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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 Nine — On The Walkabout

page 53

Chapter Nine
On The Walkabout

Early in June the new camp recreation bure was opened. It had been built by the pioneers with the assistance of natives who had gathered the niaouli bark from neighbouring trees. Some of the local civilians attended the opening concert, which was given by George McKirdy and his glee singers. It proved to be a popular institution, where at night the men gathered to play bridge, five hundred or poker; to smoke and yarn and between sips of tea discuss 'what's going to happen to us and where do we go from here'. Educational classes had been started on farming, bookkeeping, and car' pentry. Music lovers joined John Mahoney for his talks on the theory of music. The Koumac Kronicle, the battalion news sheet, had an enthusiastic editor in Bill Gamble with whom was associated Jim Yearbury as art editor. 'Deejay', which was the pen name of Joe Grindlay, was one of the Kronicle's most consistent contributors. Here is his jingle on a topic dear to the heart of every soldier:—
As a Kiwi who has never visited the State
I have often tried to visualise its scenes
And judging by the rations that we find upon our plates,
The only crop they grow there must he beans.
We have beans cooked with bacon, and have beans dished up with hash,
How I often wish we had a change of greens,
Or perhaps a large and tasty dish of sausages and mash
As a change from endless dixies full of beans and beans and beans.

The American tinned rations inspired this one:—

When I pick up a paper I often find the news
Consisting a large extent of famous peoples' views.
On what is going to happen when we finish off this war
Neglecting the possibilities of fighting any more.
page 54 Their ideas might be quite sound though-rather idealistic,
What interests us right here and now is something realistic.
We are all in strict accordance with the sentiments they utter
But in the meantime could we have more sweetly smelling butter?

Desiring to reciprocate the hospitality shown them by the New Zealanders, the French residents arranged two dinner dances, one for the men and one for the officers, in the local schoolroom. At the latter function the red and white wine gave everyone a very happy feeling. Lieutenant Mick Randall helped the party along with an impromptu tap dance, while Major Keenan volunteered an unrehearsed song and dance act to the accompaniment of Sergeant Vic Hughes on his piano-accordion. One officer said to one comely young French matron—'That little girl in the white frock dances very nicely doesn't she?' 'Huh, she 'as my shoes on, too,' she replied. Pictures were screened at the road house at Taom River several nights each week, but only the keenest film fan undertook the 80-'mile trip in an open truck over rough roads. The nights were cold now—cold enough to sleep without a mosquito net. An extra blanket was issued even though most of the tents had niaouli bark walls which helped to keep out the chill night air. Cattle, some with gongs, grazed round the tents at night and occasionally tripped over tent ropes.

Although the battalion was at Koumac for eight months, the time for most members was broken up by short stays in other parts of the island, such as at Pam, Poume or Nouméa, and by manoeuvres. On 9 June the battalion left at first light on a 40-mile march to the Taom River area to take part in a brigade ceremonial parade. In one village teacher allowed the kiddies out of school to see the soldiers go by, although more interest was shown in teacher herself by the boys than in her neat little scholars. Kaala-Gomen, at the 20-mile peg, was reached by the end of the first day and the cooks—God bless 'em —had a cup of hot tea waiting. No ladies of a suburban bridge party afternoon have ever relished a cup of tea more than footsore, perspiration-soaked soldiers after a 20-mile march in a subtropical climate. Next day it rained and everyone was drenched from head to foot. The divisional band helped flagging spirits with the 'March of the Heralds' and 'Macnamara's Band'. Journey's end was reached in late afternoon and bivouac was made on the banks of the Taom. The 37th Battalion concert party provided an excellent evening's entertainment. The show was preceded by a doleful dirge from the page 55audience as the brigadier took his seat, and was guaranteed to dissolve in tears the stoniest hearted landlady—

We want to go home
We want to go home
We're sick of the army,
We want to go home.

The brigadier smiled and lit another cigar. The ceremonial parade on Sunday was preceded by a combined church service for all units. The parade itself was inspected by the brigade commander, Brigadier Potter, who took, the salute as later the units marched past in phalanx. Next day the battalion set off on its return journey singing songs from the picture 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' which had been screened the previous evening. On the second day Lieutenant-Colonel Macnamara took the salute at Koumac as the troops went by. The boys got scent of the camp and the last few miles must have been done in record time.

Up to the present the 30th had been a mixed infantry battalion but it had been decided by the divisional commander to take the medium machine guns from the units and form a company of them attached to brigade. To implement these changes one platoon of D company marched out to the 37th Battalion. Further reorganisation within the battalion took place to bring D company up to strength.

Poume is on the west coast near the northern-most part of New Caledonia and a more delightful spot would be difficult to find. A and C companies marched 34 dreary and monotonous miles to spend a day there. Poume had also once been a penal settlement where convicts worked the mines. Evidence that early settlers at Poume were English and Scottish is shown by the fact that several of the local residents have English names. One old lady bordering on 80 years of age, referring to the two companies of soldiers, told Major Barker that in all her life never had she seen so many people together at the one time. Food rationing had not made life any easier for these hardy folk and both the French and the natives were grateful for gifts of bully beef. 'What's your name?' said the cook to one old grizzled native. 'Me Charlie,' he said and undoing his cast-off army shirt displayed a torso with 'Tali' tattooed diagonally across it. One old quarter'Caste lady who must have been at least 70 was a well-seated figure on her horse. She was wearing spurs too!

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On being asked by a soldier how her husband was faring, a Frenchwoman burst into a torrent of words. Interpolated with numerous 'la-la's' and accompanied by despairing gestures she told her sad story. Apparently her husband had gone out shooting, taking with him his five-year-old son. The little lad espied a deer and cried— 'Look father.' Father brought his rifle to his shoulder, fired and missed. A few yards away, to their surprise, up popped the local gendarme who accused the old man of firing at him. Argument followed and father was arrested. A judge arrived later to try the case. The little lad went into the witness box and saved the day for his dad. 'But,' said the judge, 'm'sieu must be deprived of his rifle,'and madam with a toss of her head gave further vent to her feelings.