2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
CHAPTER 23 — The End of the Story
The End of the Story
THE gunners stayed three months in the Trieste area and the tortuous and intrusive politics of the region only mildly affected their enjoyment of their Adriatic paradise. Many of them had spent 18 months in Italy serving their guns in anger and anxiety. They had no wish for more trouble with the ‘partisans’ and saw no need for it. Their personal contacts with them were in the main friendly. Some 5th Field gunners carefully surveyed-in Yugoslav guns and other likely targets and were ready if required to engage them with speed and accuracy. But they were much more interested in the many attractions of the city and coast and took full advantage of them.
The 7th Anti-Tank gathered round bonfires at dusk on VE Day ‘singing songs and passing the plonk bottles at frequent intervals’. The 4th Field soon opened a rest centre, and then came another for all the gunners. The 34th Battery built an open-air theatre. The weather was perfect, the coast beautiful and the beaches alluring. There were swimming, boating, yachting, horse-racing and dances almost nightly. There was leave to Venice, where the New Zealand Forces Club was the splendid Hotel Danieli, to Florence or Rome, and to many other cities and resorts. Unofficial leave took some gunners far afield.
Shirley Nicholson had left the 6th Field early in May and Lieutenant-Colonel Angell replaced him. In June General Freyberg held a memorable ball in the magnificent palace at Miramare, to the music of the Kiwi Concert Party orchestra, whose excellence owed much to Terry Vaughan,1 an ‘original’ of 34 Anti-Tank Battery, and the CRA was there. Then, on the 27th, Queree departed for the Staff College at Camberley as an instructor and Brigadier Thornton, who had just returned from furlough, became CRA.
On the 12th the Yugoslav army had moved out of Trieste, to the delight of the Italians there—an episode described by the 27 Battery diarist in the following words:page 735
‘As the last of Tito's men pulled out the various political parties commenced to express their feelings in true Balkan fashion. Their main ambition appears to be to wave some sort of flag, shout, sing and beat hell out of anyone they dislike and who happens to be in a minority of at least 10 to 1.’
For the gunners this was the real VE Day and they gladly relaxed and enjoyed it. They warmly farewelled the 7th Reinforcements on 15 June, and the 8th Reinforcements who had joined the Division at Tripoli then became the ‘grim digs’.
By this time, as one diarist noted, ‘most ranks have … jacked themselves up pretty well in one way or another and disappear in their “posh mockers”2 frequently’. When they moved back from Trieste on 28 and 29 July they did so with heavy hearts. Even for those to whom it was a step nearer home —the 8th Reinforcements for certain, the 9ths almost so, and then, in diminishing degrees of confidence, the ‘trembling tenths’ and ‘uneasy elevenths’—it was no pleasure to leave. ‘All ranks appear to be “multi dispiache” at the thought of leaving such a fine area’, the 5th Field diary states. ‘There is little doubt that this area has been one of the most pleasant ever occupied by the Div.’ There were anguished looks and tearstained faces at the roadsides as the gunners said goodbye to Trieste and the Triestini.
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.
Mount Vesuvius hid itself behind a mist when 25 Field Battery sailed past from Naples in the Strathmore on 21 February. On 1 March the gunners saw the last of Africa—Cape Gardafui. They called at Colombo and later at Singapore, and then on 15 March they had a long run up the channel in a misty morning to Hong Kong. They caught their first glimpse of Japan in the afternoon of the 18th and next morning had the Duke of York to escort them into Kure Harbour. They disembarked on the 22nd, travelled by train through Hiroshima, and settled in barracks at Yamaguchi.
Thus they began their service in the occupation force. They shared it with 150 Field Battery, RA, under Major Roscoe Turner, A Australian Field Battery under Major Tim Rodriguez, and 30 Indian Field Battery under Major Andrew George. With these three independent batteries, 25 Battery carried out manoeuvres and live shoots. These were rare occasions, however, and for the most part the gunners picketed various places or mounted formal guards or searched for black-market operators. They drilled to keep fit and maintain their gunnery skills. In their spare time they studied or went sightseeing or perhaps to the races at Ozuki.
At the end of the year Jack Spring departed and Major Archibald8 took his place, and in due course Archibald was replaced by a veteran of veterans, Major Langevad, who had been decorated in the First World War and had been the original RSM of the 5th Field. It was Bill Langevad's task at Ube in the Yamaguchi prefecture on 22 May 1947 to begin to disband the battery. Almost all the original Jayforce gunners had by this time been replaced by men direct from New Zealand. Some of these transferred to other elements of Jayforce. The remainder returned home and the guns came with them.
The End and the Continuation
Men who once belonged to the 2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery assemble from time to time for reunions. When they do their memories revive the drama of the parachute landings in Crete, or Bofors fire on diving Stukas at Alam Nayil, or the tense vividness of an anti-tank action—the all-consuming concentration of effort when every shot must count. Their memories paint cameos of men in various postures serving the guns by night as the streaking flashes exposed them. They reawaken the lightning and thunder of the Alamein barrage, the echoing and re-echoing of guns going off and shells exploding in the shadow of Olympus or Montecassino, and the deafening, earth-shaking hours of the great bombardments on the way to the Po. Peacetime seems quieter to gunners than it does to other people.
7 The official disbandment dates were:
|7th Anti-Tank||15 December 1945|
|Divisional Artillery Headquarters||28 January 1946|
|RHQ and 26 and 46 Batteries, 4th Field||28 January 1946|
|5th Field||28 January 1946|
|6th Field||28 January 1946|
|9th LAD (4th Field)||15 December 1945|
|15th LAD (7th Anti-Tank)||22 December 1945|
|16th LAD (5th Field)||15, December 1945|
|18th LAD (6th Field)||15, December 1945|
H Section, Divisional Signals, absorbed E, F and G Sections in October 1945. On 24 November 2 Lt J. Livingston issued the last ‘HQ NZ Div Arty Line Diagram’. The remnants of these four sections merged with the rest of 2 NZ Divisional Signals, which disbanded on 23 February 1946.