Ammunition Technician Origins

From the formation of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps in the early years of the First World War, the Corps has been the primary agency for supplying and maintaining weapons, munitions and other military equipment. An essential commodity requiring specialised skills, munitions were the responsibility of the Ammunition Technician Trade group. The requirement for the safe storage, inspection and distribution of munitions has existed in New Zealand from the earliest years. It was not until the 1890s, with the manufacture of advanced Small Arms Ammunition types in New Zealand, that a specialist was employed to conduct the proof testing and oversee small arms ammunition production. This article will examine the initial manufacture of Small Arms Ammunition in New Zealand and the specialist who laid the foundations for the modern Ammunition Technician Trade.

For many years in early Colonial New Zealand, ammunition and explosives were imported from the United Kingdom and Australia. Powder magazines were established in the main centres, and Magazine keepers were appointed. Any specialist expertise required for the handling and storing these stocks was provided by qualified and experienced individuals from the British Military Stores Department (Until 1870) and Royal Artillery and Engineer officers attached to the New Zealand Forces, who provided expertise on an as-required basis.

In 1885 the Russians repositioned elements of their naval fleet into the North Pacific, establishing a naval base at Vladivostok, creating for British Imperial possessions the “Russian Scare” of 1885. It was thought that Tsar Alexander had ambitions to expand his empire. Feeling vulnerable at the edge of the British Empire, the New Zealand Government embarked on a programme of fortification construction. It urgently sought independent sources of supply for ammunition to become independent of the need to rely upon Britain. With the government’s encouragement, Major John Whitney established Whitney & Sons as an ammunition manufacturing company in Auckland. With additional investors, this company became the Colonial Ammunition Company (CAC) in 1888, the first ammunition manufacturer in New Zealand and Australasia. Entering a contract with the New Zealand Government to produce small arms ammunition, the deal was that the government provided the powder with the CAC providing the components for manufacturing complete cartridges. The Government retained the right to inspect and conduct quality control inspections on each batch before acceptance by the New Zealand Forces. The testing regime was a simple one which consisted of testing only a small percentage of a batch by test firing. The test results were based on the performance of this percentage that the ammunition is accepted or rejected.

Colonial Ammunition Company works on the lower slopes of Mount Eden in Normanby Road, Mount Eden, 1902.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1057.

With the production of .577 Snyder Ball Ammunition underway by 1890, the first testing, inspection and acceptance of the initial batches were conducted by Major John Pirie of the New Zealand Militia. Formerly a Major in the Guernsey Militia, Major Pirie immigrated to New Zealand, becoming the Auckland District Musketry Instructor in 1881. Conducting inspections of manufactured ammunition until July 1891. From July 1891, ammunition inspection was passed to the Officer Commanding the Auckland District, Major Goring. In 1893, Lieutenant J E Hume of the Permanent Militia was responsible for examining ammunition. Hume continued to hold this responsibility in addition to his other duties until 1898.

By 1896 the New Zealand colony was mainly equipped with the .450 calibre Martini-Henry series of rifles and carbines. Ammunition was still provided under contract with the Colonial Ammunition Company but with additional stocks produced by the Kynoch ammunition company in the United Kingdom. The conditions of the original contract with CAC remained extant, with the Government responsible for providing the powder and the CAC the components. As this system had been in place for some time, it was recognised that this division of responsibility was flawed. There had been many incidents of ammunition failure, but due to this procurement division, it was often difficult to attribute fault to any specific party. It was recommended by the Defence Department to Parliament that the CAC should be responsible for the entire end-to-end process for the manufacture of complete cartridges and that the Government retained the right to examine and test all components (powder, caps and cases) and complete cartridge cases. Testing was to be conducted by an official with the required training and experience for such work. No such individual existed in the colony at the time, so one needed to be recruited.

Ballistic Chronograph
Ballistic Chronograph

During 1896/97, units from all over New Zealand continued to complain about the quality of the ammunition supplied to the Defence Force by CAC. Although CAC was contracted to be the sole supply source of small arms ammunition, powder and components were still provided from the United Kingdom. The powder passed the same tests as powder supplied for manufacturing UK-manufactured ammunition. CAC continued to argue that the powder was not good and attributed the failures of the ammunition chiefly to that cause. Lacking the expertise to test the powder in New Zealand, five hundred rounds from each batch manufactured in 1896 were sent to the United Kingdom for proof and examination by Government experts. The proofing process attributed that the failure of the ammunition was not due to the powder but to irregularities in manufacture. With few facilities then available in New Zealand for the correct proofing of the specification of finished ammunition, testing equipment, including velocity instruments such as Ballistic chronographs, were ordered from the United Kingdom. As there was no individual in the Colonial Forces who possessed sufficient knowledge to set up and operate these instruments, it fell onto the Chief of the Defence Force to, as far as possible, personally supervise and set up the testing apparatus providing the necessary instruction until a suitably qualified individual could be recruited from the United Kingdom.

The CAC refused to accept the return of suspect stocks as they argued that, as per the current contract, it had passed the required tests and been approved by the Government, ending their responsibility. The ammunition in store was to be used up and replaced by a competent and serviceable supply. It was accepted that the testing officers had done their testing conscientiously and that the percentage of rounds tested had been under the terms of the specification. But as the colony’s very existence might one day be at stake, every step needed to be taken to ensure a supply of reliable ammunition. As the Government was bound by contract to obtain their supply of small-arms ammunition from CAC, the following recommendations were made.

  • CAC should supply their own powder and all component parts,
  • Production of the current “rolled case” pattern of ammunition was to be ceased as this type had ceased to be used by other Imperial forces, and by switching production to the more reliable “solid drawn” would bring New Zealand Forces into line with the rest of the Imperial Forces.
Plate illustrating the Rifle Ball Mark III construction from “Treatise on Ammunition 1887”.

On the 67th of February 1898, a formal request was forwarded to the United Kingdom for the recruitment of a suitable Warrant Officer from the Royal Artillery to “Take charge of the testing operations of Small Arms Ammunition and the supervision of the manufacture of the same”.

On 6 April 1898, Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor Arthur Duvall, Royal Garrison Artillery of the Artillery College, was selected and took up the offer to be the Small Arms Testing officer for the New Zealand Forces. To be promoted to 3rd Class Master Gunner on a three-year engagement at a rate of Nine Shillings a day with free quarters or a £50 per annum housing allowance. Duvall arrived in New Zealand in July 1898 and was soon at work at the CAC premises at Mount Eden in Auckland.

Under the administrative command of the Officer Commanding No 1 Company Permanent Militia, Auckland Duvall was immediately put to work. With the introduction of the .303 Martini Enfield rifles in 1898, CAC started production of the Mark II C and Mark IV .303 rounds. Providing a level of expertise never available before, Duvall held the CAC to account and provided the Defence Force with a reliable product.

Coming under the command of the New Zealand Permanent Militia Headquarters in 1903, Duvall had his engagement with the New Zealand Forces extended by an additional three years in 1903 and then another three years in 1907. Duvall oversaw the introduction of the .303 Mark IV round in 1904.

CAC MAchinery
Machinery for the production of Military ammunition, CAC Factory Auckland 1903
Bullet-making machinery at the Colonial Ammunition Company’s works, Mt Eden. Auckland War Memorial Museum, DU436.1243 C718.

Completing Twenty years of service with the British Army in 1911, Duvall took his discharge and was immediately attested into the New Permanent Staff as an Honorary Lieutenant on 26 April 1912 and then promoted to Honorary Capitan on 1 April 1914.

Honorary Captain Duvall oversaw the manufacture and testing of Small Arms Ammunition in Auckland, ensuring New Zealand was self-sufficient in the supply of Small Arms Ammunition. Moves were underway at Fort Ballance in Wellington to provide New Zealand with some self-reliance with artillery ammunition with the formation of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Section of the Royal New Zealand Artillery in 1915. The RNZA Ordnance Section was responsible for the refurbishment by cleaning, inspecting and refilling QF Casings, inspecting and refurbishing service propellant bags, and manufacturing new ones as required, resulting in considerable savings made instead of importing new stock.

On 10 January 1918, Duvall was transferred from the Permanent Staff to the New Zealand Army Ordnance Department, graded as an Ordnance Officer Class 3 with the rank of Captain. His appointment as Testing Officer Small Arms Ammunition was renamed as Proof Officer, Small Arms Ammunition, as part of the Ordnance Corps Technical branch.

On the 4th of July 1919, Duvall arrived at the premises of the CAC at about 930 am. After speaking to a member of his staff Mr B.E Lambert, Duvall then retired to the laboratory. At approximately 1040am, Duval was found in the laboratory, deceased, lying on his face with a service rifle across his body. In the Coroner’s report published on 16 July 1919, the coroner found that the cause of death was a gunshot wound, self-inflicted, while in a state of nervous depression]. Duvall was interred with military honours at Purewa cemetery on 5 July 1919.

Despite the sudden death of Duvall, The Small Arms and Proof Office remained an essential component of the New Zealand Army ammunition supply chain until 1968, when the Colonial Ammunition Company shifted its operations to Australia, and the Army ended its long relationship with the Colonial Ammunition Company.

Administrative control of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Section of the Royal New Zealand Artillery was passed to the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps upon its formation if 1917. Technical control of Artillery ammunition remained with the RNZA until 1946 when responsibility for all ammunition was handed over to the Inspection Ordnance Officers Branch of the NZAOC. The Inspecting Ordnance Officers Branch, which had only consisted of a few staff officers during the interwar period, rapidly expanded during the Second World War with Ammunition Depots established at Ngaruawahia, Waiouru, Makomako, Kuku Valley, Belmont, Mount Sommers, Alexandra, Glen Tunnel (Hororata) and Fairlie. The ordnance Ammunition trades consisted of.

  • Inspecting Ordnance Officers (Officers) and
  • Ammunition Examiners (Other ranks).

These roles remained extant until 1961 when the following changes were made following UK practice.

  • Chief Inspecting Ordnance Officer became Chief Ammunition Technical Officer.
  • Senior Inspecting Ordnance Officer became Senior Ammunition Technical Officer.
  • District Inspecting Ordnance Officer became District Ammunition Technical Officer.
  • Inspecting Ordnance Officer became Ammunition Technical Officer.
  • Ammunition Examiner became Ammunition Technician.

Over the next thirty years, the ammunition trades matured into a highly specialised trade that, on the amalgamation of the RNZAOC into the RNZALR in 1996, had a wide range of responsibilities, including:

  • The inspection, storage and maintenance of all ammunition and explosives used by the Army.
  • The conduct of technical trials on new ammunition.
  • The conduct investigations into ammunition incidents and accidents.
  • The disposal of unserviceable or obsolete ammunition.
  • The management of Explosive Ordnance Devices and Improvised Explosive Devices.

By 1996 the Ammunition trade had progressed from rudimentary black powder magazines in the 19th century to the management of many modern ammunition natures. Although many individuals had been involved in the handling and storage of ammunition up to the appointment of Arther Duvall in 1898, Duvall stands out as the first individual specially trained and employed solely in the field of ammunition management and, as such, deserves recognition as the founding member of what became the Ammunition Technician Trade.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2017



Primary Sources

Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o Te Kawanatanga Wellington Office
Military Personnel Files D.1/420/1 Arthur Duvall – Captain, New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps

New Zealand Gazette
Testing-Officer for Small-arms Ammunition appointed. New Zealand Gazette No 17 Page 412 28 February 1895

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)
1896 H-19 Report on the Defence Forces of New Zealand
1897 H-19 Report on the Defence Forces of New Zealand
1898 H-19 Report on the Defence Forces of New Zealand

Auckland Star
“THE LABORATORY FATALITY,” Auckland Star, p. 4, 5 July 1919.
“CORONER’S INQUEST,” Auckland Star, vol. L, no. 168, 16 July 1919.

Secondary Sources

IPENZ, “Engineering Heritage of New Zealand,” IPENZ Engineers New Zealand, 11 December 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 12 December 2017].
J. Osborne and P. Cregeen, “Martini Enfield Rifle MK I, I,” New Zealand Arms Register, 21 October 2010. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 13 December 2017].
J. Osborne and P. Cregeen, “Martini Enfield Rifle MK I, I,” New Zealand Arms Register, 21 October 2010. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 13 December 2017].
Osborne, “Chronology of the British & New Zealand Military .303″ Cartridge,” 7 March 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 13 December 2017].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.