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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

IV — Forward Base—Preparations at Guadalcanal

Forward Base—Preparations at Guadalcanal

It was obvious as we waded ashore at Kukum Beach that we had come to a battlefield. The shell-torn palms, the rusting hulks of Japanese ships and odd souvenirs of war lying about were evidence of that and occasional charges of explosives still infested the undergrowth as a member of RHQ, who set one off by tripping over it, had good reason to know. The island was well within range of enemy bombers at that time and the 207th Battery, which arrived on 27 August, had its first condition red almost immediately. This time nothing happened but there was enough enemy activity in the area to justify the deployment of some guns throughout the New Zealand areas. However, when the bombs did start falling, the Japanese were clearly concentrating on the airfields and shipping some miles away. Our guns consequently had no targets within range. The middle of September brought with it a full moon and for several nights the distinctive surging beat of 'Washing Machine Charley' was page 115heard overhead. We became accustomed to the wail of sirens, the crump of bombs dropping in the distance and the interruption of picture shows by the demands of the blackout. It was the rule that everybody not actively engaged on the guns should take cover during these raids, but when the danger was remote quite a large gallery would gather to watch the fun. One night we saw an enemy bomber held firmly in the searchlights with flak bursting all around him. Suddenly a broken red line linked up with the target, which faltered and fell, flaring up as it did so. We had no sooner identified the red line as the tracer fire of a night fighter when the beam moved a little to one side and exactly the same thing happened again. This was the first action most of us had seen and we could only have been more satisfied if one of our own guns had done the job. Although small isolated raids continued the emphasis soon shifted to training. With packs up we relearned the geography of the Solomons by toiling up and down the steep ridges and struggling through the jungle trying to dodge the vines. Wild life was much more varied than in New Caledonia. There were all types of lizards, from iguanas downwards, swarms of gaudy chattering parakeets and cooing pigeons, and there were said to be crocodiles in several of the rivers. We found that jungle noises at night were all that the books had said and more. Timber trees were plentiful, but we were still a little irritated to find that oranges and bananas did not grow on every corner.

The most enjoyable training was a two-day amphibious exercise to Florida Island, in which RHQ, the 208th and 214th Batteries took part, the other batteries having by this time left for Vella Lavella. The trip was made in the landing craft—LCIs and APDs—which were subsequently used in all the landings made by the division and whose special design made rapid unloading of troops and equipment much easier than with the large troop transports. The exercise involved preliminary loading of the ships and landing of men and material. After the crates (always euphemistically described as 'two-man loads' in the Solomons) had been heaved ashore and stacked on the sandy beach under huge overhanging trees, all ranks with one accord plunged into the clear blue water and got themselves cool and clean again. It was a reasonably good imitation of a water-siders' picnic until the whistle blew for reloading and return to base.

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Future events were in all minds and, for the first time, all our doings seemed to be pointed with a real purpose. After the 207th Battery, and later the 209th, proceeded with the 14th Brigade to Vella Lavella in September speculation was rife as to the plans for the other two batteries. The stage was set when RHQ and the 208th joined the 214th in the 8th Brigade group. The information that the 207th and the 209th had each made a 'kill' at Vella was warmly greeted and the other two batteries polished up their guns and made ready for sport. Near the end of October the story was told and on the 25th and 26th of that month the 8th Brigade group set off to assault the Treasuries. Equipment and transport for these moves had again been cut down from what we thought was the irreducible minimum and the first echelons carried only the very bare necessities. However, jungle clothing of mixed design and hue was readily available, as were medical and anti-mosquito supplies. Although the climate was much more trying than anything yet met, health on the island was good. Anti-malarial precautions were stressed continually and the basis of the discipline that later stood the whole division in good stead in meeting this menace was truly laid.

Life was busy, but the hum of activity lifted morale and once the uncertainty as to where we were going had been dispelled there was a general feeling of anxiety to get on with the job.