Defence Preparations – New Zealand Defence Stores 1911

The passing of the Defence Act 1909 heralded a transformation of the Defence Forces of New Zealand, establishing a military system that influenced the organisation, training and recruitment of the New Zealand Army into the early 1970s. Coming into effect on 28 February 1910, The Act abolished the existing Volunteer system, in its place creating a citizen-based Territorial Army from the units, regiments and Corps of the Volunteer Army.[1]  The Territorial Army’s personnel needs would be maintained by a system of Compulsory Military Training (CMT), requiring the registration of all boys and men between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one years of age.[2] The challenge for Captain James O’Sullivan and the staff of the Defence Stores, an organisation already markedly transformed since 1900, was to meet the material need needs of the growing citizen army that New Zealand was creating.

At Buckle Street, Wellington, during the 1913 waterfront strike. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972: Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: 1/2-048786-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22820606

The following article published in the New Zealand Times on 8 December 1911 provides an eyewitness account of the activities of the Defence Stores in support of the growing citizen army.[3]

While politicians are prating about the cost of the defence scheme, and its more direct enemies are peregrinating from street corner to street corner with soap boxes, the scheme itself is being steadily proceeded with. Some people probably fail to realise what it means to inaugurate an entirely new system of military defence. The necessary legislation came first, then the mapping out of the requirements in men and money, then the excitement of enrolling, and now there is proceeding the part, of which the public see little and hear little, but which perhaps is the most troublesome of all, and materially the most important, viz., the arming and the equipment of themen.

This task is being carried out at the Defence Stores in Buckle Street, Wellington. It requires a visit there to realise the thought, the work, the experience, that are necessary to carry out a big work of this description. When you enter the Buckle Street stores and see the busy toilers and the preparations for the distribution of arms and clothing over the Dominion, you realise that a big work is in progress.

For instance, the uniforms for the territorials have for the past week or two been arriving. So far the outfits for about nine thousand men in a more or less state of completion, have come, to hand. These all have to be sorted out and shelved. They are in graded in sizes, an ingenious system of measurement, the product of the brain of Captain O’Sullivan, Director of Defence Stores, has been applied, whereby almost any sized youth be fitted. Measuring has been proceeding in the various centres. A form is filled up by the regimental quartermaster for each recruit, and these forms are now arriving at the depot. Next weak commences the task of sending out the uniforms. Each man also gets an overcoat, a felt hat, and a forage cap. Every branch of the service will wear putties instead of leggings. The uniforms in hand at present fill multitudes of shelves—indeed, the place wears the appearance of a busy warehouse. Every article of clothing is the product of New Zealand mills. There is a absolute uniformity of colour, so that the whole New Zealand defence force, from the North Cape to the Bluff, will on mobilisation, present no spectacle of detached units, but one uniform whole. Distinguishing colour badges and trouser stripes will mark the branches of the service, green denoting the mounted, men, and red the infantry. The senior cadets will have neat blouses and long trousers. So far the uniforms in stock comprise only a small portion of what yet remains to be handled. A new brick building is in the later stages of completion for their safer storage. The felt hats are the product of the National Hat Mills, Wellington, and are really a very excellent article. Many large packing cases are stacked in the yards waiting to be dispatched with these goods to the territorial centres.

But this is only one branch of the industry. In other sheds are stacked camp paraphernalia, tents, marching outfits of the latest pattern, containing, in addition to bayonet, water-bottle, overcoat, etc., a handy trenching tool, bandoliers, field outfits, including telephones and heliographs; much leather goods; service boots, which the department is selling, at option, to the men at a low fee, and many other requisites.  Outside in the yard is a new pontoon bridge, lately come to hand, a rather bulky apparatus that has not yet been used. Elsewhere are stored transit water tanks, a sample transport waggon (from which others will be manufactured in the Dominion). Necessary appliances for the eighteen-pounder guns have also been coming to hand, though the guns themselves have not yet arrived.

In other sheds are many large black cases. These contain the service rifles. It is not permitted that the public should know what stock of these is kept. It is a state secret that not even an Opposition order for a “return” could cause to be divulged. Recently, however, ten thousand were added to the stock. Just at present workmen are spending busy hours cleaning up and inspecting the rifles that have been received from the old volunteer corps. Every Government arm in the Dominion has been called in, and as a result every, man will have issued to him a nice clean rifle. It will be a new start over the whole Dominion. It would grieve the heart of the military enthusiast to see the condition in which some of the rifles have been sent In. There is undoubtedly great need for the new quartermasters in the various regiments, to see that this sort of thing does not recur. Some of the Wellington corps have been rather bad offenders. The comparatively slow process of cleaning these arms has been the cause of the delay in their reissue. Every rifle has 104 parts, and these parts are stocked in large quantities.

Of the Dominion’s ammunition store, also, the outsider can know nothing. This much, however, is for public information, that every Saturday morning the Director of the Defence Stores produces his ammunition balance book, to the Commandant, who then known from glancing over the pages exactly how every packet has been distributed and how each part of the Dominion is served.

The Buckle Street stores do not yet present the aspect of a Woolwich Arsenal, but things are very busy there; the will of the people is being given effect to at as rapid a rate as opportunity will permit; evidences are offered of the effective defence scheme now in active operation; and pleasing, indeed, is the outstanding fact that local industries are benefiting to an enormous degree from a new departure in defence that after all, is an admitted necessity.

Arms and Uniforms,” New Zealand Times, Volume XXXIII, Issue 7978, 8 December 1911

Defence Stores, Bunny Street, Wellington. Goggle Maps/Public Domain
Former Defence Stores Compound, Buckle Street, Wellington The building on the right of the photo is the original 1911 Defence Stores building. The building on the left is the 1916 extension.
Former Defence Stores Compound, Buckle Street, Wellington.
Former Defence Stores Compound, Buckle Street, Wellington The building on the right of photo is the original 1911 Defence Stores building. The building on the left is the 1916 extension.

Notes

[1] Peter Cooke and John Crawford, The Territorials (Wellington: Random House New Zealand Ltd, 2011), 153.

[2] I. C. McGibbon and Paul William Goldstone, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History (Auckland; Melbourne; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, 2000), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 109-10.

[3] “Arms and Uniforms,” New Zealand Times, Volume XXXIII, Issue 7978, 8 December 1911.

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