This article appeared in the April 1984 The Battalion Remembers booklet.
I write about a group of dedicated specialists and their important role within the Battalion. Their job was a lot more arduous, dangerous and exacting than most of the fighting troops realised, because their first priority was to provide and maintain good communications within the Battalion and beyond the Battalion to higher formations such as Brigade and Divisional HQ's, not to mention an assortment of support units such as Armour, Artillery etc, who were attached to or under command of the Battalion, from time to time. Yes, you've guessed it, this is about No. 1 Platoon of the HQ Company and of the Battalion. The signals platoon was virtually the voice and the ears of the C.O., because whether his Battalion was engaged in action, involved in a mobile phase of operations or resting and re-equipping at the rear of the battle zone, his orders and instructions to his troops went out through the Sigs. office by the speediest and safest method possible, and by the same token all intelligence reports, and operational orders for him, from the higher Commanders at Brigade and Divisional level came in through the Sigs. office, where it was handled speedily and securely.
Methods of communications have evolved through the ages. The early Greeks relayed messages by human runners. In early American history, the Indians relayed messages by smoke signals. Other native races relayed theirs by the beating of ancient drums. The astronauts of today have a much more sophisticated method, through satellites in orbit around the earth. But during the years that the Maori Battalion was making history, the methods of communication were many and varied, both ancient and modern. In the main, we relied on three proven methods: 1. The reliable and faithful Dispatch Riders; 2. Telephones using AC or DC Circuits, and cables of course; 3. Radio Telephone using combined Wireless Transmitter and Receivers which developed very slowly up to the ultimate model, "The chest 38 model transmitter receiver", which would be considered as the fore-runner of the present-day "Hand Walkie Talkie". Total strength:- 1 Officer - - - 8 NCO's - - - 28 OR's.
Whenever the Battalion was placed on "Battle Alert" a detachment of 4 operators from Divisional Sigs, plus their specially designed wireless van, with their very high powered and long range Wireless equipment, were attached to Battalion HQ's to provide a rear link to Brigade, Division and Corps HQ's.
It was by chance I came to serve as a signalman in the 28th (Maori) Battalion. In July 1940, I was in the Sigs. Platoon of 30th Battalion, stationed in Fiji, when I learned that my half-brother Eru Katene was with 28 Battalion in England, and my brother-in-law, Percy Francis, was awaiting embarkation with the 5th and 6th reinforcements. My application for transfer to the 28th Battalion on compassionate grounds was granted and I arrived at Base Camp Maadi, towards the end of June 1941 about the time the Battalion was arriving back in Egypt from Crete.
I was posted to the Middle East School of Signals, to attend a 6 month course. It was an experience one will never forget. The school Motto which greeted you as you passed through the front Portals and mocked you from above every classroom blackboard, certainly means business:-
"WE SHALL NOT FAIL NOR FALTER WE SHALL NOT WANE NOR TIRE".
The instructors, all of whom were Officers and Senior NCO's, were thoroughly professional, because they were in the main technicians and telegraphists previously employed by the Post Office, the Railways, and some from the Royal Navy, put us through that course, like putting meat through a fine mincing machine. Nothing was left out. Our diet of instruction, consisted of the miseries of electricity expressed in terms of Ohms, Watts, Volts, Conductors, Insulators, Resistors, Circuits and the repairing of various grades of telephone cables, after being blown, cut, and damaged by enemy fire. This we were expected to successfully complete in the dark without lights under all weather conditions.
The magic of Air waves called Kilo/cycles and Mega/cycles, the Valves and circuits of a wireless transmitter and receiver, the rigid radio procedures, the encoding and decoding of vital orders and instructions Morse Code and always Morse Code. There's a hell of a lot more I could tell you but suffice to say that after 6 months of that routine I finally joined the fighting Battalion in Kabrit in January 1942, thinking and feeling like a bloody ROBOT!!! But low and behold, my brash youthful eagerness to prove my worth as a brand new Sigs expert received a rude awakening once my apprenticeship started under the watchful direction of Lt. Mohi, S/ Sgt Abe Waaka, Sgt Bill Lambert, Cpl Jim Tahu and Cpl Boyce Merriman.
These wonderful men were really battle hardened and experienced officer and NCO's, and I can assure you, that I matured in a hurry, and along the way I copped a couple of wallops on the chin, with a swift kick in the pants every now and again for good measure. In my heart I have always thanked them for showing me how to gain respect as a man, and as a useful, proficient, and valued member of No. 1 Platoon. I believe I was lucky because I served continuously with the platoon from Kabrit 1942, to Forli in Northern Italy 1945, and missed the final two battles, crossing of the Senio and the push through to Po Valley. I returned to New Zealand in early 1945.
The Sigs personnel were a happy mix of men from the four main tribal areas of New Zealand and as a rule on completion of their training they would be posted as operators to the HQ's of their respective tribal companies if and when required. This system proved to be of great benefit to the quality and speed of all our communications within and beyond the Battalion due to the natural and inherited competitive tribal spirit. The fact that all our personnel were bi-lingual, enabled us to transmit in clear, using our native tongue, any or all sensitive or classified operational orders and instructions over our wireless networks. Nobody else on the battle field knew what we were talking about, so where time was vital during the conflict our Battalion and Company Commanders were laughing all the way to the Officers Mess!!! Before every major action - several Maori wireless operators would be placed on "Standby" to work for Div. and Bde HQ, but once the enemy tumbled to what was happening, he started to "Jam or Drown" our frequencies, but not with any great success. Our Sigs office has been set up and operational 24 hours a day every day from some very contrasting locations, which could have been a sangar on a rocky escarpment, or a deep underground bunker, protected with sandbags on the dark Vaults of a shattered Convent, or an abandoned farm house or well concealed in a thick grove of olives, or alongside a cemetery with a thick Cactus boundary, infested with snakes or maybe a confiscated Civic building, but best of all was a beautiful Palace of a Fascist nobleman, complete with Art treasures. But no matter which of the above was used we were always right alongside battalion HQ's.
It was because of this that the Sigs Platoon Commander was privileged to observe at close quarters, the characteristics of a battalion Commander before and during a battle. The sequence usually followed a pattern e.g. The quiet listening to the SIT/REP as displayed by the "I" Section on a sand table model, or a huge wall map. The assessment and appreciation of the tacticaled situation, and the alternatives.
Then came the decision making which could be, cautious, methodical, or swiftly confident. That the confirmation that these were understood by all concerned. The synchronisation of watches. Then "that is all Gentlemen thank you and GOOD LUCK".
The 28th Battalion was blessed, in that every commanding Officer left his own personality on the Battalion. These personalities ranged between "impressive", "outstanding" and "brilliant". Thank God for that!
Every human being has his own unique characteristics, and personality, so its understandable that my ageing memory can recall some personalities much clearer than others.
I deeply regret that I didn't maintain a personal diary during those tumultuous years, so I could recall to mind the names of all my comrades-in-arms in the Sigs, but nevertheless I salute all our Regimental Signallers, for the blood, sweat and tears they endured, in carrying out their arduous duties.
This quote given by General Montgomery, to a General Staff Course, is well known.
"The infantry - without them you can do nothing to dominate the battle field - "Nothing at all" so in the context of this article, may I offer my own humble Quote. "The Regimental Sigs" - without them, the Battalion Commander would have no control - "No control at all".
May I close with this tribute to those Regimental Signallers who gave their lives.
Moe Mai e hoa Ma, Nga toa me nga Uri, o te Paki-wae-Tahi, Kei te Mamae te Manawa, Ke te Heke Nga roimata, No Reira "Kahuri" Tatou, Ki Te Atua 0 Te Irirangi.
T.W. (Rongomai) Worrall