Topic: New Recruit Early Days by Chas Murdoch

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Chas was 18 and in training when Japan attacked at Pearl Harbour. His recollections are were shared for the 6th Battalion (Hauraki) Regimental Association newsletter in the August and November 2003 editions as well as February and May 2004 (numbers 32, 33, 34 and 35).

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6th Hauraki Insignia

On my 18th birthday, I was called into camp to do my CMT at HopuHopu Camp with the Hauraki Regiment. At this stage it was 1941 and our Platoon Commander was Duncan Ross. We were there three months.

While in HopuHopu, the Japs attacked Pearl Harbour. The night this happened, our outfit was on manoeuvres at the back of Huntly. The D.R. arrived out to give the Colonel the vital news (it was 0430) and he immediately roused everyone out of their biwies and had us adopt a defensive position. Perhaps the Japs were coming for breakfast. We were not told a thing, but after breakfast we were force marched back to camp, non-stop. No one fell out but we were certainly knackered when we got back. The distance was approximately 14 miles. However by the time we had arrived, the panic had subsided, so we were put through the showers.

During this event, we heard a terrific roar of aircraft engines so, stark naked, we rushed outside to have a look. Two Yellow aircraft were flying down the centre of camp, yes yellow ones!!! So, that meant they had to be Japanese. Take cover, they had been drumming into us, so under the floor of the shower building, we dived.

The aircraft turned at the end of the campgrounds and proceeded to fly back. We waited for the bombs to drop and bullets to fly, but we were disgusted to find out that they were the new Harvard trainers on a familiarization flight. But why paint them yellow!

All right then, it was back to the showers but of course they had turned off the hot water, so it was then to be a cold one.

Shortly after a brief town leave in Hamilton paid for by the Defence Dept, we were sent home on leave with the message we would be fully mobilized in the near future. The "future was two weeks, when we received notice to report to Papakura Camp. This was 1941.

So we got down to training and one Sunday all hell broke loose. We were 'stood to' issued with five live rounds of .303 ammo, allowed to sharpen our bayonets, which is a no no in camp. We had to get rid of all our private things, with the sole exception of our pay books.

By this stage we were also issued with 'Hard Rations'. The transport arrived but they did not board us. Thirty minutes later we were stood down, but it had not been a practise. Apparently, a Jap aircraft had flown over Auckland Harbour and the powers that be thought it was the real thing.

I remember one of the hard characters asking what we were to do after we had expended our five rounds. One of the Officers (I think it was Jack Deemer) replied, "By that time, we should have killed enough Japs, to get a rifle and some ammunition".

We were not frightened, just scared stiff!!! Everyone had been writing short notices home to their wives and girlfriends and asking those who were staying in camp, to post them. It was a right shemozzle and took several days to get over.

´╗┐So training proceeded and one of the things, which were put into place, was Anti Aircraft Posts, at intervals around the perimeter of the camp area. They were to protect the camp. Instructions were, if any aircraft flies within a quarter mile of the camp, you will fire a warning burst and, if it persists, you will open fire on it.

Now that was all right and proper. However, the CO. of the hospital had some lovely red crosses painted on the roof and, as he had a mate, who was stationed at Whenuapai and flew Hudson's, he asked if he was out that way some time would he fly low over the Hospital. "Right" said the Air Force, "as good as done." So as was fitting in the services, the Army was not told. The Guard was duly changed, the Orders were duly read, and everybody settled down in the usual, then fate took a hand in the proceedings.

The Hudson duly appeared on the horizon, the guard watched lazily, and the Hudson Bomber flew closer. The guard stirred himself and placed the ammunition pan on the Lewis gun and watched. The pilot flew in a wide circle to observe the Red crosses. He then proceeded to tighten his turn, by now the Guard was wide-awake and cocked the gun. The Guard Sergeant knowing who was on duty, and fearing the worst, started to run down towards the gun sun furiously waving his arm shouting "Don't fire, it's one of ours!!"

The Pilot by this time had his aircraft on a straight run to go right over the Hospital. The gunner, hearing all the shouting and realizing that he was going to miss out on a bit of exciting practice, (and notoriety,} swung the gun into line, and let the aircraft close a bit further, and at that stage a deaf man could have heard the frantic shouts of the Sergeant, opened fire. Oh dear!!! The aircraft was not hit (by design} but when they examined the ammunition pan from the gun later on, they discovered that twenty rounds had been fired. Explanation "The gun jammed, it wouldn't stop firing!" That did happen at times.

So that was the most exciting Sunday in camp for months. The gunner was a hero with his mates but the Hospital CO. was livid!

While we were in Papakura, the 8th Reinforcements were formed and that of course took a lot of experienced NCOs. I was sent to Narrow Neck for a course on field craft and small arms, under the tutelage of Captain Bill Bates who up to that stage had been an R.S.M. He was a soldier of great notoriety. No one tried him on!!! He was a very tough soldier to whom you could approach and get a fair decision. We were doing drill on the Bull Ring one morning when a "Hudson" bomber flew down the Auckland harbour and of course we were curious. Realising this, Capt Bates shouted, "eyes up" and after the aircraft had passed on he shouted, "eyes down". That sort of thing typified the man and we appreciated.

After this course, I was promoted to Sergeant. We were due to shift from Papakura, so Ben Lodge took me to visit relatives on the north slopes of MtAlbert. While we were waiting for a tram to take us down to the Railway Station, we saw a tremendous flash out in the direction of Whenuapai. We assumed that the Air Force was out practicing bombing.

Next morning we boarded trucks and moved off to our new camp. We were never told to where we were going but at the compulsory stop, at ten minutes to the hour, we happened to be directly above Whenuapai Aerodrome. It was then that I saw what that tremendous flash had been.

It was years later I found out that an American B17 Flying Fortress had flown into the top of a hill while on take-off. All that was left were the engines and a huge burnt out area. A house nearby had all the glass blown out of it, and the near sidewall pushed in. We found a flying boot, complete with a part leg lying in the fern on the side of the road. The Air Force denied us the possibility of viewing the actual crash site, so, (in an effort to help) presented them with the boot!!! I have a feeling that the Airman who received it, did not bother with any lunch that day.

Our convoy moved on and we eventually ended up at Warkworth. Our own company was situated at the entrance to the Dome Valley. The Company Commander at this stage was Capt. Wheelin who, in civilian life was headmaster of the Ngaruawahia High School. Our Platoon Commander was Lt. Duncan Ross. 

The first Saturday, everyone with the exception of the guards etc, were given leave in the Warkworth township - and what a shambles that developed into!! One thousand troops loose in a country village with just one pub. We stood and watched the "scrum" for some time, but we moved out smartly when Brig. Dittmer appeared on the scene. He moved everyone back to camp and ordered that an orderly leave system be installed immediately. Order was restored, but the Americans made the same mistake when they arrived. Their method of sorting it out was to turn their M.P.s loose. Grim, but effective. 

There were twenty of us selected to go through an "Officer Suitability" course, which was conducted at Bde. H.Q. I managed to pass the test. 

About this stage, Maj. Parfitt who had been sent home from the Middle East to direct training of reinforcements joined us. He was what I regarded as a real soldier, tough, but with the right idea of handling men. While at Warkworth, the Army recalled all of the officer's .45 calibre pistols, and they were replaced with Smith and Wesson .38 revolvers. Duncan Ross took me with him up one of the valleys and he proceeded to fire off all his ammunition. When queried, he told the Q.M. that he had fired it all at the Japs. 

Most of our work here consisted of building and establishing camps which were later taken over by the arriving American Troops who were coming back from the Islands for a rest. 

In 1942, along with 140 others, I was sent off to take part in O.C.T.O. course, which lasted about twelve weeks. At the end of this fiasco they had to get rid of sixty as they were overloaded. There were some very hard things said about the Army Chiefs after that event. 

The Northern Group were entrained to Auckland and spent the afternoon lying on the grass at the Teachers Training College (Army HQ) waiting for onward orders. What's new? Eventually we were issued with our rank, and sent on seven days leave with instructions to report back to our respective units. As it transpired, they did not want us either!! 

Around this time I had 'inadvertently' read a report of my training and had been described as 'ordinary'. This so incensed me that I worked the platoon very hard with the object of changing someone's mind. It certainly worked, as we were given some pretty difficult jobs to accomplish. I explained to the fellows, that the only way to get the pressure off was for them to give us their best, and let us prove that we could do the job. One of the compensations was to send out a 'Recce Patrol', twice a week to 'clear' the area around Hikurangi. If they got caught in the pub down there, then it was their lookout. They were willing as could be and we worked up a great team. At this time my Pl.Sgt. was Dick Te Paa who was a really great person. 

During the summer, there were several bush fires further north, and we were transported up there to fight them. That was a useless and dangerous operation. One night while trying to hold the spread, the wind turned and roared back up the valley. The chaps had to hang over the opposite cliff while the flames roared over *" heir heads. 

Later on it was decreed that they hold Bn exercises up towards Kerikeri. The area on which we were deposited was some runoff, which the farmer had burned off several acres of gorse. Of course it had rejuvenated to a height of about 2 feet. There were pine trees in the plantation at one end, under which we made our camp.

Sent in by Chas Murdoch


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