion left the brigade and the 1st Battalion, Ruahine Regiment, joined and took over their camp.

As working parties and guards diminished, training was in-tensified and a graduated course of route marching was undertaken. After six weeks of such training units were able to undertake, without distress, marches of over 20 miles with full kit for several days in succession.

The 15th Brigade never had a third battalion and the brigade headquarters which was gradually built up by drawing personnel from 1st Ruahine and 1st Scots was never up to its full strength.

page 69

Only such personnel as were actually required for the jobs in hand were asked for from these units. This also applied to the brigade signal section IAD and the brigade defence platoon.

During the early part of May a series of tactical exercises without troops for senior officers of the brigade, with representatives of other arms, was carried out and from 31 May until 2 June the brigade, with units of other arms under command, carried out a brigade defence exercise under the direction of the divisional commander. On Monday, 7 June, the brigade and other units in the brigade area carried but a ceremonial parade in celebration of the King's Birthday. The salute was taken by the divisional commander and was attended by the French Governor of New Caledonia. The parade, which consisted of an inspection, march past and advance in review order, was made up of the following units:—HQ 8th Infantry Brigade and LAD: 144th Light Battery NZA; 23rd Field Company NZE; 8th Brigade Signal Section; 1st Ruahine Battalion; 1st Scots Battalion; 29th Composite Company ASC; and B Company 7th Field Ambulance. The band of 1st Ruahine and the pipe band of 1st Scots supplied the music for the inspection, Royal salute and march past.

On 30 June official advice was published that the division would in future contain only two brigades and that the 15th Brigade was to be disbanded immediately. Personnel thus disbanded were to be used to make up deficiences in the other brigades and to form a reinforcement pool. This disbandment was completed by 10 July.