Wartime in New Caledonia
04 May 2018
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Jim Carrington, Gracelands Resident, Hastings Leader
I enlisted into the army aged 18. At 21, I was deployed to an island in New Caledonia. When we landed we got onto trucks where the streets were made of cobblestones, so when driving over them it shook the tripe out of you. Within six months the Americans had every street tar sealed, including the highway from Noumea to the airport.
We were in a French town which didn't speak much English so we had a language barrier where it was impossible to have any conversation with them.
We travelled 100 miles up north to where we were to build our camp. There was nothing there at all and it took us a week to set up camp. While there we trained- and really we were over trained. We were beside a river, thank God, as it was so hot you just got out of bed and jumped into the river, clothes on and all. You washed yourself at the same time as your clothes- it was so hot- it only took us half an hour for our clothes to dry. The river was a Godsend to us.
Our biggest enemy was the mosquitoes- you had breakfast before sunrise and tea after sunset as it was the only time you could get relief from the mosquitoes.
We had a good padre who planned and designed a New Zealand cemetery for our New Zealand soldiers. It was a beautiful spot- it rose up facing north roughly 10 acres north of Bourail. It was a four-hour trip in a car to clear the weed, which was similar to blackberry, and place a road up the centre of the cemetery. It was a three-day job to collect up the bodies of our soldiers and transport them, as they were all over the place.
We were a small cog in the yanks' big wheel- it was their war and we shouldn't have been there as we were dependent on them for their ships, food etc. It was evident the yanks didn't want us there, so we got out of that lightly really.
We unloaded a ship from New Zealand loaded with fresh meat but because we didn’t have any fridge and only open trucks to get it to camp- that with the heat and time it took to drive- the meat was rotten when we arrived at camp.
I was there 12 months when I caught dengue fever and I was one of the few that came out of it alive. I had just gotten out of hospital when they came around and said anyone who worked on farms before the war was to be sent home with a temporary discharge from the army. About 150 men were sent home. The farms we worked on were vetted and had to be large.
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