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

III — New Caledonia, May 1943 to August 1943

New Caledonia, May 1943 to August 1943

Early in 1943 the board decided that with the building of the Third Division to combat strength, and the expanding needs of our forces in the Pacific, it was essential that the Board should have its own representative with the division. The three brigades were training hard and futrther units and reinforcements were expected early from New Zealand. The man chosen for this task was Major C. W. O. Brain, a veteran of the 1914-18 war, who knew soldiering and to whom tropical conditions were not foreign. He arrived in New Caledonia on 8 May 1943 and set up his headquarters in Bourail and from this time until the disbanding of the division the story is one of continuous improve-page 158ment and expansion in the welfare services provided by the board. From the nucleus of ten YMCA secretaries the organisation grew in the succeeding 12 months to a fully fledged unit responsible for the work of 185 all ranks in providing for comforts and amenities for the troops.

Major Brain's first task on arrival was to make a survey of the existing facilities and the needs of the division. To do this he travelled hundreds of miles and visited all units in New Caledonia. He placed Mr. Salmon in charge of the board's store in Bourail where he remained until his return to New Zealand the following month. He was replaced by Sergeant Heatherwick. Mr. A. J. Heffernan, as director of YMCA activities, who had succeeded Mr. Cassells On the latter's return to New Zealand, took complete charge of work in the field. This left the board's commissioner free to direct policy and to concentrate on getting supplies to the base in New Caledonia. His next step was to define the board's policy in meeting the ascertained needs of the division and to plan his organisation. In this he was assisted by 'the Third Division Welfare Committee,' which was formed on the orders of General Barrowclough, and which held its first meeting on 7 June 1943. The committee comprised the Officer in Charge of Administration, the Deputy Director of Medical Services (Brigadier J. M. Thwigg) the Assistant Director, Army Education and Welfare Service (Major A. H. Thorn), the Senior Chaplain of the Forces (Lieutenant-Colonel K. Liggett), the Commissioner YMCA (Mr A. J. Heffernan) and the Commissioner National Patriotic Fund Board (Major C. W. O. Brain). This committee at its first meeting accepted in full Major Brain's recommendations and laid down the policy to be followed regarding the erection and control of clubs and recreation centres, the provision of hospital comforts and special foods for patients through the deputy director of medical services, the issue of sports material through the base and divisional sports committees, the issue of books and magazines through the AFWS, the issue of stationery and indoor games and comforts through the YMCA secretaries and of gift parcels through the Army Service Corps. This clear-cut delegation of duties immediately speeded up the work of the board and laid the foundation of an organisation that operated smoothly and efficiently throughout.

At this time Major Brain had his headquarters in the Hotel page 159de Ville, Bourail, the use of which had been given by the French community rent free for the troops of the division. This serviceable building was transformed by Mr. Salmon and his willing helpers into a comfortable recreation centre, and it formed a popular link in the chain of road houses established through New Caledonia. Right up to its evacuation 15 months later, it provided rest and recreation for thousands of troops and a welcome cup of tea to thirsty convoys on the dusty roads of the island. This centre was only one of many which were being constructed and opened at this time and about each of which a whole story could be told, a story not only of the happy hours of relaxation and reunion spent there by the troops but also of the struggle for materials with which to build them, of the efforts of units to find labour in the midst of the strenuous programme of training for the more serious tasks then in front of the division, and then of the problems involved in furnishing and servicing.

By August the road houses and recreation centres which had been opened for service to the troops were as follows:—
MoindahDivisional road house
Taom River Valley14th Brigade road house
Houailou15th Brigade roail house
Bourail Hotel de VilleBase recreation centre
Téné ValleyBase Reception Depot recreation centre
Gomen Valley30th Battalion recreation centre
Népoui35th Battalion, recreation centre
Taom River37th Battalion recreation centre
Nétnéara ValleyIst Scots Battalion recreation centre
HoiiailouIst "Ruahine Battalion recreation centre
Plain des Gaiacs29th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
Bouloupari29th Battalion recreation Centre
MoindahDivisional Headquarters recreation centre
Bouloupari34th Battalion recreation centre
36th Battalion recreation centre
Tontouta28th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment
SoumSaTransit Camp recreation centre
Bougen4th NZ General Hospital patients' recreation centre; Nurses' and Waac's recreation centre
MoindahDivisional Signals recreations centre
Séméara14.1th Independent Battery recreation centre

With one or two exceptions, the materials required for all of these centres were paid for by the board and, except for the building at Nouméa transit camp, they were all built in the native bure type of construction.

Early in June, Major Brain made a large distribution of outdoor sports material and this stimulated interest in the sporting activities of the division. One of the most successful competitions held was the inter-unit rugby football contest for the Barrow-clough dtp The final of this competition was fought out on page 1607 August 1943 between teams representing the 37th Battalion and the 29th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. The scene was a colourful one as the two teams under the hot sun of New Caledonia, one dressed in black and the other in white, lined up for the general's inspection. After the match in which the 37th Battalion proved the victors by 19 points to 6, the players were presented with the jerseys in which they had played, each having the Kiwi emblem, and were at night entertained at a dinner contributed to by the board. Several major projects for improving the lot of the troops in New Caledonia had been under consideration for some time. Among those approved by the board were the provision of a large prefabricated building for a soldiers' club in Nouméa, another similar club at the base training depot at Bou-rail, and an ice-cream manufacturing plant. For the Nouméa club, a site at Anse Vate had been leased close to the beach and commanding a wonderful view of Nouméa harbour.

In the course of a tour of Pacific stations, the Hon. W-Perry, deputy-chairman of the board and Mr. G. A, Hayden, its secretary, visited New Caledonia between the 28 July and 2 August to discuss these and other projects. The decision was then made that owing to the continued delays in having buildings prefabricated in New Zealand and shipped, the Boutrail Club should be of native type construction. This saved several months. The site allotted was at the base training depot in Téné Valley about four miles from Bourail. Lieutenant-Colonel Cornwall, the commanding officer of the depot, took up the project with enthusiasm and appointed the pioneer platoon under Lieutenant Hollier to undertake the construction of the club building which was the largest native type building in the South Pacific area. In a beautiful setting on the opposite bank of the Téné River and connected with the club grounds by a suspension bridge was erected by the men of the division the camp for WAAC personnel who were to run the club. Meantime other phases of welfare work were not being neglected. Special comforts and amenities for hospital patients were provided, the YMCA service extended, additional support given the division's printing plant, concert party, bands, and so on. A welcome arrival in July was a shipment of 30 radio sets but this did little more than provide for hospitals, field ambulances and the convalescent depot, and it is unfortunate that the supply position in New Zealand so limited this essential service page break
These two sketches of Bourail Camp are the work of the official artist. Personnel of headquarters staff were quartered there and conditions were made as comfortable as camp life allowed in New Caledonia. The sketch above shows a corner of the cookhouse; below is a general view with mess bures on crest of hill

These two sketches of Bourail Camp are the work of the official artist. Personnel of headquarters staff were quartered there and conditions were made as comfortable as camp life allowed in New Caledonia. The sketch above shows a corner of the cookhouse; below is a general view with mess bures on crest of hill

page break
Week ends in New Caledonia were invariably fine and if opportunity offered there was an exodus to Bourail beach where the sand and water were inviting and the Kiwi Club offered meals in comfort and a break from camp routine.

Week ends in New Caledonia were invariably fine and if opportunity offered there was an exodus to Bourail beach where the sand and water were inviting and the Kiwi Club offered meals in comfort and a break from camp routine.

page 161throughout the division's life. For nothing could have been of more service to the men in isolated outposts in the lonely islands of the Pacific than radio sets.

The division was fortunate in its padres. One and all threw themselves whole-heartedly into welfare work and many of them established and controlled unit recreation centres. The board assisted with the building of chapels and St. George's Chapel at base headquarters was dedicated on 22 August 1943. Padre Castle tells how a few days afterwards while working in his study he heard someone moving in the chapel. Upon going to investigate he found a native woman changing the flowers in the vases on the altar. She was one of the native women who had worked as a labourer on the building of the chapel.

During this period, two announcements were made which were of great importance to the division. The first was the GOC's special order of 1 July 1943 announcing the re-organisation of the divison on a two brigade basis with the consequent disbandment of the 15th Brigade. The second was the advice received that the division would shortly be moving forward to the combat areas to take an active part in the Pacific fighting. Further large-scale alterations in plans were therefore called for. It was decided that Major Brain would go forward to Guadalcanal with divisional headquarters, and the two brigades to establish the board's work there and an assistant commissioner was appointed to control the base organisation and bring to finality the many facilities then in course of construction or planned. Captain A. E. Enright arrived from New Zealand towards the end of August to take up this work.