Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Chapter Thirty — Force Rear Party

page 251

Chapter Thirty
Force Rear Party

The knowledge that this is intended to be a history to be read by wives and children immediately denies an author the use of one luridly interesting topic—the blasphemous thoughts and sulphurous language of everyone who found himself elected to the Force Rear Party. He knew nothing about it, he didn't want to know anything about it, it was a new and temporary unit, and it didn't sound good to him. Conceived at the end of July 1944, Force Rear Party had a very short period of gestation, was born on 3 August and commenced its labours almost before the end of its labour pains. All units of the division and in base contributed their reluctant quota of officers and men, in total over 1,000 strong, and from this heterogeneous assortment of 'the men they left behind them' was spot-welded a unit which in two short months, while the rest of the force went home to enjoy its leave, closed down and handed over all camps and buildings of the force, checked, stored, transported and shipped all its equipment to New Zealand, drove and shipped all its vehicles, guns and assorted rolling stock.

It is not necessary or even of general interest to give names, but a short list of those holding command and sub-command will show from what a varied origin Force Rear Party was drawn:— Commanding Officer—Lieutenant-Colonel F. L. H. Davis, NZSC, 29th Battalion; Second-in-Command—Major J. G. Warrmgton, 17th Field Regiment, NZA; Adjutant—Captain J. C. Thomson, 29th Battalion; Company Commanders—Captain W. A. D. McComb, 29th Motor Transport Company, NZASC; Captain S. Owen, 37th Field Park Company; Captain K. E. Louden, MC, page 25236th Battalion; Captain R. B. Burke. 29th Battalion; Captain A. Stark, Base Reception Depot.

Force Rear Party had a short but very busy life. In two months:—

(a)It drove and shipped 2,805 vehicles, guns and trailers in varying stages of roadworthiness and disrepair.
(b)It travelled over half a million miles of road.
(c)It consumed 111,500 gallons of motor fuel (what profitable fun it could have bad on the New Zealand black market with that quantity—just work it out in miles for your Baby Austin).
(d)It transported over 6,000 personnel to troopships.
(e)It trucked and shipped about 10,000 tons of ammunition, stores and equipment.

And all this out of Népoui and Nouméa over roads that were not good with trucks thundering through at all hours of the day and night, without a single death or any serious road accident, and not one vehicle lost to the force. Its daily average sickness rate covering all camps and personnel was only 16 reporting for RAP attention. Its hospital admissions over the entire period were only 73, though the majority of its members were only recently from malarious areas and quite a lengthy period of tropi-cal service under adverse conditions and with the usual operational risks, and though the tempo of its work was such that one would normally expect a number to fall by the wayside. All of the above list of Force Rear Party achievements would seem to indicate a dour grim life comparing unfavourably with the lot of the normal galley slave. One would like to strike an attitude and say, 'The Pacific soldier always worked like that, and at that pace with the same cheerful abandon.' But to be thoroughly truthful, the real impelling force was not an altruistic, fervour for one's country's good, but the knowledge that the harder one worked the sooner one got home. It gave men from diverse units a common purpose that welded them in a team spirit that could never have been attained in so short a time in any other way. Troopers, gunners, sappers, signalmen, privates, drivers, officers, NCOs and men all with the vision of 'New Zealand by October' and the thought of 40 days' leave became a team which broke all records. Some unkind critics have suggested that they also broke a lot of cases that looked attractive. It is difficult to make omelettes without breaking the occasional egg, but now that the full tale page 253is told, it will be conceded that there were really very few 'gentle acquirers.'

Though life in the various Force Rear Party camps scattered throughout the length and breadth of New Caledonia was not all beer and skittles, there was the weekly beer and the occasional skittle. The dock and dump gangs at Népoui, though at times they worked like slaves, lived like little lords with their fresh fish grenaded from the blue Pacific, eggs, fresh meat and vegetables purchased locally from the French, secretly washed down by some with the local vin rouge. Now vin rouge, plus a vivid imagination, could be quite exhilarating to some, though the majority preferred their 'hops.' Picture shows were regular and frequent and much appreciated as most were early service releases of films seen much later in New Zealand. They were of mixed quality but they were always entertainment and always free, so that none could say they were not worth the money. A picnic was held for the last remaining WAAC's on the island. Lest the 'Ladies, Gawd bless 'em' should be hopelessly outnumbered this was attended only by the WAACs and by the more fortunate 'great lovers' whose company was besought for the day by the ladies concerned. Also the padre-—the Church always seems to get in on these things. And so life in the Force Rear Party was like the curate's egg—it was good in parts, and time passed very quickly.

The job was completed by 30 September and there the war diary and this story of Force Rear Party really ends. The bal-ance of the unit finally left New Caledonia on 11 October and NZEF IP shook the dust of New Caledonia and the islands of the Pacific from feet that were in some cases strangely reluctant when the time came to go. They wanted to see New Zealand, they wanted their leave, but for all their grousing about the Pacific it had had its moments of beauty and pleasure, it still had its unfor-gettable memories, its real comradeships and associations, and not the least pleasant of these was the novel and successful intermingling of all corps, arms and services in the
Force Rear Party.