Topic: The Eighth Reinforcements (1942-1945) by Hugh Harrison

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In 1942 we trained in Trentham and other N.Z military camps to be reinforcements for El Alamein. When we-were fully trained and ready to go overseas there was no shipping transportation for the Middle East as the Pacific war took precedence. While we waited we worked on the Wellington wharves loading ammunition and supplies for our troops and Americans in the Pacific Islands. At last in December 1942 we were put aboard a ship named Aquitania, which I believe was the fourth biggest ship afloat at that time. It was indeed about one quarter of a mile to complete a perimeter circuit of the main deck, which at the ships bows stood some 60ft. above the waterline.

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6th Hauraki Insignia

The group of N.Z soldiers I was with all had quarters at least 22ft. below the waterline and we found ourselves isolated and claustrophobic with no portholes or direct fresh air. Aboar

d the ship there were about 7000 people, a mixture of Kiwi's, Aussies, South Africans and other allied troops.

When we left New Zealand we were told that iceberg lookouts were posted. We had steamed to the Deep South below normal shipping routes to avoid enemy submarines known to be operating in the Atlantic and prowling around the coast of Western Australia. Submarines were also operation in the Indian Ocean and we would later be crossing to reach the Red Sea.

I joked when I told my mates that if it were that a torpedo hit us, it might be easier to reach the lifeboats if we could swim out through the hole the torpedo came in!

In fine and calm conditions we would practice lifeboat drills. It took at least 20 minutes to assemble with our jackets on and properly adjusted to reach our correct boat stations.

We stopped overnight at Fremantle and after a dramatic change in temperature we approached the tropics where we had our vaccinations and Christmas dinner aboard the ship. We travelled up the Red Sea and finally disembarked in Egypt on 5 January 1943.

The attack at El Alamein commenced on 23 October 1942 and we arrived in Africa some 10 weeks later. By this time, after continuous pressure from all of the 8th Army units the Division had advanced to approximately 300 miles from Tripoli, but there was still more fighting ahead.

By now, our 8th Reinforcements were joining in and took part in all the last battles of the Dessert Campaign. Africa was ours at last when the Germans surrendered in Tunisia on 13 May 1943.

The N.Z Division landed in Italy on 23 September 1943 and took part in every action, suffering many casualties with men killed and wounded, especially at Cassino and at the Sangro, to name just two of the places where the soldiers were out in the open of the winter mud and snow. During the summer it would get stifling hot and dusty on the country tracks and roads. There was continuous fighting somewhere along the frontline as we advanced up through Italy and it was a tremendous relief to everyone when on the 21st of May 1945 the Germans surrendered in Trieste and the war in Italy was declared over.

A few weeks passed while the men rested and future movements were planned. The married men of the 8th Reinforcements were sent home but a detachment of single men which included myself were sent on a small French ship back to Egypt as an Arab war was breaking out and our base camps and depots had to be defended. We also had to transport all our stores and take them on our vehicles across the hot desert road to Alexandria. The journey involved driving all types of vehicles until the camps were empty.

Finally when everything including the transport had been safely removed we waited impatiently once more for a ship to take us home. There were none available and after several weeks we became desperate and appealed personally to General Freyberg for help. The General came and talked with us, promising to have us on a ship within two weeks. Just as he said a ship arrived within that time frame. It was an old vessel but it finally brought us back home and we arrived in Wellington in December 1945 several months after the others had returned.

In concluding this article I would like to make it known that two of our officers assembled a number of qualified helpers and assisted by the printing facilities available on the ship produced a magazine about our journey and shipboard activities. Every Kiwi soldier aboard the ship was presented with a copy. They named it 1942 AQUITATLER with the subtitle EIGHTH REINFORCEMENTS.

I have donated my copy to the Hauraki Museum and inside the cover I have fixed an article from and early R.S.A review which gives a brief history of this troopship. Inserted in the back cover are the signatures of 16 Hauraki that I met on board. (for excepts from this 1942 AQUITATLER, click here).  

 They are:

L Avery

Rotorua

GT Mitchell

Paeroa

A F Aubertin

Pukehina

A D Mortenson

Otumarakau

B R Armstrong

Tauranga

J W Roper

Whakatane

J Finnerty

Waikino

K S Robinson

Rotorua

J H Fickling

Rotorua

T Reekie

Te Puke

C J Gemming

Te Puke

D J Spiers

Waihi

K A Hills

Whakatane

A Thwaites

Tauranga

IR Kunac

Rotorua

I G Old

Tauranga

 I have also given the museum a very clear print of a photo taken in October 1943 of a gathering of soldiers from the Tauranga district that met at the N.Z Forces Club in Cairo for a friendly dinner. Many of them will be recognised by locals and hopefully one day we will be able to make a list of their names and chart their individual positions in the photo.

I am there seated below the mirror on the rear wall, partly obscured by the two waiters in white coats. Standing slightly in front of me is Les Davies from Waihi. Les and I were both carpentry apprentices to Mr C.H Adams, a leading Tauranga builder. Mr Adams was also a very well known Hauraki Captain and lived at the harbour end of 6th Avenue. This particular photo will revive many fond memories for those who can see once more the happy faces of old friends, some sadly gone but all of them never forgotten!

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