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Searching for Deserters

Saturday afternoon found us bowling along the Hutt Road in the back of an army truck complete with dispatch rider on an army (Indian) motorcycle. Our destination was the Orongorongo tunnel mouth past the Morton Dam in the Wainuiomata catchment.

Our job was to make a sweep down the Orongorongo valley from the Caretakers house in an attempt to find sign of two army deserters from Trentham who the authorities had been trying to apprehend for a considerable time.

We belong to a platoon of Bush Guides answerable to Captain Williams of Fortress Command Wellington. Our group had been formed of experienced mountaineers, trampers and hunters to enable troops unfamiliar with the terrain to be guided through the bush to engage the enemy in the advent of Japanese landings.

This Saturday we had met at the Tararua Tramping Club rooms in Waring Taylor Street, Wellington where we had our base. From memory there were no more than twelve of us that day. We reluctantly entered the water tunnel leaving a beautiful sunny afternoon behind. Just over half an hour later we were unlocking the gate on the Orongorongo side a bit wetter than when we had started due to a leaking valve from the waterpipe in the middle. I’ll always remember the glow worms! The tunnel was put through in 1924 under the guidance of Bob Semple. If there were only a few of us we would go through by jigger. A sledge track went over the top from tunnel mouth to tunnel mouth but more about that later.

After discussing our plan of operation, I took up my position scouting on the left wing while Jack Logie, my mate, took the right. My route was fifty metres above the river and sidling along Ryan’s Ridge until it met Boulder Creek where, if nothing untoward had occurred we would rendezvous. Occasionally I would glimpse the main body filtering through the trees so I was able to maintain my station. The smell of wood smoke had me crossing the river to report to Eric Hambleton (Ham) our Lieutenant. The Company had halted having become aware of the smoke also.

We spread out and advanced and as the terrain allowed combed the area. There was a hut with smoke coming out the chimney, there was a garden, possum traps and lo and behold two residents. After saying hello a mate of Jack Logie’s who had accompanied us that day recognised one of the chaps as his cousin. Our mission had been successful!

Our platoon was asked to guide two provosts from Trentham Camp into the are the next weekend. Once again we arrived at the tunnel mouth but this time we went over to the Orongorongo Valley via a Sledge Track. I think it was Doug Radcliffe and myself who went on ahead of the rest of the party. After half an hour or so we heard three shots from the track behind us.

On returning to the main body we found that on seeing three goats Ham (our Lieutenant) had dropped his pack, whipped out is .455 Colt pistol and shot two goats out of the three. The provosts, cops in civilian life, were speechless as were the platoon for he was a notoriously bad shot.

The trip down the river was uneventful and on nearing the deserters whare we knew by the smell of the long dead fire that the birds had flown. Lunch time found us at the confluence of Boulder Creek and the main river where we had a brew and a tin or two of bully beef. After a feed it was practice time for the troops and pistols of all descriptions appeared out of packs. Once again our provost companions were very quiet. I think they wished they were on the Force again. The two targets of our search holed up in a dugout below the top of the Wainuiomata Hill after our first contact but of course were later taken into custody.

At the time of these events taking place the Japanese had made rapid advances coming down through the Islands of the Pacific, had bombed Darwin, shelled Sydney and overflown Auckland. Things were getting desperate and if the two deserters had been captured by invading forces the whole of the region would have been in jeopardy.

Many questions remained unanswered. When and how did these chaps cart in all the material for their whare? If they brought it through the tunnel they must have had a key! How did one of the parents keep them supplied in food and be able to avoid the police that were watching him? How did they obtain petrol to make these trips?

Last but not least, why did Eric Hambleton in his story of the Somes Guides (printed in the book "The History of the Orongorongo") tell such story about a chap in the pub listening to two soldiers talking about two mates who had built a hut in the bush? Who knows, perhaps it was to protect the relatives.

Before writing all this down I contacted Jack Logie to check out the facts as I knew them. We were in agreement that this is the true story and incidentally it was great to speak with him after fifty-one years!

Graeme L Eaton

Orongorongo Bush Guide

Published in the Five Miler, December 1995 #152

Deserter's Hut 1984 (Bruce Cockburn)

Inside Deserter's Hut 1984 (Bruce Cockburn)

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