Base Wallahs: Story of the units of the base organisation, NZEF IP
Chapter Fifteen — Army Education and Welfare Service
Army Education and Welfare Service
In company with the majority of Third Division units, AEWS IP went through its embryonic stages in Fiji with Neal Buchanan as librarian to the force. It was he who had the job of collecting together and packing 6,000 books, gathering together cases of magazines and reading material of all types and finally, travelling across to New Caledonia on the Westpoint, December 1942. There he was to select and establish the first overseas branch of the New Zealand Army Education and Welfare Services by operating as soon as possible a unit library service on divisional scale.
The choice of headquarters fell upon an old vacant French building in the heart of Bourail, complete with rotting floorboards, mud-concrete floors cracked and crumbling; with a roof that looked none too secure but which actually served our purpose well and dust, dirt, rain-streaked walls and myriads of purposeful insects, large and small, beautiful and hideous. This building had seen better days and had no doubt witnessed much colourful' convict-day history.
A base YMCA was first established in this building which was poked away up a street beside the Bourail church. Dirty, dusty and sunburned drivers speaking a variety of languages stopped for refreshment at the friendly triangle sign. For these early travellers the building, which we shared for a short period, was an oasis and a place to be remembered with pleasure. It was a good omen. Soon the equipment arrived. And what equipment! Surely few transports leaving New Zealand had carried such unusual material of war. Certainly no trucks had transported whole printing plants, crates of cinema projectors, cameras and photo-page 124graphic supplies, or so many, cases of literature over those murderous Necal roads. Almost a week was to pass before the heaviest item, the three-ton cylinder press, was finally manoeuvred into position. Another week was occupied while Div Ordnance Workshops made repairs to broken machinery and remade missing parts. Then the machines were bedded down in concrete which took a third week to dry.
Back in New Zealand personnel were being selected and briefed to go to Necal to pioneer the AEWS overseas. Major A. H. Thorn left to take up the appointment of assistant director AEWS IP, arriving in Bourail on 28 February 1943. Other personnel selected were Bob Lowry as printing manager, Leo Fowler as editor of the division's newspaper Kiwi, Alan Purdie as subeditor and general reporter, Leo Kenny and Dick Murrell. These latter two had served in Fiji and whilst there had organised all the movie entertainment and were a natural choice for personnel to man the new RSA-sponsored 35mm mobile cinema unit which was to be employed in New Caledonia.
Major Thorn's principal worry upon arrival was the considerable amount of work to be done and virtually no staff to do it. This staff shortage was to be a permanent problem, for our unit at no time, let it be remembered, was at full working strength. The New Zealand-selected staff would not arrive before late February, therefore suitable men had to be obtained from the field units already on the island-First of these was Tommy Tom-kinson for the photographic section. Next came Alister Appleton, who offered his printing trade experience to the newly-formed AEWS, and he was closely followed by Lin Buick-Constable from 15th Brigade Headquarters. There was much work to be done. 'App' was soon busy unpacking printing equipment. Lin Buick-Constable became assistant librarian under 'Buck' and the two of them set to, stripped to the waist in the cramped quarters which served as the storeroom. Thousands of library book cards had to be typed, magazines had to be sorted and distributed; more than 6.000 books had to be sorted, numbered, carded and repacked into portable book cases and sent out to units all over the island from north of Koumac to Nouméa, on a one-book-per-three-men basis.
Slowly more staff arrived. Wilfred Hilford settled in to handle the distribution of Kiwi and assist the editorial staff, and page 125to the joy of the original pioneers, Lowry, Fowler, Purdie, Kenny and Murrell reinforced us at this stage. On their heels came Jack Shaw, punter-journalist-typist extraordinary, the last man to join the unit whilst medically grade one. Thereafter all new personnel from the field had to be graded lower than one. It was about this time, too, that the very first AEWS-sponsored film showing took place, the site being Bourail camp. The operator was Tommy Tomkinson, with everybody on the staff, including the ADAEWS, helping to crank reluctant motors, carrying cables and winding film spools. Within a few days, however, Leo Kenny and Dick Murrell were to offer something much better in movie entertainment. These two had got down to work quickly and after thoroughly overhauling the mobile plant, they were able to present a test programme, including a full-length feature film, in the Bourail square by throwing the projection on to the whitewashed wall of a building which conveniently helped to form one side of the square.
The printing unit was now showing signs of order but the unpacking soon revealed that a large amount of type had been sadly mixed up in transit. The trade term for this sort of disaster is 'pied type.' The terms used by the staff to describe the job of sorting it all out into correct founts, etc., are quite unprintable! Anyway it was a finicky, eye-wearying, finger-smarting job that took all hands from the ADAEWS down a whole week to complete. All available personnel—clerks, projectionists, librarians— now set to work to assist the small printing staff. The first issue of Kiwi was on the way! One by one experienced printing hands arrived from field units to swell our ranks. Men like Johnny Overend, Ken Hardwick and Fred Robinson proved real assets to the organisation and, although not always in the best of health, gave of their best at all times. A printer's job can be very trying at any time but under our conditions it was a miracle that so much work was done by so few in so short a time. Night and day the work went on and although a little cooler night work was the worst. No proper lighting facilities were available for some time and the first few issues were set partly at night, at first solely by candle-light. A compositor would be seen with as many as six guttering candles stuck along the edge of his type case, smoking, flickering and oozing grease into the type compartments. Then a few inferior grade hurricane lamps appeared; a French page 126priest across the road lent a coleman-type lamp; another French citizen produced an acetylene burner that had seen more prosperous times. A portable generator was eventually obtained but even this gave much trouble from time to time. Night work, too, was always complicated by the rich and varied insect life, moths and mosquitoes being particularly harassing. One memorable night, 4 March 1943, the editorial staff laid down their pens while the press rolled continuously for hours. Lowry and Overend and the library staff worked on through the evening, printing, counting, sweating, stacking as soon as dry, wrapping the unit bundles for morning distribution while high officials from nearby base headquarters and an anxious ADAEWS hovered about watching the birth of Kiwi, Less than one month after the arrival of its staff the Third Division's own newspaper was out!
The division was to have its own Kiwi concert party and Rex Sayers from Div Signals was appointed to be its organisor and producer. He had the difficult job of selecting from former unit concert party associates and the force's talent only the most useful and versatile performers. Days of auditions went by. Doug Morrison, female impersonator, Alan Matthews ('Alamat' the conjuror), Harry Davidson and 'Where's that Tiger' Henry Burns were immediately selected and the remaining six vacancies were to be filled by men from all units in the division. Eventually, singer Maurice Tansley, female impersonator Ralph Dyer, musical director Ossie Cheesman, pianist' Jock 'MacKenzie, trumpeter Harold Toomer, drummer Burns DePhoff and bass fiddle player 'Count' Ofsoski were selected. Soon they were all hard at it rehearsing, arranging items and making costumes for their first touring presentation, 'The Road Show.'
From the beginning the editorial section of Kiwi ran into trouble. Few people can realise how tough military censorship can be; how many hands the work of the Kiwi staff had to go through before it could be published. Not only had each issue to be approved by the base censor but also by the powers-that-be at Div HQ and finally—especially if it was one of those rare editions to be sent home—by the American censorship authorities at island command, Nouméa. There were times when this meant the complete re-printing of large sections of an issue and on one blue-pencil occasion the whole staff of AEWS was made to hand-obliterate a certain word from nearly 16,000 copies over a Sunday page 127afternoon and evening! Another major difficulty was the obtaining of up-to-date news. The very nearness of the force to New-Zealand was perhaps the chief cause of this. Most units had their own radios and therefore heard the New Zealand headlines as early as the Kiwi journalists. Again, through private mails, some men received copies of the New Zealand dailies as early as the Kiwi staff. A special daily signal service from Wellington functioned fairly well for a time but this had to be abandoned when operational needs became too pressing for the army signal corps. Ultimately, however, the daily signal was resumed and toward the end of our stay in New Caledonia private arrangements with allied air force personnel frequently produced same-day copies of the principal New Zealand newspapers.
The French proprietors of La France Anstrale and Le Bulletin du Commerce were both very impressed by the technical quality of Kiwi and made visits from Nouméa to inspect the plant. Owing to very bad transport conditions at one stage, Kiwi would have run out of newsprint if it had not been for the loan of over a month's supply which La France Australe put at our disposal.
AEWS, in conjunction with the Public Relations Group, operated the divisional darkroom. Long hours were worked by the staff and a prodigious amount of work was put through. The main job was to develop and print copies of official photographs and to supply the archives section of PRG with any photos required. That in itself was a big job—over 3,000 negatives from which something like 30,000 prints were made. In addition to this, all unit photographer's film rolls were developed and a free print of each negative made.
The familiar mobile cinema plant travelled up and down the island showing full-length movies wherever it went to thousands of New Zealand and American troops. Portable screens were erected between tall tree-trunks; films were shown in torrential downpours; entertainment was given to bored troops in the 6eld who sometimes had walked or had been driven several miles over terrible roads to see their favourite film stars or just to get away from talking niaouli trees and fast-approaching hills. Large units got together working parties and cleared hillsides suitable for outdoor ampitheatres, and improvised stages with fixed screens were page 128erected in several camps. Leo and Dick were everywhere welcome and soon tired of hearing: 'What'ya showing to-night?'
Yet another man to come in from the field was Maurice Kennedy of the 37th Battalion. His first job was to open up cases of study courses and university text books, and set up office as NCO in charge of the study course department. Upon formal application these excellently produced pocket-sized study course booklets were available free to any member of the force and could become personal property upon the earnest completion of each course. Some of the courses ran to three volumes and it was possible for an enthusiastic soldier-student to reach a high standard in such subjects as animal production, pig farming, wool-classing, crops and cropping, farm bookkeeping, New Zealand grasslands, trade calculations, mechanics, applied electricity, radio communication, petrol engines, instrumental drawing, carpentry, English, commercial bookkeeping, logarithms and practical trigonometry or biology, provided he worked progressively and sent in regularly the incorporated test papers for marking.
Other new arrivals at this stage were 'Andy' Cassin for the library, and Les Matthews for the printing department-Additions to the staff were also arriving from New Zealand. Alan Oliver and Dorian Saker for the study course department and a team of 16mm cinema projectionists, 'Mac' MacDougall, 'Marty' Martiningo and Bill Tennant. Eventually, when Buchanan gained his commission as base education officer, Kennedy took over the library and Oliver assumed command of the study course depart-ment. By this time Tom Coutie was well established as our orderly room wallah—the man who ran our 'paper war.' His work increased with the staff. Records were to be broken by the 16mm cinema men—they worked long hours, six or seven days a week, starting at 0830 hours and not ceasing until they returned home at night, often as late as 2300 hours if the showing had been more than 30 miles away. 'Mac' was actually to complete over 100 continuous performances without a break down! Further reinforcements from New Zealand included Graham Brown (library), Norman lake (concert party electrician), 'Bud' Taylor (study courses) and Owen Fletcher, who immediately went on tour with the Kiwi concert party. Fletcher was later to become our botanist, doing much useful work in that direction.page break
Now, however, the seasonable dengue fever was upon us, and our unit, like all base units, suffered heavy casualties. This was a disaster from the staffing point of view, as many as nine men being in hospital at one time! Whilst the bulk of the staff was absent over a period of nearly two months, a heavy strain was thrown on those who remained. Some outstanding work was performed in getting the Kiwi out on time and in keeping up the flow of educational matter and film schedules. Toward the end of the fever season the New Zealand-selected brigade education officers arrived: Lieutenant Congalton for the 14th Brigade; Lieutenant Hewland for the 8th Brigade and Lieutenant Veitch for the 15th Brigade and when the latter was disbanded, for divisional headquarters area. Another officer, Captain Carswell, our second-in-command, had previously arrived and in time to allow Major Thorn to return to New Zealand for a short tour of duty.
The BEOs were soon set up in the field and, with a small staff of one clerk, one projectionist, as well as a scattered team of unit education officers (these being part-time representatives chosen by their COs on educational rather than ranking merit) a complete personal coverage of all units in the division was accomplished. Magazines received from American sources were of high quality and much appreciated by everybody. It was the work of-the BEOs to distribute the copies around their units through the UEOs when they received them from the base library. The BEOs were our close contacts with the men in the field and were responsible for the advancement of all educational and welfare activities. Their work covered study courses, rehabilitation, sports, cinema, concerts, quiz sessions, and the formation and conduct of classes and discussion groups over a wide range of subjects. Their work was exacting and untiring.
Apart from the production of the Kiwi, general printing was done which, at a rough estimate, would have cost upwards of £2,500 if it had been handled through civilian channels. Over 600 separate jobs were completed during the 18 months the unit operated in New Caledonia This work fell into several categories. First came the great bulk of official and semi-official work —administrative orders, special orders of the day, packing lists, movement control forms, waybills, signal registers, message forms, wireless diary forms, stock and job record cards, unit pay page 130ledger cards, running instruction blanks and receipt forms. Booklets on malaria control, motor transport landing instruction for amphibious operations, a motor transport maintenance booklet, a battalion standing orders and two editions of a 52-page officers' gradation list were also produced. Another group of work included such unusual items as an election returns sheet, voting papers on the no-license issue, community song sheets, telephone directories, a street map of Nouméa, temperature and other hospital charts, wedding invitations, marriage certificates, a Jewish New Year card and invitations and posters in French in connection with the weekly dances organised in Bourail by the base social committee. Thousands of concert programmes, music score sheets, race meeting cards, film posters and a weekly schedule of entertainment provided by the AEWS completed the work in the entertainment field.
One special difficulty arose through the currency arrangements in Necal. The men were paid in dollar bills throughout the island, and for small purchases there was always a chronic shortage of small change. For several units special change currency was printed and in other cases the difficulty was solved by the printing of coupons for the liquor ration, barbers' services, canteen purposes and so on.
The major problem of the darkroom staff was the storage of water to enable them to carry on developing and washing at all times. Bourail possessed a water supply which unfortunately worked but fitfully and seemingly to no set scheme. One day it would flow all morning; the next day only during the afternoon; then for days sometimes it wouldn't flow at all. Old Monsieur Grippo, one of our French neighbours, was its caretaker and even he didn't appear to understand the system. The problem was finally solved by the erection of large storage tanks and keeping them full at all times, either from the town supply or by collected rain water.
There were times when a new film had to be pre-viewed on the 16mm projectors. Brand new full-length features from the USA and special army films were usually tested by 'Mac' and his cohorts indoors and it was impossible to expect the staff— any staff—to work while in a nearby room generators throbbed and a white beam of projected light threw Betty Grable's incomparable legs on to the silver screen! There were other happy page 131times, too, such as those when members of the staff went on organised week-end picnics and launch trips and gorged themselves at a staff dinner and had very occasional leave in Nouméa. But those occasions are better left to gather brightness in the individual's memory.
As time went on the AEWS activities spread in all directions. A large native-style bure was erected in which to house the ever growing library and study course departments. This expansion was completed only just in time. Within a few days of the move, the long-awaited linotype machine arrived from New Zealand. The printers, weary of hand-setting every word of Khvi, heaved a sigh of relief. Bill Ellison, sent from New Zealand in advance as linotype mechanic, and Les Matthews, the machine's operator, soon had the plant in working order and although written simply like that, it certainly was no easy task to set up, check for damage and experiment with an intricate mechanism such as this in a tropical climate.
Rumours were right for once. The division was to go forward into action. Hustle and bustle. Books, magazines, sample courses, cinema machines, general equipment; representatives were to go forward with them. Hurried conferences with brigade sections; much more sorting and packing; AEWS was going into action too. Only minimum requirements must be taken forward. Units were not allowed to take their libraries with them. All available space was reserved for actual materials of warfare. Books and other reading matter would follow.
During the time the division was in the Solomons, over 9,000 items of reading matter were sent forward from Necal. These comprised penguin-type books (another 6,000 items were also sent direct to Guadalcanal from New Zealand), magazines and second-grade books-In addition, each of the four BEOs to operate north of Necal were supplied with special field reference libraries of 100 selected books. As the units moved out from Necal so the storage space in the Bourail base library grew less. As soon as they were checked and the damaged books rejected, all books surplus to the thousands required on the base exchanging shelves were sent back into the field. New unit libraries were formed and existing ones increased to a one-book-a-man basis. A New Zealand Waac-staffed library of well over 1,000 books was set up in the new Bourail Club and this functioned as the central library for page 132BTD and all other units stationed in the Téné River valley area. The base education officer organised special evening classes for all base unit personnel who could conveniently attend. French language classes were commenced for beginners and advanced students and these were well patronised for several months. Music classes were also conducted for a lengthy period under the direction of Geoff Dodson, sometimes relieved by Ossie Cheesman, and much theory work was taught to a small group of enthusiasts. Classes in popular photography were also instructed for a term by our staff photographer and well-attended art classes covering all branches of fine and commercial art including a life class with French and Kanaka native models, were run for nine months by Buick-Constable. Classes in playing-read ing, musical appreciation, English literature, wool-classing, radio technology also ran for short periods. An interesting art exhibition showing the work of 'NZ Artists IP' was also arranged by art class members and toured the outlying base units. Mention must also be made of the excellent talks on current affairs and travel given for many months over the loud-speaker system of the mobile cinema plant by the base EO. This loud-speaker system was also much in demand for track commentation at unit sports and race meetings.
The Kiwi concert party were flown north to the New Hebrides on its first tour of the forward areas. After performances at Santos to allied servicemen the party was flown on to Guadalcanal and was soon busy entertaining at the large camps on this island. At Guadalcanal the concert people were often called upon to do work other than their specified duties—emergencies arise in for ward areas and tasks like unloading transports and LSTs on the beaches fall the way of everybody available. The concert party certainly worked hard with performances every night for weeks on end as it toured upward through the other islands of the group. Picketing and escorting in addition to their daily rehearsals, late night work, and strenuous travelling from island to island in that climate taxed their physical resources to the utmost. The first tour, which was to have been for a few weeks only, actually stretched into five months away from New Caledonia. Upon their return, yellow with atabrin and very weary, members of the party were granted two weeks' rest around Bourail before commencing rehearsals for a new show. Some members dropped out on account of ill-health and the roll now showed singer Arthur Hanna, page 133comedian Henry Howlett and Dave Reid, of the Tui concert party, as new members. Before returning to the forward areas they completed a brief tour of New Caledonia which included the opening of the Kiwi Club at Bourail beach, the Bourail Club in Téné River valley and a return week at the Hickson Theatre, Nouméa.
Born of necessity while the Kiwi concert party was away on tour for months at a time, but born also out of enthusiasm and spare-time hard work, base repertory provided entertainment for the units remaining in Necal. Base repertory players were drawn from units in and around Bourail and after enduring weeks of rehearsals in a broken-down shed behind the cheese factory and among the pig-pens, they presented their first production of three well-known one-acters, plus an original play by Owen Fletcher, the organiser and producer. Props were kindly lent by local residents and costumes were pieced together from unwanted con cert party stores; a lavish four-colour programme was printed by the Kiwi press and a splendid stage was erected for the opening performance in the Bourail YMCA, by Nat Pat and YMCA workers. This production and a second effort later which included an amusing presentation of Macbeth, went on brief nightly tours of the base units.
The base unit 'purge' of all grade one men who could be spared or replaced was on. Reluctantly we said good-bye to Norman Parnell, of the printing unit, Saker, Brown and Fletcher. The last two men were to rejoin the unit as field section clerks in the forward areas. Tn their places came Johnnie Watt, Bill Blair and Jim Benny for the library and study courses bure. Other recent arrivals from New Zealand were Cecil Grubb, Roger Roser and 'Sonny' Summers for the printing section. Bert Simpson went into the orderly room and Johnny Hole from the field for the library. Maurice Kennedy was made education officer at 4th NZ General Hospital, Buick-Constable taking over the library with Cassin as first assistant. Kennedy and his counter part Lieutenant 'Teddy' Spraggin, at No. 2 NZ Convalescent Depot, organised all AEWS activity and inaugurated conside able occupational therapy work for the many patients there. Cap tain Carswell and 'Buck' Buchanan left for the Solomons to work as BEOs and Oliver became Base EO, with Stan Slocombe from New Zealand taking over the study course department. page 134Leo Kenny had been boarded back to New Zealand, leaving Dick Murrell in charge of the mobile cinema unit with a new arrival, Moss Spiers, as his assistant. With the return to New Zealand and to civil life of Major Thorn, Temporary-Major J. E. Tier came in from the 15th Brigade to take up the appointment of ADAEWS.
Our representatives in the Solomons were finding plenty to do on their respective islands. After the initial battle actions there remained the months of relatively quiet garrison duty, and it was during this period that AEWS in the field really went to work. Books and magazines by the thousand were distributed; nightly film showings were maintained, equipment often being ferried from camp-site to camp-site by barge because the island jungle was impassable. At one time the 8th Brigade AEWS cinema unit on Stirling Island was responsible for all movie entertainment for American naval, air and land forces as well as our own. Classes in many subjects were started and study course enrol ments reached a new high. As the worth of the many study courses became known hundreds of soldiers made application and so great was the demand on occasions that local and even Necal stocks were exhausted, substitute courses being taken until new stocks could be flown from New Zealand. The BEOs and their small staffs also undertook to make study course test papers on the spot. This was a most commendable action which not only saved inter-island mailing time but also enabled the soldier to obtain swift personal assistance when in difficulties. Island com mands organised arts and crafts exhibitions in both brigades and foremost among these was the effort of the 14th Brigade. This remarkable hand-fashioned display was eventually returned to New Zealand and toured the Dominion with the 'Artists in Uniform' exhibition.
In Necal work continued in getting the Kitvi out and away to the forward areas by every means available. All departments were kept fully occupied and further long-awaited material was arriving from New Zealand. Started back in May 1943 was a Base HQ reference library which now comprised over 2,000 carefully ordered authoritative reference books on almost every subject under the sun. Div personnel could have the loan of any of the books on application through their UEO and in the period of some 15 months, more than 3,000 individual requests were page 135made. It was not always possible to supply suitable literature to cover all requests—as for instance a book on worm-culture or goldfish breeding—but the reference library was actually able to satisfy approximately 90 per cent of all requests.
When manpower withdrawals commenced, arrangements were pushed ahead to cope with the entertainment of large numbers of men who were expected to stay for a short while in Necal on their way back to New Zealand. During the period they remained in Téné River valley thousands of troops were kept occupied and entertained with continuous lectures by a team of well-known, lecturers, civilian musicians and the popular NBS concert party —all brought especially over from New Zealand for the purpose. The lectures were strictly informal and very often amplified by special movie films and slides. Subjects covered were rehabilitation, population and housing problems, history of cultural arts, land development, grasslands and pastures, the Maori, international affairs, finance and banking, economics, literature of Eng land, America and New Zealand, wool-classing, sheep and dairy farming, general agriculture and veterinary science. Apart from Third Div personnel, the lecturer group comprised Captain Nichol, Professor Belshaw, Professor Gordon, Doctor Hopkirk, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Lawn, Second-Lieutenant Lee, Mr. Walker, and Lieutenant Teviotdale. In the first week alone, 1,780 men attended the lectures.
The NBS concert party was a great success. The happy inclusion in the cast of several 'real live' women in evening dress proved a big draw. Under the direction of Mr. B. Beeby, with Henry Rudolf in charge of the actual concert party, the two groups, concert and repertory, put on excellent performances for almost every night over several weeks. Mr. Henri Penn, well-known concert pianist with the party, also gave one or two much-appreciated recitals. Wherever possible considerable use was made of divisional musical and dramatic talent to augment the casts.
The Third Division returned to New Zealand. Our packing up for the return journey was no less hectic than that of any other unit. A small rear party under Captain Carswell remained in Necal to furnish movies and other entertainment to the unit rear parties. But our work was not yet finished. Back in New Zealand, late in 1944, in Mangere Crossing Camp, Auckland, the AF. WS IP finally breathed its last, completing accounting and page 136giving to the camp until the very end full educational, entertain ment and library facilities. And so we say farwell £o this enter prising band of AEWS pioneers who were the first to supply New Zealand's Expeditionary Forces on active service overseas with study courses, university, professional and trade examination assistance, text book loans, a full circulation and reference library service, 35mm and 16mm movie entertainment, the Kiwi, divi sional and unit job-printing, a photographic darkroom service, lectures, discussion groups and pamphlets, rehabilitation advice, educational classes in art, music, radio, wool-classing, languages, photography, a general information service, quiz sessions, art and craftwork exhibitions and the official touring concert parties.