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

Chapter Twenty — Field Bakery

page 185

Chapter Twenty
Field Bakery

The Field Bakery unit was formed toward the latter part of August 1942, personnel being selected from ASC men who were camped at Opaheke. At the end of September the unit, which consisted of 42 other ranks and one officer, proceeded to Trentham. After ten days' infantry training there., we set up our own experimental camp in a valley at the back of the Allen Range. During the month we were there we baked bread for Trentham Camp, collected as much equipment as we could from ordnance, and eight of the personnel were sent to the wheat research institute in Christchurch to do research work on dried yeast. There were only about five of the personnel who had had previous experience of baking, but the keenness shown by the few others who were being instructed in bread baking augured well for the future. On 3 November, just as we were expecting to go on final leave, we received instructions to embark for overseas immediately. It was a rash to strike camp, get the men outfitted with tropical clothing, pack all equipment, and embark on the USS Maui by 2130 hours the following day. We had a good trip across to New Caledonia, and disembarked at Nouméa on the afternoon of 11 November, and proceeded direct 1o the American bakery at the velodrome.

As arranged, some of the men had started work there next day when we received word that our destination was not New Caledonia. We had to re-embark immediately for 'Buttons,' which turned out to be the island of Espiritu Santos in the New Hebrides group. Another rush to collect what little equipment had come ashore, and we embarked aboard the Dutch ship Boschfontein at 2030 hours on 13 November. As we were travelling in waters which were not far removed from Japanese bases, a page 186strict look-out had to be kept on this trip of 500 miles. Unfortunately the personnel were kept on board at Espiritu Santos for many days, and it was not until 28 November that the party came ashore with the unit equipment. We baked for the Americans on this island for five months, and it was the middle of March before we rejoined the division at New Caledonia. During this five months we lost about six men through sickness, and they were returned to New Zealand and New Caledonia. We experienced five bombing raids and had a few cases of malaria. Many cases of sickness occurred through personnel being unaccustomed to the excessive heat, but altogether the unit was quite a success in this, its first trial. By the time we had to return to the division, most of the personnel had received a good grounding in the art of baking, and a strong unit spirit had developed, which was to hold the unit together in all its later activities. It was a party of 25 that eventually arrived at Nouméa on 20 March 1943. The men were given one week's leave there before proceeding to take over the American bakery, which was situated at Nandai, about eight miles from Bourail. During the five months we were at this site the unit grew to approximately 90 personnel. An excellent camp was erected, and with the help of the works construction company the whole bakehouse area was concreted. An excellent swimming pool was made, the men were very comfortably quartered, and were given every opportunity to indulge in sporting activities. The football teams were very strong for so small a unit, and the cricket and other teams had a fair share of success. The unit was able to work here in shifts of six hours and right around the clock. This proved a most successful method of working. We were producing about 13,000 pounds of bread a day and about 500 prounds of block cake, which went to the National Patriotic Fund Board, for issue through the YMCA. We were supplying bread to all troops between Tontouta and the north of the island, a distance of about 250 miles and which contained about 22,000 troops.

On 20 August 1943, 68 members of the unit, under the officer commanding, Lieutenant F. H. Fenton, proceeded to the forward areas with the division, and approximately 40 men were left at the base under Lieutenant K, M. Harrow. A detachment was sent to Dumbea to bake for the 4th General Hospital and New Zealand troops in the Nouméa area. An ice-cream and soft-page 187drinks factory was erected on the Nandai site by the National Patriotic Fund Board, and the personnel of this came under Lieutenant Harrow for administration. Contact between the base and sections in the forward areas was difficult to establish, and therefore the two parts of the unit had to work independently of each other. After 11 months, in the middle of July 1944, the last of those in the forward area returned, but by this time a big percentage of the unit had returned to New Zealand. The 60 odd who went north baked on Guadalcanal for one month, when 32 proceeded to Vella Lavella to bake for divisional troops and the 14th Brigade. Twenty more proceeded to Treasury to bake for the 8th Brigade at the end of October. Ten men were left at Guadalcanal, and this section was.to remain there until the-beginning of June 1944, baking for the field maintenance centre. The usual daily production on Guadalcanal was about 800 pounds, at Vella lavella 3,200 pounds, and at Treasury 2,200 pounds. The section at Vella Lavella later transferred to Nissan Island when the brigade and divisional troops moved there.

There were no deaths in the unit, but many men were sent back with serious illness at various times. The unit seemed to suffer unduly in this respect, but probably the added heat of having to work in front of the ovens accounted for this. Despite the very unfavourable conditions which we had to work under, in excessive heat and tropical rain, the unit was able to carry on all the time, and was always able to rise to the occasion when any demands were made upon it.