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Forts and Works, number 11 (June 2001)

Good effort - Should have been more of it

Good effort - Should have been more of it.

In man-gun-days, a leading artillery historian remarked recently, the Pacific War was a small affair. It was not small, however, if we look at the numbers of soldiers serving at one time-with over 38,440 embarkations to the Pacific by 1944* - but still the efforts of B Force and 3 Div and the air and naval detachments there have faired badly in terms of Official Histories. Thank god, we say, for the 13 histories published by Reed for the Third Division Histories Committee in the late 1940s.1 The full set of these now fetch $500 at auction and are sought after by historians in the Pacific territories in which the division served. Despite being termed unofficial, they were a formal Army HQ project and started the ball rolling before the War History Branch. But they lacked authority by being anonymous - until now.

The desire for the 3 Div story being told started before the division was disbanded to feed industry in 1944. The 36 Bn history called The 36th in the Pacific was published before war's end, authored by Pte C Gordon Watson, but it only covered up to 31 March 1944. This book, however, showed what was possible and desired (and indeed the Third Division history of 36Bn was merely an updated version of this book, expanded by another historian).

A growing call for writing the division's full story led to a meeting at Narrow Neck on 16 October 1944 to get the job under way. The 13 topics were already determined by then, one each for the infantry battalions and the rest more-or-less by corps, though at that stage there was no mention of a Headquarters history, the Signals story with which it was eventually published being listed on its own.

From this meeting a Third Division Historical Trust was formed of Brig Row, Maj GR Powles (son of a first war official historian, later Sir Guy, frequent ambassador and Chief Ombudsman) and Maj DM Young. The trust was to oversee the Third Division Regimental Fund which was to bankroll the venture. Brig Dove, Officer in Charge Administration and Base Commandant of 2NZEF IP, appointed the Third Division Histories Committee which in turn appointed an editor and oversaw the project. Dove appointed Maj Guy Powles, Maj John Warrington and Capt IHB Dixon.

Oliver ('Jock') Gillespie MBE MM (right) was chosen to subedit the books (and indeed in Bagnall's NZ National Bibliography is listed as editor for all these histories). But he did not write them. He had served with divisional HQ, transferring from G Branch to Div Signals as Cypher Officer before the division went to Necal. By 1946 he was then working for the Archives Section Black and white photograph of Oliver Arthur Gillespieof Army HQ. Later he was seconded to the BCOF in Tokyo looking through translated intelligence documents on the Japanese war effort (which materially helped him in his 1952 official book The Pacific, and having apparently sent back "5 large cases of Japanese documents… on Japanese intentions towards New Zealand").

Gillespie was not acknowledged by name in the books as editor. "All the work associated with the writing and publication of these narratives has been done by officers, NCOs and men of the units and has been performed anonymously," the committee acknowledged. To actually research each volume, a historian from each unit was sought in 1944 and appointed, together with a 'delegate' to help organise and channel information.

page 2
The Third Division Historians, as at About 26 November 1944
Unit Historian Delegate Est Date
MS completed
Medical [see below] Capt RGG Wilson 31 March 1945
Base [See below] Capt MA Pattison 31 March 1945
29 Bn Lt EV Sale Capt JC Seton complete by Nov 1944
30 Bn Lt HL Bioletti Lt PL Horrocks 31 March 1945
34 Bn Capt KL Sandford Capt IN McKenzies 15 March 1945
35 Bn Lt AHL Brinkman Capt JD Rose 28 Feb 1945
36 Bn Maj O'Neill Lt W Tricklebank 31 March 1945
37 Bn Lt Col AHL Sugden § Maj DE Trevarthen 28 Feb 1945
Artillery [See below] Maj John Warrington 31 March 1945
ASC Sgt JA Evans Maj C McL Brown 30 June 1945
Signals S Sgt F Nicol WO2 NE McNaughton 30 April 1945
Engineers Sgt Clive B Sage Sage/Sgt JR McIvor 30 March 1945
'Ordnance' book, made up of the following disparate parts:-
Ordnance WO1 AK Bristow Lt H Sargison 31 March 1945
Tanks Sgt PP Henley Lt H Sargison 15 March 1945
8MMG Coy Pte WJR Turner Lt H Sargison 28 Feb 1945
14MMG Coy LCpl GH Polglase Lt H Sargison 28 Feb 1945

For the 'corps' histories, sub-historians (as they were described) were appointed for each sub-unit, as below.

* compared to 59,390 to the northern sphere2

Pte Gordon Watson, author of the original book, was listed as historian in Nov 1944: O'Neill by February 1945.

§ Lt Col Sugden, Bn OC, headed a history committee for 37 Bn which included Maj DE Trevarthen and Capt NHR Young, the latter being listed as historian on 26 Nov 1944.