Pacific Saga: the personal chronicle of the 37th Battalion and its part in the Third Division's Campaign
Chapter Three — Tour of Duty—New Zealand
Tour of Duty—New Zealand
On arrival at Auckland on 13 August, 1942, the battalion proceeded to Pukekohe racecourse where Major Morris, who had left Fiji earlier with an advanced party, had a camp ready. In the next few days orderly room staffs worked frantically in preparation for disembarkation leave and it is to their credit that everything was organized by 16 August when leave commenced. Division issued an order that all personal weapons and web equipment were to be taken on leave, with the result that the troops were well laden when they boarded the leave trains. There was insufficient accommodation on trains going south to Wellington and many uncomfortable hours were spent on this journey. No one minded. All that mattered was that we would soon be home for a few days with the treasures we had accumulated in Fiji. In Lautoka and Suva it had been possible to buy many things that were unobtainable in New Zealand. Combs, dress lengths of all types of materials, children's clothing and island curios. Kit bags were crammed full of every conceivable thing. One officer even brought back a bag of sugar. There was one near tragedy at Lyttleton when Major Moffat's trunk slipped out of a sling and crashed on to the wharf. The trunk was badly knocked about but, wonder of wonders, the liquid contents were unbroken. The commanding officer had carefully put a case of gin in the back of his car at Suva and there was great disappointment on opening the case at Pukekohe to find that the contents were not true to label but were instead an inferior draught whisky. None the less, it was welcome.
The battalion returned from leave on 4 September. Overhaul and reorganization then commenced. All tropical kit was handed in for laundering, weapons were looked over by armourers, our American 6o-millimetre mortars which were issued in Fiji were withdrawn and replaced with 2-inch mortars. The worst of the transport was page 34withdrawn and replaced by three jeeps and some 30-cwt Chevrolet four-by-four trucks. The carrier platoon, which had ousted the motor cycle platoon in Fiji, was increased to thirteen carriers and an extra officer was included in the carrier platoon, the vacancy being filled by Second-Lieutenant Hayes. The mortar platoon received four carriers, and two extra mortars, making six in all. The anti-aircraft platoon in HQ company was abolished and the vickers gun platoons were reduced from three to two. One 3-inch mortar was added to the establishment of each rifle company.
Top right is a scene at Nissan where men of the battalion assisted with the unloading of heavy stores. The small picture, inset, was taken over-looking Nouméa Harbour at the conclusion of operations. Amphibious training meant hard work for everyone. At the foot of the page is a scene on the beach with members of the battalion unloading' landing' craft.
Major General H. E. Barrowelough, GOC Third Division, is being introduced to the 37th Battalion's rugby team at Moindah before the final of the Barrow-clough Cup match which the battalion won. Mrs Barrowelough, wife of the GOC, flew to New Caledonia and is seen presenting the cup to A. Long, captain of the battalion team, after the match
The 37th Battalion's rugby team which won the Barrowelough Cup competition in New Caledonia. A hockey match in progress at Taom and the 'ballet of beautiful girls' who appeared in the concert party. Their costumes were made of mosquito netting'
The regimental aid post for the battalion is pictured above and gives an excellent idea of how all temporary habitation merged into the jungle. Below, is a view of the jetty at Boro where the battalion established a beach-head during operations on Vella Lavella
Medical boardings were held and those who had been affected by the tropics were weeded out and their places filled by fresh reinforcements. A continual drain on personnel was the activity of the man-power authorities and we lost a number of good men to essential industries. During this period the whole of the division was being re-organized and built up and rumours were current that Guadalcanal might be our first real job.
Training in New Zealand was under company arrangements and took the form of platoon and company tactics, route marching and company attack practices with mortars and vickers giving overhead and flanking support. The latter exercises were held on the sand hills in the vicinity of Waiuku. AH ranks were put through classification courses on the Ardmore range. Training areas were bad, as the country in the vicinity of the racecourse was closely settled. The carriers were particularly limited in this respect and it was with feelings of relief that we heard of the impending move of the division to the Waikato. Towards the end of September the division was reviewed at Papakura Camp by the General Officer Commanding, Major-General H. E. Barrowclough, CB, DSO, MC, who had been appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Major-General Mead.
We never really settled down in Pukekohe. The racecourse was open to cold winds and seemed always to be damp. We were housed in public works huts and the wind used to whistle through the cracks. The nights and early mornings were cold. The Young page 36Men's Christian Association officer who was attached to the 3rd Tank Battalion at Helvetia was instrumental in a Young Men's hut being erected in the camp and he gave us good service. The folk in Pukekohe were very good and besides bringing out concert parties, they opened their homes to us. On Sunday evenings the various churches provided supper for the troops attending the services and it was not long before that which put on the best supper had a very large soldier congregation. The Services' Club in Pukekohe had excellent rooms and those responsible were very hospitable. Because of a miners' strike there was a shortage of coal and consequently very few leave trains to Auckland. However, hitch-hiking provided a means of getting there Hockey, soccer and rugby were played and several inter-battalion matches were fought out at Papakura. The hockey team up to this time had had a very successful career, having played eight games of which five were won, two drawn and one lost. Those who played were Captain Timms, Lieutenant Barton, Sergeants Browne and Bartlett, Corporals Gray and Sharpe, Lance Corporal Shepherd, Privates Barnett, Milne, Harding, Hedgeland, Forsey, Randle, Robertson and Keenan.
At the end of September, 1942, confirmation was received that the division would move to the Waikato, where better facilities for tactical training existed. The 14th Brigade was allotted the Te Aroha-Matamata area and the dispositions of the battalions were 30th Battalion at Matamata racecourse, 35th Battalion at Waiorongomai and 37th Battalion at the Te Aroha racecourse. The site selected for brigade headquarters was the show grounds at Te Aroha. The commanding officer and Major Morris went to Te Aroha to make the necessary arrangements with the racing club authorities and to select company areas. The secretary of the racing club, Mr Jack Somers, was very cooperative and stated that his committee would hand over the racecourse to us with no strings attached. The only cost to the army would be that of light and water. The racecourse facilities were good, the main buildings consisting of a stewards' stand with usual messing and office accommodation; a main stand, the lower portion of which was a large dining room; a large totalisator building, a building which had been used as a bar and numerous loose boxes and stables. Water was obtained from the town supply and was supplemented by a good well. It was decided to use the buildings for office, store and messing accommodation, while per-page 37sonnel would live in tents. Major Morris returned to Te Aroha with advanced parties from each company together with the pioneer section.
Battalion equipment not required on the march was ferried to Te Aroha by our own transport and the march commenced on 6 October. The first day's march was one of 18 miles—from Pukekohe to Mangatawhiri. The following day we covered 21 miles and bivouacked for the night at Mangatarata. On the third day we reached Tahuna, a march of 18 miles. It was intended to remain the night at Tahuna and proced to Te Aroha next day by motor transport. However, very heavy rain set in and the brigade commander intimated that battalions could proceed direct to camping areas. In view of the fact that the advanced party had everything in readiness at Te Aroha, the battalion was ferried to the racecourse and everyone was bedded down by nine o'clock that night. The march was satisfactory from all points of view and only a very small percentage of men was unable to finish. One incident of note occurred. At one bivouac area a quantity of fowls disappeared from a farm house. Not one of the battalions knew anything about the fate of these birds and, with his usual Solomon-like judgment, the brigadier charged up each battalion with the cost. It was very expensive poultry for those who did not partake.
During the following days, camp construction was the daily routine, while reconnaissances located good training areas, and sites suitable for mortar, grenade and rifle ranges. The bush-clad heights behind Te Aroha and the Kaimai Ranges looked likely for strenuous work. A rumour went round the battalion that the ascent of Mount Te Aroha was to be a daily-before-breakfast task for all ranks. The carrier office located a good training area four or five miles away from camp towards Waiorongomai. The town itself promised well. There were picture theatres, good hotels, pretty girls and hot spring baths, which included facilities for tennis and bowls. The hot baths were to prove a great asset. Arrangements were made whereby every man could have an official bath every three days at a nominal charge, and in addition, the baths were open until 10 pm every night for all ranks. The enjoyment of these baths can be appreciated only by those who have had to bath and wash in cold water for months on end. From our experiences in Fiji it was realised that, if we were to go back to the Pacific, we required more facilities for page 38recreation and entertainment. Consequently the sports officer, Lieutenant Brown, was given a grant from regimental funds for the purpose of buying sports gear. The battalion was combed for pipers and those who owned pipes were persuaded to send for them and the pipers were drafted to the stretcher-bearer section. Four side drums and a bass drum were purchased and, when these arrived, the pipe band came into being, with Sergeant-Major Kerr of headquarters company as drum major. The pipers were Company Sergeant-Major Kerr, Staff-Sergeant Hutchens, Lance Corporal Waters, Privates McGrouther, Scott, Burness, Penman, Hudson, Keach, McKenzie, Davie, McCallum, Walker and Corporal Richmond. Padre Harford undertook the formation of a dance band. Instruments were purchased from regimental funds and the band got into its stride with Private Brodie on drums and effects; Sergeant Smith, piano; Lieutenant Wishart, Spanish guitar; Corporal Campbell, bull fiddle and trombone; Private Bailey, trumpet; Private Elmes, saxophone and clarinet; Sergeant Henning, saxophone; Sergeant Hutchens, violin; and Sergeant Laing the piano accordion. Privates Collier and Travena rounded up ail the stringed instrument players and organised them into a string band. Altogether, life in Te Aroha was very pleasant. The townspeople were very hospitable and organised a soldiers' club in the town which was well patronised by all troops camped in the district. Weekly dances were held under the auspices of church organisations, and accommodation was found for soldiers' wives by the hospitable townsfolk.
The highlight in training was an inter-brigade exercise in the Kaimai ranges. The task of the 14th Brigade was to proceed into the mountains via the Tui track and prevent an enemy force (8th Brigade), which had 'landed' at Tauranga, from using the track in an advance on Matamata. The exercise was well worth while. The thick bush approximated jungle conditions and we had the opportunity of studying the many complex problems in perimeter defence, problems of getting supplies and ammunition into the hills by man power, and the protection of the supply line. The Army Service Corps and engineer detachments attached to the brigade performed prodigious feats, the former in getting supplies up and the latter in improving and maintaining the track up to the fighting men. The exercise commenced on 21 October, 1942, and terminated on 28 October. Rain was experienced for the greater part of the exercise page 39and, despite the arduous conditions, the fact that three men only required to be evacuated on account of sickness spoke well for the fitness of the battalion. It was a great opportunity for the bushmen to try themselves out during the preparation of defensive positions and the constant cries of 'timber' made one wonder whether or not one was in a bush-felling camp. This was particularly so after the first rum issue, which was issued early one morning before breakfast. Some wonderful bush giants were laid low that morning and one wellknown member of battalion headquarters proved to be such a menace to life and limb that he was 'excused axes' for the duration of the exercise. At the end of October, the battalion proceeded on ten days' embarkation leave prior to sailing again for the Pacific.
During November reinforcements marched in. The new officers were Lieutenants W. H. Hobbs (B company) and M. A. McKenzie (A company). The months of November and December were spent in company training, battalion and brigade exercises and the issue of tropical gear. In return for the hospitality offered by the people of Te Aroha, Padre Harford and the entertainment committee organised a battalion dance in the totalisator building. This was a very successful function, during which the battalion orchestra made a very promising debut. The decorations and supper were all that could be desired.
On 21 December, all tents were struck and packed ready for embarkation. A and B companies moved to Te Aroha West School, D company to the Waihou School, while battalion headquarters, head-quarters company and C company moved into the racecourse buildings. Christmas Day was spent in loading up the baggage train. Notwithstanding this, Christmas was celebrated in the traditional manner. Many men availed themselves of invitations from friends to Christmas dinner, while those who remained in camp were well catered for by our own cooks. Early in December it was learned that a third brigade, the 15th, was being formed by the inclusion of the Wellington Scottish and the Ruahine Battalions in the division. Two battalions of the 8th Brigade, the 29th and 36th, had previously embarked for Tonga and Norfolk Island respectively, and until they rejoined, it was necessary to reorganise the brigades. On arrival in New Caledonia, the battalion was to join the 15th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier L. G. Goss. The distribution of infantry battalions to brigades was as follows:— 30th and 35th remained with page 4014th Brigade; the Ruahines and 34th Battalion comprised the 8th Brigade, while the 15th Brigade consisted of the 37th Battalion and the Scots.
An advanced party moved out for embarkation on 2,6 December and the main body entrained the following day. The motor transport was to move to Trentham to await embarkation at a later date and a rear party, consisting of Lieutenant Newman and 78 other ranks from headquarters company, remained behind to clean up the camping area and take the vehicles to Trentham. This left 39 officers and 669 other ranks to embark on the West Point (T57) which sailed from Auckland on 29 December. Prior to embarkation, Lieutenant B. W. J. Brown marched out to attend a course at the tactical school at Wanganui, while Company Sergeant-Major Ward, who had been selected to attend an officer cadet training unit at the Army School of Instruction, proceeded to Trentham.