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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 Twenty-Two — New Caledonia Again and Home

page 127

Chapter Twenty-Two
New Caledonia Again and Home

It took the Naos eight days to do the trip from Nissan Island to Népoui, New Caledonia, and of that time two days were spent in riding out a storm, the ship during this period making only two knots. Because it was such a crowded ship, only two meals a day were served—served, that is, to those who could face the chow line. Here in a letter to his mother, Butch describes the trip and his reactions on arrival. 'I need hardly tell you that I didn't give out with the celebrated Fitzpatrick oration as we drew away from "the island of dreams" (of lots of things—home'n all that) and it was more with exhilaration that I took my last long lingering glance at that certain "somewhere in the Pacific". Our ship was of the Liberty class (one of Henry Kaiser's 1O day wonders) and altogether it wasn't a bad sort of a tub. It wasn't the most luxurious we've travelled on, but if there were a few minor deficiencies, nary a moan could, or would, be heard. As far as I was concerned she was another Queen Mary for she rode nice'n steady and best of all the "sharp end" was pointed the right way. The value of this commendation isn't lessened a bit by the fact that I wasn't able to enjoy all the cruise because of the old mal-de-mer. Strangely enough I travel like a ferry captain on any but the big transports. This time, however, I duly rang the bell again but it was mainly due to our striking some roughish weather which shoved the ship and my stomach around more than somewhat. For two days and nights I stuck real close to my bunk and though the inner man did prompt a couple of ventures to the chow line the other guy was never able to get very far before discovering it wasn't such a hot idea. And smartly back to the billet "we" crawled. Apart from the lean patch I enjoyed the trip to its capacity, limited though it was. We played a lot of bridge, mooched round, took in page 128a hunk of sea view now and again, and mostly just talked on all the well-worn soldier topics. Arrived at our destination, which looked strangely familiar, we at length stepped ashore. And I thought then that good hard ground is where Mrs. R's little boy Butch rightly belongs. We clambered into trucks and after a rough ride made the home base. That's exactly where we are now—at base, Bourail, New Caledonia. We were tired, dirty and hungry but our subsequent treatment was such that I can put on record some really superb army organisation. Everything was well arranged and by no means least was the honey of a meal that was provided— fresh meat (roast "bif") "mit" likewise fresh "spuds", peas, carrots, swedes and lashings of thick brown gravy. Bit of orrite! That wasn't all, either. Desserts (or afters) was one great slab of delici' ous ice-cream and on this (my first for many a moon) I really smacked my chops. It all seemed like some grand kids party. It was!

'After being in the habit of sleeping with a solitary blanket under, instead of over one, I didn't do a very good job of making up the nest. The result was that on each of the customary 54 gyrations there'd be a little gap some place and in would rush what felt like the blast of an ice-berg. The process of going to bed entails some cunning folds and tucks with the rugs, and a little titivating round, after which the bye bye boy snakes feet first into a verit' able cocoon. It pins a guy down flatter 'n a strait jacket but—it works. Coming back here was really an experience, for the mere sight of such things as telegraph poles and fences seemed to betoken a civilisation we'd almost forgotten. What this barren land can boast is a poor compromise I know, but at least it's getting us used to the idea of the old familiar scenes we hope to be seeing in due course. As for this camp itself it has already given us a few samples and I might say I like the idea of civilisation.'

Give New Zealanders a football to kick round and they are happy. Intercompany and inter-battalion rugby was played, and hockey, soccer and basketball. Movies were screened every night, while the 2YA concert party staged two very enjoyable shows. Leave parties were arranged to Bourail beach, to stay at the Kiwi Club, which was staffed by WAACs. Also popular was the Bourail Club where the WAACs served dainty morning teas and suppers to soldiers who, after months in the jungle where only mascu-page 129line manners were effected, had almost forgotten these minor refinements of living. The two infantry brigades were now camped in the Tene valley and the boys were able to renew friendships with friends who had been stationed on Treasury Islands. The only duties to De done were the usual camp ones although parties did go to Noumea for unloading tasks for a short time, and men were placed on duty at the Moindou Pass control point, there to be plagued by mosquitoes.

The essential industry draft had by this time arrived in New Zealand. The first and second furlough parties of the 30th Battalion left Tene valley, Bourail for Noumea on 11 July, 1944, passing en route through the French villages of Moindou, La Foa, Boulapari, Tontouta and Paita. That morning the men, together with other personnel from various units of the Third Division, were taken out to the USS Pinkney, a hospital ship which was to take them to New Zealand. It was hard work staggering up the ship's gangway loaded with a kit bag stuffed with American cigarettes, cigars for the 'old man' and towels for mum. It was grand to lean over the rail as the ship passed the old wreck in the reef near the lighthouse and feel you were going home. Last time, you remember, you were going north—north to the combat zone and you wondered what else. Now your destination was the seaside suburb of Happy Valley. 'Wonder if the boys still foregather at the Shamrock on Saturday afternoon—maybe I'll be able to play cricket this year—that is, if Anna doesn't mind. I suppose the lawns will want cutting.' And your thoughts meandered on. You looked round the deck and returned a wink from Archie. Archie was your tent mate at Momi Bay, Fiji, and you remembered sitting together at dusk watching the glare in the sky from the burning sugarcane. Since then there had been Koumac—lonely Koumac where the belled cows jingle-jangle-jingled round your tent at dawn; Skyline trail, Guadalcanal at night with the candle-Ht tents picked out on the ridges; diving into the surf from the reef at Vella Lavella; church service under the coconut palms on the beach at Nissan Island—and now—'Mess orderlies to the galleys.' You flicked your butt over the side, hitched up your jungle pants and sauntered below.

The USS Pinkney arrived in Auckland on 14 July, 1944 Subsequent drafts, included in which were members of the 30th Battalion, arrived in Auckland in the ensuing weeks on the USS Tryon, page 130USS Talamanca and the Brastagi. And so, after three and half years on active service, during which time over 2000 men passed through its ranks, the battalion ceased to be. Some of its members sleep in warriors' graves, some on the jungle islands, some in the North African desert and some in Italy. From the heat of the tropics, some fight on in the Italian snows as this is written. Many have returned to civilian life, but soldier or civilian the words of an old school song echoes our thoughts—

We shall watch you here in our peaceful cloister
Faring onward, some to renown, to fortune,
Some to failure—none, if your hearts are loyal,
None to dishonour.

The End