General Godley and New Zealand’s Defence Stores Department

16 October 1914 was a significant day for New Zealand as the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) sailed out of Wellington Harbour, marking the departure of the largest, best trained and equipped Military Force ever to leave New Zealand shores. Departing in ten troopships, the 8500 men and 5000 horses of the NZEF would be the second significant departure of troops from New Zealand as the 1400 strong Samoa Expeditionary Force had departed several weeks earlier on 14 August 1914, only ten days after the declaration of war on 5 August 1914.

The fleet of troopships which transported the Main Body of the NZEF and their escort in Wellington Harbour, 15 October 1914. Image courtesy of Matt Pomeroy.

The mounting of such a force within such timeframes was the culmination of years of planning, implementation and training to provide a structured, equipped and supportable force able to easily integrate into an Imperial army alongside the UK, Australia, Canada and India. While credit for the development of the New Zealand Military in the years leading up to 1914 can be accredited to Major General Godley and his staff of British Army officers seconded to the New Zealand Military Forces. Little study has been dedicated to the logistic organisation responsible for supporting the Force, the Defence Stores Department.  Under the leadership of Major James O’Sullivan, the Defence Stores Department would be the organisation working behind the scenes with responsibility for the supply and maintenance of clothing and personal equipment, accoutrements, saddlery, harness, small-arms and small-arms ammunition, machine guns, material, transport, vehicles, camp equipment, and all stores required by New Zealand’s Military Forces.

However, despite the success in providing the stores and maintenance support required for the 1914 mobilisation, the establishment of reinforcement training camps, and maintenance of the Territorial Army, the Defence Stores Department has remained an anonymous participant in New Zealand’s Military Historical narrative. So why is this so? The historical record does not record any shameful failures necessitating its historical absence. However,  correspondence of the era indicates that there might have been a clash of personalities between General Godley and Major O’Sullivan, which has hidden the Defence Stores from view for over a hundred years.

General Sir Alexander Godley. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-013997-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22715773

As the NZEF finalised its final preparations before boarding its transport ships, General Godley visited the Defence Stores on 24 September and thanked the Defence Stores Staff for their contribution to mounting the NZEF.[1]

Departing on 16 October, Godley would be at sea for ten days before preparing a handwritten note to Colonel James Allen, the New Zealand Minister of Defence. Reacting to what could only be described as gossip, Godley’s note would set in motion a series of events that would test the Defence Stores and lead to O’Sullivan’s resignation.[2]

Dear Colonel Allen

Just before I left Wellington and since sailing, I have heard a good deal of talk about the conduct of the Stores at Wellington and criticism of J O’Sullivan. I believe the Mayor and the ladies Committee who provided articles for the men were very disappointed with his method of costing and accounting for what they sent him for the troops.

Campbell (Coast Defence Commander) also spoke to me of irregularities which had come to his notice. I have little doubt in my own mind that O’Sullivan and probably some of his subordinates are, like all Quartermasters and Storekeepers feathering their nests to a certain extent. But against this one has to put the fact that, broadly speaking, the equipping of this Force and of the South African contingents, by O’Sullivan was extremely well done and considering the opportunities he has had, one can only be astonished at his moderation in feathering his nest.

My object in writing now, though is to suggest that it might be worth while to have some sort of special audit of the Stores accounts for the Expeditionary Force, perhaps by the Public Service Commission or somebody of the kind. I mean by this an inspection and stocktaking of the Stores in kind more than cash transactions, as the later are always taken for granted and audited by the Treasury as regards vouchers not the Audit Department. Esson tells me that whenever the question of an Army Audit has been raised, the Audit Department have made difficulties and have suggested that it clashed with their functions, but this is probably a misconception and in any case the Army system has grown so big that some more checks is I am sure required, and the departure of this Force would be a good reason for starting it now.

But, whatever happens, the good work done by O’Sullivan and his Department should not be overlooked, though it is too close a borough, and would now be all the better for shaking up and overhauling with fresh blood.

Yours Sincerely

Alex Godley

Possibly in response to Godley’s note, the Public Service Commission convened the Defence Stores Commission, which throughout 1915 examined the Defence Stores in detail, producing a comprehensive report to the Minister of Defence on 31 August 1915.

Forwarded to the Commander of NZ Forces Brigadier General A.W Robin, a reply was furnished on 9 September 1915. Admitting fault where required, Robins reply, however, counted many of the commission’s points and highlighted the success of the Defence Stores and highlighted that the Defence Stores were operating adequately under existing Military Stores and Treasury Regulations. However, O’Sullivan’s reputation had been tarnished.

A letter from Allen to Godley sent on 4 January 1916 summarises the situation[3]

The Stores Department, about which there was an enquiry have come fairly well out of it, but I gather there is a pretty strong feeling that 0’Sullivan, who is on sick leave now should not go back.

Although acquitted of any misconduct, O’Sullivan position had become untenable, and to maintain the smooth functioning of the Defence Stores, Allen outlined changes that had been made to the Defence Stores in a letter to Godley on 13 April 1916,[4]

So far as Defence is concerned, Captain McCristell has been brought in from Featherston and placed in 0’Sullivan’ s position, the latter being made Inspector of 0rdnance Stores.

I should think 0’Sullivan has been more enquired into than any other officer in the Department, but nothing very detrimental has come out about him; however, it seemed to me to be wise, especially in view of the fact that the Supplies Board -which is under the control of the Hon. Mr Myers – was so determined about it, that he should give up his position as head of the Stores Department. I have every confidence that McCristell will do well there.

Replying  to Allen on 24 March, Godley was less than supportive of O’Sullivan and made clear his personnel feelings, [5]

I am sorry, but not altogether surprised, to hear about 0’Sullivan. I think you know my feeling about him, which is that, considering the class of man he is, and the opportunities he has had, one can only be astonished at his moderation. Ninetynine out of a hundred in his position would have made a large fortune.

A component of the New Zealand Military establishment since the 1860s, the Defence Stores Departments tenure as a civilian branch of the Military were numbered. Although nothing detrimental came out of the Public Service Commissions report, the time was deemed suitable to follow the lead of the Australian and the Canadians and militarise the Defence Stores into an Army Ordnance Corps. Gazetted on 1 February 1917, the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps assumed the responsibilities of the Defence Stores Department, with McCristell assuming the role as the head of the Ordnance Corps.[6]

O’Sullivan would retire from his position of Inspector of Ordnance Stores in January 1917, to take up farming in Huntley.

The enquiry of the Defence Stores Department fell flat and found nothing detrimental, and further study will be required to determine why the Defence Stores Department became an anonymous participant in New Zealand’s Military Historical narrative. Is it linked to Goldey’s dislike of O’Sullivan and his belief that Quartermasters and Storekeepers were only interested in “feathering their own nests”, or is it part of the Kiwi Tall Poppy Syndrome where success is looked down on? The mounting of the NZEF was a monumental task, and the Defence Stores Department is well overdue for some recognition for the part that they played.


Notes

[1] “Defence Stores Staff,” Dominion, Volume 7, Issue 2264, , 25 September 1914, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DOM19140925.2.47.

[2] “Correspondence Major General Godley to James Allen 26 October “, R22319698 – Ministerial Files – Correspondence with General Godley  (1914).

[3] “Correspondence James Allen to Major General Godley 4 January,” R22319698 – Ministerial Files – Correspondence with General Godley  (1916).

[4] “Correspondence James Allen to Major General Godley 13 April “, R22319698 – Ministerial Files – Correspondence with General Godley  (1916).

[5] “Correspondence Major General Godley to James Allen 24 March,” R22319699 – Ministerial Files – Correspondence with General Godley  (1916).

[6] “New Zealand Army Ordnance Department and New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps Regulations,” New Zealand Gazette No 95 (Wellington), June 7 1917.

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