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Confusion Persists Over SW Pacific Issues
By Kerry Rodgers

A rare piece of World War II scrip popped up on eBay in March: a 50 cents note from the Camp Barnes Officers Club. It was listed under Fiji and for the excellent reason that I had once said so in a book published by the International Bank Note Society in 1989: Paper Money of Fiji I. And I was wrong.

The book is an inventory of note issues held in various archives in Fiji that I had cataloged in 1986. The late Ruth Hill twisted my arm to make this catalog widely available. To put my listing in context, she instructed some of her "boys" to send me photocopies of their Fiji holdings. Among the prompt and dutiful responses were a couple of issues from Camp Barnes.

I had never heard of the place in any Fiji connection. However, I was assured, by whichever of Ruth's "boys" sent the photocopies, that it was indeed a Fiji issue. And so it came to pass that two denominations of the Camp Barnes Officers Club are cataloged in my book on p. 121, along with a possible third.

I was disabused immediately when my book hit the streets. A collector in New Caledonia wrote to say that during World War II the camp had been a major U.S. Army installation, three miles outside Noum�a.

Although I made abject confession and published a full public retraction in both U.S. and Australian numismatic magazines, regrettably the fiction has become firmly imbedded in a great chunk of the collective notaphillic psyche. The eBay listing is but one example. A couple of Web sites persist in citing the camp and its issues as being from Fiji - with my book quoted as proof of the pudding. Oddly, there is no reference to the place in World War II Remembered.

My continuing efforts to make amends led me to find out more about the camp. Regrettably little is readily available to researchers dwelling at the blunt end of the globe. However, I did stumble over a few bits and pieces.

For starters, the postal history boys and girls have long been way ahead of the paper money fraternity. They have known where Camp Barnes is ever since Adam wore short pants. It helps when you have an APO address to play with, in this case APO 502.

One U.S.-based postal history site is currently offering for sale over 60 envelopes and postcards originating from or in Camp Barnes. A typical catalog entry reads: 1942 U.S. Army Postal Service, A.P.O. 502 Camp Barnes, Noumea, New Caledonia, 72nd Field Artillery Concession Airmail to Beacon, N.Y.

From such listings it is clear numerous U.S. units passed through Camp Barnes and/or used its APO. A sampling includes: 282nd Coastal Artillery, 71st Ordinance, 172nd Infantry, 852nd Ordinance Heavy Maintenance Company , 28th Replacement Battalion, 29th General Hospital, 754th Tank Battalion, 39th Military Police, 70th Coastal Artillery (Anti-Aircraft), 72nd Field Artillery. Anyone wanting more info can spend many happy hours at www.postalhistory.com.

Another Web site yielded a massive 221-page declassified document that sorely taxed my laptop's patience. Buried among its pages was the info that in November 1942 Camp Barnes was indeed in New Caledonia and that it was where the rear echelon of the USAFISPA (United States Armed Forces In South Pacific Area) finally caught up with the forward echelon. Headquarters Company moved in toto to Camp Barnes on Feb. 10, 1943.

A delightful clincher came from Angus Bruce: a Noumea five francs short snorter. In part the autographed graffiti reads "1st Lt James F. Lacy&USAFISP-4 APO 502."

The camp operated from March 13, 1942 until June 3, 1947.

One Camp Barnes Web cameo concerns Roy Uyehata, a Japanese-American or Nisei, conscripted into the U.S. Army in 1941. On March 23, 1942, all Nisei soldiers in his battalion were shipped to Camp Wolters in Texas, where the camp commander decided that prisoners currently in the stockade had a higher hierarchical status than any Nisei. The latter now replaced the stockade prisoners as camp garbage collectors. When not collecting garbage they were set to hand-breaking rocks to line the camp's drive.

In late May 1942 Roy was one of 25 Nisei soldiers transferred from that particular hell on earth to the Military Intelligence Service Language School. Following training, Roy's team was sent on to Camp Barnes on Dec. 23, 1942 with the task of interrogating Japanese POWs.

Roy states that New Caledonia's Camp Barnes was "where the headquarters of the United States Army Forces in the South Pacific area was located." Throughout his time there, he was always heavily guarded, even being accompanied to the latrine by Marine Corps sentry.

The scarcity of linguists meant he and other Nisei worked seven days a week for the first several months until more interpreters flew in from the United States. He was subsequently sent to Bougainville, where he succeeded in eliciting information from one prisoner that helped turn a potential disaster to a significant victory: the Second Battle of Bougainville. Roy and a second linguist, Hiroshi Matsuda, who helped confirm the intelligence, were duly decorated with a Bronze Star apiece.

New Caledonia's Camp Barnes was clearly an essential hub in the Pacific War, particularly in the early months of the campaign during 1942 and 1943. However, as the Allies advanced northward, that camp downsized with major operations relocated nearer the action. Thereafter the camp dropped off the main wartime radar - and out of most historical records.

I could find no reference to it in the Library of Congress online, but in one of New Zealand's official war histories, Pacific Service: the story of the New Zealand Army Service Corps Units with the Third Division in the Pacific, is the following observation:

"The main bodies from the depleted ASC units had moved down to Noum�a in the middle of August [1944] and&was accommodated at the US 6th Replacement Depot staging area, Camp Barnes an enormous camp situated in a hot, arid valley at the back of Noum�a, and a depressing place for any but a draft homeward bound."

There are two distinct series of Camp Barnes scrip known. Both, however, have the same repeating underprint logo consisting of the club building surrounded by the words "CAMP BARNES OFFICERS CLUB."

The first series is distinguished by hand-drawn serifed lettering. The words "CAMP BARNES OFFICERS CLUB" arc across the upper part of the face above the Great Seal of the United States.

Similar, but smaller-sized, hand-drawn serifed font is used at the top of the note where: "CAMP BARNES OFFICERS CLUB" is centered, and at the bottom for: "FIFTY CENTS/IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY." A large numeral closely resembling that on a contemporary small-sized Treasury bills occurs in each corner on a black disc. A 1 denominates the 10 cents, a 2 the 20 cents and a 5 for the 50 cents. All notes of this series are printed on a low-grade, off-white paper to pale fawn non-watermarked paper.

The underprint on the 10 is salmon, that of the 20 yellow brown, while the 50 sold on eBay is blue, but a 50 also exists in reddish brown. Assuming no fugitive color was involved, then presumably several printings were made, but not always in a consistent color.

The second series includes that illustrated in Paper Money of Fiji, a 50 cents from Ruth Hill's collection. This note uses a machine-printed uniform sans-serif font. Five horizontal lines across the face in capitals read: "CAMP BARNES OFFICERS CLUB/WILL PAY ON PRESENTATION/TO THE BEARER THE SUM/OF 50 CENTS IN/UNITED STATES CURRENCY." A sixth line in smaller font reads: "(GOOD FOR REDEMPTION ONLY ON APRIL 12, 1944)." At each corner is a 5 in bold sans-serif font within a thick black circle. The underprint is blue. The paper is a clean white.

A similar dollar note is known from the Angus Bruce collection. It has a light red underprint and shows a 10 in bold san-serif font at each corner.

A Camp Barnes chit booklet has been reported but has not seen by this writer.

 



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