Ordnance Depots in the New Zealand Army had a reasonably well-recorded history from the late 1920s when they were maintained in Trentham (The central depot), Ngaruawahia, Linton and later Waiouru in the North Island and Burnham in the South Island. These depots served the Army through the fiscally challenged 1930s, the war years through to the 1990s. Falling victim to progress, including the introduction of computerised systems, which allowed many supplies to be sourced by units directly from commercial suppliers, and the converting of military posts due to the international Tail to Teeth doctrinal trend. Depots were stripped of military manpower and traditional functions, leading to the full commercialisation of some and the shrinking of the regional Depots to mere shadows of what they were in their heyday.
The forgotten early days of New Zealand Ordnance
Before the formation of the Ordnance Corps in 1917, responsibility for the provision of Ordnance stores was shared between the Staff of the Permanent Forces and the Civil Service-run Defence Stores Department, with the Defence Stores Department having Mobilisation Stores at:
- Mount Eden in Auckland
- Alexandra Barracks, Mount Cook, Wellington
- King Edward Barracks, Christchurch
- St Andrews St, Dunedin
Although discussed as early as 1902, New Zealand did not make substantial moves to creating an Ordnance Corps until 1912, when a small cadre of officers and men were trained in providing Ordnance services for the 1913 and 1914 annual camps. (2 Clerks and 4 Issuers in 1913, 6 Clerks and 12 issuers in 1914)
There is some evidence suggesting that as a result of the lessons learnt during the 1913 and 14 annual camps, a nascent Ordnance Corps was established. This hypothesis is supported by the New Zealand Defence Forces Annual Report for the Period 1 July 1922 to 30 June 1923, which shows that as at 30 June 1914, there were 14 Other Ranks in the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps.
With war declared in August 1914 and mobilisation and equipping of the force the priority, the formation of an Ordnance Corps was most likely put on hold until the timing was right. Although no Ordnance Corps was formed, Ordnance Depots were still created to manage the stores required for the mobilisation, these were operated by a combination of staff from the civil service-run Defence Stores Department and individual soldiers seconded from military units (most likely the individuals trained in Ordnance duties for the annual camps).
An example of this is Norman Levien, who in Oct 1914 enlisted into the Auckland Regiment and was then transferred into Ordnance as a temporary Sergeant as the IC of Stores and Equipment. Embarking with the main body and serving with the NZEF for the duration of the war, Levien later became a Major and the Chief Ordnance Officer in the NZAOC in the UK.
Initially, the original Ordnance Depots were operating in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, with Featherson and Palmerston North added as the training tempo increased. Their existence is mostly forgotten, with few, if any, records remaining. Fortunately, an article in the January 1972 issue of the RNZAOC Pataka Magazine May 1972 describes in some detail the discovery in the 3 Supply Company strong room of an old ledger book from 1917, and the article describes some of the items and locations that items were issued to.
The following has been copied from the original 1972 Pataka magazine article.
Annals from a forgotten Ordnance Depot
An old and battered ledger
An old and battered ledger, lying obscurely in a dim corner of the Depot strong room, catches the eye. Accustomed the drab and shoddy stationary of the present day, as we are, the magnificence of the old book stands out. The thick, leather covered binding in brown, blue and rich maroon with gilt linings, covers vast pages of smooth lined paper.
Battered and subjected to decades of dust, it is still impressive. Made in the age of the Czars and gas lit trains it has survived, redundant, like a pensioner, into the time of computers and commissars.
Sadly but inevitably many of its pages have been thoughtlessly ripped out to serve some temporary purposes. Thus its record of clothing transactions in a forgotten Ordnance Depot is like an old man’s memory – not like it use to be.
1917 – and all that
The volume opens onto the glorious first of June, 1917. World War 1 then was only but 18 months to run, though nobody could have realised it. In fact at that time the tide seemed to be running in favour of Germany and the decrepit powers bobbing about in her turbulent wake – Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria.
The USA came into the war in 1917, but, being unprepared tool little toll of Germany until the following year. In 1917 the U-Boats came close to knocking Britain out of the war by reducing stocks of food and war materials to some 2 weeks reserve. In one week of that year the writers grandmother was reduced to feeding her family on turnips boiled with sugar. Old Russia was about to collapse that year from the combined effects of hunger and the terrible casualties sustained in three years of war along a vast front. Organised for the 18th century, her structure could not sustain a 20th-century war. This collapse gave Germany relief of fighting on one front and bringing her eastern armies across to join the western ones. The combatant on the western front were by this time like punch-drunk boxers, trading senseless blows each day, each blow represented by hundreds even thousands of lives. Such losses were born to gain a few yards of territory either way, maybe up to a quarter mile of shell-pocked mud and soggy trenches. The most expensive winding strip running from the North Sea across France to Switzerland.
Away from all this fury, from the blood and the mud, this forgotten Ordnance Depot faithfully carried out its tasks as only one tiny cog in the lurching juggernaut of the war effort. No generals memoirs illuminate its role, gloss over its weaknesses, embellish its success or cast blame on the next man up or down on the promotional ladder. no famous war movies have brought the Depot to public fame or public scandal.
Only the fading ink of a fraction of its past transactions is left to show that the place ever existed at all! The humble ledger book has proved more enduring than the Depot it once was part of, more enduring than the those who wrote in it and those who so thoughtlessly ripped out some of its pages for their own forgotten reasons.
Badges, Buttons and Balaclavas
In the remaining pages, a great many lines of stock are recorded. Most have their equivalent today, others have passed into disuse as the nature of warfare has changed.
On 1 Jun 1917 the following stocks are shown as being brought forward among many items:
- Jacket SD 1605
- Trouser SD 1144
- Jackets Denim 1076
- Trousers Denim 985
- Pantaloons 307
- Bags Kit 732
- Greatcoats Dismounted 2303
- Greatcoats Mounted 659
- Balaclavas 294
- NZ Staff Corps 244
- NZ Engineers Nil
- NZASC 122
- Veterinary Corps 19
- Medical Corps 48
- NZRB 102
- Titles Brass;
- NZ Rifles 299
- NZ Mtd rifles 100
- NZMP Nil
- NZAOC Nil
- NZ P&T Nil
- NZ Pay Corps Nil
Other items recorded in the ledger include:
- Buttons Brass RNZA Vest
- Buttons Bone
- Buttons Brass NZ Staff Corps
- Buttons Imperial
- Badges Cap (also collar), for
- 4 Regt
- 5 Regt
- 7 Regt
- 8 Regt
- 10 Regt
- 12 Regt
- Veterinary Corps
- Badges Armlet
- Provost Marshal
- Stretcher Bearer
- Blue – Hospital
- Geneva Cross
- Breeches Riding
- Links Split button
- Gloves, Mechanical transport
- Covers Mess tin, Infantry
- Badges Arm Brass
What went where?
On 27 June 1917 the QM of troopship No 75 was vouchered the following items. (IV 248)
- Jackets SD – 248
- Trouser SD – 207
- Jacket Denim – 47
- Pantaloons – 47
- Bags Kit – 9
- Caps SD – 20
- Greatcoats DS patt – 238
- Hats Felt – 32
The QMs of Troopships Nos 74 and 77 were vouchered similar items and qtys on July 7 and 14 of that year. The troopship “MARUA” returned qty 7 Jackets SD on 28 July though being issued with another 80 plus 50 denim jackets etc., etc.
Issues to troopships appear quite often, on 6 Nov 1917 various items were issued under IV 252 to the transport “Devon” then lying at Port Chalmers. On 18 Jan 1918, qty 820 Kit Bags went on board HMS MARAMA.
Turning to the more usual area of army clothing issues, the rate of issues to individuals appears very high. In those days it is likely that clothing issues were made by Ordnance in Camps and thus the wheel has nearly turned full circle to what it was fifty years ago.
An officer known as the DofE&OS or DEOS appears most frequently of all among the recorded issues. DEOS was located in Wellington. What did these initials mean? Director of Equipment and Ordnance Services seems most likely, but then again the same page refers to issues made to the Director of Ordnance Services at Trentham.
Other issues, large and small, went to Home Service Store ST KILDA (IV 295 of 21 Nov 17) and OC Guards, QUARANTINE ISLAND (IV 520 of 12 Mar 18). Captain Von Luckner of the Reichmarine was a famous prisoner on this island in Lyttelton Harbour. Citizens of Germany and Austria-Hungary and their merchant seamen lucky enough to be in New Zealand at the outbreak of war were interned and many were kept on this island.
The list of “customers” is quite lengthy, but is worth recording as it shows the types of units which existed then. Some of the same type exist now; others have vanished.
- OC RNZA Home Service
- NZAOC Dunedin
- 8 Medical Board
- 7 Medical Board (In’gill)
- 8th Regt (In’gill)
- 10 Regt (Oamaru)
- 5th Mtd Rifles (Dunedin)
- 4th Regt (Kensington)
- HQ Otago Military District
- OC Railway Engr Unit (Oamaru)
- OC Post & Telegraph Coy (Dun)
- ADMS Dunedin
- Vocational Officer (Dunedin)
- OC Sth Island Railways Bn (Christchurch)
- DOS Trentham
- Ordnance Officer (Palm Nth)
- C Bty Invercargill
- Director Base Records (Wn)
- 2 Fd Amb
- 7 Fd Amb
- OC Group 12 (In’gill)
- 2 Coy NZE
- 7th Mtd Rifles
- OC Group 16 (Milton)
- EL Sect (?) RNZA (Dunedin)
- 2 Coy NZGA
- OC Coast Defence
- 6 Coy NZASC (In’gill)
- 2 Dist Sigs Coy
- Ordnance Officer Featherston
- Ordnance officer Trentham
- Chief OO Wellington
- OC Army Pay Corps (Dunedin)
- Ordnance Officer Burnham
- OC Sick & Wounded (Dunedin)
- Ordnance Officer (Auckland)
- Camp QM Awapuni
- OC Sales Depot (Dunedin)
and the most intriguing unit of them all ….
- OC Jaw Hospital, Dunedin where qty 14 Veterinary Corps Puggarees went under IV 319 of 25 July 1919!
As the present building occupied by 3 COD and formerly SDOD at Burnham were not built until shortly before and during World War II, and as the unit supplied include an Ordnance officer Burnham, it is likely that the Ordnance Depot or Store was located in Christchurch, the most probable place being King Edward Barracks.
So, once again, the old ledger is closed and is returned to the dark corner of the strong room. Outside pass the files and the teleprints whilst in a nearby room the transactions whirr and clatter on electronic machines. Nearly 55 years have passed since the ledger was bright and new and in 55 years time it will be 2017. The younger soldiers of the Corps now will be drawing their superannuation and the older ones will have marched off to join those of 1917. It is unlikely that the MD310s of 1972 will be around to tell their story in 2027, but the old ledger of 1917 may last. Who can tell?
Some Analysis of the 1972 Article
Where was the Depot?
The author believes that the Ledger was from the Ordnance Stores for the Canterbury and Nelson District, which before 1921 was located in King Edward Barracks in Christchurch, which was commanded by Captain A.R.C White and the known military staff included:
- NZAOC 92 Private Hector Finch McKay
- NZAOC 103 Private Thomas Riordan
- NZAOC 183 Sergeant Robert Walter Baker Gale
On reading the article, it is clear the ledger described is actually from the Dunedin Ordnance Depot, which was located in St Andrews Street, Dunedin and was commanded by Captain O.P McGuigan and the known military staff included:
- NZAOC 23 Armt Sgt Maj (WO) William Carroll, MSM
- NZAOC 90 Staff Sergeant D McIntyre
- NZAOC 130 Private Joseph Woods
- NZAOC 151 Private Arthur Pidduck
- NZAOC 181 Private Peter James Innes
- NZAOC 203 Private Richard Rowe
Due to a reorganisation in 1921, both the Canterbury and Nelson Military District and the Otago and Southland Military Districts were combined into the Southern Military Command. As a result, the Ordnance Depots located at King Edward Barracks and the Dunedin Ordnance Depot situated in St Andrews Street, Dunedin, were relocated to Burnham Camp as the Southern Command Ordnance Depot.
Captain McGuigan and 5 staff were also relocated from Dunedin to Burnham, along with the Dunedin stock and records, including the ledger book described in the article.
The Southern Command Ordnance Depot was commanded by Captain White from 20 June 1921 until 19 Dec 1930, during which time he also doubled as the Burnham Camp Commandant.
Badges, Buttons and Balaclavas
Many of the items on the list are easy to identify, but most people will immediately ask, “what the hell are Pantaloons?” Pantaloons were a type of trouser issued during WW1 to Mounted soldiers. They seem to be similar in appearance to riding breeches ( also mentioned in the ledger). The only difference I can see is that Pantaloons only go to the knee, whereas the Riding knockers go to the ankles.
Issues to ships
One of the interesting aspects of the article is the issues to the troopships. They have all been entered into the ledger at least 4 months after the troopship’s actual sailing date;
- Troopship No 75 was the “Waitemata” sailed on the 19th of Jan 1917 carrying the 21st Reinforcements, 13th Maori Contingent. IV 248 entered into the Ledger on 27 June 1917.
- Troopship No 74 was the ” Ulimaroa” that sailed on the 21st of Jan 1917, carrying the 21st Reinforcements, 13th Maori Contingent. IV entered into the Ledger on 7 July 1917.
- Troopship No 77 was the “Mokoia” sailed on the 13th of Feb 1917, carrying the 22nd Reinforcements – E.F.G. Companies. IV entered into the Ledger on 14 July 1917
- No record of a troopship “Marau”
- Troopship No 81 was the “Devon” Sailed on 5 April 1917, carrying the 24th Reinforcements. IV entered into the Ledger on 6 Nov 1917.
- Hospital Ship “Marama” was in Port Chalmers 30 Dec – 31 Jan 1918, IV entered into Ledger on 18 Jan 1918.
As the entry dates into the ledger roughly match up with the ship’s return to New Zealand several months later, the time lag from the issue being carried out and the Ledger update could be the result of some quirk in the accounting system for troopships in place at the time. The Issues for the Hospital Ship “Marama” seem to have been carried out before the ship’s departure.
DofE&OS or DEOS
The Author is unsure of the meaning of the abbreviation DofE&OS or DEOS but is partly right in his assumption that the initials mean ”Director of Equipment and Ordnance Services” the correct designation was “Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores”. At the time was Major Thomas McCristell, who had previously been the head of the Defence Stores Department from April 1916, becoming the head of the NZAOC & NZAOD in March 1917. Remaining in the role until January 1920, when the position was renamed to “Director of Ordnance Services” and Lt Col H.E Pilkington became the incumbent.
The Author assuming that the Depot was in Christchurch, has confused Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua with Ripa Island (Fort Jervois) in Lyttelton Harbour. During the period 1915-1919, the Otago Quarantine Station was converted into a specialised military hospital treating both soldiers recruited in NZ and some NZ soldiers returned from overseas for VD, mainly gonorrhoea.
List of Customers
The list of customers provides a real insight into the range of units supported by the Dunedin depot and also identify s the other Ordnance units around the country at the time; these were:
- DOS Trentham, Possibly after 1920 when the DOS appointment came into use.
- Ordnance Officer (Palm Nth).
- Ordnance Officer Featherston.
- Ordnance Officer Trentham.
- Chief Ordnance Officer Wellington.
- Ordnance Officer Burnham from the time when the Depot in King Edward Barracks moved to Burnham, but before the Dunedin depot relocated to Burnham.
- Ordnance Officer (Auckland).
- Camp QM Awapuni indicates that there was no Ordnance Depot at Awapuni and the Camp QM was issuing and receiving goods directly from the Dunedin Depot, especially as Awapuni was the main training camp for the Medical Corps during WW1 and Otago was the location of several Medial facilities.
The Author highlights an issue to the OC Jaw Hospital in 1919; not sure the story behind this issue, but the Jaw Hospital itself is an interesting topic. Henry Pickerill who along with fellow New Zealander Harold Gillies was a pioneer and world leader in reconstructive plastic surgery, together, they developed groundbreaking techniques for treating some of the horrific injuries inflicted on soldiers during WW1, and many of their methods are still the standard 100 years on. The connection to the Jaw Hospital is that Pickerill, his team and 59 patients returned to New Zealand in 1919, where treatment continued at the facial and jaw department of Dunedin Hospital. Harold Gillies went on to develop Gender reassignment surgery.
What happened to the Ledger?
The Pataka article is the only mention of the ledger I have been able to find. Although the building in question is still occupied by the Army, I very much doubt that it remains there. Wouldn’t it be great if it still was?
3 Supply Company Main Warehouse C1972
Copyright © Robert McKie 2017