Before we get onto the embarkation proper I would like to mention some things which I am sure will bring back pleasant memories.
The first was visitor's day. This took place a couple of weeks before we eventually left Ngaruawahia. Now the tent I was in at that time had Maurice Johnston and Jack Campbell and the only other I remember was a chap named Jackson. The visitor's day arrived nice and fine for a change and the friends and relations arrived thick and fast. My brother arrived with his wife and two children. Maurice had his mother, brother and friend. All these kind people arrived with all sorts of goodies and we settled down to a good sort of day.
One of our Bombardiers at that stage was a Jock Gunn. He was R.N.Z.A. and once you got to know him he was not a bad sort of chap. Alas, he was not destined to sail with the 5 Field, but arrived in the Middle East later and likes to call himself a 4 Field member. Any rate, this Sunday Jock's girlfriend arrived and there was Jock, in all his glory dressed to kill and parading his girlfriend for all to see! Not too bad either, believe me. After the War Jock married the girl and we all see one another a couple of times a year and still have a laugh about that Sunday.
That was digressing a little. There was the Saturday we marched through Auckland. There we were with our lemon squeezers and monkey suits with the brass polished, skipping along. It seemed to be an impossibility to keep in step. Any rate the people cheered and a great swelling came into one's chest to think so many people would come out to see one march through the streets of Auckland.
Once the parade was over we marched back to the station, handed in the rifles and took off to where the grog was and in our case there was Jack Campbell, Cliff Cook and myself heading to Maurice Johnston's place.
There Maurice's mother had put on a magnificent feed and we had all we could drink, so you can imagine what it was like when we had to head off to catch the train. There was, I think 10 of us packed into an Austin. Only made the station and we all got out in time to have a great spew. What a waste, still it was just as well no one started in the bar, as it was it was bad enough collecting our rifles and getting on the train for the trip back to camp.
The great day arrived when we were to entrain for Wellington to board a ship bound for who knew where?
What I remember about the trip to Wellington was climbing aboard the train and finding we were in a carriage with those terrible wooden seats, but what was worse was hearing that the mascot dog called 'Gunner' (I wonder why) had not been allowed to come on the train with us.
Also, just before we pulled out there was Jack Biss standing there waving to us all. I often wonder what was going through his head as the train pulled out leaving him behind. Jack was going to O.C.T.U. and was later found in, I think the 6 Field Regiment.
The great journey had begun and what a beginning, every station we went through or stopped at had a great crowd wanting to get a last look at their heroes. There was no shortage of food or fruit. Everyone was eager to give the boys something.
But I can assure you it was a really tired regiment of gunners who arrived in Wellington at around 2 o'clock in the morning. At least I think that was about the time. After much shunting, the train finished up alongside the biggest ship I had ever seen and the word soon got around that it was the 'Aquitania'. At the foot of the gangway we were herded up and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a cabin with Bas Mitchell, Herbie Sampson and I think Blue Bowman.
Being tired, I went to bed and did not know we had pulled out into the stream until much later, but in the stream we were and most people lined the decks until we upped anchor and steamed out to join up with the rest of the convoy, which made up the 2nd Echelon and 5th Brigade and then, and then only the word went around that Gunner was on board. To this day I do not know the full story of how Gunner was smuggled on board and so the 5 Field Regiment had finally sailed and although some of us were fortunate enough to get home on furlough there were many who never saw New Zealand again and some who were not to look on the shores of New Zealand till some five years later.
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.