This article appeared in the April 1990 NZ 28 Maori Battalion Golden Jubilee Reunion booklet.
From The Diary of 6105 Corporal/Captain WORDLEY, Walter Downs Piiti
03.08.15: Date of Birth. 17.11.39: Date of Attestation or Calling Up.
I Became A Soldier
I was part of a contingent to go to Trentham. We were paid 7/- per day from 21.11.39. We were prospective officers and N.C.O's for the Maori Battalion. We did all the things that a soldier is trained to do - physical training, rifle drill, bayonet, map reading, compass work, L.M.G., mounting guard, range shooting and signals and ...
We Farewell The "1st Ech"
The first Echelon embarked at Wellington. Our Haka team from Trentham went down to "stamp farewell", that was on the 15th January 1940. H.M.S. Ramillies, and Duchess of Canada and Rangitata were two of the troop carriers. The day was fine and hot. Those who wanted to watch the Wellington Centennial Cup (horse race), were allowed a break from L.M.G. training. I was on who went. I think 'Old Bill' won - or was it 'Beau Vite' - then back to L.M.G.
24 January 1940, 0830 hrs - Left Trentham by train, 1255 hrs arrived at Palmerston North. This was the mobilization of the, to be, 28 N.Z. (Maori Battalion) and what a busy time; erection of bell tents (eight soldiers), luckily with board floors, shifting of beds, filling of palliasses and there was heavy rain. Luckily there were big buildings that were able to be used for shelter. And it was whilst sheltering in these buildings - (I think all Coy's has their H.Q's in them) - that I was bewildered by varied accents and excitement in the cramped quarters.
We did a lot of route marching, besides all the different parade-ground training and activities.
28th January 1940 - About 150 of the boys went to visit Ratana Pa - free buses. Jan 31st - took 20 men to Palmerston North Hospital for X-Rays. The next day we were issued with drill suits. At this time we were preparing to go to Waitangi.
Sunday 4th February 1940 - Battalion Parade at 0445 hrs. Left Palmerston North railway station at 0600 hrs. Breakfast at Marton, lunch at Taumarunui - tea at Auckland and departure from here at 2210 hrs. Arrived at Opua and from there we were transported to launch to Waitangi where we had breakfast at 0930 hrs, Monday. The rest of the day was free, but we were not allowed to leave Waitangi grounds.
Tuesday February 6th 1940 - The Centennial of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (Feb 6th, 1840). Governor General Lord Galway, Prime Minister of N.Z. Peter Fraser, and Sir Apirana Ngata were present. The Maori Battalion were on parade. There was a re-enactment of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi - the actors were all dressed in clothes of the period. The 28 Maori Battalion left the grounds at 1600 hrs on 14 launches for Opua, from which we left at 1700 hrs by train. We had tea in Whangarei, breakfast in Frankton, lunch in Taumarunui. We arrived in Palmerston North at 1800 hrs and had our evening meal in Camp (Show Grounds).
Respirators - Troop For The Use Of
Saturday 10th February 1940 - A party of men from the Battalion went to Trentham to attend an N.C.O.'s Course. We were issued with Respirators (gas masks), and it was equipment right to the end o["my war". There was talk of soldiers using their respirator bags as "toilet bags" when going on leave in later times - in England. Jim Hall from Hokianga left - Jim was deemed to be too long in the tooth - he had attended the Prospective Officers and N.C.O.'s Course in Trentham in November 1939.
Training In Earnest - Extracts From February - April 1940 Dairy: At Palmerston North
Battalion Parade and Church Parade, Bishop Bennett. Lecture by C.O. (Lt-Col Dittmer) - 'misbehaviours in town' - Palmerston North. Visitors in afternoon - great number. Battalion Parade - squad drill-load, holding and aiming P.T. and cold shower. Route March - Visual training - L.M.G. - Dentist. Game of football - Two lectures, Concealment & Field Craft. Mounted guard - Changing guard at 1645 hrs. Review by General Duigan - Inoculation and Rest. L.M.G - care of feet. Interior economy - Leave - Pictures. Field signalling - Fire orders - Blood test - Dance at Empire Hall. Route March to Milson Aerodrome and back. Ceremonial drill - Battalion Parade and March Past.
Tuesday 12th March 1940 - Battalion Parade through Palmerston North. The 28 Battalion has been in training for a couple of months. 13.03.40 - 28 N.Z. (Maori) Battalion placed on "Active Service", and on 14.03.40 we dispersed for 'FINAL LEAVE'.
So no doubt all 'leaves' were similar - welcome home dances and 'huis' and the saying of farewells and the receiving of little gifts - wool socks were favoured gifts. I spent a few days in Whangarei with my brother George and a week with Mum and Dad, sister Clara and Brothers Terry & Bill on the family farm at Dargaville.
26th March 1940 - Left Tangawahine by train on the first leg of my trip to Nelson, where I arrived on the' Arahura' early 0630 hrs, 28th March. A younger brother, Joe, was a cadet in the P.W.D. (Joe was in the Battalion later and got a "blighty" at Orsogna in Italy - he was one of a group to under-go treatment with penicillin. Groups of doctors used to visit the wounded to note the effects of the penicillin treatment.)
I left Joe on 29th March. Flew on 'Kuaka' to Wellington and arrived back in camp at Palmerston North at 2230 hrs the same day.
Michael Savage's funeral train from Wellington to Auckland passed through Palmerston North on Saturday 30th March 1940. On Friday 5th April I went up to Palmerston North Hospital to see George Wellington. George had been one of the Nov '39' lot who marched into Trentham M.C. On the next day I was at the Awapuni Races and I am sorry to say that I lost 2-10-0 - which would have been "big, big" money to me!
Sunday 7th April 1940 - Battalion Church Parade. Wipiti, a dashing looking guy from 'D' Coy was married - it was quite an occasion for us all.
Anzac Day 1940
Maori Battalion paraded through Palmerston North and marched past the Palmerston North War Memorial. Next day, Friday 26th April our camp was inspected by Major General Duigan, G.O.C. N.Z. Military Forces. I note that we were vaccinated (I can't recall for what) and a week later we were inspected for effects, and a day after inspection many of us were confined to bed with a slight fever. The Battalion Ball held on Monday 29th April, 1940 was a great success (so they say). I was a non dancer and l can't really recall any part of the occasion, but I have recorded that the supper was beautiful! Bed 0400 hrs 30.04.40. There was also a combined concert, held in the Palmerston North Opera House; entertainers were Ngati Poneke Club of Wellington, the Otaki Maori Party and men of the Maori Battalion, put on for the benefit of the citizens of Palmerston North.
Tuesday 30th April 1940 - Weather, cold. No Parade till 0930 hrs. Practice, entraining, checked in some gear. Changed quarters. Took down tents (I think we bedded down in the Show Buildings).
Wednesday 1st May 1940 - Fine day. Cleaning up the camp. Lunch 1130 hrs. Parade 1300 hrs. Left Palmerston North by train at 1400 hrs and arrived at Wellington at 1700 hrs - embarked straight on to the 'Aquitania' and O.R.'s quarters were deep down on F. deck.
Hitler Here We Come
Thursday 2nd May 1940 - Telegram from my father. Aquitania pulled out from the pier at 0500 hrs and anchored in the Harbour as we were preparing to leave. Governor General Lord Galway sailed around each ship to bid us Bon Voyage. We were on our way to the great adventure at 1100 hrs on Thursday 02.05.40! Ships in the convoy were 'Aquitania', 'Empress of Japan', 'Empress of Britain', 'Empress of Canada', 'Andes' and 'Mauretania'.
Well On Our Way
Sunday 5th May 1940 - Fine day - We all were standing up to the sea better now. 0830 hrs the Queen Mary (ship) joined our convoy (she came from Sydney with a load of Aussies) in Bass Strait. 0900 hrs Church Parade - Chaplain Kahi Harawira. Lunch, games and distribution of fruit. Afternoon, games and washing. Pictures - "Heart of the West," Hop-a-long Cassidy. Aussie planes were patrolling the sea and we had an escort of seven naval vessels. We had boat drill and P.T. and a good wash which was a hose-down on deck. We had to carry our life jackets at all times, except when in port.
Friday 10th May 1940 - Fremantle Queen Mary, Aquitania and Empress of Japan were too big to berth and had to anchor out. We didn't get leave till next day, 1030 hrs and arrived in Perth 1330 hrs. I remember being in a very long queue - in what I thought was Rose Street (but I read in an article in the N.Z. Herald about forty years later, about this ROWE ST, which was the centre of the "Berka Trade") I vacated my place in that queue as soon as I had an inkling of what was at the front end of it. (Believe it or NOT!!) But I did have my first "drink up" there in Perth.
12th May 1940 - We were on our way from Fremantle at 1300 hrs. Some late comers arrived back from leave just before the boat was to depart. Of course, we are still getting lectures, boat drill and fatigues for this and that. I note that some men have changed quarters - but my suite is still F 42. Blind boxing, with the boxers wearing big gloves greatly amused those who were watching - there were always roars of laughter.
We Switch Course
After being on track for the Middle East, we were told on the 16th May that we had changed course and were now heading for the Cape of Good Hope? or maybe? I have noted that Capt. Whetu Werohia lectured the Maori Battalion - I can't remember any details but there would have been lots of laughs. Whetu was a "hard case".
19th May 1940 - I have noted on this day "Very heavy swell on the sea". "Mauretania" rides best. At this time our convoy was continually changing course - scared of submarines, I suppose.
South Africa 26th May 1940 - We arrived at Capetown, 0600 hrs. We didn't do much in the way of training. We were paid one pound in South African money. The next day Tuesday 28th, we were dressed for leave but some arrangements went awry, so it was back into denims. But we played games and a movie "Poppy" was screened. Aquitania and Queen Mary had moved to the naval base at Simonstown, and it was from here that we took our leave. Went sight-seeing and the trip to Capetown took 2 ½ hrs - good trip, lots of trees and nice farms. We had a free cup of tea at a drill hall, then we had one hour (1330-1430), free. I bought a couple of note books and a present for my brother "Billy". There were beautiful buildings, mixed with ones less beautiful. Trip back to Simonstown, 1445-1830 hrs. Back to weapon training lecture on wire entanglement, P.T. and lecture and drill. R.S.M. A.C. Wood.
Friday 31st May - Aquitania and Queen Mary left Simonstown and met up with the rest of the convoy off Capetown.
4th June 1940 - Boxing - Mason, very good (Who is Mason?)
5th June 1940 - Fine day, calm sea - beautiful - Getting near the equator, very hot. Piling arms and boat drill. Afternoon parade delayed till 1430 hrs because of the heat. Lecture, Battalion weapons, P.T. and Break-off. Pictures "Manhattan Moon." 1930 hrs - Passed over equator. Row in Cookhouse, Dismantled swimming baths. Hosing down on deck.
7th June 1940 - Free day on board - No shore leave. We had to be content with bartering with the locals. I was content to watch; it was fun. There would have been lots of deficiencies later on. One rifle was traded - I doubt if the owner ever found out what had happened to his rifle. It was very hot here - had to sleep naked - perspiration was running freely - no sleeping on the deck because of malaria. I counted 40 tankers on the river. Capt. Gerry Weir gave us a lecture on "The finer points of shooting". We left Freetown on the 8th June 1940, and were averaging 2[20?] knots and doing frequent changes of direction. Just before we got to Scotland we had an escort of 7 destroyers, 3 battle ships, 1 aircraft carrier and also an Air Force patrol sea-plane. We must have been considered precious cargo. On the 15 June there was great excitement on board Aquitania, as we were supposed to have been just missed by a couple of torpedoes. We had passed debris, timber and crates of paper.
16th June 1940 - We saw land early in the morning, but it was hours before we got to anchor at Gourock. The first people to leave the Aquitania were the detachment of R.N.V.R of N.Z. who were taken off by a small boat. That was a poignant time for me - why couldn't they stay with us - are they going to stay together or are they going to split up and go into different units. I wonder - are any of them famous for achievement in the services or after service. There are about fifteen of them.
We shot down to Aldershot by train and had a two hour march to camp at EWESHOT - 8 men to tent and we had to dig trenches as protection from bombs. We were issued with respirators, tin hats, eye shields and anti-gas shields. Respirators were to be our constant companions whilst in the U.K. Do you old timers remember - "over hyar, we have the Besa!" quote Tommy officer giving characteristics of a tank - Besa was automatic equivalent to 303. The boys enjoyed their joke for days (and I was one of the boys.) I was on guard duty when King George VI paid us a visit. Mr Jordan came over to us for a chat. The day was wet and miserable.
The Bledisloes and Rugby
Wednesday 3rd July 1940 - Lord and Lady Bledisloe visited the Battalion. I had the pleasure of shaking hands with Lady Bledisloe. They were such a lovely charming couple. The Maori Bn Rugby Team members were excused all route marches! They were all delighted. "A" Company players that I can recall - Tamati Paraone, George Pitman, Johnny Harawene and Wally Cooper. Wednesday 11th December 1940 - N.Z.E.F. 15 beat Rosslyn Park 8. Saturday 14th December 1940 N.Z.E.F. 8 beat Aldershot Comd 0. Ray Bonner from Dargaville was left winger for N.Z.E.F.
A Bomb Scare
In September we were bivouacked in a grove of pines at Doddington - this sunny afternoon some of us had crawled through the enclosing fence to lie on our backs to watch the dog - fights above, one British crashed in flames, one Jerry crashed and one pilot (on fire, smoking) was hanging from a parachute - swoosh, thud. We bods were through that fence pronto, looking for our trenches. But all was well, 'twas only' a good hunk of aircraft engine (NO BOMB).
In August a party of 28 Bn went to Windsor Castle. We paraded for inspection, and the inspecting officer (I can't recall who) indicated that I was in charge and that the bus was there waiting, so off we went. I was a Corporal then. I got a list of the boys names - 'A' Coy, Wordley, Allen, Edwards, Rameka, Williams, Wiki - 'B' Coy, B.Jacobs, E. Ruhi, W. Meta, T. Waaka, H. Tihei - 'C' Coy, J. Solomon, T. Pohai, E. Pahi, R.T. Jones, T.Poa. No 'D' Cov recorded. Bn. H.Q's - K. Edward, M. Wikiriwhi, H. Matthews, J. Poka, W. Ritete, T. Pitama, E. Ngapuhi, T. Maru, H. Roia, B.R. Kingi. H.Qr's Coy - L/Cpl Goodwillie, Mohi, Totoro, Hemara. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and two other young girls were in a room a couple of story's higher than where we were. I asked a "Bobby", to whom some of us were talking. He didn't know and he wouldn't look up to the room. (He probably knew all the girls, and the room, but he wasn't telling us). He was a discrete Bobby! We made good use of "Bobby", we asked the questions and he gave us the answers. He told us that the flagstaff on the Castle was 75' 5" high and the base end was 2' 3" in diameter, and it was made of a Canadian tree.
A Ngapuhi Money-Lender
Did you know that I was a money-lender in England? On a small scale of course, but interest-free. Here is a list of those whom I had in my "clutches" - Bergham, Angel, Allen, Raharaha, Yates, Hemara, Mitchell, Nathan, Wiki, Harawene, Pirihi, Poa, Paratene, Samuels, Courtney, Hoani, T. Paniora, Wiki, Lambert, Walters, Morehu, Te Haara & Hepi. There were only five who borrowed more than 10/-, they must have been the big spenders. Then there were those who borrowed 3d - what for? a pint at the Cricketers Inn? And what about the chappie who borrowed 1d? Perhaps he already had 2d. They would all have paid.
I recall having a feed with Julie Waretini, paua stored in fat and karango. The paua was the most tender that I've ever had - only one of course, and it was only about 3 inches across. The karango was new to me, and I have come to like it but don't have much opportunity for a "feed". Julie was always a "merry old soul", a barrel of a man with great hearty laughter, and twinkling eyes. It was at this time that Julie related "his worst hated command". It was when the Colonel (Dittmer) commanded, "Fallout the Haka Party" (great laughter!) repeat - "Fall out the Haka Party! !", more laughter from all present.
I want to relate an incident which happened in the grounds of Arundel Castle. Waho Tahitahi and I got a "bit" hot under the collar with each other, but finished up in nothing worse than a "bear-hug", but we rolled through a big patch of stinging nettles. So, we were hot under the collar, and all the upper body. See you at the Reunion, Waho! In the company of Harry Taituhi [Taituha], who was at the time Battalion orderly room Sgt, I spent a few days leave in Denbigh, North Wales, with Llewelly Jones who had spent a few years in Dargaville. His nephew, David Jones, came out to NZ after the war and was a member of the NZ Police Force. Harry Taituhi was one of our first casualties in Greece. It was very cold in Greece at Mt Olympus. We had a great coat, blanket and ground sheet. Capt Leaf cut up brand new tents so that more soldiers would get more cover - at the time, I thought that that was a terrible waste. I also thought that way when we were ordered to "ditch" our big pack of clothes when we were evacuating the pass - I treasured my woolen clothes!
A Lucky Escape
At Molos in Greece, I was at an A.D.S. with dysentry. Hunia Te Rore was also there. One morning the unit was all packed-up to shift back - there were about eight ambulances and as I wasn't feeling too bad, I got on the last ambulance and was standing on the back step. As we moved off a clerk came rushing out of Admin Tent shouting - "Stop!, Stop! Stop all ambulances. Everyone has to report back to his own unit". Hunia went P.O.W. and perhaps all those other bods in the leading ambulances did too. Every time I had a drink with Hunia since the war, he would never fail to say, "Wordley, you left me behind." As it happened, the Maori Battalion was just around the corner, about a half a mile away. I got back to 'A' Coy to find some of our boys "out the monk" on wine.
Separated From Battalion
The N.Z. Div was withdrawing and on Anzac Day 1941 , we were on the water, making for Crete. After about 10 days in Crete Kuru Waaka, Waaki Lewis and myself (all sergeants) and about 20 other sergeants, four officers (Maj. T.G. Bedding) in command, were on special duties with a Greek Brigade at Kastelli, which was about 25 miles west of the N.Z. Division's position. We felt lonely, being away from our own N.Z. Force, and we were a damned lot more lonely when the Jerry invasion got under way. There were waves and waves of troop carrying planes towing gliders. A break - oh, goody - those Jerries won't last long. But then, there were more waves and more waves and more and more - they were coming directly over us. We had a couple of gliders the next day, took prisoners and locked them up in the town jail. The next day a bomb wrecked the jail, the prisoners escaped and we found ourselves in a spot of bother; two officers, one being Lt R.D. Campbell, was killed. S/Sgt Charlie Adams was wounded in the face. On the 25th May, we went on the run to get back to the NZ. Forces. I was Charlie Adam's nurse maid, with the great help of a donkey. I got exhausted and Charlie was getting delirious - it was Charlie who asked to be left. We left him in a church at Kalatheness - he went P.O.W. and has been farming in Huntly West since.
Just In Time
Our guide, Manuel was our intelligence officer, all enquiries for British troops were answered with - No, No Tedesche! Manuel left us on the South Coast of Crete and we made our way to Sfakia, where Maj. Dyer of the Maori Battalion was in charge. How lucky we were. It was the last official night for evacuation of Crete. We were on H.M.S. Jackal, 31st May, 1941.
Peter Samuels and I were on leave together in early June 1941, when we were induced to play cards with some 'gulley-gulley". We had to go back to Maadi and draw some more money from Chris Sorensen. We went back to the Club and had drinks with Ben Porter, Dan. Urlich and Val Lambert from Dargaville. Also met Charlie and Maurice Danks from Dargaville.
My First Pip Coming Up
Kuru Waaka and I again came together when we were selected for the 12th intake of M.E.O.C.T.U, which was in Kasr El Nil Barracks in Cairo. Ted Hayward and Ted Pohio who were a month ahead of Kuru and me at O.C.T.V., all went to N.Z. Forces Club for drinks - met Ben Porter there, also some Dargaville friends Bob Anderson, Colin Baker and Sam Dean.
I met up with Waka Rewa and Fred Te Waiti in late July 1941, and I note "that I got a bit tipsy and hit the hay straight away", when I got back to barracks. 2/Lt Merv Mitchell, who was platoon Sergeant, of No 7 pl 'A' Coy, called in to see me and Kuru Waaka - we three then went to the N.Z. Forces Club and there was a mob of Dargaville boys - Ray Bonner, Doug Snooks, Ted Taylor, Jim Clune, Bill Leckner and Norman Hill. Mitchell had just recently got his commission in England. Kuru Waaka and I were commissioned on the 18th October, 1941 and we were in Maadi Camp to welcome the 7th Reinforcements the next day. I had a farewell drink at the Maadi Sergeants Mess on the evening 2nd November 1941. Maj. Bertrand was also there - maybe he was having a farewell drink too. I went by train to Amirya. Met Sandy Irvine (we were together at Kastelli, Crete). The 28 Battalion was nine truck-hours away from Amirya in the desert, and the next day we were doing Brigade Parade
11th November 1941
We were off on the 1941 Campaign. Troops were carried by transport units and dropped in battle areas. We had one truck per platoon plus the platoon 15cwt truck - what a crush! And more so, when our 15cwt went bung. Before we left Sollum, Sgt. Paraone, myself and a couple of others, went down to a Jerry dump and got a lot of cigars and food - most of which was old. We also had lots of Jerry arms and ammo.
Capt. Harvey has been evacuated wounded, and Ben Porter is now O.C. 'A' Coy. Just before we left Soliurn, Sam Tatana dropped a Molotov and we had a deuce of a job to put it out. We had a six hour route march to just past Capuzzo. Boy!, there were a lot of tired Maoris for breakfast at 0900 hrs on the 9th December 1941. We were "trucked" up Bardia-Tobruk road and when we stopped for the night my truck was the last in the convoy. We heard a speeding truck coming towards us - lighted match-warned the approaching driver - Dick Stevens, driving' A' Coys cook truck - slight collision and Dick finished up off the road - (laughter).
Spoils To The Victor
At Acroma we were advancing on a concentration of enemy, when we found ourselves on the receiving end of a terrific barrage of small arms fire. We could see the heavy calibre, (55 Breda or similar) against the background of white dust. I was prepared to lie flat until dark, but after a short while all was quiet and some of my boys tentatively moved forward and were surprised by a couple of Italians appearing from a dug-out, and still more surprised when hundreds appeared from nowhere. Those boys got first pick of the loot.
Ben Porter took my platoon on a surprise attack of a strong point in Gazala area, on the night 13-14 December 1941. The place was too strongly defended for my platoon and Ben ordered our withdrawal. Ben retired to pick up the rest of 'A' Coy and join the battalion attack, which was successful. I and my body-guard Syd Hoani and P.C. Taramoeroa were wounded and that was the end of the campaign for us three. The battalion had to endure four more days of hard slog before a successful conclusion at Gazala.