The Hunter Brothers

NZ Army Ordnance Corps Badge 1917-1937. Domain

The Hunter Brothers’ service was unassuming, and when looked at as part of the broader history of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps, their service was uneventful. The only significant event of their service is that they are one of the few sets of brothers to be awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. What their service does provide is a snapshot of the activities of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps in the 1920s

The children of Irish Immigrants who were farming a small property near the Marlborough town of Tuamarina, John was born on the 13th of August 1880 and Thomas on the 20th of December 1881.

John and Thomas joined what was then the New Zealand Permeant Militia, spending considerable time as Gunners in the Artillery before transferring to the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps soon after its formation in 1917. John’s time in Ordnance was spent in the Ammunition Section based out of Fort Balance on the Northern Miramar peninsular in Wellington. Thomas ordnance Service was at the Ordnance Store at Mount Eden and the then brand-new Waikato Camp (Hopuhopu/Ngawahawia Camp).

Both brothers served for more than 30 years and, under normal circumstances, retired at 55 with a comfortable pension, but this was not to be. Due to the worldwide depression and economic recession, the Government was forced to savagely reduce the strength of the Army by using the provisions of section 39 of the Finance Act, 1930 (No. 2), where military staff could be either;

  • Transferred to the Civil service, or
  • Retire on superannuation any member of the Permanent Force or the Permanent Staff under the Defence Act, 1909, or of the clerical staff of the Defence Department whose age or length of service was such that if five years was added thereto, they would have been enabled as of right or with the consent of the Minister of Defence to have given notice to retire voluntarily.

Using this act, on the 31st of March 1931, the NZAOC lost;

  • Six officers and Thirty-Eight Other Ranks were retired on superannuation
  • Seventy-four NZAOC staff (excluding officers and artificers) who were not eligible for retirement were transferred to the civilian staff to work in the same positions but at a lower pay rate.
Hunter retirement letter
Notice of Retirement sent to Serving soldiers in December 1930

For the soldiers placed on superannuation, the transition was brutal, with pensions recalculated at much lower rates and, in some cases, the loss of outstanding annual and accumulated leave. The 31st of March 1931 was the blackest day in the History of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps

John Francis Hunter

John Hunter attended the local school until Standard 5 and then spent a year at St Patricks College at Silverstream in Wellington. On leaving school, John Hunter took up a farming job in Bulls.  At Eighteen years of age, John enlisted at Alexandra Barrack in Wellington into the New Zealand Permanent Force (NZPF) and was attested as a 3rd Class Gunner into No 1 Company in Wellington on the 23 of November 1898. John Hunter Passed the Small Arms Drill Course on the 6th of January 1899, followed by the Recruits Drill Course on the 1st of May and was promoted to 2nd Class Gunner on the 1st of September 1899.

Alexandra Barracks, Mount Cook Wellington (Colourised). Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library.

With the reorganisation of the NZPF in 1902, the small permanent artillery force was designated the Royal New Zealand Artillery (RNZA), with John Hunter remaining with the Wellington Detachment. While serving as the “Servant to the General Officer Commanding,” John Hunter unsuccessfully applied for a transfer to the New Zealand Police in 1902. John Hunter was to spend a short period detached to Lyttleton on Police duty during the New Zealand International Exhibition held in Christchurch in 1906/07. John Hunter was promoted to 1st Class Gunner on the 1st of September 1907. With the reorganisations of 1907 and 1911, John Hunter remained in the Gunnery Section of the RNZA Wellington Detachment working in the various Wellington Coast Defence Forts.

Marrying Edith Taylor in Fielding on the 28th of January 1911, John Hunter was still based in Wellington when the Great War was declared in 1914, but at 34 years old, was then considered too old for war service.

Since 1911 there had been concerns in Army Headquarters about the supply of Artillery ammunition and the associated costs of importing all of the required stocks to maintain training and operational needs. Studies had found that by refurbishing by cleaning, inspecting and refilling cartridge casings, and inspecting and refurbishing in-service propellant bags and manufacturing new ones as required, considerable savings could be made instead of importing new items. Recommendations were made that as part of the RNZA, a specialist Ordnance Stores Corps be established to manufacture and modify Ammunition. Ordnance Stores Corps was under the supervision of the Master Gunner and entitled to the same pay and allowances as other members of the RNZA, as they were just another section of the RNZA.

Although envisaged in 1911, the formation of this Ordnance Stores Corps had an extended gestation period, and it was not until mid-1914 that General Godley, the Commander of the New Zealand Forces, approved the proposal and work could begin in establishing the Artillery Ordnance Stores Corps. Orders were placed on Great Britain for the required machinery, components and most importantly, cordite, with some of the machinery received in good time, the remainder was promised to be delivered as soon as possible by the British suppliers. Given that war had broken out, setting up this capability and securing New Zealand’s immediate supply of Artillery was of the utmost importance.

The new Corps was to be another uniformed section of the RNZA, such as the Field Artillery or Electric Light Company. It was to be under the administration and control of the OC RNZA and not the Quartermaster General, and on 1 March 1915, authority was granted under New Zealand Defence Forces General Order 90 to raise the New Zealand Army Ordnance Section with effect 1 April 1915.  Located at Fort Ballance at Mahanga Bay on Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula, the section’s primary duties were assembling ammunition components for the artillery, with care and upkeep of the magazines becoming part of their responsibilities. John Hunter Transferred into the RNZA Army Ordnance Section on the 1st of July 1915.

Fort Ballance (including associated positions at Fort Gordon) (Colourised). Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand,

With the Formation of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (NZAOC) on the 1st of February 1917, the RNZA retained operational day-to-day control of the Ammunition Section, with the NZAOC taking up administrative control of its personnel. The personnel of the Ammunition Section, including Gunner John Hunter, transferred into the NZAOC on the 15th of March 1917. On the 8th of February 1917, John Hunter was awarded the New Zealand Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

RMS Niagara
RMS Niagara

December 1917 saw John Hunter’s experience as a gunner called upon when he was seconded to the NZEF as an Acting Corporal. Embarking on the RMS Niagara on the 13th of February 1918 as Corporal Gunner of the Gun Crew. Returning to New Zealand in September 1918 and replaced by Naval gunners, John Hunter spent a short time with the RNZA in Featherston Camp before re-joining the NZAOC in February 1919. Interestingly the RMS Niagara on which John Hunter served and disembarked in September 1918 is the vessel attributed by some sources as the source of the 1918 influenza pandemic that had a devastating effect on New Zealand.

Returning to his duties at the Ammunition Section at Fort Ballance, John Hunter was the newest member of the Ammunition Section and was identified as the only suitable understudy for the then NCO In-Charge Sergeant J Murray and was promoted to Lance Corporal on 1 November 1919. 1921 saw John Hunter awarded; the New Zealand Efficient Service Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal and was also issued with his war service medals; the British War Service 1914-1918 Medal and the Victory 1914-1919 Medal.

Promoted to Temporary Corporal on the 1st of January 1921, John Hunter was made the NCO I/C at the Ammunition Laboratory at Shelly Bay. By August 1921, on the retirement of Sergeant Murray, Hunter was promoted to Corporal and appointed as IC of the Ammunition Section.

The immediate post-war years into the mid-1920s were a busy time for the NZAOC Ammunition Section. The Kaiwharawhara Powder Magazines close to the city were closed. 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 their guns were decommissioned. With armaments removed, gun pits covered over with roofs and turned into additional magazines, the once impressive forts went from being Wellington’s premier defensive location to quite possibly the first large-scale ammunition depot of the NZAOC, a role held until 1929 when purpose-built facilities were constructed at Hopuhopu Camp in the Waikato.

He was promoted to Sergeant on the 1st of July 1922, further promotions followed on the 1st of June 1926 when he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and then again on the 1st of June 1929 when promotion to Staff Quarter Master Sergeant (Warrant officer Class 2) was gained.

After spending most of his 32-year career on the Miramar Peninsular of Wellington. Warrant Officer Class Two John Hunter was discharged from the Army on the 31st of March 1931 at the age of 52 under the provisions section 39 of the Finance Act, 1930 (No. 2) where members of the military were forced to retire under superannuation at a much lower rate than they should have usually been entitled too. WO2 John Hunter also lost;

·         21 days approved annual leave

·         22 days accrued leave

John Hunter’s forced retirement in 1931 might not have been his final Military service. Census and voter lists from 1935 to 1954 list his occupation as Solder, with the Census and voter from 1957 as retired. Further examination of service records is required, but an assumption is that given his ammunition experience, he was re-engaged in a lesser rank and continued in the military during the war years into the mid-1950s.

Records show that John and his wife Edith had no children and remained at the same address at 57 Kauri Street Miramar until his death on the 23rd of March 1967 at the age of 87 and is buried at Karori Cemetery, Wellington

 Thomas Alexander Hunter

Completing school at Standard 4, Thomas entered the workforce and worked as a Grocers Assistant at Foxton before enlisting into the NZPF. At 18, Thomas attested into the NZPF on the 2nd of August 1900. Thomas completed the Recruit Drill and Arms Cours at Alexandra Barrack in Wellington and was posted to the Artillery as a Pre-Gunner for his probation period. On completion of probation on the 1st of February 1901, Thomas was posted to the No 1 Company in Wellington.

With the reorganisation of the NZPF in 1902, the small permanent artillery force was designated the Royal New Zealand Artillery (RNZA), with Thomas Hunter remaining with the Wellington Detachment. With the reorganisation of 1907, Thomas continued working in the Gunnery Section of the RNZA Wellington Detachment in the various Wellington Coast Defence Forts.

On the 10th of May 1908, Thomas married Maude Taylor at Newmarket in Auckland and was posted to the RNZA Auckland detachment on the 16th of November 1908. Thomas’s first child Edward was born on the 15th of February 1909. Further Children followed with the Birth of Bernard on 20 February 1910, Bambara on 28 March 1911 and Veronica on 21 November 13

Thomas was transferred into the Field Artillery Section on the 1st of August 1911 and back into the Gunnery Section on the 1st of May 1912. When the war was declared in 1914, Thomas was 33 years old and considered too old for war service. Thomas was stuck with tragedy in September 1915 when his daughter Bambara died due to illness.

Like his brother, Thomas was seconded to the NZEF in February 1918 as an Acting Corporal. Embarking on the SS Makura as gun crew. Returning to regular duty in June 1918, when the Army gunners were replaced by Naval gunners.

New Zealand Long and Efficient Service Medal
New Zealand Long and Efficient Service Medal, 1887-1917, New Zealand, by George White. Gift of Mr Dollimore, 1956. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (NU006152)

Awarded the Permanent Forces of the Empire Beyond the Seas Medal in December 1918, with the formal presentation on the 1st of February 1919. Thomas was promoted to temporary Bombardier on the 1st of February 1920, attaining Full Bombardier rank on the 1st of February 1921. Further recognition of his service followed with the award of the Meritorious Service Medal on the 21st of November 1921 and the New Zealand Long and Efficient Service Medal on the 6th of February 1922. Thomas was also presented with British War Service 1914-1918 medal and the Victory 1914-1919 Medal.

With many of the Coastal Defenses nearing the end of their usefulness, (Fort Victoria, where Thomas had one stage been attached to, had only ever fired one proofing round and was promptly taken out of action because of complaints from its neighbours who had suffered many broken windows) resulted in the decommissioning of many of the older batteries. As Thomas was then the senior Bombardier in the Auckland region, instead of being forcibly made redundant, he was transferred to the NZAOC and posted to the Ordnance Store at Mount Eden on the 31st of July 1922. Living at Devonport at the time, the move to the new position at Mount Eden worried Thomas. As Mount Eden was then a Suburb on the far side of Auckland, the travel costs were a concern to Thomas. The strain on his family was also a concern, his children were beset with ill health, with one child passing away due to illness in 1915 and another with infantile paralysis. To make matters worse, Thomas was forced to reduce rank to Lance Corporal on the 1st of August 1922.

Auckland Gun
Disappearing Gun, North Head Auckland. Robert McKie Collection

The early 1920s were a busy time for the Mount Eden Ordnance Store. After the First World War, the New Zealand Territorial Army undertook a major re-equipment project with two Infantry Divisions and one Mounted Brigade’s worth of equipment arriving from the United Kingdom. Initially stored at Trentham and Featherston Camp, with a purpose-built Ordnance Store to service the Northern region under construction at Ngawahawia, storage space was at a premium. With Featherston Camp closing down, the Mount Eden Ordnance Store had to receive, sort and distribute much of the equipment for the Northern Region units well over its storage capacity, as well as providing support to the territorial Army Annual Camps.

By 1928 The development of Ngaruawahia Camp was now in its final stages, with the large Ordnance Store building completed and the stores from the Ordnance Depot at Mount Eden progressively being transferred to it. Two high-explosive magazines were completed, with an additional three high-explosive magazines and a laboratory, and the provision of mains and equipment for fire prevention nearing completion. With the removal of stores to Ngaruawahia Camp, the buildings at Mount Eden were no longer required, so they were disassembled and re-erected at Narrow Neck Camp.

Thomas was promoted to Temporary Corporal on the 1st of February 1926, followed by promotion to Sergeant on the 1st of March 1928. Up to June 1929, Thomas was the NOC IC Camp Equipment, but with the Ordnance Depot now at Ngawahawia, Thomas was transferred onto the Small Arms Proof Office staff, allowing him to remain at Mount Eden.

After spending the majority of his 30-year 141-day career in Auckland, Sergeant Thomas Hunter was discharged from the Army on the 31st of March 1931 at the age of 49 under the provisions section 39 of the Finance Act, 1930 (No. 2), where serving members of the military were forced to retire under superannuation at a much lower rate than normally entitled too. Sergeant Thomas Hunter was fortunate that before the notification of the redundancy on the 17th of December 1930, he had already applied for and had approved the use of his annual and accrued leave.

Moving on from a life in the military, Thomas settled at 88 Sandringham Road and took up the trade of confectioner. Thomas passed away at 84 years of age on 5 October 1965.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

5 thoughts on “The Hunter Brothers

    • rneilmckie

      Compared to the politically correct times we live in today, there was no sugar coating applied to such correspondence, it was just the facts and the delivery of the message that counted. These forced retirements were the final measure in a series of cuts. Due to the recession, Military pay had been reduced by 10% in 1929 and again by another 10% in 1930, by mid-1930 savings still had to be made so across the Army 169 Officers and Soldiers were retired on a much-reduced superannuation and those who could not be retied were dismissed from the army and re-employed as civilian in the same roles, again at much reduced pay rates. on 31 March 1931, the strength of the Regular Force of the NZ Army was 86 Officers and 263 Other Ranks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was aware of the military after reading Matthew Wright’s “Kiwi Air”, but seeing the actually orders brings it into perspective what these men lived with.


    • rneilmckie

      The Hunter brothers parents were both born in Ireland, William near Killarney, County Kerry and Catherine at Tralee, County Kerry. Not sure if they came to New Zealand together or met here but they were married on the 30th of September 1879 at Tuamarina, where they farmed a small property.

      There is definitely more to the John Hunter story. Census records show his occupation as Soldier from 1935 to the mid-1950’s. Any further service records are not online, but hopefully, there is something in the Defence archive in Trentham. I have found a few cases of WW1 chaps re-enlisting into the NZAOC at the start of WW2 and remaining until retired in the 1950’s. An example is Frank Hutton who was an NZAOC Conductor in the NZEF, he rejoined the NZAOC in 1942 and was finally discharged in 1948.


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 )

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.