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Chapter 11: The Smaller Garrisons

I: Fanning Island

NEW Zealand's participation in the 1939–45 War began and ended in the Pacific. Her first expeditionary force was a small detachment made up of two officers and thirty other ranks known as No. 1 Platoon, A Company, which on 30 August 1939 sailed from Auckland for tiny, palm-clad Fanning Island to guard the cable station there and prevent a repetition of the 1914 damage done by a raiding party from the German cruiser Nurnberg. These men learned of the outbreak of the European war on 3 September 1939 as they neared their destination in HMS Leander, at that time commanded by Captain J. W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN.1

Fanning Island is a remote coral atoll lying 3.54 degrees north of the Equator, just off the Auckland-Suva-Honolulu trade route. Its total area of rather barren soil is 15 square miles, the average height of which is only 17 feet above sea level. Cable station and plantation administration officials at the outbreak of war made up a European community numbering about thirty. Most of the 250 to 270 natives were employed on the coconut plantations which cover the island. There was no regular steamer or schooner service with Fanning, which was supplied from Fiji or Honolulu.

In May 1939 the New Zealand Cabinet confirmed its decision to despatch a small force to Fanning Island should the necessity arise, and gave authority for its increase from 60 to 150 men. The total strength of the New Zealand regular forces was correspondingly increased to provide for this garrison, since the country was not at war. Orders for the defence of the island and the installation of one 6-inch naval gun to protect the cable station were signed by Major-General John Duigan, Chief of the New Zealand General Staff, on 1 December that same year. The support and periodical relief of this small garrison is an example

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of the difficulties attending such an isolated expedition, and one which continually exercised the New Zealand Government until the United States took over the defence of the island. Fanning was only one of a number of islands on which New Zealand garrisons, either Army or Air Force, were stationed.

The first men for the defence of the island assembled in some secrecy at Trentham Military Camp in June 1939, as political tension mounted in Europe and an outbreak of war seemed inevitable. The men were equipped and given as much training as the brief period before departure allowed them. The commander was instructed to be on the alert against enemy ruses, as in 1914 the German raider had approached the island flying the French flag and landed a party which cut the cable and temporarily dislocated all cable traffic across the Pacific. He established his small detachment in a camp at Napari, on the shores of Whaler Anchorage, named it Duigan Camp, and constructed machine-gun posts (his only armament other than rifles) to cover the entrance to English Harbour, the only deep-water entrance to the lagoon on Fanning.

Like all other pioneering service units in the Pacific in the early days of the war, the Fanning Island garrison suffered acute discomfort from heat and humidity and the lack of suitable cool storage for food supplies. After the first novelty of life in the tropics wore off, the men settled down to a routine in which work was the only relief from boredom, and swimming and fishing their only amenities. Indeed, from 1939 until 1941 an interesting record was kept of all varieties of fish caught by members of the garrison. During the first six months of 1940, 115 inches of rain fell in exceptional downpours, though the average rainfall is only 99 inches. This produced an atmosphere which hastened the deterioration of both food and clothing. Everything perishable rotted quickly, particularly all supplies of fresh vegetables. Canvas shoes with which the men were equipped in Trentham fell to pieces in a fortnight. Weevils infested the flour and biscuits, and tinned foods soon became inedible because of rusting. Rats were also a recurring pest, so that during the early period of its history the garrison was much concerned with the preservation and protection of food and supplies. Many of these early problems were later overcome by the installation of two refrigerators.

The first officer in charge of the detachment was not temperamentally suited to command an isolated garrison in a trying climate, and his conduct brought adverse reports from the administration because of his disturbing influence among a small community thrown on its own resources. After two months on

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the island he was replaced by Captain G. P. O'Leary.2 At a cost of £800, the Union Steamship Company's liner Aorangi was diverted to Fanning early in November to embark one officer and one sick member of the garrison. The new commander's knowledge of the native language enabled work to be speeded up on long-delayed and ill-organised camp construction, and more suitable native huts replaced the tents. By the end of the year the first medical officer, Captain A. A. Lovell,3 reached Fanning and spent the first fortnight repairing skin troubles and ulcers resulting from neglect, though the health of the troops was generally very good. At the end of a six-months' tour of duty, the originally prescribed period for each garrison, members of the platoon were relieved in March 1940 by another platoon commanded by Captain W. A. Moore, MM.4 They left for New Zealand on 29 March 1940, leaving behind them a reputation for good behaviour which brought letters of praise from the officials. After a period of leave, these men joined units for further service overseas with 2 Division.

Moore continued to speed up the work in hand, extending and completing reasonable defences and constructing a road from English Harbour to the camp to avoid sea transport of supplies in lighters. The loss of the Niagara outside Auckland Harbour on 19 June 1940 delayed the arrival of Captain B. Houston, MC, DCM,5 a relief officer for O'Leary, and two urgently required tradesmen, a carpenter and a plumber. These men, travelling as civilians to avoid curiosity regarding their mission and destination, lost all their equipment and personal property. Nine bags of mail and 25 tons of supplies destined for the Fanning garrison were also lost. After being re-equipped they reached Fanning on 3 August via Honolulu, to which O'Leary returned on the same ship to await transport to New Zealand in the Aorangi. The movement of army personnel between New Zealand and Fanning was complicated by the fact that the Government of the United States of America was not yet at war with either Germany or Japan, consequently American passports and a supply of dollars were required for those staging through Hawaii. A direct shipping service to the island was impossible, and any diversions from the normal trade routes were costly.

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The second relief, consisting of two officers and 33 other ranks, reached Fanning on 3 October 1940 in the Matai, the hire of which cost the Army Department £3366 5s. In March 1941, however, following an earlier decision by the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff, the garrison was increased by the addition of 45 Battery, RNZA, and the defences strengthened by a 6-inch naval gun obtained from Australia. A draft of 30 artillery personnel and 42 infantry travelled in the Aorangi, which was escorted to Fanning by HMS Monowai, and reached the island on 7 April. Moore, after a period in New Zealand, returned to the island with this draft, and took command of a garrison of 105 all ranks, with Houston as his second-in-command. All ranks assisted with the emplacement of the naval gun, which was completed with urgency and gave the garrison and inhabitants a reasonable sense of security.

Passing ships transported small groups to Fanning during the succeeding months. Four signallers arrived on 11 August 1941, and in five weeks established communication by wireless with Suva and two neighbouring island stations—Washington and Christmas. The Limerick called to embark a sick man, who was not replaced until the Waikato arrived with supplies the following November. Then, on 24 November 1941, the Monterey arrived at English Harbour with the last relief consisting of 41 men, and uplifted 38 who had been on the island for more than a year. These men were taken to San Francisco on the Monterey, arriving there a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. Their return voyage to New Zealand was consequently involved and long-delayed. They embarked on the USS Lurline and reached Honolulu on 22 December, remaining there for a week and then being ordered back to San Francisco. They made their second departure from the Californian coast in the American transport President Monroe on 12 January 1942, and reached Suva on 29 January. Sixteen members of the party reached Auckland in the Matua, via Lautoka, on 6 February and the American transport President Monroe on 12 January 1942, Accommodation for these troops in San Francisco had cost £607.

The Fanning garrison of 113 all ranks was relieved by 150 American troops, artillery and infantry, in May 1942, and returned to New Zealand in the USS Rigel on 17 May. After leave the men were drafted into units, and most of them went overseas, as the previous garrisons had done, to serve with 2 Division in the Mediterranean sphere. Two hundred and nineteen officers, non-commissioned officers, and men served on Fanning between 1939 and 1942. The cost of the garrison, including the gun and its ammunition and transport, amounted to £42,750.

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II: Tonga

The defence of the Kingdom of Tonga, like other island defences in the Pacific, meant the creation of a fighting force from a minimum of men and material, and became a New Zealand responsibility inasmuch as Fiji became one by the Government's acceptance of defence obligations beyond her own shores. As with Fiji, New Zealand undertook to train and direct the Tongan Defence Force and to provide essential supplies and war equipment, the cost of which was originally met by the Tongan Government's provision of £20,000 a year from its slender resources, though financial changes later became necessary.

On 22 September 1939 the first 100 Tongans were attested and became the nucleus of a small defence force under the native Minister of Police. The following day the first military supplies reached the port and capital of Nukualofa in the Maui Pomare from New Zealand—a limited number of sets of web equipment and rifles with which to arm the recruits. Two instructors reached Tonga on 18 October—Captain J. S. Rennie and Sergeant-Major G. Stevens—and set about organising the small force and directing its training and duties. They were forerunners of many New Zealand officers and non-commissioned officers who moved at intervals to and from Tonga, until the United States assumed responsibility for the Kingdom's defence in 1942 at a critical period of the Pacific war.

When 8 Brigade Group moved into Fiji in October 1940, the small Tongan Defence Force came under the operational command of Cunningham, and the establishment of a New Zealand air arm in Fiji soon afterwards enabled a reasonable liaison to be maintained between headquarters at Suva and those in Tonga, since the journey could be made in four hours in one of the converted de Havillands based at Nandi. By November 1941 the Tongan force consisted of 13 New Zealand officers and non-commissioned officers and 442 Tongans, organised on a battalion basis into four small companies with a headquarters in Nukualofa. Except for coastwatchers established on the outlying islands of the group, all military activity was centred on the largest island, Tongatabu, which also contained the seat of Government, the port, and the residence of Queen Salote, constitutional monarch of the only remaining native kingdom in the Pacific. New Zealand instructors, though short of essential equipment in any quantity, did what they could to mould the raw but enthusiastic Tongans into a force to serve the needs of the moment, which at that time envisaged possible bombardment or attack by landing

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parties from German raiders. The force was made as mobile as possible, and concerned itself with defending port installations, guarding vital points and an aerodrome which had been constructed some miles from the town. Thirteen coastwatching stations throughout the three groups of islands, which make up the Kingdom of Tonga, relayed their information to a central station at Nukualofa for onward despatch to Suva and Wellington if of sufficient importance. Their value and their work increased with the outbreak of war with Japan.

Hostilities with Japan also increased the demand for a senior commander from New Zealand. Lieutenant-Colonel R. Bagnall, the first to be appointed by Army Headquarters, reached Nukualofa on 23 February 1941 in a ship which carried four urgently needed motor trucks and one motor ambulance. Although limited by necessity, these increased the mobility of a force which until then had moved on foot over the earth roads leading to various strategical points. Bagnall, a retired army officer who had formerly served in India, was not happy in his command. The frustration caused by isolation and lack of supplies, and the prevailing state of affairs on other Pacific islands, led to his return to New Zealand the following July. He was succeeded by his adjutant, Captain R. W. Norris,6 who held the post until the appointment on 10 January 1942 of Lieutenant-Colonel J. M. C. McLeod,7 of 37 Battalion, who took with him from Fiji his own adjutant, Captain B. Jones. Tonga was woefully short of essential equipment. Recommendations made in July 1941 by General Sir Guy Williams, after his tour of inspection, could not be fulfilled immediately, though New Zealand supplied what she could from limited resources which had also to satisfy the demands of Fiji. Two 4-inch guns from Auckland reached Tonga on 18 February and were emplaced to cover entrances through the reef at Nukualofa. They were manned by personnel under Major C. H. Gallagher,8 who had arrived in December. Other more vulnerable beaches, some of which lacked even the natural defence of a coral reef, were protected only by machine guns. For the remainder of that year New Zealand continued to supply what equipment she could, including material for tropical uniforms. During the year 1941–42 the Government of Tonga spent £23,564 on its defence programme, which was £3564 above the original estimate of £20,000 a year,

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any excess of which New Zealand had agreed to meet. However, no claim was made on New Zealand for the excess amount. Only towards the end of the war, when all danger of attack was long past, did the Tongan Government criticise defense costs.

With the advent of American forces into the Pacific and the acceptance of American responsibility for the defence of certain selected islands and island groups, Tongatabu became one of a chain of interlocking bases beginning in the New Hebrides and extending to the rear through New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa. Those bases were organised to provide each other with land, sea and air support, so that if the Japanese drove farther south from the Solomons, they would became blocks in an extended defence line and springboards for offensive action once the Allies built up sufficient strength to attack.

Although Tonga was farthest from the actual combat zone, a great quantity of vital Allied shipping passed within range of the group, which lay on the long lines of communication between the United States and the principal Pacific bases in New Zealand and Australia. A United States survey ship, the Sumner, reached Nukualofa on 3 March 1942 to chart the harbour and investigate its possibilities as a minor naval base. She was given a hostile reception by the New Zealand battery emplaced at Kologa, which put a shot across her bows when she entered the harbour through the wrong channel and failed to give the correct recognition signals. Advanced parties for the ground forces followed and Tongatabu was quickly developed into a naval fuel base, a protected anchorage, and an alternative staging depot on the South Pacific air ferry route from the United States to bases in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides, for at that time New Zealand aircrews were ferrying aircraft from the United States. When the United States forces under Brigadier-General B. C. Lockwood took over the defence of the kingdom and established a separate island command responsible directly to South Pacific Headquarters, the Tongan Defence Force, with its New Zealanders, was absorbed into the organisation. United States aircraft also moved into the aerodrome, using it as a base from which patrols kept watch over the sea lanes in and around the group, and working in co-operation with similar air patrols based on Fiji. The American command which numbered 7500 of their own men, combined the defence of the kingdom, which has also been a British protectorate since May 1900, with training and conditioning troops before they were committed to the battle on Guadalcanal, and as such it was an admirable site:

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The time came, however, when New Zealand was called upon by South Pacific Command to replace American units withdrawn from Tonga to reinforce the forward areas. The first request came in October as Barrowclough was preparing to move 3 Division into the Waikato for its final training, and hard on the heels of a request to the New Zealand Government to provide a garrison for Norfolk Island. And, as with the Norfolk force, the battalion required for Tonga had to be drawn from 3 Division. Eyre's9 34 Battalion from 8 Brigade was selected and despatched in the US transport President Jackson, after advanced parties had been recalled from the Waikato where they were preparing to billet the battalion at Te Awamutu. On 27 October it disembarked at Nukualofa, moving first into the reserve area for a brief period before taking over the eastern sector of the island, with headquarters established at Mua. During its five months' stay on Tongatabu, 34 Battalion remained under American command and, in conformity with the American forces, each battalion was organised as a mobile striking force consisting of rifle, carrier, mortar, and machine-gun companies. Slender watch-towers, 90 feet high and rather like flimsy wireless masts with a small platform at the top, were erected by the Americans for easier observation of the beaches and far out to sea from the uniformly flat island, and the manning of them became part of the routine. Eyre, in December, was appointed executive officer of all ground forces on the island.

This battalion was the first of 3 Division to work for any length of time under American command and to become acquainted with American army food, clothing, and procedure; it was the first, also, to establish the cordiality so characteristic of the association of New Zealand and United States forces during the Pacific war. Life was not arduous. There were the usual alarms, accompanied by stand-tos at dawn and dusk. Despite a seasonal plague of fleas so merciless that despairing requests for advice on their destruction were sent to Army Headquarters, the troops enjoyed their tour of duty in Tonga, where climate and conditions were both agreeable for soldiering in a setting not too tropical.

The satisfactory progress of the battle for Guadalcanal relieved anxiety in rear bases such as Tonga, but left them only thinly held as units moved forward to replace others depleted in combat. Once more a call was made on New Zealand by South Pacific Command for both ground and air replacements of units leaving

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Tonga. On 23 October 1942 No. 15 Squadron RNZAF arrived to relieve 68 (US) Pursuit Squadron and to allow it to move forward. New Zealand was also asked in October to take over the defence of Tonga and supply further ground forces in addition to 34 Battalion, though in the opinion of South Pacific Command the battle situation was such that any such garrison could now be reduced. Halsey asked for another infantry battalion, a regimental headquarters, and artillery details. Although sorely pressed for men for 3 Division and her other service commitments, as well as for industry, the New Zealand Government agreed, but on 5 November asked that 34 Battalion be returned to 3 Division as soon as possible.

In the negotiations with South Pacific Command Headquarters, the New Zealand Government deprecated any tendency to distribute New Zealand units unnecessarily, and especially odd units in United States formations, because of the administrative problems involved. In this personal letter to Halsey, Fraser gave an indication of the Dominion's mounting difficulties:

I assure you that we are most anxious to co-operate in every possible way, and the last thing we wish is to play a passive role, especially in existing circumstances. We will make immediate inquiry as to the possibility of meeting this request, but it would be unfair to you and to us not to tell you at once our immediate reaction, which is this: This Dominion has been at war for three years during which period our resources have been seriously strained. WE are now attempting to maintain two divisions overseas in addition to substantial air force and naval units, together with the minimum forces required for the defence of this country. All told, we have withdrawn from industry for the armed services the equivalent of 11 per cent of the total population of the Dominion. We are confronted with a very serious manpower problem which it is impossible for us to solve while we are, as at present, entirely in the dark as to the situation in the zone of Pacific operations and as to future demands that may be made upon us both for men and supplies. Our first thought, therefore, is that this further request adds point and urgency to our desire for a conference with you at the earliest date upon which you can make it convenient.

That was written on 6 November 1942 when 3 Division, still on a two-brigade basis and without a clearly defined role, was beginning to move to New Caledonia, and about 5000 officers and men of New Zealand army and air force units were widely dispersed over the Pacific on Fanning Island, Fiji, Tonga and Norfolk, with individual coastwatchers doing duty on many smaller islands. Several conferences with senior officers of Halsey's headquarters did take place, but 34 Battalion remained in Tonga until March 1943, when it returned to New Caledonia via Suva and rejoined 3 Division in readiness to train for the Solomons. By that time negotiations with South Pacific Command had resolved

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themselves into New Zealand's acceptance of the defence of Tonga by the formation of 16 Brigade Group, using 6 Battalion, Canterbury Regiment, to replace 34 Battalion, and two battalions of Tongans, as well as New Zealand officers and non-commissioned officers for the artillery units and headquarters. In recommending to War Cabinet acceptance of this task, Puttick asked for a reduction in the strength of the force required.

By July all United States army units, ground and air, had been withdrawn, with the exception of ten men employed on the aerodrome. Although the battle situation in the Solomons put Tonga almost 2000 miles behind the combat zone, the South Pacific Command still desired some protection there against possible raiding parties from enemy submarines. By August 1943, although the enemy had been thrown out of the New Georgia Group, Japanese submarines were still operating far into the South Pacific. The steamer Young was torpedoed 40 miles south of Tonga that month but reached Nukualofa badly damaged.

Brigadier F. L. Hunt was given command of the brigade group and established his headquarters at Vaikeli, taking over the installations vacated by the Americans, with his battalions tactically disposed in the former areas. His principal staff officers and commanders, most of them from New Zealand, were:

GSO 1 Lt-Col J. M. C. McLeod
GSO 2 Maj H. D. Harvey
GSO 3 Capt J. P. Gresson
Staff Captain Capt H. R. Cameron
DAA & QMG Maj A. G. Gillies
Senior Medical Officer Lt-Col J. R. H. Fulton
Artillery Lt-Col C. B. Menzies
Engineers Maj A. H. Bogle
ASC Maj A. McIntosh
Signals Maj W. G. F. Pinkham
Ordnance Maj F. Reid
Dental Officer Capt E. R. Wimsett
6 Battalion, Canterbury Regiment Lt-Col F. M. Mitchell
1 Battalion, Tongan Defence Force Lt-Col A. W. Reynolds
2 Battalion, Tongan Defence Force Lt-Col W. H. Fortune

The strength in armament contrasted impressively with the few rifles and machine guns possessed by the original hastily trained units of 1939–40. Included in the brigade group were one heavy and one light anti-aircraft battery and two field batteries of 18-pounders, officers and NCOs for which, as well as for the two Tongan battalions, were provided by New Zealand. Six 6-inch naval guns emplaced by the Americans for coastal defence were

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also manned by New Zealanders, though as many Tongans as possible were trained for employment in all arms of the service. Newly recruited Tongans, necessary to maintain a steady stream of reinforcements and to provide sufficient manpower for the second battalion, were given three weeks' training at a recruit depot before being posted to units. Unlike the Fijians, the Tongans trained without the stimulus of prospective overseas service, though before the arrival of the brigade group 28 members of the Tongan Defence Force, led by Masefield, a splendid example of the young New Zealand officer working with native troops, served with the Fijian guerrillas who were attached to 14 US Corps in the Solomons. One of them gained the Military Medal and another the American Silver Star for their bravery in the jungle.

Although the Canterbury battalion was under strength, by may 1943 there were 2662 New Zealand officers and men in Tonga, including coastwatchers and attached troops. Three months later the battle situation in the Solomons changed so rapidly that a reduction in the Tongan garrison was warranted and was recommended by New Zealand. South Pacific Command agreed, and the brigade group was reduced from 1948 New Zealanders and 2224 Tongans to 1018 New Zealanders and 1554 Tongans. This was done in August. The next reduction came in October, by which time the Japanese had been pushed back to Bougainville so that any danger to Tonga, even from raiding parties, was remote.

Puttick's recommendation for cutting down the force to 530 New Zealanders and 1215 Tongans was accepted by Halsey, who stated in reply that he considered the only garrison necessary should be sufficient simply for the maintenance of the existing service installations and that any reduction would be in accordance with his ‘established policy of rolling up the rear areas and bringing all South Pacific resources to bear upon the enemy in the combat zone.’ Puttick, a little over-cautious in the light of events, thought the anti-submarine defence was still necessary, so that a considerable body of New Zealanders remained on the island until the end of the year. Most of them, however, departed late in December, when the strategical and tactical role of 16 Brigade Group ended its existence of less than a year, but a number stayed until the following year to assist with the demobilisation of the Tongans and the disposal of military equipment.

Major R. B. Hardy10 took over command of a reduced Tongan

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Defence Force on 15 February 1944, and remained until it was finally disbanded in 1945 with the cessation of hostilities. From 15 February, also, Tonga reverted tactically to the Fiji command, completing the circle begun in the early days of the war. One of Hardy's subsidiary appointments required him to watch the interests of the War Assets Realisation Board in disposing of surplus equipment to the Tongan Government which, by 1944, had grown a little critical of the cost and maintenance of a defence force when the kingdom was no longer in danger. Financial resources had been extended to their limit and the war had reduced revenue. In 1943 Tonga's contribution to war costs had been raised to £43,000, but this was reduced to £12,500 by February 1944, at which date Parliament suggested a reduction to £8000, the grant to cease altogether from the end of October 1944. Relations with the Tongans were close and untroubled for the most part throughout the war years. Before Hunt departed, Ata, the Premier, wrote in felicitous terms, expressing his appreciation for the lack of interference in Tonga's domestic life and the absence of friction during the garrison period. However, not all the cost of the war effort fell on Tonga. Both the United States and New Zealand forces metalled considerable lengths of roads which served the defence areas of Tongatabu, but such were the demands on the Government for their upkeep when they crumbled under the weight of constant service vehicles that New Zealand contributed £500 for their maintenance in 1944.

Not the least of New Zealand's contribution to the agriculture of Tonga was in the benefit derived from surplus stock from a farm which, with their natural aptitude for husbandry, the New Zealanders had organised on a piece of land presented by the Tongans, where they bred pigs and poultry and raised vegetables for the messes. Only one incident marred the whole occupation period. That occurred after Hardy took over command and towards the end of the garrison period, when some of the men, fatigued by long years of service, were difficult to hold. In October 1944 the Tongan non-commissioned officers and men walked out of their camp but without creating any disturbance. Queen Salote, a woman of determined character, took part in the ensuing investigations, which involved a long list of complaints about leave, the use of transport, the cigarette supply, and a rather bogus excuse that the New Zealand flag was flown at the camp instead of the Tongan flag. The discontent was traced to the unsettling effect on soldiers who had returned to their villages and the efforts of one Tongan officer who desired to make himself camp commander. During the war years the Queen used her influence

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to combat any disturbing influence caused by the influx of great numbers of American and New Zealand servicemen, whose outlook and ideas were so vastly different from those of the easy-going Tongans. Her advice and discretion kept in control the rather excessive nationalism of some of the individuals to which this ‘walkout’ was directly attributed, but any grievances were soon adjusted and there were no further differences during the remainder of Hardy's command of the force.

It may be appropriate here to mention that defending any Pacific island was not undertaken by New Zealand without considerable preliminary discussion and negotiation between the governments concerned. Before finality was reached on any of such agreements, the Government of the United Kingdom was kept fully informed and its approval obtained. As with Fiji, before the arrival of the United States forces and the American assumption of responsibility for defence, the governments concerned entered into long and technical agreements defining the respective liabilities, duties, and privileges of the occupying forces. Such agreements were necessary in assisting the administration and operation of the defending forces, and for the legal protection of persons and property. They are all part of the economy of war, which is not conducted without payment by friendly governments for the lands and buildings occupied.

III: Norfolk Island

Although Norfolk Island is administered by the Commonwealth of Australia, the task of maintaining a garrison there from October 1942 until February 1944 fell to New Zealand. This small and isolated island of 8528 acres, the only land on the direct air route between New Zealand and New Caledonia, carries a link in the submarine cable across the Pacific, just as Fanning Island does many miles to the north. Australia, however, was not unduly concerned with its defence or its strategical value in the Pacific defence scheme.

Soon after the outbreak of war with Japan, a small Australian detachment of 57 all ranks was despatched to Norfolk to reinforce the island's own detachment and prevent sabotage of the cable station and its equipment, but in reply to a query by the New Zealand Government regarding Australia's assistance with the defence of New Caledonia, and in which reference was made to Norfolk, the Australian Government replied that the defence of Norfolk Island was primarily a naval responsibility and that any aerodrome constructed on it would be more of a liability than an asset. Ghormley, however, thought otherwise when he was

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drafting his early strategic defence of the South Pacific area. Because of its unique position, almost equidistant from New Caledonia, New Zealand and Australia, he saw that Norfolk had undoubted advantages of which he desired to make use. Although the island possessed no good harbours or reliably sheltered anchorages, he viewed it as a kind of stationary aircraft carrier, as so many other islands in the Pacific were to become as the battle moved north. A site for an aerodrome was readily available, and as soon as this was constructed it could become a base for anti-submarine patrols, a refuge for aircraft in distress, and a staging depot for land-based aircraft moving on the long hop over water between New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia, and the battlefront in the Solomons farther north. For this last reason it was strongly supported by Air Commodore R. V. Goddard, Chief of the Air Staff in New Zealand at that time.

An adequate garrison, however, was necessary for its defence and to deny it to possible enemy raiding parties. The South Pacific Command immediately set about its plans for the construction of an aerodrome, and early in September 1942 despatched 4400 tons of construction equipment and supervising engineers to the island. In the same month 200 workmen of the Australian Commonwealth Main Road Department reached the island to begin preliminary work.

For defence and protection Ghormley requested from New Zealand a minimum garrison force of one infantry battalion, three batteries of anti-aircraft artillery, hospital and other services and, when the airfield was complete, one flight each of fighter and dive-bomber aircraft. The only units suitable and ready were those from 3 Division (or the Kiwi forces as they were known), at that time being reorganised and trained in preparation for further service in the Pacific under Barrowclough.

On 29 September 1942 that New Zealand War Cabinet approved the despatch of the necessary garrison force for Norfolk, though Army Headquarters pointed out to the South Pacific Command that in supplying garrisons for both Norfolk and Tonga the preparation and departure of the Kiwi force, then requested by Ghormley, would be delayed. Calls on the Dominion's dwindling manpower reserves were then creating a problem which was soon to curtail any further expansion. However, a small force known as N Force, consisting of 1488 all ranks under Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Barry, commander of 36 Battalion, was assembled and despatched. It consisted of Barry's own battalion, with detachments of engineers, ASC, and Ordnance, and a strong supporting group of artillery made up of four 155-millimetre guns of 152 Heavy

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Battery, commanded by Major G. L. Falck, four 3.7-inch anti-aircraft and eight 40-millimetre guns of 215 Composite Anti-Aircraft Battery under Major J. M. Ewen, and a field troop of 25-pounder guns under Captain C. S. Dickson. Later the members of the Australian detachment domiciled on the island became part of N Force, the remainder returning to the Australian mainland. An advanced party, consisting of the commander and representative officers with C Company and the carrier platoon, landed on 26 September through rough seas which were indicative of future shipping problems. After conferring with the island administrator, Major-General Sir Charles Rosenthal, camp areas were selected in readiness for the arrival of the main body, which came in two flights on 9 and 14 October in the troopship Wahine, escorted by HMS Monowai and the United States destroyer Clark.

By the time N Force reached the island, work had been started on preparing the land for the aerodrome, and most of the garrison saw the mile-long avenue of 100-foot-high Norfolk pines before it was sacrificed to the remorseless dictates of war, much to the grief of the islanders, most of them descendants of the historical ship Bounty. There were about 700 of them, living an uneventful and detached life on an island where natural beauty and an equable climate combined to make it most pleasantly habitable. They found that the influx of twice their number in service personnel gave an impetus and industry to their daily round such as they had never previously known, and they were soon to be linked with the outside world, hitherto available only by infrequent visits from ships, by a regular air service.

Barry established Force Headquarters in the house and grounds of ‘Devon’, with unit camps disposed in idyllic sites round the 23 miles of rugged coastline, which gave them glimpses of cliff and creaming reef and blue sea between the stately pines which take their name from the island. A 24-hour watch was instituted, and the task of defending the island and its installations against sudden raids from enemy submarines was begun in circumstances more pleasant than on any other Pacific island garrisoned by men of 3 Division units. Discomforts were few after the force was installed. Because of the lack of protected roadsteads, embarkation and disembarkation were at the mercy of the elements. There were stone piers at Kingston (the second oldest British settlement in the Pacific) and at Cascade—piers which dated from the grimmest page in the island's history, when it was a convict settlement with an evil reputation, but their availability depended on the weather. More often than not stores were taken ashore in whaleboats from ships lying off the shore, and on one occasion a supply ship, the

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Karsik, lay there for 23 days. Unfortunately rain fell soon after the arrival of the force, turning the dusty red roads into bogs and adding to the discomfort of those sleeping out of doors. Because of faulty loading, tents did not come off the supply ship Waipari for some weeks, so that many of the troops slept under improvised shelters, in deserted houses or under the pungent vaults of the pines, which they had preferred to do in the fine weather.

A natural barrier of cliffs defends most of the Norfolk coastline, so that any tactical scheme involved the defence of only certain possible landing areas. Units and guns were tactically sited to meet such eventuality, remote though it was, with mobility the underlying principle of every scheme. Coastwatchers were linked with a central operations room, but there were the usual alarms and blasphemous excursions before the arrival of any ships off the island.

As soon as defence plans had been exercised to operational efficiency, a roading and camp construction plan, invariably associated with every New Zealand project in the Pacific, was started by the engineers under Captain W. P. Hitchcock. They put a disused sawmill into operation and were soon producing 65,000 superficial feet of timber a month. They built a 20-bed hospital, metalled earth and clay roads which served the camps and others serving the aerodrome, the maintenance of which the engineers took over on 5 March. The ASC detachment under Major R. C. Aley, who was also AA and QMG of the force, extended the scope of its supply activities by embarking on the production of fresh vegetables in quantity, ultimately producing so many kumaras that they lost their popularity as army food.

In order to ensure a regular supply of fresh meat and overcome the tendency to reduce too drastically the island's limited stock of beef, a modest flock of 300 sheep reached the island on New Year's Day 1943. Only one was lost getting the flock ashore under the professional eye of one of the battalion's many farmers, Major B. H. Pringle,11 the second-in-command. This had been preceded by some excitement on Christmas Day, when ambitious arrangements were made to provide a dinner suitable for the occasion by flying from New Zealand sufficient lamb, green peas, and new potatoes for the force and dropping them by parachute on the runways, one of which was rapidly nearing completion. Some of the parachutes failed to open so that the containers burst as they struck the ground, scattering the thoughtfully shelled peas

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over the runway. One of the aircraft decided to make a landing and achieved the distinction of being the first to land on the aerodrome, No. 1 runway of which occupied the site of the former avenue of pines. Two Hudson bombers landed on 28 December and three the following day, and the era of dawn-dusk patrols began from Norfolk Island.

N Force staff worked ceaselessly to prevent an epidemic of that peevish condition known as ‘browning off’, which became so prevalent in the Pacific. Route marches, sports meetings, varied training exercises and manoeuvres kept the men occupied and particularly fit, and for recreation there were bathing beaches, a concert party organised by Padre K Liggett12 at his recreational centre at ‘Four Pines’, and tramps to the more historical corners of the island. The generous inhabitants, with little produce to spare, welcomed the New Zealanders and presented them periodically with an ox and quantities of fruit and vegetables. There were, of course, the usual problems resulting from the influx of double the number of inhabitants to an island remote from any regular trade routes. On 25 February 1943 the Australian Government sent a mild protest to New Zealand, stating that because soldiers bought all the milk from the farmers the butter factory on the island had ceased operations, and also that they had bought such quantities of passion fruit that the pulp factory's output had been greatly reduced. Australia had also been obliged to assist with supplies of bread, flour, and meat, though the New Zealand garrison should have been self-contained. These complaints were a legacy from the arrival of the force, when the unloading of the first supply ship was held up by bad weather. After 19 weeks on the island, only one supply ship had reached Norfolk.

At the end of March 1943, 36 Battalion and the artillery units began their move to rejoin 3 Division in New Caledonia. N Force was replaced by 2 Battalion, Wellington-West Coast Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel A. R. Cockerell, DSO,13 who took over command of the island defences from Barry on 9 April. Cockerell inherited an organisation which required little change. Artillery units from New Zealand under Major A. B. Chappell replaced those returning to 3 Division, and detachments of other services similarly took over.

Three months after the relief moved in, however, the strength of N Force was reduced. All Grade I men, of whom there were

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600 with the force, 338 of them between the ages of 19 and 37, were recalled to New Zealand in July. By September the strategical situation was such that, in the opinion of the South Pacific Command, a garrison was no longer necessary, except to operate and maintain the airfield. Cabinet approved the withdrawal of the force on 15 November, and on 8 December 478 members of the garrison embarked for Auckland. A small rear party remained until 11 February 1944, on which day command passed to the officer commanding the RNZAF station at the aerodrome, and Norfolk became an Air Force responsibility until the end of hostilities. A message of congratulation from Mr. John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, in which he paid generous tribute to the behaviour and co-operation of the New Zealanders, farewelled the military garrison.

One of the more important aspects of the value of Norfolk Island was its use as a navigation aid to aircraft passing along the air route New Zealand-New Caledonia-Fiji. A radar station established on the island by the RNZAF in May 1943 remained in operation there until the end of hostilities and saved both lives and aircraft. One example of its work is sufficient. A Flying Fortress, which developed engine trouble at the height of a storm, was flying in circles 90 miles south of the island when it was picked up on the screen and brought to a safe landing on the airfield when visibility was at tree-top level.

* * *

Before the United States assumed responsibility for the protection of the Society Group in 1942, New Zealand had given considerable assistance to the French administration there. After the outbreak of war in Europe, Australia undertook to defend the French possession of New Caledonia, and New Zealand undertook a similar responsibility for Tahiti. On 6 September 1940 HMS Achilles, commanded by Captain W. E. Parry, RN, was despatched to Papeete with Mr. C. A. Berendsen, head of the Prime Minister's Department, who held discussions with the administration authorities, after which a New Zealand representative was sent to take up temporary residence there. New Zealand was primarily concerned for the protection of the valuable phosphate works on Makatea, one of the smaller of the Society Islands, where several Japanese were employed until their country entered the war. The French community of Tahiti was split by political strife and intrigue between the de Gaulle and Vichy factions; the defences of the group were outmoded and quite useless, and the New Zealand Government requested that de Gaulle be so informed.

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New Zealand's assistance included the supply of 24 Thompson sub-machine guns, 24,000 rounds of ammunition, web equipment, and drill cloth for uniforms. Her Government also established a credit of £7000 to tide the French administration over the early war period and the collapse of France. As soon as a contingent of residents from the Society Group was ready to move overseas to join the Free French forces in Africa, HMS Monowai and the Canadian ship Prince Rupert were sent in April 1941 to transport 300 of them of Nouméa. In June that year, at the request of the Governor of New Caledonia, New Zealand sent Major J. W. Barry to examine and report on the defences of the Society Group, which he did very fully, confirming earlier reports of their inefficiency and uselessness. Then, in January 1942, United States forces secretly moved into Bora Bora, where they established a naval station and air bases which were operating by April of that year. The French administration bargained for some months on reparations, but the Americans were by then firmly established and remained until the end of the war. No New Zealand land forces were ever sent to the group, though a request was made by the authorities early in the war to provide at least 200 ground troops as the nucleus of a defence force.