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The Gunners: an intimate record of units of the 3rd New Zealand Divisional Artillery in the Pacific from 1940 until 1945

I — Formation and Training

page 102

Formation and Training

In the middle of August 1942 the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment was formed at Pahautanui under the command of Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) F. M. Yendell. Pahautanui, although a brand new camp, could not be described as palatial, for in those days the demand on manpower and materials was heavy and minimum standards had to suffice. Mud was abundant but everything else seemed to be in short supply. At the outset three batteries, numbered 207, 208 and 214, each of three troops, and twelve 40mm Bofors guns were set up. The 209th Battery was formed at the end of September from later postings to the camp. In addition a light anti-aircraft workshops section (NZOC) and a signals detachment (X Section, 3 NZ Divisional Signals) were permanently attached to the regiment. Even without these attached sections, the regiment was easily the largest unit in the Third Division, its full strength being somewhat over 1,000 all ranks. Territorial units supplied personnel trained on the Bofors gun in static positions and their experience proved valuable in the early stages at Pahautanui, as the remainder had been drawn from all branches of the service and many had never even seen their new weapon. Special anti-aircraft instruction had been given to the senior officers in a conversion course and to the subalterns in their cadet training unit. Few of the regiment had served overseas previously.

The end of the first month saw some order emerging from the initial confusion. Guns and some transport were available page 103for training and technical equipment was arriving steadily. Dental inspections, inoculations and vaccinations were under way and a steady stream of returns was flowing through proper or improper channels to the appropriate higher authorities. Gun drill was in full swing and prospective NCOs were being sorted out. About the middle of September this busy scene was very properly interrupted to give all ranks seven days' leave, which indicated that the regiment was soon due to leave its home pastures. After this break, training was resumed and a live shell shoot with towed targets at Titahi Bay, small arms practices at Trentham and some rugged route marching rounded out a busy programme for October.

At the beginning of October one troop each from the 207th and 208th Batteries, which had been withdrawn to form the light anti-aircraft component of the 215th Composite Battery, left for Norfolk Island and were temporarily lost to the regiment, although most of the personnel concerned returned as reinforcements in New Caledonia after their tour of duty on Norfolk had ended. From the middle of October onwards things moved quickly at Pahautanui. All ranks were looking forward to a further week's furlough, promised for the early part of November, when the order to move came and all hopes of furlough were abandoned in the inevitable pre-embarkation flurry. Transport and equipment poured in and every man gathered up an immense variety of tropical garb and gear. And so with web equipment and sea kits bulging 35 officers and 635 other ranks embarked on the USA transport Maui at Wellington on the bitterly cold night of 4 November 1942. Together with the 28th Heavy Antiaircraft Regiment, the 33rd Heavy Regiment and several small base details who embarked on the same ship, we were the first unit of the division to sail for New Caledonia. The force that sailed on the Maui comprised RHQ with the attached signals and workshops sections and all batteries except the 209th, which followed on another ship a month later.

Life at sea was a new experience for most of the regiment. The weather was reasonably good but most of us found it hard to get sufficient nourishment from the two meals a day provided by the Maui. On the voyage the discomforts of troopship travel were eased by several entertainments, in which all units took part, and the regimental band had an appreciative audience for its efforts. The band under the leadership of Gunner O. A. page 104Cheesman promised to become a great asset, but unfortunately the players became scattered in New Caledonia and its activities had to be abandoned.

The Maui reached Noumea on Armistice Day, just in time to see a squadron of United States warships steaming out in formation, a splendid and most heartening sight. We dropped anchor amidst a surprising concentration of shipping and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening surveying the brown, bare slopes of New Caledonia and the bustling harbour scene, meditating on the possibilities of our future. The following morning we were ferried ashore in dazzling heat to be greeted at the wharf by Major Miller and a small advanced party who had left a few days before us.