NZAOC relief efforts, Napier earthquake 3 February 1931

For two and a half minutes from 10:47 on the morning of 3 February 1931, Napier and the surrounding province of Hawkes Bay shook as a magnitude 7.8 earthquake triggered New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster killing 256 people.

Thankfully for Napier’s surviving citizens, HMS Veronica of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy had just arrived in port and was immediately able to provide Bluejackets, Marines and material towards the relief efforts. HMS Veronica also established radio communications with the outside world and hastened the dispatch of relief supplies from Auckland. HMS Dunedin and Diomede soon delivered additional Medical Staff, Bluejackets and Marines to assist. Also, the navy vessels carried much-needed medical and camp equipment, including marquees, tents, blankets, beds and hand tools.

However, additional relief supplies were urgently required, and the Main Ordnance Depot in Trentham was called upon to supply tents, blankets, bedding, cooking and eating utensils for use in the stricken areas. The total value of the stores issued from the Main Ordnance Depot at Trentham was £35,000 (2020 NZ$3,842,326.23)

The earthquake had stuck less than a week after the NZAOC had undergone a significant and extremely unpopular reduction in its military Staff, with many compulsory retired, with others retained in the same role but transferred to the civilian Staff. However, despite this recent staff reduction, the remaining Ordnance staff did outstanding work in dispatching the required stores to support the relief efforts.

An example of the contribution of the Ordnance Staff is provided by one of the Ordnance soldiers who had been transferred to the civilian staff, Gordon Bremner. s. Bremner’s skill as a lorry driver was put to full use making multiple trips delivering stores and equipment to Napier and Hastings.

Relief camp in Nelson Park, Napier, after the 1931 earthquake. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23061357
Aerial view of Napier after the 1931 earthquake. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22711223

All military staff in the earthquake area were detailed for relief work and other personnel from other centres. On 6 March 1931, twelve officers and forty-six other ranks were employed in connection with the relief camps. All ranks and the military and civilian staff engaged in the relief effort deserved great credit for how they carried out their duties under trying conditions.

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