I was recently made aware of this photo of New Zealand Supply Depot Staff at Zeitoun Camp, Egypt, in 1915; it was taken from the album of Major Alexander Charters, CMG, DSO, of the Wellington Infantry Battalion. The picture shows a group of men of the No 1 Depot Unit of Supply (DUS) New Zealand Army Service Corps (NZASC).
Based at Zeitoun Camp from August 1915 until 16 March 1916, No 1 DUS was responsible for the supply and distribution of over 28000000 Kilograms of forage, foodstuffs, firewood and other goods to its subordinate units during that time. It is, on the surface, an unremarkable picture but shows the variety of headwear and uniforms at the time. Most are wearing Wolseley pattern sun helmets, two are wearing Forage Caps, two individuals are wearing felt hats with NZASC Khaki/White/Khaki Puggaree, and one is wearing a Mounted Rifles bandoleer. Most interestingly of all is an individual wearing a Lemon Squeezer hat, with an unidentified Puggaree (most likely an infantry Puggaree) with a British Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) badge.
The question must be asked, why is a New Zealand soldier in 1915 wearing a British Army Ordnance Corps badge?
At the time of the photo, New Zealand did not have an Ordnance Corps, and one was not created in the NZEF until February 1916, (see NZAOC 1916-1919) and at home until 1917. (NZAOC, 1917-1923) In the context of the NZEF, ad-hoc Ordnance Sections had been established as staff under the New Zealand Division Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (DADOS). On the arrival of the NZ advance party in 1914, Sergeant (later Major) Norman Joseph Levien had been 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 to integrate New Zealand into the British Supply System.
Early in 1915, to support the Zealand Forces, Levien, now promoted to Lieutenant, established a New Zealand Ordnance Depot in Alexandra at No. 12 Rue de la, Porte Rosette and a warehouse at Shed 43, Alexandra Docks.
Given the need to outfit New Zealand units as they arrived in Egypt and as the New Zealand Forces returned from Gallipoli, there was a significant effort to refit, refurbish and re-equip units as they reorganised for future service in France and the Middle East. This put a considerable strain onto the nascent New Zealand Ordnance Corps, requiring, in addition to the original DADOS staff, the drafting in of additional soldiers with clerical, stores and maintenance experience from within NZEF. Records analysed so far identify 13 Other Ranks (Private to Company Sergeant Major), who joined the NZAOC on its formal creation in Feb/Mar 1916, some of whom had been working in Ordnance roles since 1914.
Unlike the soldiers of the NZASC who deployed as part of the established NZASC organisation and wore the NZASC cap badge. Soldiers posted to NZ Ordnance deployed from NZ on the strength of the unit or Battalion that they had enlisted into and were posted to the Ordnance establishment after their arrival in Egypt and retained the cap badge of their parent unit. This might have caused some confusion and based on the evidence of the Zeitoun photo, at least one Ordnance soldier utilised a British AOC badge to identify himself as Ordnance.
Judging by the puggaree on this soldier’s lemon squeezer hat, this soldier has transferred to Ordnance from one of the New Zealand Infantry Battalions and quite possibly retains his parent unit’s collar badges. Unfortunately, the quality of the picture doesn’t provide enough detail to identify the group with any certainty.
This picture raises several questions.
- Was this an officially endorsed dress embellishment to identify individuals employed in Ordnance roles, possibly with the endorsement of the British Ordnance establishment in Egypt?
- Was it just a case of an individual employed in an Ordnance role using the renowned Kiwi initiative and acquiring an AOC badge to show that he was Ordnance?
- Was it just an ASC soldier displaying an AOC badge he had just swapped as a keepsake? (A thriving trade caused a shortage of badges)
- Was it, in fact, a British Ordnance Soldier wearing an acquired lemon Squeezer?
- In 1914 there were several British Army Ordnance Corps Armourers posted to Alexandra barracks at Mount Cook in Wellington. Are they part of this mystery? Did some of these Armourers deploy with the NZEF to the Middle East?
- Does the use of its badge have its origins back in 1913 when the first Ordnance Depots were established for the New Zealand Territorial Amy annual camps, and this individual was one of the original members?
Until further photographic evidence or written documentation is discovered, this picture raises more questions than answers, but this photo does provide a starting point for later research to unravel this cap badge mystery. I have seen some examples of this badge with the letters “NZ” affixed on top of the shield. Are these modified badges part of the same story?
Eventually, the NZAOC in the NZEF adopted its own badge either in 1916/1917 and on the creation of the Home Service NZAOC in 1917, the adoption of its own badge. The use of both badges evolved several times into the 1955 pattern that served the RNZAOC until 1996.
Copyright © Robert McKie 2017