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


page 152

This is not a story of feats of arms—of forced marches, fire plans and battles of extermination. But it is a story of combat— combat against conditions as trying as any in the world and the part the National Patriotic Fund Board played in the unrelenting struggle to maintain morale. One of the welfare services with the Third Division was the National Patriotic Fund Board with its field force, the YMCA. Popularly known to the troops as NAT PAT, this is a voluntary organisation co-ordinating under Government regulations the work of those philanthropic organisations such as the YMCA, the Salvation Army, the Church Army, the Catholic War Services Fund Board, the Joint Council of St. John and New Zealand Red Cross Society, which did such yeoman service in the war of 1914-18. This co-ordination was essential to prevent overlapping, and it is to the everlasting credit of these institutions that they loyally supported the board in its efforts to bring greater and more efficient service to the fighting forces everywhere.

With the Third Division it was early decided that the field force of voluntary welfare workers would be provided by the YMCA. The NAT PAT organisation finally evolved in this area was in many respects unique. From what was originally a handful of YMCA secretaries there gradually grew a NAT PAT Fund Board unit organisation with a temporary war establishment concerned not merely with the manifold problems of supply of comforts and amenities, but actively undertaking the management of plants and establishments set up by the board. The greater problems which had to be overcome were those associated with supply. There was no local base from which supplies could page 153be purchased so that the YMCA could not as in the Middle East be given 'imprests' from which to make its own purchases. This called for improvisation on a large scale. The early road houses were largely furnished with home-made furnishings manufactured from salvaged gift parcel cases. For a time every nail from packing cases had to be salvaged. Water-boilers were locally made. A hundred other similar instances of ingenious improvisation could be given.

This meant that everything had to be obtained and transported from New Zealand over long, difficult and often uncertain lines of communication. When the division moved forward to Guadalcanal three months elapsed before shipping space could be secured for cafeteria supplies and comforts for the forward area. In January and February 1944 the division was practically without tea, US sources of supply having failed. After urgent cabled requests to New Caledonia and New Zealand a small shipment of 1,000 lbs. reached Guadalcanal at the end of February. The night before unloading was to have commenced, however, the ship received sudden orders to proceed on an urgent mission. Unknown to the New Zealand forces the cargo was unloaded by the United States authorities on the beach during the hours of darkness, but unfortunately at low tide. When the New Zealanders were advised that the cargo had been unloaded and arrived at the beach another Boston tea party met their gaze, for alas, the desperately needed chests were afloat and almost completely ruined by the salt sea water. Again, the necessity for maintaining mobility in an island hopping campaign and the uncertainty of the duration of occupation of camps and islands made for increased difficulties. After awaiting shipping space in New Zealand for many weeks, the largest shipment of supplies for the forward area sent to Guadalcanal arrived too late to be of use there. The greater part of it was later shipped back to New Caledonia but once again delays in obtaining shipping space caused it to arrive there after a large part of the force had returned to New Zealand.

Finally the Pacific involved special problems in the types and nature of the comforts and amenities that should be provided. A gift parcel suitable for troops in the Middle East or in Italy did not necessarily fit the needs of a force engaged in tropical islands. And some of the things which were most wanted were page 154simply not-available. Inevitably amid these difficulties mistakes were made, but he who makes no mistakes makes nothing. And this story of the building of the NAT PAT organisation in the Pacific from very small beginnings, tells something of what was achieved by the board for the troops of the Third Division.