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Pacific Kiwis: being the story of the service in the Pacific of the 30th Battalion, Third Division, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Chapter Ten — Sport in New Caledonia

page 57

Chapter Ten
Sport in New Caledonia

Asked to nominate, in his opinion, the greatest contributing factor to high morale, a soldier unhesitatingly responded—'a good feed'. Others might reply 'letters from home', 'beer' or 'football'! Whatever is one's opinion on this question, sport and especially football, played an important part in the lives of the men at Koumac in lessening the boredom of months of garrison life. Almost every afternoon, on the ground near the road which led to the Koumac chrome wharf, inter-platoon games were played. Javanese workmen occasionally stopped to watch the players running round in the subtropical heat, and would stand there agape with an expression on their faces which seemed to say—'these mad New Zealanders!' Men who hadn't played football for years, some who had never played, some young, some almost 40, urged on by their companions, turned out to don a jersey for their platoons. That some platoons with a strength of only a few over 20 could field a rugby side instances the enthusiasm and good-natured rivalry which prevailed. Almost none the less enjoyable than the games themselves were the post-mortems which were held afterwards in the tents over a bottle of nut brown ale. Inter-company games were played on Saturday afternoons when an excellent standard of football was displayed.

A side was selected by Lieutenant N. Macdonald to represent the the battalion in the 14th Brigade section of the Barrowclough Cup series, a trophy given by the general for competition among all units of the division. The first game played by the battalion team, following a training period at Poume seaside, was against the 37th Battalion at Taom. It was contested on a very sticky ground, and the mud gave an added sole to the jungle boots of the players, considerably slowing down the backs. The game was drawn, three all. A match played page 58against the 35th Battalion on 3 July, resulted in a win for the 30th Battalion by 11 points to nil, of which Graham scored three tries and Carlson converted one. At Népoui on 10 July the 38th Field Regiment was beaten by 19 points to nil by the battalion side. The return match against the 37th Battalion to decide the winner of the 14th Brigade section, was played at Koumac on 21 July, and resulted in a win for the 37th by 11 points to 5. For the 30th Battalion Graham scored a last minute try which was converted by Carlson. Those who represented the battalion in the Barrowclough Cup series included:— J. R. Turner, R. Jessup, W. Carlson, Fitzgerald, F. Allen, D. J. Ryan, K. J. Graham, W. L. Kay, D. Dalton, G. Cameron, Andrews, T. M. Crone, P. J. D. Delaney, C. L. Randall, E. V. Belliss, G. Moore and C. G. Seaward.

Wherever there are footballs kicked round you always find that loyal and enthusiastic coterie of players who prefer the round ball to the oval. Conditions were ideally suited to playing soccer, and company and inter-unit games were contested. In a match versus the 37th Battalion the 30th lost by two goals to one, but won against a Free French team by one goal to nil. In one match the goalkeeper of the 30th Battalion, who hailed from Scotland, scored the only goal of the game—unfortunately against his own side. In a melée round the goalposts, Sandy allowed the ball to glance off his foot and roll into the net. Among those included in teams representing the battalion were:— R. G. Pink, J. Stewart, Gilchrist, Stevenson, A J. Harris, H. J. Russ, T. Howie, R. A. Kendrick, E. Hardy, C. St. H. Belsham, McFarlane and Matthews.

New Caledonia has not the extremes in seasons that we in New Zealand know, and both cricket and football were played at the same time. A pitch was cleared up at the Koumac airfield and matting was put down over the rough scoria-like surface. Despite the heat and mosquitoes, enjoyable intercompany games were played and B company proved to have the most talent. As other units became established to the south a competition was inaugurated within the 14th Brigade, and though the 30th Battalion had promising material, difficulty was experienced in getting all the players together at the one time. A match played against the 22nd Field Ambulance is worthy of mention when the battalion batted first and made 112. The hospital boys replied with a good start of one for 67, two for 85, and three for 104. Jack Hall in an inspired bowling spell then page 59took a hand and he routed the remaining wickets with their total at 112. In a match against the 30th Battalion the 16th Composite. ASC team was required in its second innings to get 163 in under two hours. This they did in a whirlwind finish with two wickets in hand and the final runs coming in the last over. Other matches were played against the 35th Battery, 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment and 14th Brigade headquarters. One enjoyable, if humorous match, was played by a battalion team versus the officers, in which the latter were well beaten. Skippered at different times by Stan Henry, Peter Dow or F. Allen, teams representing the battalion included J. Hall, E. H. Wickham, McFarlane, G. K. Millard, B. E. Warsaw, L. R. Syme, M. B. Paul, T. R. P. Gibson, G. Olsen, C. L. Randall, Fraser and W. Carlson.

In the 14th Brigade boxing championships Bob Purdie, New Zealand Olympic games representative, annexed the welter weight title while W. Lewis of B company defeated W. A. Gamble also of the 30th, for the final of the lightweight championship.The third man in the ring for these contests was Tom Heeney, of the US Navy, New Zealand's one time hope in the world heavyweight boxing championship.

Several swimming carnivals were held at the Taom River and among those outstanding swimmers who represented the battalion in the inter-unit events were K. J. Stone, L. W. Onyon, D. Kearney, G. H. Denton, D. Eldar, and L. Clapham and S. Andrews, the 'submarine' experts. Tenniquoits was a game played extensively within the battalion, and it gave enjoyment to many adherents and helped to keep them fit. J. Hall and S. Andrews were two enthusiastic devotees who later won a brigade championship. Occasional games of tennis were played on the court near the Koumac school and also at Pagoumene.

Although it had been originally intended to relieve the company on duty near the Koumac airfield each month, this plan was not adhered to and B company, later joined by the carriers platoon from Gomen, remained separated from the Battalion for almost seven months. During this time the boys came to know many of the local residents and for the hand of one certain little mademoiselle there was great rivalry. One or two of the lads developed a sudden desire to learn the French language and another belle of the village was pleased to act as their tutor. To B company goes the credit for the page 60foundation and organisation of the Koumac Racing Club. Close to the airstrip on the 'drome was an old, almost derelict, concrete grandstand, which served no useful purpose, but only reminded one that once Koumac must have known horse racing and sports days. The idea that horse racing might well be re-introduced was put into effect by the boys. Bamboo seating was constructed in the stand, a saddling paddock was railed off, tote windows made and the track cleared of guava trees. Arrangements were made with the natives for the use of their horses, the agreement being that each time a horse started in a race, the Kanaka owner received a dollar, and a bonus if the 'moke' was first past the post. The first meeting was held on 23 May and admission was of course free. All Koumac society gathered on the 'lawn' that day in their summer frocking. Tonkinese, Javanese, and Kanakas and their offspring, from Chagrin, Pagoumene and from Néhoué, who had heard of the meeting via the 'grapevine' came along in their Sunday best for the afternoon's outing. Few of these native people could afford to bet, with tote tickets at one dollar, but nevertheless they seemed to gain great enjoyment from the day's events. Afternoon tea was provided on the course and among the French visitors one would see sampling the peculiar qualities of YMCA tea were the mayor and his daughters, the local gendarme, the Koumac medico and his charming wife, and the village demoiselles in their summer finery, who caused mild heart flutters among the battalion's Lotharios. Private Charlie Fisken in his pink huntin' habit (made by the local dressmaker from calico, and dyed) cardboard top-hat, and mildewed leather leggings, as clerk of the course led the winners into the birdcage, and among those jockeys who earned the judge's favour were H. G. Todd, 'Tich' Lewis, L. Moody, Mark Kennedy, and Bob Long. Jockeys wore football jerseys but the intervening scrub prevented part of the race from being seen. At the first meeting of the racing club, 874 dollars were invested on the tote and except for one 'dud' ticket put across, the books balanced. At the Grand Prix meeting 3302 dollars were invested and the highest dividend paid was seven dollars.

To remind you how your lost or perhaps won your folding money, here are the results of two of the meetings of the club. The winners for the opening meeting were:

B Company Hack Scurry: Captain C. C. Werry's 'No Grub,' 1; L. Moody's 'B Company Pride,' 2.

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Kid Stakes: Captain Dalton's 'Fat Boy,' 1; Captain Suckling's 'The Doc,' 2.

Carriers Canter Classic: Lieutenant Macdonald's 'Big Splash,' 1; Captain F. Gunn's 'Friar Tuck,' 2.

Recovery Handicap for Gentlemen Riders: 'Kindergarten,' ridden by Lieutenant 'Spud' Murphy, 1; 'Beau Leon,' ridden by Lieutenant 'Puncher' Allen, 2.

First and second past the post at the Grand Prix meet were:—

Victory Handicap: Lieutenant-Colonel Macnamara's 'Old Mac,' 1, Major Keenan's 'Hurricane Harry,' 2.

Trial Stakes: Captain Suckling's 'The Doc,' 1; Padre Nairn's 'The Lost Chord,' 2.

Flying Handicap: Captain Irvine's 'Bad Show,' 1; Private C. Fisken's 'Clerk of the Course,' 2.

Inspired by the success of B company's entry into the racing world, a grandiose club was formed at Taom under brigade direction. At the first meeting of the Northern Racing Club, attended by thousands of soldiers and civilians, 16,000 dollars were invested on the tote. Horses, many of them well-bred, were lent by the Ouaco meat factory and some of their names which may strike a chord of memory were Royal Flush, Box Girder, Confident, The Lancet and Fearless.