Base Wallahs: Story of the units of the base organisation, NZEF IP
Chapter Twenty-Four — Base Signals
Emerging from the creation of divisional signal sections at Manurewa in August 1942, Base Signals—then 24 strong under Second-Lieutenant (now Lieutenant) H. S. Brown—first began its operational role when on the division's move to the Waikato in September, the section settled in at Rugby Park, Frankton. Communications to base units were immediately established from a signal office installed at base headquarters which was situated in the Hamilton area defence buildings. A 10-line exchange was also operated from the park. Despatch riders covered three times daily a scheduled circuit which included divisional headquarters at the Claudelands show grounds. On the whole, duties were merely routine and presented no communication difficulties. Hamilton itself was always an attraction for off-duty personnel—the people were hospitable and the entertainment generous—so it was only natural that after a short stay in the town, mixed feelings greeted the reading of a movement order which led to the section's embarkation on the President Munroe, which sailed from Wellington on 3 December 1942 for a destination overseas. This destination proved to be New Caledonia, a French possession some 1,000 miles north of New Zealand in sub-tropical waters, then in the path of the Japanese southward drive.
After disembarking at the island's main anchorage, Nouméa, the section moved to a transit camp about 16 miles away in the Dumbéa Valley, where a week was spent before proceeding by truck a further 100 miles up the island on Route Coloniale to the township of Bourail. Acting as an advanced party to base units, the section opened the Bourail Camp and immediately commenced page 214to operate a signal office from a tent, then a house, and later a prefabricated (eight-man) hut at the northern end of the town. Personnel from A wireless section of No. 1 Company at division (who were stationed a further 25 miles up the island at Moindah) had installed high-power wireless equipment in huts at a selected site on the hill just to the rear of the township. This became known as Gracefield, going on the air on 11 December. A 30-line switchboard was installed in the signal office. Two months later with the vacating by the French of Ballande's provision store in the centre of Bourail, this two-storied, white-washed building became. Headquarters New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Pacific, and the signal office was consequently moved there. The coolness of this new home was immediately appreciated. Extensive lines were laid in the base area by linemen and within a short period sub-exchanges of 10-line switchboards were in operation at base ordnance depot in Bourail, base reception depot at Téné Valley and at the 4th General Hospital in the Boguen Valley. To inform the French authorities of hurricane or air raid warnings a link with the French civilian exchange was maintained. Long hours were being worked by members of the section and shifts up to 17 hours were not uncommon. Sub-base of Headquarters NZEF IP was functioning at Nouméa, and to this office was attached a sub-section of ultimately 21 men who operated an exchange and signal office in addition to wireless communications over the 120 mile span to base Subsequently officered by Second-Lieutenant J. W. R. Troup and Second-Lieutenant L. R. Jones. Its first senior member was Warrant-Officer Second Class F. J. Fitzgerald.
Numerous Fullerphone circuits were operated covering the division, 4th General Hospital and the 8th Brigade at Bouloupari. The latter was situated some 50 miles away—the line being laid and maintenanced over very rough country. With the gradual extension of communications, it became necessary to increase the establishment proportionately. This allowed the taking over from 'A' wireless the operation of the 250 watt transmitter which formed the division's rear link to Army Headquarters in New Zealand. Almost continuously on the air, this station handled a large volume of traffic.
Despatch riders used motor cycles at first, but later, owing to the roughness of the roads, jeeps covered the many miles recorded page 215in regular and special runs, some of which extended as far as Nouméa. A safe-hand bag carrying despatches was conveyed daily to Nouméa and return, by the Army Service Corps' service. With the further expansion in personnel Captain H. A. Hester was appointed officer commanding the section; Lieutenant Brown then became second-in-command and base signals became a separate accounting unit, having been until then under the wing of divisional signals whose headquarters was at Moindah. Following the disbandment of the 15th Brigade at Nemeara the unit was called upon to supply a detachment to operate the exchange and signal office in this area, about seven miles from base. Second-Lieutenant H. F. H. Daw joined the unit as second-in-command, replacing Lieutenant Brown who had left to take over the command of E section.
The division's movement north to the Solomons in August 1943 increased further the unit's links of wireless communications. Ten-line sub-exchanges were installed at the newly established base training depot, at works services, and a 30-line board was used to replace the inadequate 10 UC at base reception depot. Telephone communication was now being supplied to some 180 subscribers in the base area.
Due to the gap left by the move of division it became necessary for a despatch rider—or 'Courier' as he was more commonly known—to journey northwards daily as far as Népoui, a distance of about 45 miles. In preparation for the transfer of the 4th General from Boguen Valley to Dumbéa Valley, near Nouméa, linemen built a line from sub-base to the proposed site. On the hospital's movement there, their switchboard was immediately linked with Nouméa. Four officers and 115 other ranks were now on the unit's strength.
A 500-watt transmitter replaced the existing 250-watt set at Gracefield. Wireless traffic became heavier with the establishment of the division's 250-watt station on Guadacanal, which in turn coped with traffic transmitted from Vella Lavella, the Treasury Islands and Green Islands, as the division gained its objectives. Much of this was for further re-transmission by base, over the rear link to New Zealand. In this sphere the cipher staff played no small part as all messages, with few exceptions, were required to be enciphered before transmission. In charge of this secretive department of signals was Lieutenant K. O. Stewart. Meanwhile page 216normal wireless communications were being maintained within New Caledonia itself.
A glance at the graph curve of wireless traffic handled for transmission and re-transmission shows interesting figures. For the period January-February 1943, 450 messages totalling 21,000 groups passed into the ether—but this was minute when compared with the figures for May-June 1944, which shows a total of 407,470 groups keyed from 7,193 messages. Base signals in all, from the first QMM to the last QNR, handled over 50,000 messages which in signal language meant two and three-quarter million WH2IP-Base groups. Additional to these figures were the messages transmitted in 'plain language.' Press 'copy' from war correspondents reached the daily editions at home through this source, and news from New Zealand for publication in the force newspaper Kiwi was received in the same way. Unique among the traffic handled was the transmission to New Zealand of the votes recorded when members of the division—many of them at battle stations—voted their choice in the New Zealand Parliamentary elections. Despatches totalled approximately 500 a day. The arrival of the New Zealand designed and constructed wireless stations, the ZC1 with ZA1 amplifier, enabled their use on the Nouméa link in place of the Number 9 sets that were engaged to that time. Having 230-volt power available from the unit's generators, operators had the advantage of being able to power their sets from this source instead of from the usual cumbersome batteries.
High on a hill behind Bourail and close to the gendarmerie was 'Gracefield,' the high-power transmitting station. Below is a general view of the station. At the top of the page is a view of the transmitting hut. The other view shows the wireless equipment being tested by a mechanic
The base canteen was established in an old French farmhouse near Bourail Camp and there was no more popular corner in New Caledonia. One of the native-built stores in Bourail is shown above; below is a view of the base canteen building
The Base Post Office, from which mail was distributed to all units of the Third Division, was situated in the main street in Bourail, Above is a field post office on Nissan Island, taken when a parcel mail had arrived
The orderly room staff at the Field Maintenance Centre which was established on Guadalcanal. Below is a painting by one of the artists of a bombed and beached Japanese ship on Guadalcanal
Every opportunity was taken to participate in sport, and base rugby, hockey and cricket teams contained a representation of the unit. Two keen rifle teams shot in competition, one reaching the semi-finals of a base contest, while a signals surf team was responsible for numerous rescues during its patrols on the Bourail beach. Movies shown in the Bourail square were always a well-attended feature. An active social committee provided popular alternatives in card evenings, and dances to which members of the WAAC and French girls were invited as partners. In the latter stages, numerous changes in officers were made and following Captain Hester's departure for Guadalcanal, Captain G. M. Parkhouse, Lieutenant E. G. Harris and finally Captain R. F. Hanna—all of whom had been in the forward areas—had short tours of duty in command of the unit.
The month of May 1944 saw the return from the forward area of the first draft of men returning from the division to the dominion for employment in essential industries. To this and other drafts were included personnel from base signals. Almost simultaneously the division returned to New Caledonia with its operational role completed, and machinery was set in motion for drafts to return home on furlough. This had barely taken effect, however, when it was decided to return the whole force to New Zealand. All these movements increased signal traffic considerably, especially on the rear link to Wellington. Lieutenant Stewart returned to New Zealand on a tour of duty and was replaced by Second-Lieutenant R. J. Henry—a recently commissioned member of the cipher staff. On the movement of the unit to Nouméa on 13 September, transmission from Bourail ceased, but the rear link to New Zealand was opened again, within a few minutes, from an already established 1-kilowatt station in Nouméa. The page 218only remaining members of the division now on the island were the force rear party still in the Bourail area and elements of base units at Nouméa. Communication to the Bourail party was maintained by a newly erected American line from Nouméa. Early in October the FRP also moved to Nouméa and on conclusion of the party's loading task, base signals sailed aboard the USS Talamanca from Nouméa, arriving in New Zealand on 14 October 1944.