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

II — Btd Detachment

Btd Detachment

The first arrivals, consisting of Second-Subaltern Shannon and three other ranks, were marched in on 14 September 1943. They found a camp prepared for them on the opposite side of the river to the main camp and everything possible had been done for their well-being. These three girls were the beginning of the detachment at the Base Training Depot. They were employed at National Patriotic Fund Board Headquarters in Bourail and travelled to and fro daily, by jeep first and later, as the numbers grew, by truck. On 9 November, Subaltern Hardcastle replaced Second-Subaltern Shannon as officer commanding and shortly afterwards the first party of WAAC personnel arrived from New Zealand to staff the Bourail Club, which was officially opened by the Governor-General, Sir Cyril Newall, on 12 November.

Living conditions for the first few months were uncomfortable. Nearly all ablutions and washing of clothes were done in the river. Early in 1944 a shower-block and laundry were constructed and some months later a bathroom was added. By this time the WAACs had also acquired a hot-water system and woe page 146betide anyone caught using hot water without first having put her portion of fuel in the firebox. Before the rainy season of floods and mosquitoes, tents were replaced with tropical huts, electrically lit, and the area became almost homelike. In the evenings the girls scattered—some to sit under the starlit sky and watch the movies, then to make a dash for the supper queue; others would dance in the club, clad in battledress, boots and gaiters! And the rest-—they just sat on the 'boat-deck.' Somebody said—' The WAACs are a race on their own—the good old Guavanese! 'But, no matter, all dashed over the bridge at 2130 hours, or 9.30 pm to the uninitiated. Later, the floods came and swept the bridge away, leaving the girls to spend a miserable night sleeping on chairs in the club, A temporary swing bridge served long and well after this, till it was replaced by the Nissan bridge.

However, the life of the WAACs at BTP was by no means all play and no work. Girls from this detachment staffed the offices of the YMCA in Bourail, as well as National Patriotic Fund Board Headquarters. The greatest number were employed at the Bourail Club and some idea of the work they did can be realised when it is known that an average of 200 cooked meals were served daily, as well as 642 morning and afternoon teas. In off duty periods the WAACs attended official functions, mostly dances, but also two race meetings, swimming sports, in which they sometimes participated, and they were always keen [unclear: spectators] at Saturday's football. However, their favourite outings were the days when they went for picnics to the rivers and sunbathing on Bourail beach.

When the time finally came for departure, Subaltern Hard-castle and 20 personnel remained to assist with the closing of the club. On the evening before the detachment split up, they held their first and only dance, which was a great success.