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The 35th Battalion

Chapter Nine — Return to New Zealand

page 81

Chapter Nine
Return to New Zealand

Just before sunset the transport weighed anchor and steamed in a southerly direction. As dusk set in the view of Nissan (or Green) Island became dimmer. Even so, it was hard to realise that for a while we would be absent from the front line and out of the malarial zone. For the first time since leaving Necal we did not have to line up for the daily dose of atabrin. Time hung heavily on our hands as the steamer rolled in the Pacific swell. Because of the large number of troops on board only two meals a day were available. It was truly a long time between meals, but the padre and YMCA Secretary saw to it that it wasn't a long time between drinks. Through the kind cooperation of the ship's personnel, hot tea was provided throughout the day. During the day tennaquoit tournaments were conducted on a hatch cover and before evening set in a quizz competition would be held. Finally Guadalcanal came in sight and the anchor was dropped just before sunset. A screen was erected and that night we enjoyed a film, one which included the stirring music of 'Warsaw Concerto'.

During the next day the weather took a turn for the worse and blew steadily. In company with another vessel we left Guadalcanal at 5 pm. Could that ship roll! How it righted itself on some occasions will always remain a mystery. The days passed by till one evening the ship arrived off the reef entrance to Nouméa. A pilot was taken on board and a new course was set for Népoui where we had originally landed on Necal. Next morning, 9 June, our voyage of nine days was over. We disembarked and loaded on to waiting trucks. We were back again among the gaiac and niaouli trees, and the dusty, page 82winding roads. A few hours later the convoy deposited its load of dust-grimed men at Téné River valley camp.

A small advanced party which had come down with the manpower draft greeted us. Tents were already pitched and an issue of blankets and a cot was made immediately. Soon we had settled down once more. This camp was complete with cookhouses and amenities and required only minor alterations to suit our needs. Through the centre of this large camp ran a road, on one side of which was the 8th Brigade and on the other the 14th Brigade. For the first time in the history of the Third Division both brigades were camped together.

That night a concert was given by the 2YA concert party. For the first time for over a year, we saw white women in evening dress. It was a grand concert and well appreciated. During the month of June the first cases of malaria showed up and some of us went to hospital for a spell.

A varied programme of sport was embarked upon. Rugby, soccer, hockey, cricket, basketball and tennaquoits went into full swing. Competitions were organised and many thrilling matches were witnessed. At night there were pictures, concerts and supper at the Bourail Club where the Waacs were an added attraction. During the day the AEWS provided lecturers and many members of the battalion made the most of improving their knowledge. The old bug-bear of fatigues also kept a large number employed. Leave periods to the Kiwi Club at Bourail beach were organised and quite a number enjoyed the relaxation of sunbathing and swimming on that fine beach. On Sundays transport was provided for those who wished to have a day's outing there.

So life went on and the last big event of the battalion was a unit dance held in the YMCA hall in Bourail township. An energetic committee worked hard and decorated the hall in a gay fashion. Famous sayings of battalion personalities were placed round the hall and caused much amusement to those 'in the know'. The RNZAF band, which was in Bourail at the time, provided us with excellent dance music, while nursing sisters, Waacs and French ladies made graceful partners. It was a wonderful night and all praise is due to the committee for its efforts.

More men left the battalion as further manpower drafts were called. After the first leave batches for New Zealand, the battalion page 83was represented by a mere handful of men, so this small party was merged with what remained of other units and became working companies. Eventually they, too, returned to New Zealand.

We are going back to New Zealand. What a wonderful feeling. For once nobody grumbled about the dusty roads as the convoy sped from Bourail to Nouméa. This time there were no ropes to climb. A short march along a wharf, up a gangway and we were aboard.

'Only a few more miles, I guess,
So giddy-up good old Bess.'

Only a few more miles, but the days could not pass by quickly enough. Thoughts of leave—40 days of it—filled everyone's mind and all conversation turned on what one would do and where one would go. And then that last day! Over the starboard bow was New Zealand. The skipper, apparently reading our thoughts, announced over the public address system, the time of our arrival at Auckland. A cheer of thanks rang out. In quick order we passed Kawau, Tiri and Rangitoto. As the ship slowly approached North Head we looked on Auckland once more and truly appreciated the sight and all it meant. True to the skipper's word, the ship berthed on time and disembarkation proceeded immediately. In the wharf shed a cup of tea and cakes awaited us before various officials welcomed us home. The speeches over, we lined up, six abreast, and marched via Queen Street and Customs Street to the railway station and boarded a special train to Papakura. Here the organisation was rather bewildering. The Auckland men, who were to be delivered to their homes that night, were whisked from one building to another where pay, leave tickets, rail passes and other things were thrust on them as they passed through.

Home at last! Forty days of leave passed quickly and we reported back to the three main mobilization centres in New Zealand. Here there was no 35th Battalion—just a block of infantrymen. To most of us, then, came the realization that the 35th Battalion was finished. No more would we wear the distinguishing hat patch; no more would our pals be with us, side by side.

This was the end—the end of the 35th.