The Gunners: an intimate record of units of the 3rd New Zealand Divisional Artillery in the Pacific from 1940 until 1945
VII — Going Home
During the months in the Treasuries there had been many changes in personnel, those sent back through sickness being replaced from the Artillery Training Depot, mostly men from the disbanded anti-aircraft or heavy regiments. Transfers had also necessitated several changes in executive positions. Major E. I. Henton arrived in November to replace Major Watson, wounded in the action. However, Major Watson returned later in the same month to succeed Major Hawkins as regimental second-in-command. Major G. W. Waddell took over the 49th Battery from Major Henton early in April 1944. There were also three changes of adjutant. Captain D. W. K. Ross succeeded Captain James in November, and he was followed by Captain J. B. McFarlane and finally by Lieutenant B. de C Thomson, who had been intelligence officer from the formation of the unit. page 175It was now obvious that the next move would be back, not forward. The unit's return proved to be just as piecemeal as its going overseas. On 26 April 1944, 399 volunteers for essential industry left by the President Monroe. The 49th Battery and later the 52nd ceased to be operational and the packing of stores was pushed ahead. The first load of equipment left on 30 April. After one more live shoot the 50th Battery came out of action and all remaining personnel left by the USS Trypn on 15 May, leaving a good deal of equipment stacked at the dock site to be sent by a later vessel. After months of heat, sweat, unchanging jungle scene and unceasing roar of aircraft engines, New Caledonia had a very different aspect than on the first visit. Néméara Valley, north of Bourail, where the regiment made its camp, seemed a cool and delightful spot, ideal for restoring frayed nerves. Skin troubles disappeared, men began to gain in weight and the pallid atebrin yellow was replaced with a healthy tan. There was still plenty of work—camp building, extrication of equipment unloaded at Nouméa and Népoui, sorting, cleaning and packing in sections for return to ordnance, complete overhaul and repainting of all guns.
But there were many pleasant breaks—spells at the Kiwi Club at Bourail Beach, visits of concert parties and bands. Sunday trips over the hills to Houailou with glimpses of native life along the road, magnificently cooked French meals at the Halfway House, bargaining in execrable French with the Kanakas for oranges and bananas, shopping at Nouméa, touch with civilised thought again through lectures sent round by the AEWS, deer stalking, football, cricket and hockey matches. There was a fine showing by the regiment's three representatives at the Necal track and field championships in July, when Lieutenant J. C. Bennett, Bombardier F. B. Schroder and Gunner D. R. McCardle all gained places. In Mr L. J. Steele, who joined the unit shortly after leaving Treasury, the regiment gained a live-wire YMCA secretary, and during this period in Necal we had a large and comfortable YMCA building complete with stage, supper buffet, ping-pong tables, library, canteen and reading room. Its most striking feature was a mural executed by Mr Steele covering the whole of one wall depicting native life as we who had most emphatically 'had' the South Seas, had once fondly imagined it.
The unit was shrinking rapidly now in spite of transfers from page 176the nearby Artillery Training Depot. On 21-22 June 63 more men left for return to essential industry and 18 for a divisional working party for New Zealand on 27 June. Furlough drafts on 1, 6 and 10 July accounted for another 62. Regiment evacuated its last camp on 10 August and all except 48 unfortunates held for the force rear party reached Auckland by the USAT Torrens on 17 August. It was perhaps the worst trip of all, but with furlough ahead who cared. Indeed furlough so absorbed all attention that the unit passed to its demise almost unhonoured and unsung.
But an organisation which has absorbed 18 months of a man's life cannot just pass into the night like that. It lived a brief space and saw much sorrow; let it lie, the historian might be tempted to say and pass on to other things, to the problems of those re-entering civil life, to the careers of those going overseas again, who knows where. But each and every one of them will indelibly be influenced for good or ill by the times here described. Whether they will be weakened in body or spirit or find new strengths and reserves of character as a result cannot be foretold. But if this account recalls some of the good times and bad and is some little help to anyone seeking to put his own memories into perspective it will have served its purpose.