Equipping the 1st NZ Contingent to South Africa

On 28 September 1899, the New Zealand Premier ‘King Dick’ Seddon offered to the Imperial Government in London, in the event of war with the Boer Republics, the services of a contingent of Mounted Infantry for service in South Africa. The offer was accepted, and when war broke out on 11 October 1899, New Zealand was swept up in a wave of patriotic fervour. This short article will examine the forgotten contribution by the predecessor to the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, the Defence Stores Department in equipping the first New Zealand Contingent to the war in South Africa.

With a small Permanent Militia and few reserve stores to mount an Expeditionary Force, the New Zealand Military establishment including the Defence Stores Department was unprepared for the rapid mobilisation that was about to be undertaken.[1]

Although most members of the First Contingent were drawn from the Permanent Militia or Volunteer Forces, it was expected that they would supply their own equipment from their unit stocks and shortfalls were expected. These would have to be satisfied from Defence Stores Department Stocks.[2]

The Defence Stores Department had insufficient uniforms and equipment available for the assembling Contingent,  requiring the recall and donation of items from volunteer units as well as the placing of orders for the urgent manufacture or purchase of over 20,000 items of equipment, uniforms, underclothing, horse equipment, saddlery on the local market.

Clothing for a New Zealand Contingent being distributed at the Defence Stores, Wellington. Auckland Libraries Heritage Images Collection
Fitting out a New Zealand Contingent at the Wellington Defence Stores. Auckland Libraries Heritage Images Collection

The first task of the Defence Stores was to prepare the camp stores for the mobilisation camp that would be established at Karori, just outside of Wellington. On 6 October 1899, three waggon-loads of camp equipment had been prepared and dispatched to Karori in the care of a work party from the Permanent Militia, the stores included;[3]

  • 31 tents for the men
  • 6 Officers tents
  • Kitchen tent
  • Stores Tent
  • Mess Marquee
  • picket fences for tethering the horses

From the 6th to 21 October 1899, under the direct supervision of the Under-Secretary for Defence, Sir Arthur Percy Douglas, the Defence Storekeeper Captain Anderson and his small staff spent up to 16 hours daily, receiving, recording, branding and then dispatching all manner of essential items to the assembled Contingent at Karori Camp.

Receiving the Stores at Karori Camp from the Defence Stores Department was the Camp Storekeeper Corporal Butler and two assistant gunners of the Permanent Artillery. [4] Corporal Butler and his two assistants ably carried out their duties ensuring that as equipment received from the Defence Stores Department, each member of the Contingent was issued with a set scale of kit, including blankets, several changes of underwear, three sets of uniform, overcoat, several pairs of boots and shoes, numerous other articles, rifle and accoutrements. In addition to these articles, saddlery and other equipment for each trooper’s horse were also issued. Total equipment issued to the Contingent was as follows;[5]  

Officers Equipment

  • Khaki tunics, 22 
  • khaki trousers, 22
  • cord breeches, 44
  • slouch-hats, 11
  • field-service caps, 11
  • Sam Brown belts (sets), 11
  • waterproof sheets, 11
  • spurs, 11
  • cloaks, 11
  • boots (pairs), 22
  • shoes (pairs), 22
  • haversacks, 11
  • water-bottles, 11
  • also, complete underwear

Men’s Personal Equipment

  • Khaki tunics, 400
  • slouch-hats, 200
  • forage-caps, 200
  • gaiters, 200
  • riding-breeches, 400
  • boots (pairs), 400
  • shoes (pairs), 400 
  • socks (pairs), 600
  • undershirts, 600 
  • flannel shirts, 600 
  • drawers, 600
  • cholera-belts, 600
  • braces, 200
  • spurs, 200
  • greatcoats, 200
  • holdalls complete, with brush and comb, knife, fork, spoon, and housewife, 200
  • clasp-knives and lanyards, 200
  • blankets, 400
  • waterproof sheets, 200
  • towels, 600
  • blue jerseys, 200
  • serge trousers, 200
  • kitbags, 200
  • button-brushes, 200
  • button-sticks, 200
  • shoe brushes (sets), 200
  • blacking-tins, 200
  • woollen caps, 200
  • dubbing (tins), 200
  • horses, 250, with stable equipment complete.

Horse Equipment

  • Saddles complete with wallets, leather numnahs, shoe-pockets, breastplates, girths, surcingle’s, stirrup-leathers, stirrup-irons, bridles complete, 211
  • surcingle’s, with pads, 250
  • headstalls (for ship use), 250
  • head-ropes, 250
  • heel-ropes, 250
  • picketing ropes, 250
  • picketing pegs, 250 
  • mallets, 62 
  • forage-nets, 250
  • nosebags, 250
  • forage-cords, 211
  • horse blankets, 250
  • hoof-pickers, 211
  • currycombs, 211
  • horse-brushes, 211
  • stable-sponges, 211
  • horse-rubbers, 400

Camp Equipment

  • Tents, 30
  • camp-kettles, 24 
  • axes, 4 
  • pickaxes, 8 
  • crowbars, 2
  • spades, 8
  • field-forge, complete, 1
  • farriers’ tools (sets), 4
  • horseshoes (cases), 3
  • horseshoe-nails (case), 1
  • saddlers’ tools, complete (case), 1
  • saddlers’ leather (roll), 1

Arms, Accoutrements

  • Carbines, Martini-Enfield, 200
  • sword-bayonets, 200
  • waist belts fitted for service, 200
  • oil-bottles, 200
  • haversacks, 200
  • water-bottles, 200
  • rifle-buckets, 200
  • mess-tins, 200
  • whistles for officers and /ion-commissioned officers, 17
  • revolvers, 17
New Zealand Contingent in marching order at Karori, 10 minutes before leaving to board their troopship.NZ Archives reference: AEGA 18982 PC4 Box 16 1899/37

With the SS Waiwera due to sail on 21 October, most deadlines were achieved, and the first New Zealand Contingent to South Africa sailed from Wellington on schedule. Many personal belongings were left behind at the Karori Camp by the members of the Contingent for return to the owner’s home locations. The Defence Stores Department had received lists and directions from the troopers and undertook to see that the things were sent to their homes.

In recognition of the outstanding effort exerted by the Defence Stores Department and the stress and strain of equipping the Contingent, Sir Arthur Douglas the Under-Secretary for Defence, feeling that a letter of thanks would have been an inadequate acknowledgement of the special services rendered, personally thanked the staff of the Defence Store Department at their Buckle-street Store Office on the 24 October 1899. In a hearty speech, Sir Arthur acknowledged the untiring energy and zeal displayed by the staff. He informed them that he had recommended the Minister of Defence show recognition of the work done in some substantial manner.[6]

‘Defence Department and Alexandra Barracks, Wellington’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/buckle-street-wellington, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 21-Apr-2016

With the first Contingent departing New Zealand in October 1899, The Defence Stores Department with only a modest increase in its workforce would continue to provide ongoing mobilisation support to the further nine contingents that were dispatched to South Africa. The lessons of the initial mobilisation would not be forgotten. In the years leading up to the 1914 mobilisation, sporadic improvements would be made to the Defence Stores Department allowing it to equip a much larger and technically diverse Force to Samoa and Egypt in a limited timeframe.

Notes

[1] “New Zealands Contingent,” Evening Post, Volume LVIII, Issue LVIII, , 28 October 1899.
[2] “New Zealand’s Response,”  https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/south-african-boer-war/new-zealands-response,
[3] “The Camp at Karori,” Evening Post, Volume LVIII, Issue 85, , 7 October 1899.
[4] “New Zealand Contingent: Letters from Commander of the Forces and Undersecertary for Defence “, Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1899 Session I, H-06  (1899).
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Contingent Notes,” Evening Post, Volume LVIII, Issue 100, 25 October 1899.

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