The second Battalion arrived at Empress Augusta Bay, Bouganville in December 1943 when they were immediately instructed to establish an outpost 35 miles up the Numa Numa trail at an abandoned mission station named IBU in order to watch out for the Japanese who were thought to be assembled in great strength.
What is amazing is that high on a plateau at IBU they levelled out a tiny airstrip in the jungle and from then on all communications were made using a Piper Cub (Grasshopper) light aircraft until finally this had to be abandoned as the Japanese attacks on their tiny outpost made it untenable to carry on.
I too distinctly recall that Piper Cub aircraft for one day when walking up the roadway I was amazed to see a camouflaged Cub aircraft commencing to take off alongside of me and with its tail up skidded around a corner of the road on one wheel and next moment was airborne.
I will never forget the times when those Fijian soldiers would march past our camp and disappear down the Numa Numa Trail happily singing and then 3 or 4 days later would come back tired but happy and carrying various Japanese souvenirs including one very fearful prisoner being dragged along at the end of a rope.
Other times these Fijian soldiers when off duty would arrive at our servicing area to view our TBF's and occasionally after seeking permission would climb up into the cockpit and acting like children would pretend to fly the aircraft with appropriate noises – what wonderful people they were. I am sure many of us will remember them furthermore who were aware that one of these men a Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu was posthumously awarded the Victoria cross while we were still on Bouganville.
I recall some of us were on Parade for the ceremony when the award took place, however details of these will have to wait until a further newsletter. In the meantime I'm sure some of our men will be able to supply some more memories of those wonderful soldiers
Early in January this year Art Surtees, editor of VMBT 232 Newsletter, forwarded an airmail letter advising that one of their members Tom Eldridge and is wife Sandy would be calling in at Wellington and Auckland during their 21 day sea tour of the South Pacific and was hoping that both Gerry Burton and self would be able to make contact.
Unfortunately because my wife suffers terribly from arthritis and back problems my daughter Sue acted as my minder and we enlisted the services of my granddaughter Laura who owns a large car and is very familiar with the sights of Auckland. It was indeed our pleasure to act as hosts to those wonderful people and to renew our fellowship with those whom we shared those hardships with so long ago.
What is noticeable back on the home front these days is the deafening silence from the armourers Once upon a time I was inundated with correspondence from them particularly the late Ho Hum and Eric Kelly who was always telling me how fortunate we other trades were to have such exulted members in our midst. I do know that they are still around somewhere even young Eric Shepherd more commonly known as Rip-Van-Winkle who has a reputation of dancing with all the young and not so young ladies in his neighbourhood, and even my close-by neighbour Les (Bulla) Bland whom I understand was a participant in the Auckland “Round the Bays” fun run or rather he advised me some time ago that he would be a started, perhaps he is still running and looking for the finishing post. One armourer who did write recently was a long lost member by name of A R Fraser more commonly known as “Hank” who advised that he hoped to surprise everyone by turning yup at our next reunion. Perhaps this could be extended to Eric Kelly also to ensure us that he is still capable of representing the armourers.
Recently I have been trying to collect a group of photos covering each section and so far have the servicing party (Riggers and Engine fitters), Armourers, Radio, Instrument, Medical, Electrical and Administration sections but have not been able to find any covering the M.T. section, the idea being to name each individual in order that these can be passed on to a museum for posterity. There is also an aircrew group being passed around which hopefully will be completed in the near future.
Some time ago Mrs L Daniels forwarded me a group photo of 5 men, one of which is her husband the late Bill Daniels whom I had always presumed was a rigger (as listed in our book “The Avengers”). Lucy says she has no idea who the others are.
Fortunately by a stroke of luck I have just turned up a letter written by the late Bruce Chapman of Timaru in March 2001 who was one of our M.T. section and who