Much has been written about how the New Zealand Division was one of the most excellent Divisions in the British army during the 1st World war, but little has been written about the logistics supporting the NZ Division, even less has been written about the contribution of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps.
When New Zealand entered the First World War and raised an Expeditionary Force, there was no Ordnance Corps in place to support the Force. Fortunately, in 1912 the need for an Ordnance Corps had been identified, and a small cadre of officers and men had been trained and exercised in support of the 1913 and 1914 annual camps, so as the nation mobilised, ad-hoc Ordnance Sections were established to support the fledgeling New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF).
Two individuals known to be part of the embryonic Ordnance Corps were Captain W T Beck, Defence Storekeeper for Auckland, and Norman Joseph Levien. Levien had enlisted in the 3rd Auckland Regiment, and transferred as a Temporary Sergeant into the Ordnance Department as the IC of Stores and Equipment and assisted in equipping the troops for overseas service. Both Beck and Levien deployed with the main body of the NZEF, Beck as the Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services(DADOS), with Levien part of the small DADOS staff. On their arrival in Egypt is was immediately down to business, linking in with the British and Australian Ordnance systems and preparing the NZEF for battle. Levien was attached to the British Ordnance Corps Depot at the Citadel in Cairo to study the Ordnance systems in use with the Imperial forces in Egypt.
Although the NZEF was organised upon standard British lines and therefore in theory able to quickly tap into the existing British system. As preparations for the Gallipoli campaign progressed, it was identified that a uniquely New Zealand Ordnance organisation would be required to be developed to better serve the NZEF. Therefore a New Zealand Ordnance Depot was established at No. 12 Rue de la, Porte Rosette and a warehouse at Shed 43, Alexandra Docks in Alexandria, Egypt.
Beck deployed to Gallipoli as the Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (DADOS) New Zealand & Australian Headquarters Ordnance (NZ & Aust HQ Ordnance) of the New Zealand and Australian Division, and in some sources is credited as been the first New Zealander ashore on the 25th of April.
It would appear that he was also a bit of a character and the Hawera & Normanby Star, 24 June 1916 had this to say about Captain Beck’s service at Gallipoli:
”Finally, there was Captain William Beck, an ordinary officer. “Beachy Bill” was in charge of the store – a miserable little place – and whenever he put his nose out of the door bullets tried to hit it. The Turkish gun in Olive Grove was named after him, “Beachy Bill.” The store was simply a shot under fire and Bill looked out and went on with his work just as if no bullets were about. He was the most courteous and humorous, and no assistant at Whiteley’s could have been more pleasing and courteous than the brave storekeeper on Anzac Beach. General Birdwood never failed to call on Captain Beck or call out as he passed on his daily rounds, asking if he were there, and they all dreaded the that some day there would be no reply from a gaunt figure still in death. But Captain Beck was only concerned for the safety of his customers. He hurried them away, never himself.”
On 1 August Beck was invalided to Alexandria and replaced by Lieutenant Levien, (Promoted into the NZAOC as a 2nd Lieutenant on 3 April 1915) as DADOS. Levien remand in this post until Redeployed to Mudros on 28 November 1915 to become the Chief Ordnance Officer at Sarpi Camp, responsible for re-equipping the now depleted Australian and New Zealand Division. Levien was replaced as DADOS by Lieutenant King (Promoted into the NZAOC as a 2nd Lieutenant on 3 April 1915).
After the withdraw from Gallipoli, the New Zealand Division was reorganised and prepared for redeployment to France, the Alexandra depot was closed, un-serviceable stores disposed of by auction and remaining serviceable stores not required by the NZ Division handed over to the Imperial Ordnance.
In February 1916 it was formally announced in the Evening Post Newspaper that regulations had been promulgated establishing the NZAOC as a unit of the NZEF. By the end of 1916, the NZAOC had been established under the control of the Officer Commanding NZEF Ordnance Corps and the NZEF Assistant Director of Ordnance Service (ADOS) and Staff. With an establishment of 1 Officer and 31 other ranks. The strength of the NZAOC was provided from within the NZEF and attached to units throughout the New Zealand Division to provide Ordnance Services.
Once in France, Ordnance soldiers got to the business of supporting the NZ Division, although not front line troops, they were still close enough to experience the occasional shelling as this article in the Poverty Bay Herald of 8 September 1916 describes:
Corporal J.J Roberts of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, “Somewhere in France” writes under date June 2lst. ‘Yesterday the Germans dropped a shell on a church situated: some 200 yards away, removing the steeple, the shell passed right over our store, fortunately, for had it dropped short it would have been the finish of us. The sight was a sad one to witness the church in flames. We live very well here, The bedding is good, being most comfortable, in fact what with blankets and white sheets to cover us and a picture show with a change of pictures nightly, little is wanted. It is very quiet here the fighting on the Peninsula was ten times worse than this.
Promoted to Captain, Levien was appointed the Chief Ordnance Officer for the NZEF in the United Kingdom where he worked with the RAOC, Australians and Canadians into establishing standard systems and procedures, at the same time organising and developing New Zealand Ordnance Sections and Depots at all training camps and Hospitals throughout England.
In 1917 Levien was attached to the Woolwich Arsenal and the Army Clothing Depot at Pimlico for 6 and 4 weeks respectively where he was taught the basics of ammunition construction and methods of accounting and issuing ordnance stores. On his return, he then inaugurated new and improved systems which were approved by the NZ HQ and distributed to all commands to become the basis of future Ordnance services in the NZEF for the remainder of its existence. Promoted to Major, Levien was then posted to Sling Camp.
By 1918 the NZAOC had grown to an establishment strength of 3 Officers and 53 ORs under the control of the NZEF Administrative Headquarters in London, with the New Zealand Ordnance Base Depot at Farringdon Street, London and an Ordnance Dept at Sling Camp.
With the cessation of hostilities in Nov 1919, the NZ Division marched into Germany as part of the British Army of the Rhine Occupation Forces. Based in Cologne, the NZ Division demobilised and by the end of 1919 had returned to New Zealand. As the Division disbanded, the NZAOC was extremely busy in both Germany and England receiving war material from Division units, sorting and grading it and either retaining it, for the return to New Zealand, disposing in situ or returning to the British Authorities.
The Bulk of the NZAOC personnel had been demobilised by the end of 1919, but there is some evidence that some individual members were retained with the NZEF Headquarters in London carrying out residual tasks until as late as 1922.
On return to New Zealand, some members of the NZEF NZAOC were employed in the Home service NZAOC and NZAOD, some continued their Territorial service with their original units, but most returned to civilian life putting their wartime service behind then
Officer Commanding NZEF NZAOC
- Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Henry Herbert, NZAOC Jan 1916-May 1917
- Lieutenant Colonels H.E Pilkington, RNZA 30 Jun 1918- 22 Jan 20
- Temporary Captain Wilhelm Henchcliffe Simmons, NZAOC 20 Feb 20 – 13 Oct 1920
- Lieutenant Colonels H.E Pilkington, RNZA held the position of NZEF Assistant Director of Ordnance Services from June 1918 to 30 October 1919
- Captain Herbert Henry Whyte, MC, NZAOC held the position of NZEF Acting Assistance Director of Ordnance Services from 30 October 1919 until 20 Feb 1920.
NZ Division DADOS
The Deputy Assistance Directors of Ordnance Services were;
- Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Henry Herbert, NZAOC, Jan 1916 to Mar 1918
- Major Charles Ingram Gossage, NZAOC, Mar 1918 – Jan 1920
Between 1914 and 1920 members of the NZAOC served in all the NZEF Theaters as part of ANZAC Mounted Division in the Middle East, the New Zealand and Australian Division in Egypt and Gallipoli, the New Zealand Division in France and the New Zealand Occupation Forces in Germany.
Records suggest that the NZAOC adopted the British system of Conductor ranks. Established on 11 January 1879 by Royal Warrant, the position of Conductor Stores in the Ordnance Store Branch (in 1896 became the Royal Army Ordnance Corps) established warrant officers as ranking above all non-commissioned officers. From 1896 Staff sergeant majors in the RAOC were renamed sub-conductors. In February 1915, with the general introduction of warrant officers throughout the army, conductors and sub-conductors became warrant officers class I. In 1915. The authorised rank insignia was a crown in a laurel wreath and sub-conductors the royal coat of arms. A List of the known NZEF NZAOC Conductors can be found on the attached link: NZEF NZAOC Conductors Nominal Roll
The Men of the NZEF NZAOC
A nominal roll of the known members of the NZEF NZAOC can be found on the attached link: NZAOC NOMINAL ROLL, it details the dates that they were posted to the NZAOC and their rank and date of posting from the strength of the NZAOC.
NZEF NZAOC Badge
It is unknown what the process was that lead to the introduction of the NZAOC badge. In late 1916 Captain Levien, Chief Ordnance Officer for the NZEF was working with all the Commonwealth Ordnance Services including the Canadians in establishing Depots and standard systems and procedures, is likely to have been a significant influence on the design.
Existing examples of the NZEF NZAOC Badge were manufactured by J R Gaunt of London. The Badges were produced by the die stamping process, and the NZ was sweated on, which leads to the assumption that either surplus UK AOD badges were utilised, or new badges were made using existing dies.
Matching Collar badges were produced and were miniatures of the cap badge, in pairs with the cannons facing inwards.
Copyright © Robert McKie 2017