U-series - Embarkation of the 3rd Echelon commentary - Parts 1-8
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Commentary by Doug Laurenson, the New Zealand Broadcasting Unit's commentator, on the embarkation of the unit with the troops of the 3rd Echelon onto troopships at Wellington, bound for training and active service in the Middle East.
"This is a rather odd broadcast because in a short time we will not be saying 'Hello New Zealand' but 'Goodbye' or rather 'Au Revoir everyone.'
Unfortunately orders do not permit the mention of the ships' names, their tonnage or their speed. We don't know where we are going, what ports we expect to call at, the route and what times we will be at those ports - we can always guess.
For some hours now troop trains have been rolling into our wharf bringing men from every part of the island to join our ship and the ship right opposite. (Sounds of a steam train approaching.)
Down below on the wharf men are lined up in company formation. The officer in charge shows papers to the armed sentry at the
gangway. He then leads his men on. The ships embarkation officer marks off the names and number of each man from his roll. Each man is given a berthing card showing his location for sleeping and messing and his muster station.
Most of the stewards are Chinese and they show each detachment to their quarters. Troops already on the boat line the rails cheering to their friends as they embark on our ship or the one opposite. The microphone on deck captured the tooting of the steam train and then the Band of the New Zealand Permanent Staff on the wharf plays and troops sing "Roll Out The Barrel".
Doug Laurenson continues with background noise of troops calling out to each other.
"And still the men are coming on board, hundreds and hundreds of them. All along the wharf they are lined up waiting their turn. Men are embarking at the rate of ten to twenty a minute and fresh trains bring
more troops to take up the positions of the ones who are now of this ships company. These men are not professional soldiers they are ordinary every day men of the street".
The band plays and the troops sing "It's A Long way to Tipperary."
Laurenson continues describing the scene: "Another train has just arrived for the transport over the way. We have an excellent view of our sister ship. We are watching their activities as much as our own. All along her decks, leaning out of port holes, lining the decks and perched in her rigging can be seen lines of khaki clad figures. From their puggree we can tell what unit they belong to and high up on her boat deck, the most viewed sight, is that of the scarlet capes, the grey uniforms and white head dress of the Army Sisters flanked by the blue uniforms of the ships crew and the khaki of our own troops. One thing we must mention is the splendid work undertaken by the Boy Scouts, bringing on board the last minute mail, parcels and letters".
Further band music and singing.
"Today is our final sample for quite a while of what New Zealand can do in the way of wind and today the country has chosen to farewell us with a really bouncy, blustering northerly. The clouds occasionally lift and the wharf lights up in the sunlight".
More band music and singing by the troops "Kiss me Goodnight Sgt Major."
"A minute or so ago I mentioned some of the old soldiers on board. Quite close one of the old hands is telling a group of young men how to get on in the world. He is just the chap to tell them. I was talking to him and when he first went to a war there were no commentators, nor broadcasting units. He said 'Now take this chap Hitler for instance. I am fair disgusted with him, I am. In between wars, so to speak, I turn me hand to a bit of house-painting now and again. Of course Adolf was a house painter once until he got spoiled and just look at him now. He is a fair disgrace to the whole blooming profession.'
The Broadcasting Unit will be attached to the N.Z. Expeditionary Force in the field. In the days that lie ahead we hope to bring you news of your men, so today I would like to introduce to you the other two men who make up our party. First, our engineer Noel Palmer who with Norman Johnston has organised and designed the very complicated equipment we take with us."
Noel Palmer then speaks:
"'We of this first Broadcasting Unit feel that we shall have great opportunities for linking you in your New Zealand homes with the NZ men on active service overseas. We are setting off to day full of enthusiasm for the task that lies ahead. it will be our job to give you news of the 2nd NZEF'. Here is Norman Johnston, the Assistant Engineer."
Norman Johnston continues the commentary:
"This day represents for us, the culmination of months of concentrated effort. They have been training hard in the art of fighting and we have been building. testing and installing technical equipment in this truck of ours.
When people ask me what I do I like to say that I am third in command of the Broadcasting Unit. In point of fact I am here to keep our commentator out of mischief, correct his pronunciation, and advise him on matters of every description. Our engineer too, though a reliable chap, has on occasion to be corrected on matters of a technical nature. As you can see then, we work in very close co-operation and hope that our efforts will be instrumental with keeping you in touch with the men overseas. Good bye to you all whom we know and here's hoping that we won't be away long."
Doug Laurenson resumes his commentary, noting the unique items some men are bringing aboard, including musical instruments, sports equipment - and even a large cake. He reads chalked messages written on the side of the carriages of the troop train below: "Look out Adolf!", "Here come some of Hitler's 'poor country lads'", "Berlin or Bust!".
There is such a lot going on that we can only give you the briefest outline hoping you will get some idea of 'The Great Event' of so many people lives the day they leave for overseas. During the embarkation the gates to the wharf have been closed, a minute or two ago the authorities opened them allowing relatives to stream on the wharf".
"On the wharf there are fathers, wives, sisters, babies in arms and boys and girls of school age. Streamers are being thrown aboard, last minute packages and notes passed up to the men on the ship. Now, all visitors are ashore and the gangway is being drawn aboard and a party of naval ratings are letting go the mooring lines.
We haven't the remotest idea where we are heading for. At this point we are slipping out from the wharf. We are off on our great adventure and can put in on our letters home, On Active Service."
Doug Laurenson ends his broadcast commentary with a message from the men of the 3rd Echelon: They ask me to tell you to cheer up, write often and to look forward to their return, some day later on."
The band on the wharf plays - and troops sing (and whistle) "Now Is The Hour."
Reference number 11155
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Laurenson, M. Douglas, Commentator
Johnston, Norman B., Commentator
Palmer, Noel, Commentator
New Zealand Mobile Broadcasting Unit, Broadcaster
Date 27 Aug 1940