Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

III — 2nd Nz Convalescent Depot and Kalavere Hospital

2nd Nz Convalescent Depot and Kalavere Hospital

On 23 September, 1943. the first party of ten WAACs arrived at No. 2 Convalescent Depot. They had been quartered at BTP since their arrival on 14 September. The WAAC quarters were page 147over a tortuous route to two native bures not far from a pretty winding stream. These bures had concrete floors and to their amazement the WAACs found that provision had been made for them prior to their departure from New Zealand, which explained such comforts as wardrobes, dressing tables, mattresses and sheets.

The camp was in course of construction. The girls daily threaded their way through the maze of uprooted niaouli trees, torn up concrete, wire and surveyor's pegs; they fell in the pitfalls in the dark; they were bogged in the mud where the roads were to be constructed—they saw the convalescent depot grow. The walls of the native bures were infested with bugs of all descriptions—even specimens of the much-feared 'black widow.' They shook and examined all garments before putting them on after one girl had found a black widow spider and young living in the sleeve of her great-coat. One night Marcel was found sitting outside the bure—she could not go to bed because there was 'something' sitting on her bed. The bolder spirits went forth to investigate and revealed the shining black top of a knitting needle! Washing of clothes was carried out in the river and the popular method was to get into the river in a state of undress, and work in comfort. Marion was so employed, clad in the minimum of underwear. A thin old Frenchman approached from the other side of the river and took the washer unawares. 'Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle!' He removed his high-crowned hat with a flourish and presented Marion with a bunch of bananas! What could a poor girl do but say 'Merci' and accept them with all the sang-froid she could muster.

Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. H. Wood was the commanding officer and his motto for the staff was 'Work hard and play hard' and 'The patient comes first.' Patients were graded according to the state of their disability. Evening entertainment was part of the 'get fit' campaign and all members of the staff were expected to take part in all activities. Entertainments took various forms —pictures, concerts, mock Parliaments, debating contests, community singing, dances, housie, AEWS classes, etc. And how those girls danced! They danced on concrete slabs with the niaoulis overhead lighted with coloured hurricane lamps; they danced on rough wooden floors, they danced on gravel; they danced thousands of miles with men who could dance, couldn't page 148dance and who 'hadn't seen a white woman for 12 months.' The danced with the colonel, the convalescent (sometimes with an arm in plaster) and the cook. Monday was ice-cream day and hot-shower day. The mobile shower arrived and 'set-up' beside the river. A tarpaulin was placed round it and. 16 at a time, the WAACs enjoyed 'the benison of hot water.' 'Ready?' said the man at the pump. 'Here it comes!' One minute to get wet, one minute to soap and one minute to rinse!

The WAACs had more than their share of M and V, Vienna sausage and spam, rancid butter and dehydrated veges. Their thoughts and their dreams were of food—even their 'pin-ups' were of luscious meals, and the look of glory in a girl's eyes in the morning was explained by an ecstatic, 'I dreamed I had a baked potato—hot and fluffy with lots of butter!' Before Christmas two new drafts arrived, the first of five and the second of 24, and early in the New Year a WAAC officer was attached to the unit from 4th NZ General Hospital—Second-Subaltern Pat Mason, who gained her commission 'on the field'—a great distinction.

Early in January, 1944, Colonel Wood was suddenly taken ill and died within a few days. He was a man of great understanding and the feeling of goodwill and fellowship he created among all ranks made his death a personal loss to every member of his staff. Just a fortnight later, 30 January 1944, a fatal road accident occurred one mile north of Plaine des Gaiacs. Memories of Kalavere will always include a plain white cross, a cross whereon is written 'Marcel Hartnett—NZ WAAC,' for Marcel's bright red head and gay laughter are essentially a part of the sunshine and cool shadows that the 'Pioneer' 2nd New Zealand Con Depot knew and learned to love.

The WAACs will not forget Kalavere where they exercised their 'soldier's privilege' and grumbled about the mosquitoes, the ants, the heat, the road, the transport, the food, the rain, the mud and the monotony, but they will remember, without a doubt, all the silly happenings, the amusing incidents, the kindly thoughts, which brought the pattern of laughter into the daily routine.