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

IV — Nat Pat with the division in the Combat Zone

Nat Pat with the division in the Combat Zone.

August and early September saw most of the combat troops move to their new base in Guadalcanal. Each YMCA secretary who accompanied the force was equipped for the task in front of him and the YMCA commissioner, Mr. Heffernan, went forward with his team. Shipments of Nat Pat supplies for the forward base were arranged both from New Zealand and from New Caledonia. The aims of the board here were firstly to ensure page 162that a free cafeteria service was immediately and continuously available, secondly to provide free issues to combat troops of toilet and smoking requisites, candy and writing materials, thirdly to provide in addition special comforts for the sick and wounded, fourthly to support the AEWS in the entertainment of the troops, concert parties, cinema entertainment, handicraft competitions and reading material—books, magazines, and newspapers, fifthly to develop recreation centres as opportunity offered and to supply units with indoor games, playing cards, and radios, sixthly to render assistance to other New Zealand services in the area—the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Fijian Military Forces. The arrival in New Caledonia towards the end of August of Captain Enright enabled Major Brain to move forward to Guadalcanal to take charge of the board's work there. He arrived at the forward base on 21 September 1943. At that time divisional headquarters and the 14th Brigade had already left for Vella Lavella where the division was to have its first combat task. The YMCA secretaries who accompanied this force were Mr. A. Kelly (senior secretary and supply officer attached to the 16th Motor Transport Company, Army Service Corps), Mr. R. Wardlaw (30th Battalion), Mr. L. Pycroft (35th Battalion), Mr. I. Milner (37th Battalion), Mr. R. Le Couteur (17th Field Regiment).

Difficulties in obtaining supplies immediately became apparent. Shipments which had been arranged direct from New Zealand and which it was expected would have arrived in time for the action were not to hand and did not in fact reach Guadalcanal until early December. Similarly shipments from New Caledonia did not arrive until November. On a site bull-dozed out of the jungle an IPP tent was set up as a store and there were gathered together the first supplies. These had to be purchased for the most part from the canteens or PXs of the United States forces which had only opened in Guadalcanal on 22 September. In answer to an urgent signal Major Brain, on 25 September, received a reply from General Barrowclough at Vella Lavella detailing the comforts and supplies the troops in action there required. As the board's stocks had not arrived he endeavoured to purchase the necessary supplies from United States PXs. Notwithstanding shortages they themselves were experiencing the American authorities responded magnificently. This was but a page 163foretaste of that generous co-operation and assistance which was to be received throughout the division's stay in the forward area from American PXs and the special service division of the United States forces. By 29 September, 20 tons of supplies (603 cases) had been packed, branded and loaded aboard a landing-craft bound for Vella Lavella and Major Brain arrived at Bara-koma with these supplies on 1 October. Only those who saw the work required can fully appreciate the magnitude of this task which was accomplished without staff. Some of these supplies were piloted right through to the combat teams in action in the northern jungles of Vella Lavella, reaching them seven days after their first contact with their enemies in the Pacific. They were meagre among 6,000 men but the trail through to the combat zone had been blazed and all that now remained was to ensure that bulk supplies reached the base in Guadalcanal and were fed forward-Major Brain returned to Guadalcanal on 7 October and from then on it became one long struggle of scraping together supplies, parcelling them up, caring for them, fighting for shipping space, and finally getting them shipped forward. Despite these difficulties not one convoy left for the forward area without some Nat Pat supplies aboard.

The second operation of the campaign—the invasion and occupation of the Treasury Islands by the 8th Brigade Group was now imminent, and he and Mr. Heffernan were now faced with the task of organising the welfare side of that operation. In Vella Lavella, the YMCA secretaries, after landing with their units in the south of the island were to their great disappointment not permitted to proceed with the combat teams to the scene of the fighting in the north: The experiences of such men as Padre Falloon who was a tower of strength to his battalion in providing comfort and cheer to the fit as well as the wounded, led to permission being granted the YMCA secretaries in the Treasury Islands to go ashore under fire in the first wave and the wonderful service they there rendered fully justified the responsibility placed on them. For the actual landing each secretary was equipped with two waterproof cases not exceeding 70 lbs. in weight, each containing a primus stove, a two-gallon tin of white petrol, 25 lbs. of tea, ten lbs. of sugar, five lbs. of milk and a kerosene tin. These cases were carried one with the secretary and one with the orderly and their orders were to get them ashore page 164even at the risk of losing all other equipment. Some of the padres also took similar equipment and worked in close co-operation with the YMCA. Arrangements were made for bulk supplies of tea, sugar, milk, biscuits, writing paper, envelopes, comforts for the wounded and the sick, toilet requisites, and sweets to follow in the second and third echelons. When it is remembered that the expected supplies of these requirements from New Zealand and New Caledonia had not arrived and that the quantities available from the American PXs were limited, disappointments and shortages were inevitable. Without assistance from the Army Service Corps, the cafeteria service could not have been maintained.

The first flush of a tropical dawn on 27 October saw landing craft of all descriptions nosing in towards Falamai Beach on Mono Island, the principal island of the Treasury Group, under the guns of the enemy garrison to seize what was to become an important base for future operations in this area. The little band of YMCA secretaries landing with the first wave of fighting troops set to work assisting the unloading of stores and equipment and getting hot tea ready for thirsty patrols. One secretary had the unenviable experience of seeing his first brew of tea with primus stove and all blown to pieces by a Japanese mortar bomb. After the initial landing and the rapid extermination of all opposition in both Vella Lavella and the Treasury Islands there followed many months of garrison duty under conditions which offered a serious challenge to the welfare services. The tempo of events in the whole South Pacific area was quickening and shipping resources were being strained to the limit by essential munitions, equipment and rations. Steps were taken to establish recreation centres in all unit areas, this being undertaken where they were available by YMCA secretaries and padres. On Vella Lavella the home of a planter which had escaped demolition in the fighting was taken over as a road house and there Mr. R. Knapp, who had arrived to reinforce the YMCA team, took charge of what became for both New Zealand and United States forces the most popular meeting place on the island. In Guadalcanal, in addition to the recreation centre at the 2nd New Zealand Casualty Clearing Station cared for by Padre Halpin and Padre Aires, a good YMCA under the control of Mr. O. R. Triggs was built by the engineer services on a ridge between the field main-page 165tenance centre and transit camp. Mr. Russell Clearwater also established a centre on the main ridge midway between divisional headquarters and the 144-th Independent Battery while other camps had centres serviced by padres or unit personnel.

On 4 December 1943 Captain L. M. Graham who had been appointed by the board as assistant commissioner in the forward area arrived in Guadalcanal to take over from Major Brain who left some ten days later on a short visit to New Zealand to endeavour to improve arrangements for supplies and shipping. For the succeeding six months the management of the forward area was in the hands of Captain Graham, Major Brain returning from New Zealand to New Caledonia toward the end of January. Early in January Captain Graham visited both Vella Lavella and the Treasury Islands, organised sub-bases in both places and checked up on the service being provided for units. He also handled the organisation required for the servicing of the troops who were to take part in the next task allotted to the division, namely the occupation of Nissan Island. This involved the penetration of the enemy-held perimeter in the South Pacific to a greater depth than had hitherto been accomplished by any allied ground forces in this area. The whole of the troops on Vella Lavella together with certain divisional troops on Guadalcanal took part in the operation and the welfare service was organised on similar lines to that which was so successful in the Treasury Islands. Distributions of chocolate, toilet requisites, writing paper and envelopes were made to units for them to take forward in bulk to be immediately available on arrival. Bulk supplies followed at a few days interval with the third, fifth and seventh echelons. Preceded by 14 days by an armed reconnaissance by personnel from the 30th Battalion and other units D-day was 15 February. The YMCA secretaries who landed with the force were Messrs. A. Kelly (16th Motor Transport Company). R. Knapp (Divisional Headquarters), N. Handley (30th Battalion), R. Williams (35th Battalion), I. Milner (37th Battalion), G. Edwards (29th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment), and R. Clearwater (144th Independent Battery), Mr. R. Le Couteur of the 17th Field Regiment followed in the 2nd echelon. A welcome addition to the hard rations of the first few days after the landing was provided by 40 cases of NAT PAT gift parcels which had been surplus in the previous distribution on Vella page 166Lavella. About 17 tons of supplies went forward with the third echelon and 35 tons, or 1,458 cases., with the fifth echelon. Captain Graham with Sergeant I. A. Morrison, who had been in charge of the Guadalcanal store since November, travelled to Nissan on the landing craft taking the latter consignment which included a full distribution of gift parcels. They remained on Nissan Island until 12 March to supervise unloading, storage and distribution and to plan future service. During their absence Corporal G. A. Kelly was in charge of the Guadalcanal store.

The stores position on Guadalcanal had been greatly improved by the completion towards the end of January of the new store erected of locally milled timber and malthoid under the supervision of Lieutenant C. A. S. Maynard the engineer at FMC. The store was quickly filled by a large shipment which arrived from New Zealand early in February. There was a constant flow of goods through this store. Captain Graham paid a short visit to New Caledonia from 8 to 21 April to complete arrangements involved in the return of the division to New Caledonia which had now been decided on. On his return he visited the Treasury Islands and Nissan again to put these arrangements into effect and finally left Guadalcanal at the end of May. The responsibility for the Fiji Military Forces, then located at Bougainville, was handed over to Flight-Lieutenant J. R. Herbert, the board's commissioner with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who arrived in Guadalcanal on 29 January 1944. Up to this time air force and naval units in the islands had been cared for by the board's staff and base located with the third division. The Fijians had built up a wonderful reputation for themselves, first in New Georgia and Kolumbangara, and later in Bougainville, and their first YMCA secretary, Mr. E. Grounds, was fitted out by the board with equipment similar to that supplied to the division's" secretaries. Even when their patrols were in the heart of enemy-held jungle in Bougainville, NAT PAT comforts were sometimes dropped to them by parachute.

One of the most popular innovations in the forward area was the inauguration as from 1 January 1944 of a regular newspaper service. Copies of daily newspapers were sent by air from Auckland by the canteen board, paid for by NAT PAT and distributed to all units on Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella, the Treasury Islands and Nissan Island. Private Jim Hansen, who handled the bulk page 167supplies when they reached Guadalcanal, conscientiously saw to it that the forward troops got their full quota of papers. At first papers arrived two or three times weekly and by March the service had so improved that almost daily deliveries were made, and on some occasions copies of Auckland papers reached Guadalcanal—2,000 miles away—within 18 hours of publication. The service from Guadalcanal forward was also by air. Naturally weather conditions and the availability of space on air transports made the service erratic at times, but right up until the withdrawal of the division from the forward area from 250 to 400 of each day's papers were delivered. Due to transport difficulties and despite all efforts, this popular service could not be provided for the troops of the division located at the base in New Caledonia, rigid priority being given the needs of forward area troops.