The Gunners: an intimate record of units of the 3rd New Zealand Divisional Artillery in the Pacific from 1940 until 1945
I — We are Born to Learn Something of Each Other
We are Born to Learn Something of Each Other
Traditional army custom is being well observed in the compiling of this history. The writer is not a journalist, nor has he kept any diary during the time of the events to be recorded. The situation was briefly,' What, you've never written any history stuff before? Well, now try your hand with this.' It can be seen therefore that, by army standards, he is fully qualified to write such a history! Many of the incidents to be related have been dragged from the dimming memory of those few who, fortunately, have been close at hand when this was written. It is not easy to think back over the past two years and, in any case, who wants to? Other material has been pieced together from diaries, photographs; even from personal letters. Ranks have been mentioned as they were when the division moved back to New Zealand. It is addressed solely to those loyal warriors who at one time or another were on the strength of headquarters. It will have little interest for a stranger. Should there be any grave omissions, or glaring inaccuracies, then it is hoped that the reader will be tolerant.
Someone once wrote of man that he was born, he suffered and he died. And. so it was with the Third New Zealand Division, whose artillery was commanded by Brigadier C. S. J. Duff, DSO, RNZA. The division was formed in a time of extreme emergency. It consisted of men who were anxious to fight for the Empire. The American marines on Guadalcanal were anxiously page 23awaiting army reinforcements. There morale was still good, but there was news of a further attempt by the Japanese to drive south. In August 1942 the situation had so deteriorated that it was thought that the New Zealand Division might have to move direct to Guadalcanal. Early in September, however, the position improved, and it was agreed that we would go to New Caledonia to allow the US American Division to reinforce the marines at Guadalcanal. From then on a constant war was waged against boredom, tropical diseases, mosquitoes, mud and the humidity of the tropics. The stench of the jungle is something to be experienced. It is impossible to describe. There were grumbles, but the men reacted magnificently to a job which simply had to be done. They were not in the islands from choice.
As a jungle division the Third New Zealand Division earned the highest praise from the Americans. Among their own countrymen recognition of its achievements appeared to be halfhearted. After returning to New Zealand with the prospect of action further afield, the division was disbanded with a stroke of a pen. We did not expect any ceremonial dismissal, yet in all modesty it is asked that in the future a more tolerant and reasoned judgment might obtain in connection with our not inconsiderable accomplishments carried out under entirely new conditions of warfare.
Headquarters, Third New Zealand Divisional Artillery, first saw the light of day on 17 August 1942 at Grande Vue Camp, Manurewa. Artillery personnel of New Zealand forces in Fiji had returned to the Dominion on 25 July 1942 and all records of the headquarters party had been stored,' m this camp under the care of Lieutenant A. F. Grant, who was relieved on the formation of the new headquarters. The camp, which was also that of divisional headquarters, was situated on the sunny slopes of a large hill overlooking the township of Manurewa and, for the most part, consisted of small army huts dotted in and out of some magnificent New Zealand manuka. In fact there was little to suggest a military institution and, at first sight, apart from the personnel and army vehicles, it might well have been taken for a modern motor camp. At this stage headquarters personnel lived and fed with those of divisional headquarters. Further personnel who joined headquarters on reaching Necal were, at this time, with 17th Anti-aircraft Brigade at Pahautanui under command of Colonel V. A. Young, MC, RA. It was here that the anti-aircraft page 24and coast elements of divisional artillery were being trained, with a separate staff, although the brigade headquarters, as such, would not accompany the force overseas. Instead, as CRA, Brigadier Duff had had experience not only of field and coast artillery but also of anti-aircraft, the unusual organisation was evolved of having one CRA with two staffs, one for controlling field and anti-tank units and the other for anti-aircraft and coast, each with its own brigade major, staff captain and liaison officer, but with one common intelligence officer. This organisation is believed to be unique in the British Service. It was originally thought that these two elements, that of field artillery and that of static anti-aircraft and coast defence would be operating separately, although probably within a small area, but the deployment of the force in Necal changed this conception. It is recorded here that on arrival overseas the two staffs worked and lived together harmoniously and functioned satisfactorily as a combined staff.
The cookhouse which served Headquarters Divisional Artillery on Nissan Island, where rain water was collected in empty oil drums because of the shortage of water
Brigadier Duff in his small dinghy on the Nissan lagoon. These small craft were used for observation work
The Hunter Liggett in which Divisional Artillery Headquarters moved north from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal
Dawn breaks over the Tontouta Airfield, New Caledonia, revealing the huge aircraft parked there in readiness for flights to New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and Guadalcanal. The 28th Heavy Anti-aircraft Regiment, one of the guns of which can be seen on the right, was responsible for the defence of this airfield
Above: Guns of 203 Battery, 28th Heavy Anti-aircraft Regiment, sited for the defence of Tontouta Airfield in New Caledonia. Right: The famous mile-long pine avenue on Norfolk Island which was sacrificed so that a tactical airfield could be constructed. The first aeroplane, a New Zealand Hudson, landing on the new airfield on Christmas Day, 1942
Time here was spent in ordinary routine administration. The staff of Headquarters Divisional Artillery (Field) consisted of the following:—Brigade Major: Major N. W. M. Hawkins, NZA; staff captain: Captain O. J. Cooke, NZA; intelligence officer: Captain E. H. Fowke, NZA; liaison officer: Captain J. L. M. Horrocks, NZA. The anti-aircraft and coast staff who were training at Pahautanui consisted of Major C. D. B. Campling, RA, as brigade major, and Captain J. A. Crawley, NZA, as staff captain. Both these staffs were aided by a very capable and hardworking body of clerks. No thought of union hours ever entered their heads, and appreciation should be recorded of their untiring efforts. They were headed by the redoubtable Bickerton as chief clerk and under him were Sergeant Burns and Sergeant Miller. On the AA side came Sergeant D. A. Pointon who, since returning to New Zealand, has won the Wellington lawn tennis championship, and Bombardier Davidson, not forgetting a particularly peculiar person, one Cosson. It was always thought that Gunner Cosson had, in his youth, swallowed a musician's metronome of slow tempo and that, on awakening each morning, he wound himself up like a clock. His speech was slow and deliberate and this, together with a certain sphinx-like expression, gave his listener something of a surprise on learning that hidden within was a dry wit that always amused. Unfortunately for us he joined the air force shortly before the division moved from Necal to the Solomons. He was replaced by Bombardier McCrorie, who came from the then recently disbanded 33rd Heavy Regiment. On account of his courtesy and efficiency officers of headquarters staff had the greatest respect for this quiet, unassuming clerk.
Routine administration went on. Looking back, part of a day page 26went something like this: Returns asked for by division! Passed on to units! 'Can we let you know to-morrow?' 'No, send them in by 5 o'clock' Must think ahead. Ah, yes, envelopes can be addressed. No sign of those! returns. 'Get the adjutant on the phone.' 'What, they left by motor-cycle orderly. They haven't arrived yet. Sorry, looked in the wrong basket. They are here all right.' 'Have we any timber? Good God, this is artillery headquarters. What's that—can you get some timber? How much do you want? You don't know yet—it was only an enquiry? Well this is not an enquiry agency.' 'Sergeant Burns, Where's that file dealing with indents—haven't seen it for ages.' 'On your table, sir.' 'So it is, thank you.' 'Get division on the phone for me. Sergeant-major, where are you?' 'Division on the phone, sir, Lieutenant-Colonel—speaking.' 'Is that you, colonel?' 'What's that? Higher authority not to be kept waiting on the phone! Sorry, sir. Yes, next time I'll ring you myself.' 'Now, sergeant-major, how is camp construction getting on, are the men getting their beer each evening ? Hadn't we better have a lock-up place for the supplies. Theft and all that. See what you can do,' 'Phone, sir.' 'Is that you, Oswald-Twizzle?' 'Whom do you want?' 'Is that you, Ossic?' 'Oh, you want Captain Cooke. No, he's out just now. Had to go around to Okoroire pub to see about hot baths for the men.' 'Message from the regiment, sir. Would you amend their return of personnel by adding a column for lance bombardiers. Also, sir, the 53rd Anti-tank Battery want their return amended tq read 70 gunners and six sergeants not 70 sergeants and six gunners.' 'Take a letter, will you, Sergeant Burns.' 'To all units, the importance of accuracy in furnishing returns to this HQ, etc., etc. No, the brigadier will sign it.' And so evolved, through aches and pains, the organisation which at one time controlled more troops than any of the infantry brigades in the division, some 180 officers and 3,500 men.
It was during these early days that a most useful gift, a Shaddock stove, was made to the unit by the local schoolmaster —himself an old soldier. This stove was one of our most prized possessions. It went with us to New Caledonia, and thence to Guadalcanal and Vella Lavella. Back it came with the unit to Guadalcanal, and went with the second echelon to Green Island. When artillery headquarters moved back to New Caledonia it found a place on a 30-cwt truck. It was always intended to bring it back to New Zealand and return it to the Tirau School with page 27a suitable inscription, but in the move back to New Zealand it was left behind as being too heavy to pack in a case. On 22 October the brigadier called a conference of unit commanders, indicating the intention of moving overseas. Faces were a study. Some had done this sort of thing before, others were obviously thankful that it had come at last; on one face there was the unmistakable sign that some money was going to change hands. For the next few days excitement was high. On 25 October orders were received from division for the move of the advanced parties overseas. Captain Fowke was to be in charge of the headquarters party, which comprised Sergeant Miller; Lance Bombardier Smith and Gunners Battersby and Stephens. They left on 28 October, embarking the next day at Wellington on the US transport Crescent City.
From now on the tempo of our daily existence increased. Unit stores began to arrive from ordnance and it became obvious to all that we were soon to move overseas. Whither and when? Excitement was increased by the sudden announcement that seven days' leave was to be granted, and just as suddenly so it seemed, was the leave over. More ordnance stores arrived. Instructions for packing and marking followed. Surely it would be soon; like so many Micawbers we sat waiting for something to turn up. We waited from day to day until, to our amazement, orders came for the move of our headquarters only and not for the other artillery units. More hurried packing began. Vaccinations followed. Time must be made for last minute good-byes. The people will miss us. They said so. We have made some jolly good friends. Aren't the girls in the telephone exchange good sorts?
And so we left; saddened not only on account of our thoughts of loved ones at home, but also that the kindnesses and gracious acts of the people of Tirau, Okoroire and Putaruru would be a thing of the past. The more fortunate of us departed for Wellington by MT convoy on the morning of 27 November. We were to spend the night at Waiouru. As it was intended to move into the tropics, light drill uniforms were worn by all ranks. Heavy coats had been withdrawn from issue. Waiouru has never seemed so cold as it did that evening in the wind and rain. Two blankets and a four men hut were all we had between us and the outside world, and army huts are draughty. The weather next morning was no better; it was still showery and there was still the cold wind. During the months that were to follow how we page 28longed for that cold wind! Every man's desire, then, was to be able to roll on a frosty lawn. Breakfast—well it just had to be stew, but it was hot. By 9 o'clock we were on the road again and, as we went south, it gradually cleared. For lunch the convoy stopped outside Levin. Someone suggested a meat pie. Everybody wanted one. It might be years before we got another. And so to Wellington, where personnel embarked on the US transport President Monroe. That evening came our first acquaintance with American food and American cooking. 'Not bad stuff this spam —always looks so nice in advertisements. It must be good.' But as Lord Atkin, an eminent justiciar, said in answer to an incorrect assertion of fact, 'Short, simple and wrong.' We came to hate the stuff. 'Coffee?' 'Yes, I'll try a little but I'd rather have a good cup of tea.' I suppose we'll get used to it.' Finally to bed. The men on top of holds 'tween decks, with bunks in tiers, some six high. There was not much air but it was warmer than Waiouru. 'Do you know even the perishing sergeants have posh quarters up on the main deck?' 'Yes, in cabins with carpets on the floor.' 'Old Dave won't half be laughing at us. He's becoming one of those blinking capitalists.'
The next few days were noteworthy solely for the daily opening of the ship's PX store. Here we found good cigarettes at less than three pence for 20; delicious orange drink; peanuts, candy bars, even polaroid glasses; in fact all things not found in our own canteens. Gradually we settled down again. We were grateful for these few days alongside the wharf. Letters could be written, last minute shopping was possible. This parting might be easy after all. Our peaceful existence was broken by the arrival of 3 December and with it the remainder of headquarters, who had come down by train. For the first time we met the antiaircraft and coast fellows who were joining us. They could even talk! By 1500 hours the last hawser was cast off. There were no cheers, no laughter. From the top of some building a handkerchief waved. Here and there! a mouth tightened perceptibly. If only it could be by train—it is so much quicker. A good-bye and then gone. One could, with effort, preserve a certain dignity, but here with Wellington fading in the distance one's throat felt dry and there was a dull ache.
The next few days were spent in eating and sleeping, interrupted only by periods of' light boat drill. Gradually it became hotter. Once there was a general alarm when a ship was sighted page 29on the horizon. She proved friendly. Meals aboard were good. The officers, warrant officers and some staff sergeants used the ship's saloon just as it had been in peace time. One staff sergeant was so ungrateful as to be ill over the back of an all-unsuspecting-officer. Notwithstanding the apologies, it is thought that this episode was always an excuse at a later date for a good laugh in the sergeants' Mess. The lounge, too, was much the same, with a large painting of President Monroe looking down on whoever might be seated there. Ironical it was that a man who did everything possible to prevent America from meddling in European affairs should lend his name to a US ship now carrying British subjects to a French possession in in order to assist in a war that began in Poland.