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

Chapter Two — HQ, NZEF IP

page 13

Chapter Two

Base Headquarters, Third NZ Division came into being in August 1942 when Colonel (later Brigadier) W. W. Dove, CBE, MC, was appointed Commander 3 Div Base, with an office in Maritime Buildings, Quay Street, Auckland, and a staff of two other ranks. The formation of a base headquarters became necessary consequent upon the decision to build up the Third Division, which had returned from service in Fiji, to the strength of a three brigade division, with its attendant base organisation. Early in September 1942 Headquarters 3 NZ Division Base moved to Papakura Military Camp where the nucleus of the base units that had been in Fiji were located. At Papakura, Captain (later Major) G. W. Foote and Lieutenant (later Captain) H. N. Johnson were appointed DAG 2 echelon and staff captain respectively. The office staff was increased by six other ranks. Base Headquarters was responsible for the formation of the various base units and for the reception and posting to units of the numerous reinforcements which were arriving continuously.

When the division moved to the Waikato District, Base Headquarters and the various base units moved to Rugby Park, Hamilton, having an office located in the drill hall. The camp at Rugby Park was under the command of Captain (later Major) A. R. Stowell, of Base Reception Depot, and early in the piece he was inconsiderate enough to institute a morning parade with an inspection of arms. Base Headquarters personnel, normally the 'untouchables' had perforce to attend. They managed to get their rifles to the port arms position, but in some instances by rather unorthodox movements. However, after a month or so a modicum of uniformity was attained Another necessary evil was the daily page 14march to the drill hall, a distance of about one and a half miles.

About the middle of October 1942 Brigadier Dove proceeded to New Caledonia on a preliminary reconnaissance of our future area of service. Upon his return the division was ordered to move overseas to New Caledonia, the advanced party, consisting of personnel of divisional and base units sailing from Wellington on 29 October 1942. The GOC, accompanied by the base commandant, heads of services, the GSO 1 and the AAQMG, proceeded to New Caledonia by air on 7 November 1942. On 11 November two members of base headquarters' staff disembarked at Nouméa from the Maui. Temporary accommodation for the office of base headquarters was made available by the US authorities in the Hotel du Grand Pacifique. Later in the month, with the arrival of further personnel, the headquarters moved to premises in the Rue d'Alma, Nouméa. Shortly after his arrival in New Caledonia Brigadier Dove was appointed officer in charge of administration, NZEF IP, and carried out those duties in addition to his existing appointment of Base Commandant 3 NZ Division.

The first base personnel to arrive lived in two French houses, and were able to make themselves reasonably comfortable. One Saturday night the other ranks had a small celebration as a result of which they slept in the following morning. Unfortunately the absence of the duty personnel from their posts was noted by higher authority on an unannounced visit to the office. He immediately proceeded to the houses where all were sleeping peacefully. The scene changed at once. There was feverish activity and the vacant chairs in the office were filled in record time.

On 31 December 1942 the West Point, with the main body of the division aboard, arrived at Nouméa, and anchored in the stream for the night. Certain unlucky base headquarters personnel spent New Year's Eve aboard ship under blackout conditions, with Nouméa a blaze of lights. In mid-January 1943 base reception depot moved to the site later known as Nouméa transit camp, and base headquarters personnel had to give up the comforts of-a house and move into tents erected on the side of a hill.

By January 1943 the various units of the division were established in the northern half of the island. In December 1942 Major H. F. Allan, a recent addition to base headquarters staff, went to Bourail and secured a vacant French dwelling for a base page 15headquarters office in that 'metropolis.' Major Allan's stay with us was short and, on his transfer to divisional headquarters in January 1943, Major D. E. Trevarthen took over in Bourail. At this time the office staff consisted of two other ranks who were accommodated in base signals camp (later Bourail camp). The main body of base headquarters remained in Nouméa under Brigadier Dove. As from 1 February 1943 the main office of base headquarters was located in Bourail, a small detachment being left in Nouméa under Captain H. N. Johnson for liaison purposes with the US forces.

The increase in staff at Bourail made it necessary to secure larger premises, and after negotiations with the French authorities, the two-storied premises of Ballandes, in the centre of Bourail, were made available to us. The ground floor of the building was used as an office for base headquarters and DAG 2 echelon, and the top floor converted into a mess and sleeping quarters for the officers. Most of our personnel lived at the back of the premises and the remainder in Bourail camp. Tents were erected at the back of the building, and use was made of the upstairs portion of a narrow two-storied building that had rather obviously been the living quarters of the Javanese employees of Ballandes, At first we had a makeshift cookhouse in a tin shed, but before long an old bakehouse at the back was converted into a cookhouse. A mess room was erected, and it represented a vast improvement on the tin shed we had hitherto used. From time to time efforts were made to have the floor of the mess room concreted, but for one reason or another the engineers never got round to this particular job. Later on the tents were replaced by four-men huts so that we all had a roof over our heads.

The establishment for the various base units had never been very satisfactory. The headquarters in this story referred to as 'Base Headquarters' had carried out the functions of HQ NZEF IP and Base Headquarters NZEF IP. In April 1943 new or amended establishments for most of the base units were issued. During this month HQ NZEF IP and Base Headquarters became separate entities, with different staffs, and their respective functions and duties were defined. Both headquarters were located in the same building, and Brigadier Dove continued to hold the two appointments of officer in charge of administration and base commandant. The establishments provided for a staff of six officers page 16and 25 other ranks for HQ NZEF IP, and two officers and ten other ranks for Base Headquarters, and the necessary personnel to bring each headquarters up to full strength were marched in.

In army parlance 'flaps' were not uncommon in HQ NZEF IP. The first of these was usually at 8 am when 'Signals' handed in a flock of messages received during the night from New Zea-land. These had to be dealt with in time to catch the 9 am couriers, and the two typists would be 'flat out.' One in particular was in the first flight for an army typist, but was, quite often expected to do the impossible, such as to run off some ten copies of a two page signal in something better than five minutes. This particular person had a rather volatile temperament which, on such occasions, was not improved by 'proddings' by five or six staff officers. Another cause for complaint by the typists was the rule that signals received up till 9 pm each evening had to be dealt with immediately. When the duty clerk was one of those wise men who had never familiarised himself with the mysteries of a type-writer, it meant dragging a typist down from his comfortable bed-cot to do such typing as was necessary. The non-typist, when this happened, was usually, and perhaps justifiably, unpopular with his confrere.

Our main entertainment, apart from what we organised for ourselves, was the bi-weekly picture show in the village square. Our cookhouse wall, kept a snow white colour by one of the batmen, served as a screen. Being handy we were able to get a front seat.

At first we were dependent on Coleman kerosene lamps or candles for lighting, but later on a generator was installed, and the building wired. Those living at the back acquired wire, fittings, and globes from somewhere, and were soon enjoying the boon of decent light. In fact, some went to the extent of having a light alongside their beds for reading, as well as one from the roof. Our camp commandant, also known as the 'staff learner,' was a handy man, and many of the amenities round, the camp were the result of his ingenuity. He fiddled for days with tin drums, lengths of pipe, and an army petrol cooker. The final result was a hot shower and, what is more to the point, it worked. It was thrown open to the other ranks twice a week and was much appreciated by all While on the subject of our camp commandant, it might be mentioned that he had a nasty habit of page break
Officers of headquarters mess at Bourail. Front row: Brigadier J. W. Twhigg, DSO (DDMS), Brigadier W. W. Dove, CBE, MC (OICA), Major W. G. Hammond (AAQMG). Rear row: Lieutenant-Colonel O. E. L. Rout (ADDS), Major R. A. Young (PRO), Major G. W. Foots (DAG 2 Ech), Lieutenant A. G. Massey, and Captain M. A. Pattisun (DAQMG). Below is a view of the building which housed headquarters NZEF IP. Usually referred to as 'The Oicarage'

Officers of headquarters mess at Bourail. Front row: Brigadier J. W. Twhigg, DSO (DDMS), Brigadier W. W. Dove, CBE, MC (OICA), Major W. G. Hammond (AAQMG). Rear row: Lieutenant-Colonel O. E. L. Rout (ADDS), Major R. A. Young (PRO), Major G. W. Foots (DAG 2 Ech), Lieutenant A. G. Massey, and Captain M. A. Pattisun (DAQMG). Below is a view of the building which housed headquarters NZEF IP. Usually referred to as 'The Oicarage'

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The signpost at the Téné Valley turn-off is seen above. Below is a view of Base Reception Depot showing the orderly room with the bure of the officers' moss in the background among the niaoulis

The signpost at the Téné Valley turn-off is seen above. Below is a view of Base Reception Depot showing the orderly room with the bure of the officers' moss in the background among the niaoulis

page 17inspecting living quarters and rifles on the days when they had not received the attention due to them.

One of our corporals had great difficulty in getting up and often missed his breakfast if the cooks were not in the best of humours. One celebrated morning when he was running par-ticularly late, he had the misfortune, preparatory to his usual wash, to turn on a tap which cut off the shower under which a senior officer was soaping himself. The officer concerned was annoyed, and rightly so, and the upshot was that the corporal was ordered to shift himself and his belongings to Bourail camp. This would have meant 'roughing' it in tents, washing in a muddy trickle, and such inconveniences. However, later in the day the corporal was forgiven and the movement order cancelled, but with stern threats as to what would happen if there was a repeti-tion. This particular corporal was very friendly with a local family, mother and two daughters, who lived across the road from our camp. For months he had no competition at all, and outside office hours we saw very little of him. Towards the end of our stay it was noticed that he was spending quite a few even-ings with the rest of us, and was not 'squiring' mother and one or both daughters to the pictures. The reason was that two of our staff officers had gained the entree to this household, and the girls apparently preferred their company to that of the corporal.

Another staff officer formed the habit of taking a stroll up to the premises of the commercant on the corner across from the YMCA for morning and afternoon tea. This household also in-cluded, strangely enough, two rather attractive daughters. It was common knowledge among the rest of us that this officer, accom-panied by another, used to spend quite a few evenings at this household in the latter stages of our stay. The monotony of the existence of the remaining officers was occasionally relieved by noisier if less dangerous pastimes. There were whispers which reached us of a 'social evening' when an 'A' officer ascended a flagpole suspended to the halyards head downwards. The padre on that occasion was evidently the stronger in physique as well as in spirit. The practical joke epidemic reached serious pro-portions when the 'A' versus 'Q' feud was at its height. There were collapsing beds, libellous caricatures, lockouts and vanishing mosquito nets. There was the surf team rescue of a high ranking officer from a two feet depth of broken water, the slipper race on page 18the Bourail stream, the sawdust which tasted like 'bemax,' the major who shot holes In the colonel's hat, the dentist who tried to swim a jeep to Australia and later valued his, watch higher than Javanese virtue. There was the fate of the provost corporal who took temporary command of earth moving equipment, and 'moved earth' in the main road; and the hair-raising nightmare trips back from the 'hill-billy' hospitality; the tent from which every article of furniture and clothing vanished; the bogus shipping signals which resulted in near heart failure of the 'Q' officer responsible for transport. These were the highlights of the efforts of 'officers and gentlemen' to break the monotony of the two year sojourn.

One day a kitten arrived on the premises and the cooks took pity on it and fed it. This led to it remaining with us and it soon became a firm favourite with everyone from the brigadier down-wards. It was christened 'Whiskey.' In its early days it showed a liking for taking its repose in the various 'Inwards,' 'Outwards,' 'Pending' and 'For attention' trays that adorned the tables of our officers. It preferred the 'Inwards' and 'Outwards1 com partments as there was more room there. If any officer left his cap about upside down he could rely on finding 'Whiskey' asleep in it before long. 'Whiskey' had no respect for rank and on one celebrated occasion rather startled a United States general by jumping up on to his knees during an official call.

It has been mentioned before that part of our personnel lived at Bourail camp. This camp came under command of Major Stowell who at first insisted on a morning parade and inarch down to toil for the office staffs. However, wiser counsels prevailed, and walking down independently was the order of the day. In the late summer dengue fever was rife in Bourail, and as a precaution longs with gaiters and sleeves rolled down was the pre scribed dress. Two corporals who worked in the building decided they were immune from dengue, and that longs were much too uncomfortable in the hot weather. They were strolling down one morning in shorts with sleeves rolled up. Unfortunately they were seen from the officers' mess. They were taken to task over their dress and sent back to camp to dress in conformity with orders. Next day Bourail camp personnel had to resume the morning parade and roll call and march down to their labours. Needless to say the two 'outlaws' were not popular with their fellows. page 19During the hottest weeks of the year, however, those in authority relented, and the marching was cancelled.

In June 1944 all ranks were advised of the scheme for leave to New Zealand which had been authorised by Army Headquar-ters. Those with the longest service considered themselves practi-cally home and there was many an argument as to how long it would be before everyone in the division would have had a period of leave. The first draft from base left early in July and was shortly followed by a second lot. Replacements were obtained and there were new faces round the camp. Then on 1 August 1944 the order was promulgated to the effect that it had been decided to return the division to New Zealand. To say such an order was well received is putting it very mildly. Being 'base wallahs' we knew that some of us would be there to the bitter end. Each of us had his own ideas as to why he should not be in the last lot. In the upshot some of us were lucky to get away in September.

On 1 September HQ NZEFIP closed down in Bourail and moved to Nouméa. Just prior to this, numerous local citizens were invited along to a cocktail party which was a howling success. The people of Bourail seemed genuinely sorry to see us 'fold our tents' and depart, and while we were elated at being a step nearer home, we had to admit there were worse places than Bourail— but not many.

There was not a great deal of work to be done in Nouméa and we were able to spend our accumulated dollars buying this and that to take home. The fact that a customs declaration was to be completed on ship was, however, a discouraging factor. The Talamanca arrived in Nouméa on 11 October 1944, and those of us whom duty kept till the bitter end finally sailed for New Zealand on the following day.