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The Pacific

II: The First Force and its Work

II: The First Force and its Work

When New Zealand troops of the brigade landed in Fiji on 1 November 1940 they made history. It was the first time a defence force from a self-governing dominion had been sent to garrison a Crown Colony of the Empire. The brigade moved there in three flights, the first leaving Wellington on 28 October in the Rangatira after the traditional speeches of farewell from the Governor-General, Lord Galway, the Prime Minister, the Hon. P. Fraser, and the Minister of Defence, the Hon. F. Jones. HMS Monowai,1 a converted cruiser, was both escort for the convoy and transport for the field artillery. After disembarking troops at Suva the Rangatira ran a shuttle service, transporting the remaining two flights, one of which went direct to Lautoka, in the west. By the end of November the brigade was established in Fiji and enduring all the initial discomforts which attend a military expedition organised and despatched in haste, particularly to a hot and exhausting climate. Fiji, 1100 miles north of New Zealand, was new and unknown territory to most members of the force who were making their first acquaintance with the tropics, and in circumstances which gravely

1 In September 1941 the King approved the designation HMNZS for all ships of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

page 27 disillusioned them as reality dispelled any romantic guide-book nonsense about tropical islands.

The Crown Colony of Fiji, consisting of 250 islands, was ceded to Great Britain in 1874. Thakambau, an influential chief, had previously offered the territory to Britain for the modest sum of £9000, and also to the United States. The British Government rejected the first offer; accepted a second. The United States Government did not even bother to reply. The group lies in the hurricane belt, 15 degrees south of the Equator. Temperatures range from an average of 91 degrees in summer to 62 degrees in winter. One feature of the group, like so many other Pacific islands, is that each island has its wet and dry side, with a vastly differing rainfall. In the eastern area, which has an exhausting, humid climate, the average is 120 inches a year and sometimes 200 inches; in the west 70 to 80 inches fall annually. Suva, port, capital, and seat of Government, spreads its homes and gardens over a peninsula on the eastern coast of Viti Levu, the largest and most populous island, with the shopping areas and Government buildings on the water-front. Vanua Levu, the second largest island, lies to the north but is sparsely inhabited. Smaller islands of varying size, some of them merely atolls and banks, dot the seas around the two large islands. Coral reefs act as a natural defence line, with openings only at mouths of rivers and freshwater streams. The group is so situated that all trans-Pacific shipping lines converge on Suva, a town of 13,000 inhabitants, mostly Indian and Fijian. In addition to a moderately good harbour inside the reef, there is a vast stretch of protected water known as Lauthala Bay where, on the outbreak of war, a seaplane base was being constructed. New Zealanders watched the arrival there of the first regular American clippers on the trans-Pacific service, which ceased with the attack on Pearl Harbour; but work on the base continued and it proved an invaluable asset during the war years.

Cunningham decided to defend the two most vital areas on Vitu Levu—the Suva Peninsula in the east, with its harbour facilities, communications, cable link, supply depots and stores, and the Nandali airfield, 15 miles away on the left bank of the Rewa River; and the Namaka area in the west which included the small town and port of Lautoka, the Nandi airfield (later to play a vital part in Pacific strategy), and the Navula Passage, the entrance to Nandi anchorage, which was overlooked by the barren, rolling hills of Momi. These two zones were 150 miles apart, linked by one circular coastal road and, when it was organised later, a modest air service, operating when weather permitted between the two airfields. The confusing jumble of densely wooded hills of Viti page 28 Levu made cross-country communication impossible. Cunningham's problem was to defend those two vital zones with the inadequate force at his disposal, and its solution was made more difficult by the lack of armament and transport and the necessity of dividing his engineers, medical, signal, and supply units to service each zone. There were problems on a Government level also, for accommodation and public utilities were lamentably short in a remote island catering for seasonal tourists and a small white population of only 4000 Europeans.

Black and white military map of Viti Levu

Cunnigham's plan of two defended zones on the island of Viti Levu in Fiji is indicated by the shade areas. They were joined by one narrow coastal road.

Two principal camp sites were selected, one at Samambula, four miles from Suva, beside the golf links where undulating country met all reasonable requirements, and at Namaka, 17 miles from Lautoka, in the western coastal region of sugar-cane and pineapple plantations. Hutted camps were not ready when the force arrived, despite the sweating efforts of the engineers, and units went under canvas. Heavy rain, falling in warm grey torrents almost daily, page 29 hindered construction work in the Suva zone, and the immediate camp areas soon bred a profane familiarity with the adhesive qualities of Fiji mud. Earth-moving equipment, heavy or light, was not available, and picks and shovels were not wielded with any great degree of urgency by natives long accustomed to leisurely movement in the heat. Progress was faster in the dry Namaka area, where a camp of 400 Public Works type huts was constructed.

Force Headquarters opened in the basement of Government Buildings in Suva until suitable accommodation was constructed early in the New Year round Borron's House, a private residence crowning a hill overlooking the town and the long, creaming surf ceaselessly breaking along the reef beyond. The 29th and Reserve Battalions, with ancillary services, were stationed at Samambula in tents, gradually taking over the standard 84 ft by 21 ft huts as they were finished at McKillop's constant urging. Headquarters staff was housed in hotels in the town or at Nasese, a Fiji Defence Force camp some distance away, and from which they marched to duty each morning in a lather of perspiration until a transport truck was made available to them. The 30th Battalion went direct to Lautoka from New Zealand, travelling from ship's side to camp area in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company's unique railway, the only one in the Colony and used principally for hauling cane to the crushing mill. The immediate fortification of the area, with 50 miles of coastline, was put in hand by Mawson,1 who also became area commander. On 6 November Cunningham was appointed Commandant of the Fiji Defence Force, with operational control over all land forces in Fiji, Tonga, and Fanning Island. Fiji units were absorbed into his command, 1 Battalion remaining in the Suva area and 2 Battalion at Namaka under Mawson. However, the Fiji Defence Force retained an administrative headquarters, under Lieutenant-Colonel J. P. Magrane, when Workman relinquished command after Cunningham's arrival.

At Cunningham's first unit conference on 4 November, areas were allotted and defence roles defined. The immediate task was the denial to a possible enemy of the beaches and harbours in both zones. Four of 35 Battery's 18-pounder guns were despatched to Momi to defend the Navula Passage between the mainland and Malolo Island; the remaining two guns were sited at Lami village to cover the entrance to Suva Harbour and assist the fixed guns sited on Mission Hill behind the town. Belts of barbed wire were erected inland along the waterfront at low-water level on the more vulnerable beaches. These were covered by machine-gun posts, gun

1 Lt-Col J. B. Mawson, MC, ED; born 26 Sep 1891; headmaster; Wellington Regt and NZ Machine Gun Corps, 1915–18; CO 30 Bn, 1940–41; died 20 Apr 1951.

page 30 emplacements, and systems of trenches designed as alternative positions in the defence scheme. Roads were constructed by the engineers through both zones to give the battalions greater tactical mobility. By and large the Colony derived benefit from these defence preparations, for they gave it a fulfilled public works programme unthinkable in years of peace. These new roads, to this day commemorating the names of the first commanders, Cunningham and Mead, enabled the ASC to site supply dumps at strategical points throughout the defended areas in accordance with Cunningham's policy of building up a three months’ reserve of oil and petrol and six months’ reserve of rations, slowly accumulated as they arrived from New Zealand. The influx of thousands of troops naturally strained the limited public amenities of Suva and created some difficulty, particularly in the supply of water and electric power to camps and barracks. Unaccustomed to the heat and constant sweating, each man used an average of 80 gallons of water a day which even a bountiful rainfall could not hope to replenish. Restrictions were ordered by Cunningham, who was required to satisfy both civil and military authorities.
Much had been accomplished by the turn of the year, mostly by hard labour and the vigorous use of pick and shovel. Major difficulties were overcome, and the men became hardened to heat, mosquitoes, rain, and improvisation. Those who were allergic to the tropics never became accustomed to any of these things and voiced their sentiments in long, outspoken letters home. Soon their bodies were burnished to the colour of mahogany as they toiled in shorts, hat, and boots securing the defence lines. Gunnery and air problems were discussed by the commander with Colonel A. B. Williams, DSO,1 Director of Artillery at Army Headquarters, and Group Captain A. de T. Nevill, 2 of Air Headquarters, who were among the first senior officers to arrive for consultations—Williams to advise on the siting of fixed guns; Nevill on air services. Two 6-inch naval guns intended for the defence of Lyttelton Harbour had been diverted to Fiji by the New Zealand Government to replace the 4.7-inch on Mission Hill. The smaller guns were then transferred to a site which also commanded the harbour entrance but from the opposite side. Engineers sealed off the defence zones with road blocks and arranged for the demolition of bridges on

1 Brig A. B. Williams, DSO, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); Cambridge; born Rotorua, 4 Feb 1892; Regular soldier; NZ Fd Arty, 1915–19; CRNZA Army HQ, Dec 1939–Feb 1942; NZ Army representative, Combined Chiefs of Staff, Washington, Feb 1942–Oct 1943; Commandant, Central Military District, Oct 1943–Dec 1944; Northern Military District, Mar 1945–Apr 1947.

2 AVM Sir Arthur Nevill, KBE, CB, Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Dunedin, 29 Apr 1899; RNZAF; AOC RNZAF HQ, London, and attached Coastal Command, RAF, 1942–43; Vice-Chief of Air Staff 1944–46; CAS 1946–51.

page 31 their boundaries. The Suva Girls’ Grammar School was taken over and transformed into a military hospital, with Matron Thwaities1 in charge of a nursing staff which worked long hours to cope with ailments provoked by heat and a violent change of climate, and made worse by an epidemic of measles which coincided with the arrival of the force.

Shortages were the predominating worry, but these could not be met immediately by New Zealand, though appeals had been made overseas for additional equipment. Clothing was a problem which caused irritation among the men. Much of the tropical kit with which they had been issued—shorts and shirt suitable for the climate—was ill-fitting and bore the date of their manufacture in 1917. This was remedied later by the employment of Indian tailors, but in the intervening periods many of the men equipped themselves with more presentable garments made by local tailors. Increased issues of better fitting shirts, shorts, tunics, and long trousers stilled the complaints and pointed a moral for the equipment of similar expeditions. Tunics which buttoned closely to the chin were later discarded in favour of open-necked shirts.

During the early months of the Fiji expedition, complaints reached New Zealand from those who were returned unfit for further service and others who wrote petulantly about the unsuitability of both clothing and rations, the attitude of the white residents, the lack of recreational facilities, and the high prices of tobacco and drinks. Cunningham, in one of his replies to the Minister, pointed out that such complaints ‘put senior officers to unending trouble endeavouring to answer the unanswerable. Complaints of a general nature, incapable of exact answer, exasperate one beyond endurance, particularly in this climate’. Davie,2 the senior medical officer, who had protested that many of the men sent to Fiji were unfit and that their ailments were aggravated by the heat and the prevailing conditions, reported very fully on a series of these complaints, stating that the few white residents of the Colony welcomed troops to their homes in a way unheard of in New Zealand. He concluded that the majority of the men were as happy as they could be without the stimulus of actual fighting. Investigation usually revealed that the complaints came from the usual small percentage of malcontents without which no armed force is complete. Generally speaking, the soldiers realised

1 Matron Miss G. L. Thwaites, RRC; born NZ 23 Jun 1899; Matron, Military Hospital, Suva, Nov 1940–Aug 1941; Waiouru and Trentham Camp Hospitals, 1942–43; HS Maunganui Dec 1944–Mar 1946.

2 Lt-Col P. C. Davie, ED, m.i.d.; born NZ 6 Jul 1887; surgeon; Medical Officer RAMC 1915–18; CO 7 Fd Amb (Fiji) Oct 1940–Oct 1941; OC NZ Troops HS Orani 1941–42; CO 2 Fd Amb (NZ) 1942–43; died Dec 1949.

page 32 their responsibilities. When Brigadier F. T. Bowerbank,1 Director-General of Medical Services, visited the force early in 1941 he reported that the health of the troops was good.

The authorities did all they could to provide amenities, and the residents themselves responded with enthusiasm. Churches of all denominations opened clubs and organised dances and concerts; the small European colony of Government officials and business and professional men opened their hospitable doors as wide as they were able; trading companies organised weekend picnics, and golf and tennis clubs offered the use of their courses and courts. YMCA representatives began in a modest way in the camps and provided some relief from boredom in the evenings. Finally a New Zealand Club, erected on the Suva waterfront by the National Patriotic Fund Board, provided a rendezvous for all, day or evening, and here the women of Suva emulated their Trojan sisters in hours of work.

During weekends and holidays parties of soldiers visited the more distant villages, where they were received by the hospitable Fijians and initiated into traditional kava-drinking ceremonies. From time to time, also, representative Fijians, smart in spotless white sulus and coats of European cut, visited the military camps bearing gifts of fruit and vegetables which supplemented menus not overburdened with fresh foods, most of which came from New Zealand and much deteriorated on the way. Refrigerated space was at a premium during the first year, but large cool-stores finally overcame the food problem. The New Zealand soldier dislikes being deprived of his customary meat, potatoes, and butter in generous quanity, and he soon grew tired of native fruits like pawpaw and pineapple, and vegetables such as yam and dalo were not to his taste. An endeavour to provide fresh fruit and vegetables from Fijian sources cost £500 a month. These were only a few of the growing pains of garrison duty on which 8 Infantry Brigade embarked without adequate provision and little advance preparation.

Although training was hampered by the shortage of mortars, grenades, and sub-machine guns, a certain amount was accomplished and provided relief from the construction of defence works. The brigade was still short of 66 of its motor vehicles in December. Picks, shovels, and other digging implements were so short that units took turns in using those available, and other construction material was obtained from the Fiji Public Works Department on

1 Maj-Gen Sir Fred T. Bowerbank, KBE, ED, m.i.d., Grand Officer Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands); Wellington; born Penrith, England, 30 Apr 1880; NZMC 1915–20; DMS Army and PMO Air 1934–39; Director-General of Medical Services (Army and Air), Army HQ, Sep 1939–Mar 1947.

page 33 a ‘beg and borrow’ basis. However, through 1941, the force was built up and the defences improved as equipment slowly reached Fiji, but the distance from any active sphere of operations and the effects of the heat could be noticed in the attitude of the soldiers to service in the Colony. Digging and wiring, route-marching and guard duties, limited tactical exercises by day and night drained their enthusiasm and increased their desire for relief. In the sunbaked, waterless region of Momi, infested with flies and mosquitoes, and among the dry sugar plantations of Namaka, units of 30 Battalion and 35 Battery endured great physical hardship, relieved now and then by visits to lovely Sawani Beach, one of the few which really conformed to the standards of the tourist pamphlets. But it was a grim period for the men.

As soon as Force Headquarters was established at Borron's, with offices grouped round the main building on the hilltop, a combined operations centre was organised for the smoother and more efficient dissemination of all intelligence information pooled by representatives of the three services. Lieutenant-Commander P. Dearden, RN,1 whose service in the 1914–18 War had been summarily interrupted at the Battle of Jutland when his ship blew up, arrived in January to assume the duties of resident naval officer which, until then, were performed none too satisfactorily by Fiji Customs officials. The naval officer routed all shipping which passed through the group as part of the routine to avoid loss from enemy raiders, both surface craft and submarines, any knowledge of whose presence in and around the group was essential to naval intelligence in New Zealand. Coastwatching was also linked in with naval intelligence, and a workable system gradually emerged from the more primitive though useful original.

Reports from untrained but enthusiastic Fijian coastwatchers were responsible for much fruitless investigation but, however fantastic, they were never disregarded. Submarines invariably proved to be floating coconut logs, including one which was reported to have taken on fresh water and vegetables in an unfrequented bay, and another with the crew busily engaged in cleaning the hull on the beach. Suspicious lights were fishermen on the reefs, using flares at night as they have done for centuries; one aeroplane, complete with navigation lights, was a weather balloon released by Flight Lieutenant W. R. Dyer, of the meteorological staff; gunfire proved to be thunder, which it closely resembles in the tropics, and, on one occasion, a stranded whale threshing madly on a reef.

1 Lt-Cdr P. Dearden, RN (retd.); Waipukurau; born NZ 30 Nov 1897; sheep farmer; Resident Naval Officer, Fiji; HMNZS Philomel (executive officer).

page 34

All such reports were investigated by air, if the weather was suitable. Squadron Leader D. W. Baird, RNZAF,1 operated a small air force detachment consisting of two de Havilland 89s and two de Havilland 96s which had formerly served a civil air line in New Zealand, and a Moth for training. Two of these aircraft were stationed at Nandi under command of Squadron Leader G. R. White.2 In addition to identification of ships in waters round the group, Baird's aircraft maintained a regular service between the east and west zones and made reconnaissance flights to Tonga. The first of many alarms that German raiders were off the coast occurred on 25 November 1940, when a coastwatcher at Momi reported an unidentified armed merchant cruiser off the coast. Battle stations were occupied by 30 Battalion with commendable speed, and Flight Lieutenant E. N. Griffiths, who was afterwards killed while piloting an Airacobra, flew over the ship and identified her as HMS Monowai. When night operations began on a brigade scale in 1941, Baird, who was also air adviser to Cunningham, flew his training Moth over the defences, dropping dummy bombs of homely flour as the troops moved to their positions in the early hours of the morning.

During January and February of 1941 the men experienced their first real rainy season, when the warm, moisture laden atmosphere produces mildew overnight inside hats and boots and even on tin trunks. With it came persistent hurricane rumours but, as none had visited Fiji for some years, they were ignored. February opened with oppressive heat and torrential rainstorms, producing conditions which, in the tropics, breed short tempers and imaginary slights and a disposition to procrastinate—conditions rather difficult to control and collectively referred to as malua. On 19 February the meteorological section of the RNZAF issued a warning that a storm of some violence might be expected as the erratic course of a hurricane was plotted, zigzagging at sea between Fiji and Tonga. It broke the following morning—the worst hurricane experienced in Fiji for twenty-one years. Warnings were issued to all units as the day broke with leaden skies and an unusual gusty wind. All tents were struck in both areas, canopies were removed from motor vehicles, and buildings were hurriedly wired and strutted to withstand a gale.

1 Gp Capt D. W. Baird, AFC; Wellington; born Bangor, Northern Ireland, 23 Dec 1910; RAF (1931–37) and RNZAF (1938–); commanded RNZAF, Fiji, 1940–41; 490 (NZ) Sqn, West Africa, 1943; Director of Flying Training 1945–46; Director of Operations and Flying Training 1950–51; Director of Reserves 1951–.

2 Wg Cdr G. R. White; Raupare, Hastings; born Wairoa, 11 Nov 1905; civil airways pilot.

page 35

By nine o’clock the wind increased to tremendous force, driving in from the sea a wall of warm grey rain which stung like hail. Two hours later the hurricane was raging at its height. Huge trees toppled and snapped; palms bent so that their crowns of fronds swept the earth like dusters; sheets of corrugated iron whisked through the air like postage stamps or were wrapped round tree trunks like paper. At 11.15 a.m. the wind reached 110 miles an hour, but as the recording instruments broke at that time no accurate record was ever established. Telephone and power lines went down under the weight of wind and wreckage. One military line survived until midday, and when it broke headquarters was isolated from all units except by a wireless link which maintained communication with Namaka only with extreme difficulty.

Late in the afternoon, when the hurricane dissolved in heavy rain, the landscape looked as though it had been stripped by locusts. Tangles of branches, wreckage, and wires blocked streets and roads. Three ships in the harbour, which had escaped from Nauru Island when their convoy was shelled on 6, 7 and 8 December by the German raiders Orion and Komet, were driven high on mudbanks. Two aeroplanes, exactly half the RNZAF's strength in the Pacific, were wrecked on the Nandali airfield, where they had been tied down. Six buildings were blown down in Samambula Camp, and others, including officers’ quarters at Borron's House and a motor transport workshops at Samambula, were leaning at crazy angles. Camps in the Namaka area escaped with heavy flooding, though the Nandi River rose 30 feet.

That evening the quartermaster's store at Samambula caught fire because of the faulty handling of petrol, destroying a quantity of equipment and ammunition. The day's damage was estimated at £1725 but no lives were lost, though escape from injury was miraculous. One supply convoy, returning by the northern coastal road from Namaka, was trapped by swiftly rising water and marooned for 36 hours, as were other parties moving along the south coast road, where bridges were washed away and slips prevented all traffic for several days. Calls for assistance were made on all units, and for a week gangs of infantrymen cleared debris from roads and streets, often with borrowed saws and axes. Engineers went to the aid of the Fiji Public Works Department, and men from Signals assisted the Post and Telegraph Department to restore and repair their grievously damaged services in both town and country. A special message from the Governor expressed the thanks of the Colony for military aid. Torrential rain continued through April, blocking roads and flooding coastal areas. Forty page 36 inches fell in twenty-three days, sometimes at the rate of two inches an hour, which hindered both work and training.

In an effort to give variety to garrison life, 29 and 30 Battalions periodically exchanged areas throughout the year. A tour of duty in the Suva area certainly broke the monotony of life at Momi and Namaka. Early in May full-scale manœuvres, made as realistic as possible despite shortages of equipment, began with alarms at midnight or the early hours of the morning. At the end of that month Cunningham submitted to New Zealand a list of equipment still vitally necessary for the efficient operation of his force. This included two 18-pounder guns to complete the establishment of 35 Battery; mechanical transport for both 35 Battery and 34 Battalion, which had now emerged from the chrysalis of the Reserve Battalion; fighting and training equipment, including twelve Lewis and four Vickers machine guns for 34 Battalion; trench mortars and Bren guns for all infantry units; medical supplies which were lamentably short; signals equipment; and tools for 20 Light Aid Detachment which, at the end of six months’ exacting work, kept the brigade's limited transport on the roads only with the greatest difficulty.

Manœuvres were interrupted by the first of the reliefs, two sections (1708 all ranks) of which arrived on 23 and 29 May in the Rangatira, escorted by HMS Achilles. The remaining 1500 members of the relief did not arrive until the following August. The first departing troops sang their way lustily out of Suva and enjoyed leave in New Zealand before going on to join 2 Division, which by then had been blooded in the Greek campaign and was ending the ill-fated but valiant attempt to hold Crete. Only senior and administrative officers and non-commissioned officers of the original brigade remained in Fiji when the relief was completed. The new arrivals, for the most part untrained, contributed little to the efficiency of the force, as training had to begin again at the individual, platoon, and company level. A shortage of efficient non-commissioned officers was relieved by the formation of a training school at Natambua, commanded by Major J. H. Irving, whose place on headquarters staff was taken by Major A. J. Moore.

The defence scheme was drastically modified after a visit from General Sir Guy Williams, KCB, CMG, DSO, military adviser to the New Zealand Government and a former area commander in England with considerable experience in preparing and devising anti-invasion measures. After spending a week inspecting the defences of both Fiji and Tonga in July, he returned to Wellington and advised that operational control of all defence measures in both groups should be undertaken by New Zealand. page 37 Such an agreement, in which the United Kingdom Government concurred, was signed in Suva on 18 November by the Hon. F. Jones, Minister of Defence, the Hon. J. G. Coates, Minister of the War Cabinet, and Sir Harry Luke, Governor of Fiji. From that date New Zealand assumed responsibility for the defence of British possessions in the South West Pacific, and was accorded the power to approve all defence works.

Before this agreement was signed, Cunningham was irked in the execution of his defence plans by long delays in obtaining approval for both works and expenditure from the New Zealand War Cabinet and the Governor of Fiji. The Chiefs of Staff, including Lieutenant-General E. Puttick,1 who had returned from the Middle East and replaced Duigan at Army Headquarters, and Mr. Foss Shanahan, secretary to the Organisation for National Security, accompanied the Ministerial party and inspected the island's defences. It was also the occasion for conferences with officials on costs, expenditure, and other subjects arising from New Zealand's participation in Pacific defence.

The Williams report went very thoroughly into the state of the brigade, listing its deficiencies but commending the work accomplished and the high morale of the troops. It also emphasised the unit shortages of light automatic weapons, first-line transport, and signal equipment; the army required at least 400 beds; the aeroplanes had an operational radius of only 250 miles; reinforcements had been sent to Fiji after only ten days’ training. His recommendations included a supply of 3-inch mortars and armoured vehicles; three months’ basic training for all men sent to Fiji, petrol supplies to go underground; the blocking of all subsidiary channels through the reefs; the development of Fiji as a naval and air base, and the establishment of wireless communication linking islands of the Pacific with a central station in Suva. Williams based his appreciation of any Japanese attack on Fiji at a strength of one infantry brigade with tanks, supported by carrier-based aircraft and naval vessles. His most important recommendation was an extension of the minimum tour of duty to one year, since the relief of the garrison every six months made efficient training impossible.

This report emphasised the difficulties under which Cunningham worked. New Zealand did its best to repair the deficiencies by putting the Williams recommendations into operation as quickly as

1 Lt-Gen Sir Edward Puttick, KCB, DSO and bar, m. i. d., MC (Greek), Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Timaru, 26 Jun 1890; Regular soldier; NZ Rifle Brigade 1914–19 (CO 3 Bn); commanded 4 Inf Bde, Jan 1940–Aug 1941; 2 NZ Div (Crete) 29 Apr–27 May 1941; CGS and GOC NZ Military Forces, Aug 1941–Dec 1945.

page 38 possible, but 24 Bren guns, 12 Lewis guns, and some Thompson sub-machine guns did not arrive until September.1

There were large quantities of other stores, including signal equipment, still required for Fiji, and Tonga was still short of 75 rifles and 24 Bren guns for its small garrison. Completion of defence works was pressed forward throughout the year.

Before the end of July twenty-two soldiers, selected volunteers from the brigade, were despatched as companions to fifteen wireless operators from the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department to maintain stations scattered through the Gilbert and Ellice Groups, north of Fiji. This series of coral atolls extended almost to Japanese-held territory in the Marshall Islands, from which information was urgently desired by both War Office in London and the Army Department in Washington. These men were the first New Zealanders killed and taken prisoner by the Japanese, and their dauntless story is told later in this volume.

Japan's provocative attitude lent a spur to activity both above and below ground. Cunningham's plan of defended zones transformed twelve square miles of the Suva Peninsula into an area rather like a moated, mediaeval castle on the grand scale, but in this instance enclosing the whole town and the immediate countryside and villages. It was flanked by two rivers, the Lami on the right, the Samambula on the left, and between them anti-tank ditches linked such natural features as ravines, swamps, and hills, extending five and a half miles island to Prince's Road to include a new 300-bed military hospital erected at Tamavua, all supply and petrol depots and the water pumping stations, as well as deep and spacious underground quarters for the use of the Governor and his staff in an emergency. Along seven and a half miles of vulnerable beaches, a six-foot concrete wall, requiring 460 tons of cement, acted as a tank stop should the enemy enter over or through openings in the reef. Belts of barbed wire and trench systems provided alternative lines of defence behind the beaches.

1 A list of the deficiencies as at 1 September 1941 included the following major items:

Motor cycles83
Trucks, 15- or 20-cwt.33
Water trucks, 15-cwt.3
Trucks, 30-cwt.29
Trucks, 3-ton72
Bren guns192
Grenades No 36 (25 per cent smoke)6000
Mortar bombs, 3-inch1500
Mortars, 3-inch18
Bren carriers42
Carbons for searchlights, positive2000
Carbons for searchlights, negative700
page 39

Such a definitely enclosed area was not possible at Namaka and Momi, where an undulating plain ran back from sandy beaches to low hills, but the best use was made of natural features, belts of barbed wire, and demolitions to protect camp areas, the airfield, and a 50-bed hospital at Namaka. Momi became a separate area under the Namaka command, and the two 6-inch naval guns emplaced there in May were enclosed in a system of wire and trenches. Suva was regarded as the last line of defence for the Colony should an attack develop, and any force moving from Namaka to Suva's aid was ordered to take the northern coastal route because of the vulnerability of the southern road from the sea.

Any detailed account of the work accomplished in constructing these defences implies long hours of manual labour by all troops of all units, including the medical units, and it continued with deadly monotony for months. The achievements reveal the story—one of constant burrowing into the soapstone, a variety of soft rock found in Fiji, and removing the spoil in barrows; and wiring and digging and filling sandbags. In September 1941, before 30 Battalion returned to the western area to permit 29 Battalion's return to the more civilised region of Suva, the 30th had used ‘21½ miles of barbed wire, and made 330 knife-rests, erected 4200 stakes for wiring the beaches and mangrove swamps, cut 2500 feet of mangrove posts for roofing, and filled and used 25,500 sandbags’. Fifty-five defence posts with bullet-proof overhead cover had been constructed, fire lanes 950 yards long and nine yards wide had been cut through mangrove swamps, and twelve storage tunnels each 15 feet by seven by six had been gouged in the soapstone hillocks. Later, when it arrived, 35 Battalion erected 18,000 yards of barbed wire in a month. These figures indicate, in a modest way, the work done by units which at the same time continued with their training. They also indicate the extent of the fortifications in Fiji—fortifications which were never used but anticipated an enemy attack. Men frequently worked in the evil-smelling mud of the mangrove swamps, sometimes knee-deep in water. They assisted the engineers by removing spoil from underground excavations, where compressors chattered incessantly. One task of some magnitude was the completion, by the end of October, of ten tunnels, each measuring 100 feet long, 10 feet wide and 10 feet high, for the storage of 150,000 gallons of reserve petrol for the air force.

Until the New Zealanders left Fiji they continued these burrowing operations, which included the construction of a complete underground hospital with an air-conditioned operating theatre and wards opening off a central corridor; ammunition and food stores; and three giant petrol tanks in Sealark Hill, behind Suva Harbour, page 40 where men worked night and day in shifts to complete them. These bulk tanks were the biggest single excavation undertaking by the engineers, whose activities were directed by Major W. G. McKay1 when McKillop returned to New Zealand in 1941. They ranged from 50 to 70 feet deep, one with a diameter of 58 feet and two of 48 feet. An operational headquarters was also excavated in the hill on which Borron's House stood. It contained chambers for the accommodation of all staffs and signal equipment, and was used frequently during trial manœuvres. In the western area, which contained harder rock, the engineers could not penetrate so far underground, but their work was just as arduous as they built shelters for headquarters, air force, and hospitals. The duplication required by the two zones in Fiji weakened the force and increased administrative worries.

In the last months of 1941, visits of United States aircraft and ships of war indicated both the vital importance of Fiji and the trend of events, though it was impossible to convey to the men as they toiled and trained far from scenes of more obvious activity, any information concerning diplomatic talks and the mounting delicacy of the political situation with Japan. Such visits, pointers to coming events, were conducted without publicity. When the United States cruiser Chicago and five destroyers called at Suva on their return to Pearl Harbour after visiting New Zealand and Australia, few people were aware that they had made a secret test dash across the Pacific. Not until long afterwards was it revealed that a Tongan coastwatcher reported the ships. He was night-fishing far from the shore and was almost swamped by the wash as destroyers passed on either side of his frail canoe. Late in October two United States flying boats, carrying military and naval staff officers bound for the Philippines, called at Suva during a flight to investigate alternative air routes should hostilities cut the route to the Philippines via Wake and Midway Islands. An earlier air visitor was the old Empire flying boat ‘Calypso’, which, as A. 1811, was used by the Royal Australian Air Force to patrol from Port Moresby to Tulagi in the Solomons and Vila in the New Hebrides, and made one trip to Suva.

From these tours of investigation the importance of Fiji as a vital Pacific base was confirmed, and when, on 17 November 1941, certain sections of the American Neutrality Act were repealed by Congress a request was made to the New Zealand Government to

1 Maj W. G. McKay, OBE, m.i.d.; Apia, Western Samoa; born Hokitika, 3 Dec 1901; engineer; CRE Pacific Section, 2 NZEF, Dec 1941–Aug 1942; OC 20 Fd Coy NZE, Aug 1942–Mar 1944; British Forces in India, 1944–45; South-East Asia Command 1945–46.

page 41 construct three airfields in the Namaka area, capable of accommodating the largest service aircraft. Because of the urgency of the request, New Zealand acted swiftly, and by the end of November 440 men of the Public Works Department reached Namaka to begin work on extending the existing field to take the Liberators soon to arrive. They were the first of 1219 Public Works men to reach Fiji for employment on this project.1 Following earlier discussions with General Puttick, all assistance, including rationing and quarters, was provided by Brigadier Cunningham's headquarters.

The successful completion of this project was one of New Zealand's most important achievements in the Pacific theatre of war. Three airfields, each with a runway measuring 7000 feet long by 500 feet wide, with revetments and servicing areas, were asked for, the first to be ready by 15 January 1942, the other two by 15 April. Their estimated cost was £750,000, repayable by the United States Government. They required one and a half millions yards of earth-works and 20,000 tons of cement, and the estimated time for completion was five months. The airfields were ready before that time. The first three Flying Fortresses landed at Nandi on 10 January; three Liberators followed on 23 January, and until the end of the war the Namaka area was a scene of intense air activity as fields were still further extended to cope with the demands of increasing traffic. Fiji had begun the vital role (which it still holds) as a staging centre for aircraft moving to and from New Zealand, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, Australia, and America.

From the day the first New Zealand Public Works men arrived in November, construction went ahead without delay as bulldozers, carry-alls, tractors, and a fleet of trucks swiftly altered the landscape. For months the Namaka area lay under clouds of dust which mounted higher and higher in the hot air and tranished all green vegetation for miles around. Although a blackout was imposed in Suva after the Japanese entry into the war, such precautions were impossible in the west, where huge arc-lights illuminated the landscape as work continued through the night. Trouble was anticipated and the provost officer, Captain A. L. Downes, prepared for it, but the civilians and servicemen worked amicably side by side, despite vastly differing rates of pay, conditions, and privileges which provoked much discussion at the time. Some difficulties concerning rates of pay and conditions did arise among the civilian workers from New Zealand, but they were smoothed out by the timely arrival by air of the Prime Minister and the Hon. P. C. Webb,

1 These Public Works men were organised into what was known as the Civil Construction Unit, directed by Mr. A. F. Downer, a civil engineer appointed by the Ministry of Works, to which he was responsible.

page 42 Minister of Labour. Peace reigned after three undesirables were returned to New Zealand. Not all these men desired to play a combatant role should the necessity arise, but 600 of them were armed with American rifles and Browning machine guns and trained for emergency operations. Authority for the construction of a flying boat base at Lauthala Bay, near Suva, had been given by 5 December 1941, and this work was also pressed forward with speed. The nucleus of an American Catalina squadron was operating there by March 1942.