Civilian into Soldier
Part 5 Specialist Training
373649 Arthur H Paddison, 2nd Field Regiment, NZA
Four weeks soon went by and we had mastered the basics and it was time to move to a location more suited to our specialist training; learning to be Artillerymen, complete with field manoeuvres etc. Military convoys do not move at miles per hour; they move at miles in the hour. There are good reasons for this distinction. The mechanisation of armed forces brings with it many problems, not the least is the movement of large numbers of vehicles in the area just short of the line, especially at the time one unit relieves another, or passes through a committed unit that has run out of steam while still heavily engaged.
Armoured, mechanised infantry and artillery units all have numerous vehicles that are important to move up close to attacking infantry to help them get onto their objectives and stay there in the face of enemy counter attacks. To maintain cohesion in situations when speed can be of the essence, (chaos lurks everywhere) requires experience that comes from practice at all levels.
The orderly movement of an artillery regiment consisting of 2- 300 vehicles, some towing guns, manned by 600 plus men requires planning and control. Army units do not please themselves in these matters, they receive written orders stating the how, when and where. Such movements start with a conference known as the Regimental Orders(O) group (senior personnel from each battery), who in turn call a battery (O) group each passing the plan down the chain of command.
From a map the start point - route - destination are readily ascertained. Start time means lined up and ready to roll. Miles in the hour means the actual distance on the route the leading vehicle must cover in each hour. No more no less. It's a bit like a railway line, and only one string of vehicles is on the same section of road going the same way at the same time. To move a big formation like a Division or Brigade requires several days of co-ordinated movements and timing and takes months of practice to reduce the inevitable mixups, accidents and breakdowns that plague these war games, not to mention the real thing.
The Regiment was to move by road convoy to Foxton racecourse. Convoys can be tiresome at the best of times, and large ones peppered with civilian traffic can be a real pain, as we were soon to learn. Stan Bright and I together with several others were in the last truck and we felt the result of the seesawing of vehicles to the maximum. I'm not sure how many vehicles the Regiment had, but at that time apart from the Marmon- Herrington gun tractors, practically all the rest were either governmental cast offs or commandeered from civvy street.
A truly motley collection, few of which were suitable for the cross country work they were soon to be put. Talk about a circus; many of them were still in civvy colours and some even had signs on them. It has to be remembered that at the same time artillery units in training for overseas were in camp in various places and they had first pick of the best equipment.
The distance Wellington-Foxton is only 100 kilometres as the crow flies, and as riding in the back of a truck part filed with gear leaves a lot to be desired we were glad to arrive and start getting settled in.
Sleeping accommodation was in bell tents (3.6m in diameter approx.), 6/8 men in each, I think, feet towards the centre pole, heads and packs etc. to the outside. Coats hanging on the pole.
We each had a ground sheet/slicker and five blankets, boots were used as pillows. A pretty tight fit, but after a few arguments we all settled in as snug as one could wish for excepting those by the doorway, who were continually bothered by movements in an out for whatever reason.
Order was maintained by the senior NCO, usually a Bombardier (1 or 2 stripes), a thankless task, no extra pay and living cheek by jowl made it difficult to maintain discipline especially at the beginning.
Officers and senior NCOs had separate lines. Each battery had its own area of the gun and vehicle parks. There was an area designated as a parade ground with a large tents as battery offices, I think the Regimental Office and Quartermaster's store were under the grandstand.
There was a flagpole on which the New Zealand flag was raised, with due ceremony, at Reveille (6 a.m.) and lowered at Retreat (sunset). Lights out was at 10 pm.
Near the gate was the guardhouse and sentries, some of them roving, were posted at critical places. Cookhouses, messes (various ranks) and latrines (ditto) completed the picture.
Dress was khaki denim for drill, manoeuvres, fatigues, and working parties, with serge reserved for more formal occasions such as Regimental and Battery parades, guard duties etc. The current uniform had plenty of buttons and badges which together with boot and bandolier leather required constant attention to please the Regimental Sergeant Major (the senior NCO).
AH Paddison, 2007