NZ Divisional Salvage Unit 1941-1942

Badge of the 2nd NZEF

During the Second World War, the New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC) provided a variety of Ordnance Services to the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF). The most well know of the Ordnance Service proved are those of the Base Ordnance Depot, Advanced Ordnance Depot, Ordnance Field Park, Laundry and Bath Units, and up to the end of 1942, the Base and Field Workshops and Light Aid Detachments which separated from the NZOC to form the New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (NZEME). However, there remains one Ordnance unit which, although appearing on the 2nd NZEF Order of Battle, only rates a very obscure mention in only one of nine official campaign histories published after the war and has mostly been forgotten; this is the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit.

World War One Origins

New Zealand’s first experience of Salvage units was during the 1914-18 war. Each British formation (including Dominion forces) was required as part of an army salvage plan to appoint a Salvage Officer for each brigade, and a Division Salvage Company, which in turn was supported by a Corps Salvage Company.  Formed on 5 May 1916, the NZ Divisional Salvage Company was under the command of Lieutenant Macrae, NZAOC. The duties of the NZ Divisional Salvage Company were:

  • The care and custody of packs of troops engaged in offensive operations.
  • The care of tents and canvas of the Division.
  • The salvage of Government property, and enemy property, wherever found.
  • The sorting of the stuff salved and dispatch thereof to base.
WW1 salvage dump notice. Photo by British Pictorial Service; public domain image taken from The Business of War at the Internet Archive website

An indication of the type of work carried out by the NZ Division Salvage Company can be found in the work of the British Army’s 34th Divisional Salvage Company, which was active on the Somme during July 1916. During this period, the 34th Divisional Salvage Company recovered,1

Rifles – 12,998
Bayonets – 6,050
Revolvers – 8
Very Pistols – 28
Machine Guns – 51
Trench Mortars – 12
Small Arms Ammunition – 1,580,000 rounds
S.A.A. fired cases – 145,000
Bombs – 40,000
Sets of equipment complete – 5,500
Groundsheets – 700
Steel Helmets – 9,869
Gas Masks – 13,280
Picks & shovels – 2,000
Wire Cutters – 950
Bully Beef Tins – 16,000
Bagpipes – 6 sets

Total value of one month’s salvage = £1,500,000.

Salvage of the battlefield near Bapaume: Photo by David McLellan; taken from the National Library of Scotland’s First World War ‘Official Photographs’ website; adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence

American author Isaac F Marcosson, writing in 1918, described this recycling operation in some detail.2

“At the ‘sharp end,’ there was “Battle Salvage, which deals with the debris of actual fighting and includes all trench materials such as wood and iron, shell-cases, guns, rifles, equipment, clothing, tools and other stores that have been damaged in actual fighting.” There was also “so-called Normal Salvage, which is material such as empty packing cases, [fuel] cans and other articles which never reach the battlefield.”

The Salvage system proved to be a success, with statistical records published of what each unit had recovered, with competition between units not uncommon. To outdo the New Zealand Division, one of the Australian Divisions went to the effort of stealing copper appliances and hardware from a derelict brewery to accrue additional credits.3 Following the success of the Salvage system in the First World War, provision was made on war establishments for Salvage units on a ratio of one Salvage unit per Division and one Salvage unit as Corps troops.

Western Desert 1941

As the New Zealand Division became established in Egypt in early 1941, General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Middle East requested information on 2 April 1941 on the establishment of the New Zealand Divisional Salvage Unit and when its equipment would be ready. With no Salvage Unit yet formed, an establishment for an NZ Salvage Unit, consisting of 1 Officer and 43 Other Ranks, was published on 18 April 1941, with no further action towards the formation of the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit taken until August of 1941.4

Estab 18 April 41
NZEF, NZ Divisional Salvage Unit Establishment 18 April 1941

The role of Field Salvage Units was to sort salvage. All RASC motor transport units serving divisions and corps were tasked with carrying salvage on the return journey. This included containers which could be reused, small equipment which could be recycled and ammunition that had been unpacked but not used. T

With Australian and South African Salvage units already operating in the Middle East and with Indian and New Zealand units expected to begin operating shortly, GHQ Middle East called a conference to define the relationship of these units with the Salvage Directorate GHQ.

At the conference held on 13 August 1941, it was established that the Dominion Divisions were formed with a war establishment of one Salvage unit per Division and one per Corps troops. No Salvage units were provided at present for British Divisions, or Corps, although they were allowed for in the War Establishment.

The pressing question of the conference was if the Dominion Salvage units were to be part of the Middle East Salvage Organisation or regarded as separate units working under their own headquarters.

The Australians were satisfied with existing arrangements and stated that full cooperation from the AIF could be expected.

The representatives of the 1st and 2nd South African Divisions stated that they were willing to cooperate and that the available Salvage units should be used for the common good but wished that the SA Salvage units remain administered by their Headquarters and the units should accompany their divisions into action.

The Representatives of the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions stated that when formed, they favoured using them as a GHQ asset rather than as Div troops.

New Zealand, represented by its DDOS Colone King, stated that a New Zealand Salvage unit was not yet formed, but could be if requested. As a Divisional unit, it was expected that the unit remained with the Division, with the Salvage Directorate assured of the cooperation of the NZ Division in every conceivable way.

Base Salvage Depots under the control of GHQ received all Salvage irrespective of the unit that it was collected from. GHQ conducted all sales with the proceeds credited to His Majesty’s Government. The War Office was approached to consider the value of salvage collected in the future when setting capitation rates for equipment.

The consensus was that Salvage Units remain with their divisions but that the Salvage Directorate exercise technical control.

Armed with the knowledge that the Salvage unit was to remain with the New Zealand Division, approval for the formation of the NZ Divisional Salvage unit as a unit of the NZEF was granted by Headquarters 2 NZEF on 16 August 1941. The NZ Divisional Salvage unit was to be a unit of the NZOC with the NZEF DDOS in conjunction with the Military Secretary, HQ NZEF and HQ Maddi Camp arranging for a suitable officer and Other Ranks to be posted to the unit and equipment to be assembled.


On 12 September 1941, the New Zealand Division begun to move into Baggush in the Western Desert as it began to assemble for the upcoming Operation Crusader. On 11 November, the New Zealand Division together for the first time joined at an assembly point near the Matruh-Siwa road. On 18 November Operation Crusader began with the New Zealand Division crossing the Libyan frontier into Cyrenaica and after some hard fighting linking up with the garrison at Tobruk on 26 November. It is in Tobruk that the Salvage unit get sits only mention in the New Zealand War history series of books in the volume “The Relief of Tobruk” it stares: 5

“The NZASC companies provided working parties at the ammunition depot, and the docks, Workshops and Ordnance Field Park overhauled vehicles, and the Salvage Unit for the first time found plenty of work to do.”

On 23 December 1941 the NZ Salvage Unit lost a member of the unit when Private Leo Gregory Narbey died as the result of an accident. Private Narby now rests in the Commonwealth War Grave Commission Alamein cemetery.6

Western Desert, Egypt, 12 August 1942. Men of the 9th Australian Divisional Salvage Unit checking over captured arms at El Alamein. Public Domain Australian War Memorial

Operation Crusader was a success but one that inflicted heavy losses on British and Dominionarmour and Infantry, as the Axis forces withdrew under pressure, large quantities of enemy equipment and war material was abandoned leaving the battlefield to the battered 8th Army. Due to the magnitude of the Salvage work to clear the battlefield, GHQ request that all Divisional Salvage units be placed under 8th Army control as Army troops to allow their coordinated use. This request was agreed to by the GOC 2 NZEF on 1 January 1942 on the condition that the Salvage unit was released back to the NZ Divison if required. As the NZ Salvage unit was at Baggush, its transfer to 8th Army control was immediate.

Libya and Syria 1942

Badly mauled in Operation Crusader and the subsequent operations, the New Zealand Division had suffered 879 dead, and 1700 wounded and was withdrawn from Libya back to Egypt and then at the instance of the New Zealand government moved to Syria during February to recover but also prepare defences for a possible German offensive through Turkey.

As the NZ Divison rebuilt itself in Syria the NZ Divisional Salvage unit remained in Libya under 8th Army command. During March the delay in receiving reinforcements from New Zeland hastened the need to make estimates for replacement drafts, and HQ 2NZEF approached GHQ Middle East with an enquiry on the expected release dates of 2NZEF units including the NZ Salvage Unit who were under direct 8th Army command. The presumption was that the detached units remain under 8th Army control until the operational situation allowed their release.

Australian 9th Div Salvage Unit under fire 5th October 1942. El Alamein, Egypt. image 013351 Australian War Memorial.

Remaining detached from the Division, the NZ Salvage units establishment was increased to a strength of 1 Officer and 45 Other Ranks, its transport assets were also increased to include one car and five trucks and given the tactical situation, ammunition allocation per man was increased from 20 rounds of .303 to 50 rounds per man.

Estab 28 May 42
NZEF, NZ Divisional Salvage Unit Establishment 28 May 1942

With the NZ Divison rushed back into the fight in the Western Desert in June 1942, the NZ Salvage unit remained detached. August 1942 found the NZ Salvage Unit in Syria and under the command of the 9th Army and operating as Army Troops rather than a Divisional unit as initially intended.  On 24 August 1942, the ADOS of 2 NZ Div sent a submission to HQ 2NZEF recommending the disbanding of the NZ Salvage unit. The main point of the submission was that the NZ Salvage Unit since its formation had always been employed as Arny troops outside of the Division. Also given the reinforcement situation its personnel could be better employed within the main NZOC Divisional organisation.  The GOC 2NZEF approved the proposal in principle but felt that the NZ Salvage Unit might still be usefully employed by the 8th Army in the current theatre. 8th Army rejected the offer, and the decision was made by HQ NZEF to recall the unit from Syria to Maadi Camp while a decision could be made on its future employment or disbandment.

Rolling through to September 1942 the NZ Salvage Unit was still detached to the 9th Army in Syria when on 19 Sept HQ NZEF sent a warning order to Headquarters 9th Army of the intent to recall the NZ Salvage unit to Egypt for disbandment. Final Order instructing the Unit to return to Egypt was issued on 3 October 1942, with the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit formally disbanded as a unit of the NZEF on 20 October 1942.7


After 15 months of service, the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit was disbanded and its men distributed to other NZEF and NZ Divison Ordnance Units. The Salvage units contribution to the war effort in the Middle East alongside the other Dominion Salvage Units provided an essential function, collecting, sorting and dispatching battlefield salvage, captured allied and enemy equipment to Workshops and Salvage Depots for repair, recycling and redistribution fighting units. It is unfortunate that this crucial administrative war work carried out by one of New Zealand forgotten Ordnance units have been forgotten, and it is hoped that future research into this unit will expand on their story.


British Pathe Newsreel providing an example of Salvage work carried out in the Western Desert.  Desert Salvage

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018


1 Marc Barkman-Astles, “The Archaeology of Star Wars Strikes Back!,”

2 Steve Atcherley, “Llewellyn Atcherley’s World War One,”

3 Arthur Forbes, A History of the Army Ordnance Services (London: The Medici society, ltd., 1929), 76.

4 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field Item Idr20107590 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/21 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

5 473W. E. Murphy, The Relief of Tobruk, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45 (Wellington, N.Z.: War History Branch, Dept. of Internal Affairs, 1961, 1961), Non-fiction.

6 “Leo Gregory Narbey,”

7 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

NZAOC Conductors 1917-1931

The Honourable and Ancient Appointment of Conductor has origins dating back to 1327. The appointment is mentioned in the Statute of Westminster as the men whose job was to conduct soldiers to places of assembly. The “Conductor of Ordnance” is also mentioned in the records of the siege of Boulogne in 1544. Surviving as an appointment related to handling stores in the British Army until the late 19th century. The first New Zealand connection to the Conductor appointment was during the New Zealand Wars, with Conductors appointed to provide support to the Imperial Regiments serving in that campaign. The British Army formalised the appointment by Royal Warrant on 11 January 1879, which established Conductors of Supplies (in the Army Service Corps) and Conductors of Stores (in the Ordnance Stores Branch) as Warrant Officers, ranking above all Non-Commissioned Officers. The Army Service Corps dispensed with Conductors of Supplies in 1892, with the Army Ordnance Corps retaining Conductors on its formation in 1895. In the Army Ordnance Corps, the appointment of Conductor had become a senior and responsible position. When required, the holder was a pillar of knowledge who would do duty as a subaltern officer but not sit on courts of inquiry or regimental boards. On parade, Conductors would take post as an officer but would not salute.[1]

New Zealand Conductors

Before the First World War, no single indigenous Ordnance Organisation supported the New Zealand Forces, responsibility for Ordnance Services was split between the Defence Stores Department and the Royal New Zealand Artillery. The requirement for an Ordnance Organisation had been identified as early as 1901[2] and again in 1901[3], but no decision was taken to form an Ordnance Corps until 1916. Early 1916 saw the formation of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (NZAOC) as a unit of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). The NZAOC EF would be a wartime unit constituted for the period of hostilities and would be disestablished and demobilised as part of the NZEF in 1920. However, in New Zealand, on 1 February 1917, the home service NZAOC was constituted and established as a component of the New Zealand Permanent Forces.[4]

On creating the NZAOC in New Zealand, provision had been allowed in its organisational structure for the appointment of six Conductors as part of the Clerical and Stores Section.[5]

Following the British model, the NZAOC EF included both Conductors and Sub-Conductors as part of its organisational structure.[6] This practice was not duplicated by the NZAOC in New Zealand, with only the appointment of Conductor adopted. The Rank insignia for the Conductor in both the NZEF and New Zealand would be a Crown in a Wealth,[7] the same insignia is worn by Warrant Officers Class Two in the modern New Zealand Army.


Warrant Officer Class One, Conductor Badge 1915-1918. Robert McKie Collection

Drawing the bulk of its staff from the existing personnel of the New Zealand Defence Stores Department, the NZAOC also absorbed individuals who were suitably qualified and experienced in the handling and accounting of military equipment from the military districts and training camps, including the men who would be the first two Conductors.

  • William Henry Manning, [8] and
  • William Ramsey.[9]

William Henry Manning

At fifty years of age, William Henry Manning was too old to serve overseas but could enlist into the NZEF Army Service Corps (ASC) on 17 December 1915 for home service only.

Born on 31 August 1965, Manning had spent most of his adult life as a soldier in the British Army. As a Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, Manning had also spent time as an acting ASC Officer in charge of supplies and an acting Ordnance Officer in various parts of the Empire. One of his last positions was as a Troopship Quartermaster Sergeant on the SS Lismore Castle, transporting the 2nd Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment to South Africa from the United Kingdom in October – November 1899. On completing his tenure with the British Army, Manning migrated to New Zealand with his wife and two children.

Appointed as a teacher in 1908, Manning and his wife would become School Masters, first at the Native School at Te Haroto and then the Native School at Waimarma.

Eager to serve, Manning approached the Defence Force on 10 October 1915, advising them of his experience and willingness to serve. Manning’s offer to serve was accepted, and on 17 December 1915, Manning was attested into the ASC as a soldier. Promoted successively from Private, Corporal, Sergeant and then Staff Sergeant on 6 April 1916.

Transferred to the Quartermaster General Branch on May 1916, Manning would remain there until 1 February 1917, when he would become a foundation member of the NZAOC on its formal formation with promotion to Conductor following on 2 February 1917.

William Ramsey

Born on 11 June 1852, Ramsey, like Manning, had spent his adult life in the British Army worldwide, including service at Woolwich, Aldershot, Limerick, Malta, and Ambala (India), and on his retirement had migrated to New Zealand with his wife and six children.

William Ramsey

William Ramsey, 1918

At the time of his enlistment in December 1915, Ramsey worked as a caretaker for the Presbyterian Institute at Trentham. At sixty-three years of age, Ramsey was enlisted for service with the New Zealand Army at the Headquarters of Trentham Camp on 3 December 1915. Like Manning, Ramsey’s experience was recognised, and while working for Captain McCristell, the Camp Quartermaster was promoted successively from Private, Corporal, Sergeant and then Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant on 1 April 1916. On 3 February 1917, Ramsey was transferred into the NZAOC and immediately promoted to Conductor.


With available records identifying Manning and Ramsey as the first Conductors appointed in New Zealand, Information of the Conductors that followed is incomplete with the following known to have been selected as Conductors.

  • Regt No 36 Conductor James Murdoch Miller, [10]1 Jul 17 – 3 Jul18
  • Regt No 69 Conductor Eugene Key,[11] 5 Jul 17 – 16 Jan 18
  • Regt No 91 Conductor Donald McCaskill McIntyre,[12] 30 Jul 17 – 10 Jul 19
  • Regt No 112 Conductor George William Bulpitt Silvestre,[13] 1 Nov 18 – 22 Aug 20
  • Regt No 48 Conductor Mark Leonard Hathaway, MSM,[14]  1Nov 18 – 30 Sep 19
  • Regt No 888 Conductor Henry Earnest Erridge, 1 Oct 19 – 31 July 26
  • Regt No 605 Conductor Walter Edward Cook,[15] 1 Nov 19 – 5 Jul 20
  • Regt No 948 Conductor Michael Joseph Lyons,[16] MSM 1 Apr 22 – 1Jul-27
  • Regt No 807 Conductor Thomas Webster Page, MSM 1Aug 22 – 22 Dec 25
  • Regt No 363 Conductor David Llewellyn Lewis, 1 Oct 28 – 31 Mar 31

4 July 1918 saw both Manning and Ramsey promoted to Honorary Lieutenants and appointed as Ordnance Officers 4th Class to the Inspectorial Staff of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Department (NZAOD).[17]

Having both reached retiring age, Manning and Ramsey relinquished their honorary ranks and appointments on the Inspectorial Staff of the NZAOD and were demobilised out of the NZAOC on 4 April 1920.[18]

In 1918, British Army Order 305 was issued, which settled the insignia for Conductors as the Royal Arms in Laurel Wreath and for a Sub-Conductor the Royal Arms.[19] Although probably adopted for wear in New Zealand in 1918/19, the Insinga of the Royal Arms in a Laurel Wreath was confirmed for New Zealand Conductor in the NZ Military Forces Dress Regulations of 1923.[20]


Warrant Officer Class One, Conductor Badge. Robert McKie Collection

Precdence of RanksDefence Regulations since 1895 had placed Conductors as warrant officers, ranking them above all non-commissioned officers. The New Zealand Defence Regulations of 1927 placed Conductors on the order of precedence of Warrant and Non-Commissioned Officers as the senior of the Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) rank equivalent to Staff Sergeant-Majors, N.Z. Permanent Staff and Master Gunner, 1st Class.[21]

Following the mass civilianisation of the NZAOC in 1931, the appointment of Conductor fell into abeyance. The appointment would remain a valid appointment until removed from Army Regulations in 1949.[22] Reinstated in 1977, The appointment of Conductor again became available for selected WO1s of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (RNZAOC). It would remain in use until 1996 when due to the amalgamation of the RNZAOC into the Royal New Zealand Army Logistic Regiment. The appointment was discontinued.

Ordnance 1918

The New Zealand Ordnance Corps 1918, Buckle Street Wellington. RNZAOC School

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018


[1] The Kings Regulations and Orders for the Army, (London1908).

[2] J Babington, “Defence Forces of New Zealand,” in AJHR (Wellington: House of Representatives, 1904).

[3] J Ward, ibid. (1907).

[4] “New Zealand Army Ordnance Department and New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps Regulations,” New Zealand Gazette, No 95, June 7, 1917, P. 2288.

[5] Ibid., P. 2289.

[6] The First conductors in the NZEF NZAOC were Acting Sub Conductor William Coltman, appointed in February 1916 and Conductor Charles Gossage, appointed on 21 July 1916.” Gossage, Charles Ingram “, Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1914; “Coltman, William “, Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1914.

[7] British Army Orders 70 & 174 of 1915, (1915).

[8] “Manning, William Henry,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1915.

[9] “Ramsey, William,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1915.

[10] “Miller, James Murdoch “, Personal File, Archives New Zealand (1914-1918).

[11] “Key, Eugene,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand (1914-1918).

[12] ” Mcintyre, Donald Mccaskill,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand (1899-1919).

[13] “Silvestre, William Bulpitt,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand (1914-1918).

[14] “Hathaway, Mark Leonard,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand (1917-1928).

[15] “Cook, Walter Edward,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand (1917-1920).

[16] “Michael Joseph Lyons,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand (1914-1919).

[17] “Appointments, Promotions and Transfers of Non-Commissioned Officers of the NZ Army Ordnance Corps and NZ Permanent Force,” New Zealand Gazette No 105, 1 August 1918.

[18] “Appointments, Promotions, Resignations, Transfers and Retirements of Officers from the NZ, NZ Army Ordnance Department and Territorial Force,” New Zealand Gazette No 26, 8 April 1920.

[19] British Army Order 308 of 1918, (1918).

[20] New Zealand Military Forces Dress Regulations, ed. New Zealand Military Forces (Wellington1923).

[21] “Regulations for the Military Forces of the Dominion of New Zealand.,” New Zealand Gazette no. 32 (1927).

[22] “Regulations for the New Zealand Military Forces 1927, Amendment, No. 62,” New Zealand Gazette, No 26, 28 April 1949.