Base Wallahs: Story of the units of the base organisation, NZEF IP
VI — New Caledonia, May 1944 to September 1944
New Caledonia, May 1944 to September 1944
The succeeding five months provided a period of some difficulty and very great uncertainty for the division, and plans had to be revised constantly to meet the changing conditions. The broad changes which occurred during this period were: Firstly, the return spread over approximately three months of the whole of the troops in the forward area (Guadalcanal, Treasury Islands, and Nissan Island) to the base in New Caledonia; secondly, the static period in New Caledonia when units settled into new locations; thirdly, the return of men to New Zealand for the needs of essential industry; and finally, the evacuation of the New Caledonia base and the return of the remnants of the division to New Zealand and its dissolution. These phases to some extent overlapped.
The requirements of security made it almost impossible for advanced information to be given as to where, when, or how quickly the various moves were to be made, whether the stay in New Caledonia was to be for the purpose of rest, refitting and training for some other operation in this or another theatre of war, whether if the division returned to New Zealand it would page 171be disbanded and so on. The difficulties that this entailed in providing for supplies to be at the right place at the right time can well be imagined, but surmises drawn on the trend of events were on the whole accurate, and the division was fortunate in having adequate supplies of furnishings, outdoor and indoor sports equipment, cafeteria supplies and other amenities available for the static period spent in New Caledonia. From the beginning of May welfare work fell in the main under the following sections: Firstly the provision of furnishings and unit recreation centres for units setting up camps in New Caledonia. During this short period 17 of these centres were established, mostly staffed by YMCA secretaries, erected by the units themselves with assistance from the board and furnished and equipped by the board. In type the centres varied. Marquees, timber frame and tarpaulin roof, native bures, niaouli frame, bark roof and so on—all cheaply constructed, but providing comfortable meeting places and centres for the social life of the units. Secondly, the provision of outdoor sports equipment for the returning units. Thirdly, the maintenance of the cafeteria service in all recreation centres. Fourthly, the maintenance and improvement of the two clubs at the main base camp and at Bourail. Daily groups of troops relaxed in comfortable chairs on the extensive verandahs and in the reading and writing rooms of these clubs, and for those who had spent many months in the jungle cut off from the amenities of civilisation the gay and comfortable surroundings were more than welcome. Fifthly, adequate provision of comforts for hospital patients including toilet requisites, candy, cigarettes, writing materials and special lines for addition to the hospital menus. Sixthly, the continued supply of ice-cream from the board's icecream plant for which the raw materials were obtained from New Zealand. Shortly after the division arrived a bottling plant was installed and from 1 July approximately 10,000 bottles of coca cola and soda water were distributed from this plant. Seventhly, support to cinema and other entertainment. The greater part, of the material required for the erection of four outdoor picture theatres was supplied, in addition to which new instruments and other equipment were provided for the divisional band and the Kiwi concert party in the Pacific. As there was no club for officers in New Caledonia the board assisted in furnishing officers' and sergeants' ante rooms in the various unit areas.page 172
In carrying on this and other work the board became involved in a highly technical and very considerable merchandising business. At this time two separate stores were in full use, one of these which was used for the supply of rations and foodstuffs for the clubs and recreation centres and raw materials for the ice cream plant was located in a school in Bourail, Corporal Wheeler being in charge of this store. The other store from which furnishings and general merchandise was distributed comprised five buildings erected by the board's own staff near the centre of the township of Bourail. Sergeant A. C. Martin was in charge of this store, and he had Corporal J. D. Bell as his head store man. Captain Enright returned to New Zealand shortly after Captain Graham arrived from the forward area at the end of May. At this stage the activities of the board had grown to such a degree that at a conference with the officer in charge of administration on 12 June, the board was granted a temporary war establishment. This put its activities on a proper unit footing and led to greatly improved control of the many activities and of the staff responsible for it.
In July it became clear that the whole division would shortly be moved back to New Zealand. Further shipments from New Zealand were stopped and on 8 July, the secretary of the board, Mr. Hayden, arrived in New Caledonia to go into the question of realisation of the board's assets there. Some of the surplus stores held were shipped back to New Zealand, but in the main stocks in New Caledonia and the board's investments there were sold to American authorities or to the French people. The Kiwi Club was taken over by the American Red Cross on 7 August and the Bourail Club on 15 September. The ice-cream plant was sold to the United States PX and they took over this plant on 14 August. The final winding-up of the board's affairs in New Caledonia was completed by Major Brain, assisted by Staff-Sergeant Kyle who had done a first-class job as quartermaster at the Kiwi Club. With the remnants of his staff, Staff-Sergeant Kyle and Gunner Fergusson, Major Brain sailed for New Zealand towards the end of September.
Mention has already been made of the fine co-operation received from the French community in New Caledonia. Throughout the division's stay there, the hospitality of the French people never failed and on the departure of our forces, an honours board page 173was presented to the town of Bourail by the board. This was placed in the Town Hall at Bourail which had served as a recreation centre for so many thousands. In addition 500 surplus gift parcels were presented to the Governor of the colony for charity organisations, and the following acknowledgment was received from him:—
'The British Consul has been kind enough to inform me of the generous offer of the Patriotic Fund of New Zealand to hand over 500 parcels of victuals for the charity organisations in the colony.
'Permit me to say how much I have been moved by this offer, and to thank you very sincerely for your very fine gesture, which will bring even closer the bonds of friendship which have already been established between the New Zealand troops and the French population of New Caledonia.'
And so ended an effort in welfare where new trails were blazed. The total cost of the services given to the Third Division was approximately £250,000. Difficulties were met and overcome. Disappointments there were in plenty. But throughout, there prevailed the spirit of comradeship which the Britisher carries with him amid the privations of man in hardship and adversity. And behind all this effort was the knowledge that the service was only possible because of the work being done and the sacrifices being made at home. There a gallant band of workers was labouring night and day to provide these extras for the fighting services overseas. Not only in the board's head office in Wellington, but in every town and hamlet in the country willing helpers gave of their time and their money to ensure that those who were facing the enemies of freedom were not forgotten. They, too, without any compulsion made their sacrifices and for their efforts we of the Third Division say 'Thank you.'