Episodes & Studies Volume 1
Recreation, Training, Fatigues, Health
Recreation, Training, Fatigues, Health
THE NORMAL KIWI was neither saint nor sailor (remember the routine order relative to false teeth!) but his gift for ‘jacking himself up’, for making his own amusements, for lying in the sun and doing nothing, stood him in good stead during long, dull voyages. Much was done for his entertainment—games, books, and sports gear were bought from the National Patriotic Fund; there were shipboard magazines (which may speak for themselves); concerts were held in nearly all ships; often the crossing-the-line ceremony was observed, and on most voyages it was possible to see a film at least once a week—but what he remembers best, perhaps, are long hours beneath his favourite lifeboat, his clothes in a heap beside him, the ‘makings’ handy, and his ‘Mae West’, in defiance of routine orders, pillowing his head. And long hours, star-lit instead of sun-lit, when he leant on the rails, a glass at his elbow (in the Strathaird more than 1400 glasses were lost or broken before one voyage was half over), and discussed the mysteries of whales, sharks, porpoises, flying-fish, and the Marie Celeste, or argued tirelessly and dispassionately that Orion was Venus and Dunera the Sobieski.
Training, of course, accounted for many hours. In the case of the First Echelon, lack of equipment prevented a full training programme, but the decks of the Orion were seldom completely clear between a quarter past nine and a quarter past eleven in the morning of men balancing on their shoulder blades and ‘bicycling’ or performing some other feat to which lack of space was no bar. Marching files, wearing boots to harden their feet, stamped round the promenade deck to the alternately swelling and diminishing strains of ‘Colonel Bogey’ played by a stationary ship’s band. Parties from other units, who had been dodging round Lewis gun tripods (‘Aircraft right! Aircraft left! OK, chaps, pack up!’), would grab their impedimenta and press back into doorways just in time to avoid being marched down. In lounges and smoking-rooms, where the depth and softness page 8 of the chairs was often responsible for that sharpest of questions, ‘And what did I say last, soldier?’, officers gave lectures on infantry tactics, ammunition, army law, vehicle maintenance, and hygiene.
Defence duties took up some time—in most ships the troops manned four submarine lookout posts during daylight in two-hour watches and at least two machine guns to combat low-flying aircraft—but fatigues took up more. In the Dunera, the first echelon of the New Zealand Divisional Signals (287 all ranks) supplied 102 permanent fatigues for the voyage: thirty mess orderlies, thirteen men for a galley party, ten for signal duties, and the rest for deck-scrubbing and duties in the bakehouse, butcher’s shop, canteen, storeroom, and armoury. During its duty week, which came round once a month, the unit was called on to supply sixty sentries, twenty-eight deck scrubbers, four fatigues for the hammock-room, and two for the sergeants’ sitting-room—196 fatigues in all.
Of all these duties the most monotonous, perhaps, was sentry-go in the bowels of the ship. After reading the fire instructions, you had a choice between risking punishment by smoking or reading furtively and falling into a heavy stupor induced by listening to the ship as she chattered, sighed, throbbed, slurred, purred endlessly through the night. Aeons elapsed before it was time to return to the guardroom—usually, for some reason, the ship’s nursery—and sleep for four hours in your clothes with your head under a rocking-horse and Donald Duck looking quizzically down on you.
Thus the New Zealander at sea under supervision. His free time—no exact calculations are possible—was spent as follows: 15 per cent playing games of chance, 15 per cent doing his washing and watching it dry on deck, 12 per cent listening to and spreading rumours, 12 per cent grumbling about the food, 46 per cent lying on deck in the sun.
While engaged in the last pastime he was not always culpable of sloth. Often he was suffering from headache, a sore and swollen left arm, and a feeling of extreme lassitude. The space in his paybook reserved for Protective Inoculations bore the record of his indignities: TAB* in the Tasman, vaccination in the Australian Bight, Tet. Prop.** in the Indian Ocean. No sooner had he recovered from one than he was standing again with bared arm under the sardonic grins of orderlies with swabs of iodine and of doctors with blunt needles.
The doctor is an important man in a troopship. In the ships that took the First Echelon to Egypt seven emergency operations were performed, one of which was the removal of a mastoid with an electric drill borrowed from the ship’s engineers and two carpenter’s chisels. Small wonder that reports from medical officers with the First Echelon stressed the need for more surgical instruments, drugs, sterilisers, and nursing equipment.
In most ships, however, the sick parades produced only colds, upset stomachs, boils, and tonsillitis, though an epidemic of influenza occurred in ships taking the Second Echelon from Britain to the Middle East and in a ship carrying the 5th Reinforcements to Egypt. It was then that the nurses proved their value.
The doctor’s last word was said usually a day or two before the end of the voyage. In a little masterpiece of the macabre he would point out that the flesh-pots of Egypt could be enjoyed only at a price. Death lurked in sweets and ices, disease in raw fruit, disaster in Sharia Wagh el Birket.page 9
THE FIRST VOYAGEpage 10
FOOD AND ACCOMMODATIONpage 11 page 12
TROOPSHIP AND ESCORTpage 13
General Freyberg welcomes the New Zealanders at Port Tewfik, February 1940. General Wavell (with cane) is behind him and to his left are Anthony Eden and Sir Miles Lampson
DUTIES & AMUSEMENTS
Submarine lookout, Mauretania
remembered with gratitude by New Zealand soldiers of both wars
DURBAN, January 1941
Back from Crete,
Embarking for Italy
Arrival at Taranto
THE PACIFICpage 23
MAROONED ON EMIRAU
Rangitane survivors in camp
* Triple vaccine against typhoid and the two para-typhoid ‘A’ and ‘B’ infections
** Tetanus prophylactic