2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
The journey was to Mestre the first day and then to Bologna for a glimpse of a famous city personally unknown to most of the gunners—' a fine city little damaged by war'. The next stage was along the Via Emilia through Faenza, Forli, Cesena and Rimini, and then along Route 16 to Fano. This was not at all like the retracing of steps in 1942 past the desert battlefields of 1941, which had been nothing but a heartbreak. These places had revived in six or nine months to an extent which seemed to some gunners to be almost an affront to their memories of a dark wartime Italian winter. From Fano—a halt for lunch—the route lay through twice-remembered country to Fabriano. From there gunners renewed warm acquaintances in villages they had known in March and the preceding November and there were more tearful farewells. Next day they ended up near Lake Trasimene and found it disappointing.page 736
Following the rigours of Cassino and the horrors of the shelltorn Sora-Balsorano valley, Lake Trasimene had been a warmly-remembered staging area. Now it was in the grip of a five-month drought and it had to stand comparison with the enchantments of Trieste. But the 8th Reinforcements enjoyed it: they departed for home on 5 August.
The next weeks and months were full of pathos. A great fighting force and the powerful loyalties surrounding it slowly disintegrated, and even the thought of going home could not make this process agreeable. The 7th Anti-Tank paraded as such for the last time on 7th August and then Pat Savage said goodbye. He was the last of the original officers to depart and had served longer in a single regiment than any other NZA officer. He had a soft spot for anti-tankers, and even the ‘hard cases’ generally reciprocated. Major Spring, one of the most widely experienced of all the NZA officers and popular wherever he went, succeeded Savage.
The news of the Japanese surrender on 15 August abruptly ended negotiations to send a division to the Pacific or the Asian mainland and it made home seem much closer. Regimental funds paid for a little vermouth and there was a two-day holiday; but only the 7th Anti-Tank seem to have marked the occasion with appropriate vigour.
The numbers dwindled fast. It was as much as the units could do to sort out a handful of men who had served in Crete and send them there on 25 September to attend a memorial service. Lieutenant-Colonel Nolan of the 4th Field went with his RSM. The 5th Field supplied Major Dyson (who had worked wonders to supply the gunners on Crete with ammunition), the RSM, WO I Shepherd,3 and the perennial WO II Nicholass. The 7th Anti-Tank provided WO II Gibson,4 and that was all. A few others under Ike Parkinson went from Egypt. They were a select band, by seniority the élite, of the élite, and the Cretans treated them hospitably and with a respect amounting to reverence.
The 9ths departed and the remaining gunners moved into winter quarters at Siena—the regiments in barracks near the outskirts and Headquarters in hotels in the fine central square. Men were chosen by ballot to go on leave to the United Kingdom from 10 October onwards, and the lucky ones received a warm welcome. Most of them stayed at the Milestone Hotel in page 737 London, managed by Geoff Sloan5 of 34 Anti-Tank Battery and Ian Cooper6 of the 6th Field.
Near Florence 9 Brigade gradually turned into Jayforce, which was to be the New Zealand contribution to the occupation force in Japan. The BM was Major Maxwell, until then BM of the Divisional Artillery, and the artillery component was 25 Field Battery, commanded by Major Spring. One of the few remaining ‘originals’ of the 7th Anti-Tank, WO I Gilmer, marched out to Jayforce on 2 November. A party of gunners attended a memorial service at Alamein later in the month. The CRA went with them and Angell became temporary CRA. Then Angell followed and Spring became temporary CRA. It was like musical chairs; but a rapid turnover in appointments was typical of this phase.
Though clean and prosperous, Siena with its beautiful cathedral and other fine mediaeval and Renaissance buildings seemed to be a place where time stood still. There, in the little courtyard of the 6th Field barracks on 14 November the Divisional Artillery mustered no more than about 400 men for a farewell parade to General Freyberg—pathetically fewer than the 4000-odd who had paraded by the Volturno early in 1944. The General, designated to become the next Governor-General of New Zealand, spoke movingly. The record of the 2nd NZ Divisional Artillery, he said, had never been surpassed. No other divisional artillery had fired such a great weight of shells. In technical efficiency, speed in action and sustained effort, he said, the NZA regiments stood supreme.
By 1 December the 4th Field and 7th Anti-Tank amalgamated and also the 5th and 6th Field. Then the 4th Field absorbed the 5th and before December ended the 4th Field, too, had ceased to exist.7 The remnants of these regiments made their way north on 17 December to barracks near Florence to await, page 738 with other vestiges of the 2nd New Zealand Division, the ships which would take them home. The prospects of an early voyage were not bright, but more shipping was somehow provided and by Christmas Day the gunners reached Taranto, a scene of lively activity. From there they sailed in various ships, including the Dominion Monarch and the Durban Castle. The last of them embarked on 27 January 1946 in the Stirling Castle.