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Dick's Story

Dick "Gracie" Field, 5th Field Regiment, NZA

To 5 Fd Regt Return to artillery of 2 Div Arty

Gracie, (Harry Dick) Field, sailed on the Aquitania with the 5 Field Regt, 2 Echelon. Was in England for the Battle of Britain, served in the Regt through Greece, Crete and all through the Desert eventually being sent home on Furlough with the 2 Furlough draft. Unfortunately or fortunately for Gracie he was invalided out and was not to return. But to Gracie and thousands like him, N.Z. owes a deep debt of gratitude.

I was born in the Hokianga at Rawene Hospital on the 31 October 1916. When I left the Hospital, it was by boat with my parents to Opononi where we had our home in the hills of Waimamaku. In Maori, Wai means water and Mumaku means Big Black Fern.

As I grew up my Uncles told one a lot of the history of the Hokianga. The people who settled up there originally came from England, and were first in CH.CH. then eventually travelled North to the Hokianga to settle. My Dad along with his Brothers and Sisters were among the settlers, and from all accounts, there was little harmony among them. Hokianga had some of the largest Kauris in the Country, before they were felled and sent up the river to the mill.

At the age of 11 I was Pitsawing with my Old Man, and had a bullock team to cart the timber out of the Forest. The man in charge of the bullocks was George King, and he had a great team of bullocks. My Uncle Bill was killed taking timber out to the Hokianga Harbour for the Mill, and was buried in the Church Cemetery at Waimamaku. As this was a Maori Church, the Maoris themselves, because they held my Uncle in high regard requested he be buried there. The only white man to be so.

In the Village we had a Store, Cheese Factory, School, Post Office and a Dance Hall. And up to the time of closing the Cheese Factory was renowned all over N.Z. for its fine cheeses. At the School, my Brothers and Sisters with myself played with the Maori children, and helped each other with no sign of animosity. This remained so, right up to the time we left school. After leaving School we all worked on the Farms, helping each other, like one big happy family. Not like today.

In the 1920's we had a new road through the Waipoua, Fourteen Miles of it. Per Gordon Coates. Also during this time we had severe storms which wiped out two or three Bridges. At the same time there was a Cargo Ship the "Isobellade Fraima" lost on the Hokianga Harbour, with all on board losing their lives.

Up in the hills overlooking the Waimamaku River where it runs down to the sea, the Maoris have their Caves. In these Caves the Maoris used to hide all their treasures, such as Greenstone and other things of value to them. In fact I would not be surprised, if there are still not treasures in them there Hills.

There was no power up North for years and the Farmers did all their milking by hand. I myself was milking when I was four years old. As there were no cars in those days it was a case of walking or riding Horses bare back, to Opononi to collect Mail or goods which had come by boat from Rawene.

We had great Sports days in the North. Sportsmen came from all over to compete. Great Axemen like Tommy West and Danny Hoe would be amongst the greats in attendance. Incidentally Danny Hoe's brother was in the 28 Battery, being killed in Greece.

Hokianga is one of the most beautiful parts of N.Z. looking at the Beaches and Villages through the Forests from the Hills. The main Forest for Tourists is Waipoua and many of them return time and again.

I love the North, this is my home.

In late 1939 along with Sid Filer, I joined the Army, like many other young Men thirsting for adventure. N.Z. had just recovered from the depression, and very few had had the opportunity to travel. Here was a chance to travel and have adventure, all at the expense of the Government.

January 1940 saw us called up and we entered Camp at Hopu Hopu. There we were processed, and posted to 27 Bty. 5th Field Regiment. The tents we were allocated were 1914 vintage and certainly were not of much use when it rained. Still that was home for the next four months. Here we did our training on the most modern equipment we had in the country. 4.5 Howitzers and 18 Pdr. Guns 1914 version. The only thing different was the Martin Parry gear, which changed the guns from Iron shod to Pneumatic Wheels. We had a couple of weeks final leave in March. A trek around the middle of the Island, and then it was off to Wellington to board the Aquitania for the big adventure, sailing on the 2nd May 1940.

Amongst the other Troops sailing on the Aquitania was the 28th Maori Battallion. I had a Cousin Johnny Freeze who had joined up from Hokianga amongst them.

We all thought the Convoy was headed for Egypt, which apparently it was. But as we were entering the Red Sea the Italians entered the War, so the powers that be thought it prudent to turn around and head for England. So on the 16 June the Convoy sailed up the Clyde and we entrained to eventually arrive at Aldershot. From there we marched to a Camp at Bourley, and between a few stays at Kent, Bourley became our base camp until we came back to the Hogs Back to prepare to sail for Egypt, which we did a few days before Xmas. While in England I was employed driving mostly members on leave from Kent to Aldershot. The trip from England to Durban, South Africa was quite eventful. What with being fired upon on Xmas day by a German Ship and then in the fog being rammed by another Ship. This damaging to lifeboats and putting some dents in the Ships side. From Durban it was quite a pleasant trip to Egypt,

It was not long after, the 2nd Echelon had joined with the rest of the N.Z. Division when the orders came for the Division to move to Greece. I was amongst the advance party and as we approached the shores of Greece, the Convoy was attacked by Enemy Bombers. All hands opened fire with rifles, and our ship brought down a plane about half a mile in front of our Ship. The Convoy eventually reached Greece with no further contact. The advance party was in Greece three days before the main Party arrived, and then it was a matter of moving North. I do not know the names of Towns we passed through, as the big names were hard to spell out.

After being in the Army now for 15 months, we had a chance to see how all our training would show in real Battle, and although the Troops fought well it was a case of fight and run, until we reached the Sea from which we were evacuated. I was amongst the men to stay back and demolish our equipment and it was 3am when we were taken by Dinghys to Ships to leave Greece.

Our Ship was sailing peacefully along when the rudder broke, and the H.M.S. Kingston took us on board, and landed us at Suda Bay Crete. As most of you know or have read about the Battle of Crete I will skip that and tell you how I got out of Crete.

I was trying to get Rations for the Troops, which was quite hazardous, as the German Planes were giving us hell at the Ration Dump. Eventually I managed to gather some rations and finished up with about 25 - 30 Soldiers, and started to retreat. It was about 9pm when we reached a clump of trees, and being tired and hungry were told to have a sleep. At around 2.30am I woke up and spoke to my cousin John Freeze. I said that I did not know where 1 was going but I was moving on. John said he would stay, so I said okay, and I started to move off when a Soldier called out. I did not know this Soldier from a bar of soap, but he said he would come with me.

We moved down the hillside to a little Village and it was now daylight. So moving from village to Village over the Mountains we made our way. Keeping out of sight all the time, because of the German planes. About 3.pm we had reached the top of a Mountain, we had had no food for three days, and looking around we could see the Sea and a White House. Also the German Planes were very active shooting at the Troops moving down to the Beach. We knew we had to get down to the Beach, and made it as dusk was falling. I told Dave, the Soldier with me, to join up with the Troops going down to the Beach, and I would make my own way down. When I reached the Beach, I had to wade out to the Boats with water up to my neck. A Sailor grabbed me and was pulling me on board, when a Soldier Officer ordered me back to our lines. The Sailor was too good for the Officer and I was taken to a Battleship. From there I was out cold, and finished up in an Australian Hospital for a week.

After being discharged from Hospital, I returned to the Regt and was driving a Truck in A Troop, until I was put on the Watercart. From there I went into the Cook House, and reckon I made a better job of cooking than some of the Cooks we had.

Coming back from Gazala Dec. 1941 we ran into a terrible sand storm at Cappuzzo. The Convoy could not move, and no one could find the Petrol Dump, but I did manage to find it so we were able to move after 3 days. After the Regt arrived back in Maadi, after Tunisia the original members left were balloted for Furlough home. I missed out, and sat in Maadi until the 2nd Furlough draft which sailed on the Cythia from Teufuk in Jan. 1944. At Bombay we transferred to the Mariposa which had a lot of Italian Prisoners on board, bound for Australia. As the Ships Cooks were light in numbers along with a couple of other cooks, I worked in the Galley, which I enjoyed.

When we arrived home we were medically tested, and I was downgraded, thus ending my War effort. Having travelled, and served with the Regt, I made many friends, and really enjoyed the years I served, and look back and say I have no regrets.

For all those members of the 5 Field Regiment who remember me I say thanks for all the companionship we shared together.

Gracie Field
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.

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