Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery

The First Echelon

The First Echelon

It had already been decided to assemble the Division in Egypt, where the New Zealand Division of the First World War had been formed after the Dardanelles campaign, and the First Echelon sent off advanced parties in December, a dozen gunners among them. The rest of the 4th Field hastened through its training programme. By November it had a full complement of guns: two four-gun troops of pneumatic-tyred 18-pounders and one troop of iron-shod 4.5-inch howitzers. With them the unit carried out a ‘live shoot’ at Whata Whata, near Frankton, which greatly increased the confidence of the gunners in the skills they had acquired.

After a ceremonial parade in the Auckland Domain on 3 January 1940, the First Echelon sailed from Wellington on the 6th in a convoy of six large ships, heavily escorted. ‘Ike’ Parkinson was Officer Commanding Troops in the luxurious Empress of Canada which carried his regiment and his bulky figure and inevitable pipe were prominent on board, making the gunners feel at home. The Empress was diverted to Sydney, where Major-General B. C. Freyberg,11 GOC 2 NZEF, left it to fly to Egypt, and then rejoined the convoy, now enlarged with ships carrying the first Australian contingent. Australians and New Zealanders alike enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Western Australians at Perth on the 18th. Then, at the end of the month, there came the excitement of a crowded Asian port and city, Colombo. A breeze from the north tempered the heat of the Red Sea, but it was hot all the same and the men were glad to disembark at Port Tewfik on 11 February. There they were met by General Freyberg, Sir Anthony Eden, General Sir Archibald Wavell (GOC-in-C, Middle East Forces), Lieutenant-General H. Maitland Wilson (GOC-in-C, British page 8 Troops in Egypt), the British Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson, and the Governor of the Canal Zone. It was an auspicious and historic occasion. The artillery were met at Maadi Camp, near Cairo, by men of 1 Field Regiment, RA, who had done much to make them feel welcome.

The first instalment of the 7th Anti-Tank enlisted in England. As in the First World War, New Zealanders there were allowed, if they wished, to join the NZEF. Since no anti-tank guns had reached New Zealand and no anti-tank gunners could be properly trained there, it proved convenient to accept the volunteers in England for training as such. They were therefore formed into the New Zealand Anti-Tank Battery, later numbered the 34th, under Major C. S. J. Duff. After a very thorough training at Aldershot, this battery of individualists with remarkably varied backgrounds and experiences, attracting much attention and gaining much publicity for New Zealand, sent an advanced party to Egypt early in April and arrived there itself on Anzac Day. The journey across the English Channel to Cherbourg, then across France by train (three weeks before the Wehrmacht struck), then from Marseilles through the Mediterranean in HMT Devonshire, calling at Malta, was brief but interesting and might have been much more so had it been delayed a few weeks. Joining the 4th Field at Maadi Camp, the newcomers attracted interest because of their low army numbers: the 146 other ranks were numbered from 501 upwards and the handful of officers from 999 downwards.12

11 Lt-Gen Lord Freyberg, VC, GCMG. KCB, KBE, DSO and 3 bars, m.i.d., Order of Valour and MC (Greek); born Richmond, Surrey, 21 Mar 1889; CO Hood Bn 1915–17; comd 173 Bde, 58 Div, and 88 Bde, 29 Div, 1917–19; GOC 2 NZEF Nov 1939-Nov 1945; twice wounded; Governor-General of New Zealand, Jun 1946-Aug 1952; died Windsor, England, 4 Jul 1963.

12 Unusual talents or interests soon took many members of this battery to other units or services. Four of them became foundation members of the Kiwi Entertainment Unit (the Kiwi Concert Party), which survived the war unofficially by many years. Four more joined the first Long Range Patrol, which blossomed into the Long Range Desert Group. One became Freyberg's draughtsman; another became his cook. One, Peter McIntyre, became the official New Zealand war artist. One was soon supervising a large engineering project in the Sudan, and so on; but an earnest core of anti-tankers remained.

Theirs were not the only three-figure numbers in the 2 NZEF. A few more New Zealanders enlisted later in England and most of them joined the Second Echelon. Their army numbers were in the 900s and 800s.