CHAPTER 23 — Repatriation
ThroughoutJune 19452 New Zealand Division continued as a garrison formation in the Trieste area. Apart from the provision of routine communications, there was little signals activity. Early in the month tension in the city eased considerably with the signing of an agreement in which the Yugoslav forces agreed to withdraw from Trieste. Staff approval was given Signals to close wireless links to the brigades, which hitherto had been kept open to meet any sudden operational necessity.
About the middle of the month seventy-five all ranks of the 7th Reinforcements were withdrawn from the unit and sent off to a transit camp at Forli on the first stage of their journey to New Zealand in the Waikato replacement draft.
During the period between 22 July and 3 August the Division moved back to the Lake Trasimene area, where it remained until early in October. It was there that the Division was to be reorganised as a two-brigade formation to fight against the Japanese in the Far East as part of a British Commonwealth force, but the unconditional surrender of Japan on 14 August brought these plans to an end. Immediately—indeed, actually before the Japanese surrender was announced—negotiations began between the Dominions Office in London and the New Zealand Government for the provision of a New Zealand contingent in a British Commonwealth occupation force for Japan.
During August one officer and 179 other ranks of the 8th Reinforcements were withdrawn from the unit and transferred to the Tekapo replacement draft for return to New Zealand. They were followed on 26 September by 105 other ranks of the 9th Reinforcements who marched out to the Aparima replacement draft.
Early in October the Division moved into winter quarters in the Florence area, where, on the 11th, single men of the 13th 14th, and 15th Reinforcements were transferred to the Signal page 519 Company of Jayforce, the brigade group that was to go to the Far East as part of the British occupation force. Two weeks earlier the New Zealand Government had directed—although no official announcement had yet been made—that only single men from these reinforcements were to be posted to the brigade, although men from earlier reinforcements might volunteer for service with the force. Those who had arrived in the Central Mediterranean theatre with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Reinforcements, but had been reclassified as earlier reinforcements because of former service with 3 New Zealand Division in the Pacific, were not eligible for the brigade.
In Signals, however, there were too few single men from these three latest reinforcement drafts to fill the establishment of Jayforce Signal Company, and the volunteers—there were twenty-one, including one officer and one sergeant—did not suffice to fill the gap, so some from earlier reinforcements were detailed to complete the Signal Company establishment. This party totalled fifteen all ranks and consisted of two captains, three subalterns, one corporal and nine lance-corporals, all of whom were posted to the new signal company because of their special abilities or experience.
The commander of Jayforce Signal Company was Major Missen, an officer with whom volunteering was becoming a habit. In the first place, he was a volunteer who had left New Zealand in 1940 with the Third Echelon. Much later, when he had completed three months' furlough in New Zealand—this was at a fairly late stage of the war, when reinforcements going to the Middle East and Central Mediterranean were no longer furlough men but replacement drafts—he was told that his return to 2 NZEF had been specially requested. The senior staff officer who told Missen this suggested in an inferential sort of way that Missen might decline the invitation, and drew an immediate retort from the latter that he had signed up for the duration and one year after and intended to see it through. So back Missen went to Italy. Now, acutely aware of the lack of key men for the new signal company, he came forward again. In August 1946, when Jayforce was relieved by a volunteer force recruited in New Zealand, he remained because there was nobody suitable to take over his command.page 520
Jayforce was organised in the Florence area within the framework of 9 Infantry Brigade, from which those who were ineligible for the occupation force were transferred to units in other formations. The organisation of the signal company, of course, was built up from the nucleus provided by the eligibles of J Section Signals attached to Headquarters 9 Infantry Brigade, and by the end of October was completed to the authorised establishment of three officers, one warrant officer, one staff-sergeant, two sergeants and seventy other ranks. The company's transport totalled thirty vehicles, of which nine were signal vehicles.
In Divisional Signals numbers had grown less and less. When the unit sat down to Christmas dinner the total muster was six officers—all wearing self-conscious expressions as they served the men—and fifty-two other ranks. They represented the 11th and 12th Reinforcements and the married men of the 13th, 14th and 15th, the 10th having gone earlier in the month to join the Pokeno repatriation draft at Advanced Base.
The remnant of Divisional Signals left the Florence area on 11 January 1946 for Bari. All signal communications to New Zealand units in Florence then became the responsibility of 9 Infantry Brigade Signal Company, which since 1 December had been constituted as an independent unit. On 17 January, when the affairs of Divisional Signals were finally wound up, Lieutenant-Colonel Foubister applied to Headquarters 2 NZEF for his unit to be disbanded. It was a simple request, put as the last paragraph of his letter of application, which also dealt with the disposal of equipment, the regimental fund account, pay, and similar matters. It said: ‘May 2 nz div signals be disbanded, please.’
That day Foubister set out to rejoin the remnant of his unit at Advanced Base, where they awaited their return journey to New Zealand.
On 22 February there appeared in 2 NZEF Orders, under the heading ‘13/46 Organization—Disbandment of Units’, the titles of eight units; among them was 2 NZ Divisional Signals, and its date of disbandment was 23 February 1946.
On 19 February 9 Infantry Brigade Signal Company embarked page 521 on the Strathmore at Naples; two days later the ship sailed for the Far East with 2 NZEF (Japan), as the force was officially known from the day of embarkation. The journey was uneventful except that five other ranks of Signals were disembarked at Singapore and evacuated to hospital there with sickness. On 19 March the ship arrived at Kure. The troops disembarked next day and moved to Chofu, where Headquarters 2 NZEF (Japan) was established.
The force was relieved five months later by a volunteer brigade recruited in New Zealand, and sailed for New Zealand on the Chitral on 22 August 1946. In this last repatriation draft of 2 NZEF were one officer and sixty other ranks of Signals.page 522