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

IV — Kiwi Club Detachment

page 149

Kiwi Club Detachment

On 20 December 1943, Second-Subaltern Paltridge and 47 other ranks arrived from New Zealand to staff the Kiwi Club. At this stage the club was not finished and they were posted to BTD to assist at the Bourail Club. It was quite some time before the Kiwi Club was ready for business and it was not finally opened until 14 April 1944. Just prior to this opening, the detachment moved from BTD to its new quarters at Bourail Beach to make ready for the big day. It was a busy few days, making curtains, setting up the canteens, and preparing quarters for the first leave parties. The club was ideally situated on the beach, itself, with the Pacific surf just a few yards from its doors. The duties assigned to the WAACs here were similar to those performed at Bourail Club and they did not take long to settle down in their new quarters. These consisted of the prefabricated huts now common to all detachments.

The club being surrounded on three sides by a lagoon and on the fourth by the sea, the WAACs main recreation was of course surfing and swimming. In the evenings, when they were not dancing, bonfires on the beach were a great joy and many were the popular songs which were sung to the accompaniment of the surf. Pets were very popular with the detachment and they had quite a number—Bambi, a fawn, who arrived as a very small frightened creature, but soon responded to the kindness of the unit; also Kiwi—a fat impish scrap of puppyhood, and Agnes and Junior, two adorable white kittens.

The amenity which was most appreciated by all was the mobile hot shower brought once a week by 'Andy.' At the beginning, the girls had to shower in bathing costumes, but this was soon remedied by 'Andy' who erected a matting fence against which he backed the truck and they were able to shower in comfort and complete nudity. These bathing costumes were one of the girls' major worries. The difficulty was overcome by the enterprising, however, who fashioned suits from khaki towels, prints and anything else that came to hand. These were known to come to grief in the water, but a towel rushed to the scene of the disaster forestalled any serious developments.

page 150
Although this detachment was in existence for only a short time, it did a grand job and many battle-weary Kiwis, returning from the forward areas, remember gratefully the peace and quiet, good times and excellent service they found there. The following figures give some idea of the amount of work done by the staff; From 14 April to 5 August 1944:—
  • 42,287 cooked meals served.
  • 39,378 morning and afternoon teas.
These figures do not take into account the many thousands served by the club's icecream soda fountain, nor does it include the many thousands who, thronging the beach at week-ends, were provided with hot tea for lunch, morning and afternoon teas, provided and served on the beach by the club staff. Nearly 3,000 officers, nurses, WAACs, NCOs and men enjoyed a holiday at the club. The Kiwi Club finally closed its doors on 5 August 1944 and two days later the personnel departed for 4th NZ General Hospital at Dumbea, there to await embarkation to New Zealand. They said good-bye with regret for although the work had at times been very arduous, they had the satisfaction of having done a good job and took with them the memory of many happy hours spent there.

There were many aspects of life in New Caledonia which were common to all detachments. The climate itself was the same for all, despite the distances that separated some of them. The heat was trying to girls accustomed to New Zealand's temperate climate, but gradually they became seasoned to it. No one, however, became more than mildly impervious to that never-ending pest, the mosquito. The usual weapons available to all, such as mosquito nets and 'repellant, were used against it. Efficient as this repellant no doubt was, however, it had its disadvantages in that humans liked the odour no better than the ubiquitous insect, and as one girl remarked dolefully on returning from a moonlight picnic—' It kept everyone at a distance!' We've read advertisements along the same lines too! During the time the Kiwi Company was in New Caledonia, the girls took part in two ceremonial parades in Nouméa. The first was on Armistice Day 1943 when the Governor-General of New Zealand,, Sir Cyril Newall, took the salute, and the second on 22 February 1944 in honour of Free French volunteers returning from Africa, when the salute was taken by the Governor-General of New Caledonia page 151and Dependencies. On both occasions personnel from each detachment took part and they were complimented on their steadiness on parade and the precision with which they carried out their drill.

When the time drew near for the return home, detachments from Kiwi Club, Convalescent Depot and BTD were collected at the 4th NZ General Hospital. Dumbea, awaiting embarkation. A rear party was left at BTD to assist in the closing of the Bourail Club. Although to everyone the news that they were going home was good news indeed, it was with a certain amount of regret that they proceeded down the Nouméa road for the last time. The past 13 months had brought good times and bad, but to all it had been a memorable experience which they would not easily forget. In actual fact, the Kiwi Company did not cease activity until a month later when, with the departure of the rear party in September 1944, the last of the New Zealand WAACs left New Caledonia.