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

Chapter Thirty-One — Mangere Camp

page 254

Chapter Thirty-One
Mangere Camp

To most of the men of the division their despatch on overseas leave from Papakura Military Camp severed for ever their association with the NZEF IP. The division was finished; nothing remained but to enjoy a long leave and wonder what their next military appointment would involve. To the headquarters staff of NZEF IP Base the division was not yet dead, and it was obvious that its death throes would be difficult and protracted. Early in August 1944 an advanced Base Headquarters composed of Captain M. A. Pattison and a small number of other rank base personnel, was stationed in Mangere Crossing Camp, charged with the duty of accepting stores on the base commandant's behalf. A working party under Captain Fowke arrived from Papakura Camp coincident with the first shipment of divisional stores from New Caledonia.

For a steady three months the equipment rolled into the area and it was fortunate that the camp had large areas suitable for transport and huge sheds for the storage of equipment. Few men, unless they have actually witnessed such a sight, can visualise the appearance of over 10,000 tons of mixed stores and 3,000 assorted vehicles. Only those who handled it can realise the work involved in unloading, recording, stacking, sorting into unit dumps, and guarding such a terrific volume of material. The working party man-handled not less than 250,000 packages, each averaging in weight about 100 pounds. But this was only the preliminary. Every item of equipment, every stick, nut and bolt was on charge to an individual unit and had to be accounted for, and returned to Army Ordnance or an equivalent organisation. It became obvious then that representatives of every unit which owned any page 255army material would have to be assembled in Mangere to make complete clearances and supervise the transfers to ordnance, and Brigadier Dove, on his arrival from New Caledonia on 11 October, re-organised the camp on this basis. There were just on 90 accounting units, plus such ancillary services as YMCA, postal, records, pay, and a camp staff to provide for the comforts and organisation of what became known as the 3 NZ Division Base.

The task facing the individual unit quartermaster was unenviable. He had first to find out from his shipping schedules which cases he owned, and whether all had arrived at Mangere. He had then to find suitable accommodation where his cases could be unpacked and his equipment laid out for checking. The physical check must then agree with his book records, and the actual equipment repaired, cleaned, repacked, and listed for return to Army Ordnance-—if they would accept it. Very particular gentlemen these, loth, reasonably enough, to accept any item not in perfect condition. Then came the difficulty of explaining the losses and breakages, squaring from generally indifferent records the various unit funds, sorting general records for the benefit of posterity in the form of army archives, and finally persuading the army auditors that the unit was free, clear and honest. And of all tasks this latter was the greatest. Army auditors are wily gentlemen, accustomed to dealing with generations of quarter-masters, and perforce knowing all the answers. Bred on suspicion and trained on army forms they are unmoved by tears and threats, impervious to bluff or cajolery, and in general possess a capacity for liquor which is the despair even of the gunners. A unit could obtain audit clearance when its books were right-— but not before. Consider the countless thousands of different items which an army uses, from scalpels to dozer-blades, underpants to camouflage nets, gun limbers to tank-tracks, spectacle lenses to coffins, mortar bombs to typhus germs, and endeavour to appreciate the magnitude of the paper war as fought by quarter-masters and staffs in Mangere.

In spite, however, of its mixture of corps, the camp was an extremely happy family. Quarters were comfortable, the food after Pacific menus was magnificent, and entertainments were generous. The Kiwi as ever was quick to make his own amuse-ments and appreciate the efforts of others on his behalf. But with all its advantages and the opiate of really hard work the task page 256was not a pleasant one. The division held a place in the affections of every man. Those who had been with it through its early stages, had watched it being welded into unity by the flame of criticism and even derision, had seen it under conditions which would strain the morale of a saint, and had seen parts of it fight, were sorry to see it die. They knew that given the opportunity it would have held its own alongside any troops in the world. But as they worked they watched it disintegrate to the unpleasant accompaniment of Guide to Stores Accounting. These men who toiled to ease its passing worked in the knowledge that their efforts would never be known to their erstwhile comrades. They shepherded what was left of their units gently into oblivion and then departed, some to civilian life and others into reinforcement drafts for the Middle East and Italy. It is fitting that the final paragraph of this history should be quoted from a special order issued by the GOC.

'For most of you the war is not yet over and your services may be required in another theatre. It is a matter for regret that this further service will not be with the division nor with the units for which we have so warm a love and regard. This is as inevitable as it is regretful. I know, however, that you are qualified to take your place in any formation to which you may be posted, and that you will serve therein with credit to yourselves and your new units. My own interest in ex-members of the 3rd NZ Division and its ancillary services will never wane, and I shall regard it as my pleasing duty to further your interests in any way I can. I wish you the best of good fortune—for the rest of the war, and afterwards.'