Sunday, February 06, 2005

Chapter 4: "And so, reluctantly ... "

Going by past experiences, the older men of the battery were convinced that we would be leaving New Zealand soon. To give strength to their statements, the men would cite the case of Indiantown Gap, where we had a three-day field problem and were alerted shortly afterward. They also mentioned the maneuvers and field problems in Mississippi and Louisiana which preceded the northward move to Indiantown Gap.

They were right, of course, though we all kept hoping that for once signs would fail. We soon began the tiresome routine of crating and packing, assigning priorities to equipment, checking shortages.

We of the Instrument section packed our equipment rather joyfully. We knew that there would be no more schools or survey problems for a while. So into the same crates that we used on the trip from the states, went the plane tables, plotting equipment, BC 'scopes, aiming circles, ranger finder, grid sheets and overlay paper, firing tables and survey textbooks.

To the battery as a whole, in fact to all units of the Division, were issued clothes more appropriate to the tropical climates we would be living in. The most disheartening sight among all the equipment, however, was the array of brand-spanking-new picks, shovels, pick-mattocks, and axes. The curse of all Army men, particularly Ground Force men.

I think the people of New Zealand got an unqualified vote of approval from everyone in the Division. To one man, Luther ("Luke") Timmerman, they would have been neighbors, for had he lived, he would have gone back there to stay. Many of us shared a wish, though with none of us was it as serious as it was with Luke.

It is really needless to say that every one regretted leaving, and I hope the New Zealanders felt the same way. It was the only Allied nation of all those visited by American Armed Forces in which Americans did not seem to be resented or victimized by dishonest and unscrupulous merchants or other individuals. For example, trading at the camp's post exchanges, which were managed by members of the New Zealand Army, was always carried on in a dignified, yet friendly, and - above all - honest way. The men behind the counters were considerably tolerant and patient with us when we would stumblingly try to translate cents into shillings and pence, or vice versa. Although New Zealand sometimes was given the benefit of the doubt on fractions of a cent in individual transactions, these men never deliberately overcharged us or took advantage of our confusion over the two monetary systems. Soon, of course, we got used to the British system and could make our own way through the monetary maze, but we never had to learn it the hard wya, that is, by the bitter lesson of men who have been cheated.

The RNZAF men on the President Monroe gave us some tips on the money angle, and answered questions on miscellaneous subjects. They cautioned us about the New Zealand beer which was considerably higher in alcoholic content than American beer, and advised us to go easy with it for the first few days until we got used to it. Of course, right then and there, some men made up their minds to find out just how much New Zealand beer they could drink at one sitting, as soon as they could get some.

The last few days were spent at Auckland on board the U.S.S. President Coolidge which we loaded and slept on in alternate shifts. I was fortunate in never having had to work on a night shift.

Bob Mull and I got one final pass during one of those nights, so naturally we went to see the Hills. We were bursting to tell them the news, which, of course was not supposed to be let out by anyone to anyone. We told them, anyway, stressing the importance of secrecy. We debated with Mrs. Hill the question of whether she could get word to our respective families where we were going. The decision was in the affirmative, and Mrs. Hill promised to send off letters soon after we had left. Apparently, however, those letters did not get past the New Zealand censors. It was a desperate step. There was so tantalizingly little which we of the division could say in our letters home, an destinations were not in that category. Neither were many, many other things, as we kept finding out all the time.

How very short that evening was! All I seem to recall is our short visit with the Hills and our mad dash down Mount Albert Road to catch the last tram that night from Mount Albert to Auckland. And our misgivings when we got back to Queen's wharf: did we overstay our passes, and could we get by the MP at the gate and the guard at the gangway without any trouble?

We had no trouble, however, so upon boarding the ship we went straight to our quarters. There was the letdown, of course, upon realizing tha the change of climate and scene would be an abrupt and cruel change. And, following the letdown, the vaguely depressing notion that we would have been better off - from the standpoint of morale - had we remained on or around the ship, within the military atmosphere. Undoubtedly our self-censure would have been more acute, however, if we had not taken advantage of our opportunity to go out on pass, and undoubtedly we knew this when our spell of depression had passed.


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