The First Cohort – Ordnance Soldiers of 1917

Who were the first Ordnance Soldiers on the formation of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps in 1917?  The names of the original New Zealand Ordnance Officers are well recorded, Major McCristell, Captains King, Beck and White are names familiar to those knowledgeable in the History of the RNZAOC, but who were the original men of the Permanent Force NZAOC that came into life in 1917?

Not to be confused with New Zealand Expeditionary Force NZAOC which was formed in 1915/16 as a  unit of the NZEF. The formation of the Permanent Force NZAOC had been under discussion since 1904 and was finally established by regulations published in the NZ Gazette on 1 February 1917 and would continue to serve the nation until 1996, when its successor the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps was absorbed into the Royal New Zealand Army Logistic Regiment,

The NZAOC was to be organised to completely replace the existing Civil Service run Defence Stores Department, additionally incorporating many of the Ordnance functions carried out by the New Zealand Permanent Forces. Using Ordnance personnel records held by Archives New Zealand, I have reconstructed the  1917 NZAOC nominal roll. This identifies information of who the soldiers were, their previous military service, dates they were transferred if already serving, or attested into the NZAOC if previously a civilian and a raft of other information on promotions, postings and discipline issues. These records are not complete but do provide enough information when combined with other sources to build a picture of the events of 1917.

Once the regulations authorising the formation of the NZAOC were published in the NZ Gazette on 1 February 1917, I am of no doubt that much of the planning for the establishment of the new Corps had already been undertaken. Between March and November 1917, approximately 140 men were either transferred or recruited directly into the NZAOC from four manpower pools consisting of:

  • Serving soldiers of the Permanent Forces,
  • Members of civil service employed by the existing Defence Stores Department and other Government departments,
  • Returned servicemen from the NZEF who had to be returned to New Zealand as unfit for overseas service but suitable for home service, and
  • Direct Entries from civilian occupations.

The available records indicate that the men initially required to form the NZAOC were identified in February/March 1917. The first cohort of men was drawn from the Permanent Force and transferred into the NZAOD starting on the 15th of March 1917, followed by the Defence Stores Department civilian Staff who had been selected for militarisation, beginning in July 1917.

For the Men of the new NZAOC apart from some administrative changes, new cap badges for the serving soldiers and uniforms, military rules and regulations for the civilian staff, there probably was not much change to their daily routine, just a change in names and appointments. The NZAOC was organised into Clerical, Stores, Ammunition and Maintenance sections located at:

  • Wellington; with NZAOC Headquarters, Stores and Workshops at Alexandra Barracks. Stores Depots at Te Aro,  Taranaki Street and Trentham. Ammunition Section at Fort Ballance at Mahanga Bay.
  • Auckland, Mt Eden and Narrowneck
  • Palmerston North,
  • Featherston Camp,
  • King Edwards Barracks, Christchurch and
  • Dunedin, Otago Districts Stores Depot,  St Andrews Street.

So who were the first Ordnance Soldiers?

The first 10 Soldiers of various trades and ranks who joined the NZAOC were transferred from the Permanent Forces on the 15th of March 1917, they were:

  • Auckland
    • NZAOC No 17 Quartermaster Sergeant Artificer George Bush, Armaments Artificer.
    • NZAOC No 20 Armament Sergeant Major (WO) Thomas Edward Bryce, Armaments Artificer.
  • Palmerston North
    • NZAOC No 132 Armourer Staff Sergeant Andrew Archibald Young, Armaments Artificer.
  • Wellington
    • NZAOC No 1 Private Hugh John Adams, Ammunition Section.
    • NZAOC No 58 Staff Sergeant Artificer Thomas Reid Inch, Armaments Artificer.
    • NZAOC No 68 Private Patrick Keeshan, Ammunition Section.
    • NZAOC No 75 Private Charles William Marshall, Ammunition Section.
    • NZAOC No 82 Artificer Sergeant Major (WO) William Edward Moore, Armaments Artificer.
    • NZAOC No 100 Conductor William Ramsey.
    • Conductor William Henry Manning
  • Dunedin
    • NZAOC No 23 Armament Sergeant Major (WO) William Carroll, Fitter.

Many of these men had served in the Permanent Force for some years, some as far back as the days of the Army Constabulary. Some would reach retiring age in a few years some would continue to serve into the early 1940s, but although advanced in years they would provide a strong experience base in not only trade but also military experience for the fledgeling Corps.

Dress Embellishments

The NZAOC was authorised to wear the following dress embellishments;

  • Cap and Collar Badges.  The home service NZAOC badge was possibly based on the UK Army Ordnance Department badge. The New Zealand version modified the UK AOD badge by Having the letters NZ replace the centre cannonball in the top panel of the shield and with the inscriptions Army Ordnance Department on the scroll beneath the shield. The New Zealand Pattern Ordnance Corps Badge is unique in the world as it is one of the few Ordnance cap badges where the cannons face in the opposite direction to all other ordnance badges. Current evidence indicates that this badge was produced in Brass and Bronze
    The Collar badge was a simple version of the Cap badge without the scroll with the cannons facing inwards.


    NZ Army Ordnance Corps badge 1917-1937. Robert McKie Collection

  • Brass Shoulder Titles. Although not authorised for wear until 1923, there is some photographic evidence showing that the brass NZAOC shoulder titles were worn as early as 1918.

NZAOC Brass Shoulder Titles. Robert McKie Collection

  • Puggaree with Ordnance Flash. The Puggaree worn at the time was Black/Khaki/Black. (The Red/Blue/Red Ordnance Puggaree would not be adopted until 1923) Soldiers of the NZAOC would wear this with the Ordnance badge and a 1.5 Inch x 1.5 inch Blue and red distinguishing patch on the left-hand side of the hat. Due to a shortage of Lemon Squeezer hats in early 1918, forage caps were substituted and the Puggaree and patch were unable to be worn.


    NZAOC Home service patch (Reproduction). Robert McKie Collection

Soldier Profile

One member of the original cohort who I have decided to profile is the soldier who was allocated NZAOC Service Number 1.

NZAOC No 1 Private Hugh John Adams

Although technically not the first member of the NZAOC, but as a member of the first cohort to join the NZAOC and having NZAOC Service Number 1, it could be said that NZAOC No 1 Private Hugh John Adams was the first New Zealand Ordnance soldier and possibly one of the first Ammunition Technicians.

Hugh Adams was the son of Irish/Scottish immigrants Adams was born at Lyttelton on the 21st of July 1874. Adams only completed school up to Standard Four (today’s year 6) and was working as a labourer in Blenheim at around 1892 when at 18 years of age he enlisted in the Blenheim Rifles Volunteers (B Company of the First Battalion of the Nelson Infantry Volunteers.

Serving in the volunteers for five years, Adams resigned from the Blenheim Rifles in March 1897, moved to Wellington and was attested for service as a Gunner 3rd class into the Wellington Detachment of No 1 Company of the New Zealand Permanent Forces, Based at Fort Balance at Mahanga Bay Wellington.

Over the next few years, Adams would consolidate himself in the Artillery earning promotion to Gunner 2nd Class on  1 Sept 1899 and then promotion to Gunner 1st Class on 11 March 1901.

Around 1900 Adams married Ada Charlotte McKenzie, with whom he would have three children May, Cyril and Lyall.

1902 saw the reorganisation of the New Zealand Forces when on the 15th of October the Wellington Detachment of  No 1 Company of the New Zealand Permanent Forces, became the Wellington Detachment of the Royal New Zealand Artillery.

As a measure to assure some self-sufficiency in the inspection and supply of Artillery Ammunition the decision was made in 1914 to create as part of the Royal New Zealand Artillery an Ordnance Section to inspect and manufacture artillery ammunition. On 1 April 1915 authority was granted under New Zealand Defence Forces General Order 90 to raise the New Zealand Army Ordnance Section.

The section was very small, and Adams along with 7 other members of the Royal New Zealand Artillery were the foundation members whose primary duties were the assembling of ammunition components for the artillery.  With the creation of the NZAOC in 1917, the responsibility for the Ordnance Section passed from the Royal New Zealand Artillery to the NZAOC with Adam and the other members becoming Ordnance soldiers.

The immediate post-war years into the mid-1920s were a busy time for the NZAOC, large amounts of equipment from mobilisation camps in New Zealand and returned from Europe as the NZEF was demobilised needed to be sorted, graded, repaired, disposed of, redistributed or placed into storage. For the Ammunition Section based at Mahanga Bay, it was a time of expansion. The Kaiwharawhara Magazine close to the city was closed, and the Mahanga Bay facilities expanded from the original magazine and laboratory building on the foreshore to include Fort Balance, Fort Gordon and the Kau Point Battery as these were decommissioned. Their armaments removed, gun pits were covered over with roofs and turned into additional magazines. The area went from been Wellingtons premier Defensive location to quite possibly the 1st large scale ammunition depot of the NZAOC, a role it would fill until the 1940s when purpose-built facilities were constructed at Belmont and Kuku Valley.


Mahanga Bay, Miramar, Wellington, c1910 (Colourised) Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

Adams remained employed in the Ammunition Section and was primarily the 2IC of the Section during the busy years of the early 1920’s,  his duties included making up ammunition, and he was generally responsible for the care of the magazines and surrounding areas. In a 1921 review of the Ammunition Section, Adams was deemed necessary for the operation.

Few if any photographs exist of the work carried out by Adams and the Ammunition Section at Mahanga Bay, but these examples from the Australian War Museum provide some perspective.


Removing primer from a round of fixed QF ammunition. Australian War Memorial


RAN personnel inspecting cordite then tying it into bundles. Australian War Memorial


Base fuze or plug being removed from, or replaced in a large calibre BL projectile. Australian War Memorial

Reaching the retiring age of 55 Adams retired on 21 Feb 1929 after 31 years and 343 Days service.

Remaining in the rank of Private all his career, possibly due to his lack of education past standard 4, Adams was recognised as a competent soldier in his role in the Ammunition Section and was no novice when handling explosives. Adams was awarded the following medals:

  • Permanent Forces of the Empire Beyond the Seas Medal,  and the

  • New Zealand Long and Efficient Service Medal

Adams Group

NZAOC No 1 Private Hugh John Adams, Permanent Forces of the Empire Beyond the Seas Medal and New Zealand Long and Efficient Service Medal

Adams passed away in August 1955 aged 81 years and is buried at the Karori cemetery in Wellington.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2017

3 thoughts on “The First Cohort – Ordnance Soldiers of 1917

  1. Ian William Adams

    Hi Robert, I am the grandson of Hugh John Adams and am thrilled to read your post on my grandfather. ,information on his service I knew little of.. Wow service number !. My service number with NZ Scottish regiment was 714887. Would love to know the present whereabouts of his medals and any other info or pictures that may be about or clues as to where to do some research. Kind regards Ian Adams

    Liked by 1 person

    • rneilmckie

      Hi Ian, am equally thrilled that you have discovered and enjoyed the post on your grandfather. His medals actually came up on Trademe last year and an attempt was made to purchase them. Unfortunately, the winning bidder had deeper pockets and my bid was unsuccessful. So far no photos have emerged of your Grandfather but I am hopeful that at some stage some might be found. A digital copy if hos personal file is accessible through the Archived NZ Archway Regards Rob


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