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

II — The YMCA in new Caledonia, November 1942 to May 1943

The YMCA in new Caledonia, November 1942 to May 1943

November 1942 saw the first units of the reorganised division sail for New Caledonia. They had been engaged in strenuous exercises in the Auckland district, and were looking forward eagerly to the great adventure. The first YMCA secretaries to reach New Caledonia were Messrs. R. Salmon, I. Milner, and T. Dick. Mr. Cassells, senior secretary, arrived early in December and was appointed the representative of the National Patriotic Fund Board. It was his task to organise the board's welfare service from scratch and for some months it was uphill going page 156with no local facilities, everything in short supply, and everyone busily engaged in preparing camp sites and getting down to training. The interest taken in welfare work by the GOC, Major-General H. E. Barrowclough, CB, DSO, MC, the Officer in Charge of Administration, Colonel (later Brigadier) Dove, and senior officers of the division was a constant source of strength to him. At his first conference with these officers on 9 September 1942 decisions were made to construct road houses in each of the three brigade areas and at divisional headquarters and to erect recreational huts or tents in each battalion and regimental area. As timber was not obtainable, these were to be of native type construction. Mr. Salmon rented a house in Bourail as a store and office and the first shipment of supplies arrived early in December. After the arrival of the main force at the New Year the first conference of YMCA secretaries was held on 6 January 1943, this being attended by Messrs. C. Cassells (chairman), R. Salmon, P. Parker, A. Kelly, C. Rawlings, I. Jacobsen, T. L. Pycroft, J. T. Dick, I. Milner and S. Olds. Mr. L. S. Armstrong who was attached to RNZAF also attended. The disposition of the secretaries was decided on, and arrangements made for further secretaries to be added to the force.

Cafeteria supplies, free issue cigarettes and toffee, writing materials, books and magazines, sports equipment, furnishings and equipment, and comforts for hospital patients—all had to be provided for by shipments from New Zealand. The first issue of gift parcels to troops in the island was made in December 1942. A printing plant purchased by the board was brought to New Caledonia by the Army Educational and Welfare Service unit and was early set up to provide the division with its own paper. In the months that followed the Kiwi News became a popular organ for fostering the divisional spirit and disseminating news from home and abroad. The force also brought one of the board's 35 mm picture projectors with it and subsequently two further projectors were supplied and these after initial difficulties with spare parts and transport provided picture entertainment for thousands of troops over many months. The national secretary of the YMCA, Mr. R. M. Brasted, arrived in New Caledonia at the end of January 1943 and spent about ten days on the island, during which he obtained a thorough grasp of requirements and reported back to the board in Wellington. By the beginning of page 157May two of the road houses had been completed and equipment supplied by the board including pianos, table tennis tables, card tables and furnishings, installed. The utmost difficulty was being experienced in obtaining supplies in New Zealand and the shipping position was also giving great concern. But the initial work of feeding supplies to the division was done.

During this period, the Kiwi concert party (Pacific) which had been formed to provide entertainment for the troops commenced its long tour which was to take it thousands of miles and to require over 100 performances. At first using for the most part its own properties and instruments, the party was later completely equipped by the board. In addition four bands were provided with instruments. These were the divisional band and the bands of the 29th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, the 28th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, and the 1st Ruahine Battalion. Some of the instruments of the pipe band of the 1st Scottish Battalion were also provided. In May, the YMCA team was strengthened by the arrival of Messrs. L. Piper, O. R. Trigg, R. C. Williams, C. W. Halliwell, and R. T. Wardlaw. The work involved in these early days was such that a strain was placed on the whole staff and it became apparent that the duties of senior secretary of the YMCA and the representative of the National Patriotic Fund Board were too much for one man.