Sport and NZAOC in the interwar years – an examination of how sport contributed to the military preparedness and community links of the NZAOC

The Military of New Zealand has a proud sporting tradition; a tradition often touted as an example of how sport and the Military have had a complementary partnership credited with the shaping of the unique New Zealand Identify. Accounts of the 1919 “New Zealand Services” tour of the United Kingdom, France and South Africa and “Freybergs All Blacks” in the wake of World War Two have provided much material for articles, books and documentaries, reinforcing the New Zealand Sporting/Military tradition. However, New Zealand’s Military participation in sport in the period between the world wars is one that has remained mostly unrecorded and unknown. Using the example of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (NZAOC), this essay will examine how the members of the Ordnance Corps participated as administrators and players in sporting competitions during the interwar period of 1918-1939.  This participation, while a general reflection of New Zealand society of the time, was nonetheless significant because it contributed to the Military’s profile in the community and the military preparedness of the NZAOC.

NZ-Army-team-1919-800

Sport has been a constant companion to New Zealand’s Military endeavours. New Zealand service members are well known for taking any opportunity to put their military duties aside and with the full encouragement of the military hierarchy, participate in sporting competition. Sporting participation in the Military is encouraged because it is not only an easy and practical way of encouraging physical fitness but as stated in the New Zealand Army Publication the NZP20 Sport, useful for promoting “the development of unit morale and esprit de corps, the development of leadership, teamwork, skills, dexterity, comradeship, development of personal qualities and character and the enhancement of the image of the Army in the community.”[1] Although the NZ P20 is the latest interpretation of the role of sport, it is an interpretation that has remained constant throughout all of New Zealand Military endeavours.[2] New Zealand’s final campaign of the First World War was not a military campaign, but rather a nineteen match, six-month tour of France, the United Kingdom and South Africa. The N.Z. Services team chosen from the cream of the NZEF were retrospectively considered in 1928 by Percy Day, the manager of the 1919 South African Services side “superior to the best XV the 1928 All Blacks could field. Being ex-soldiers, their teamwork and team spirit were alike admirable, and they blended into a most workmanlike side.”[3] Additional validation of the relationship between sport and military service came in 1920 as France began to rebuild their Military. Based on observations by the French of fighting quality of British Imperial troops, the French War Minister instructed that the development of sport participation throughout the French Army be made compulsory in every regiment. The radical change was made in part by the French wish to emulate the “fine physique and fighting qualities of the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Canadians, who are the greatest exponents of football, cricket and general sport in the world”.[4]

In the wake of the First World War, sport would undergo a popular resurgence in New Zealand. The nation was determined to move forward to put the losses of the war behind them and “people were determined to enjoy themselves and to forget, or pretend to forget” the traumatic events to the previous four years.[5] Sport as a national institution had already been well established in the years leading up to the First World War and considered by some in New Zealand society as “a moral and physical training ground for young men and therefore a vital component of soldier-making”. However, by 1915 participation would begin to decline as the war effort began to take priority. The resurgence of sporting competitions began in 1918 and by 1919 was in full swing with Rugby Union, Football, Cricket, Shooting and Bowls competitions flourishing across the nation. However, despite the post-war resurgence of sport as a national pastime, the participation of the Military and the Ordnance Corps is less clear. The focus of most contemporary histories of the New Zealand Army for the period 1918-39 are less on sport but on how, despite the high esteem of the Army, how it faced many challenges and struggled for resources. In a period of growing anti-war sentiments, faith in the League of Nations, financial austerity and global depression, the Army underwent many reorganisations restructures and reductions so that by 1931 it had been reduced to a strength of around five hundred men.[6] However, despite the financial limitations of the era, the Ordnance Corps under the leadership of Major Thomas Joseph King, would not only conduct its military duties but also was an active participant in the sporting community.

As the Army adjusted and found its place in post-war New Zealand Society, the Ordnance Corps undertook a similar journey. In 1919 the Ordnance Corps was a relatively young military organisation, having only been formed as a component of the New Zealand Permanent Forces in 1917.[7] With its headquarters and main depot at Wellington’s Mount Cook, the Ordnance Corps was a nationwide organisation with sub-depots in Auckland, Palmerston North, Featherston, Trentham, Christchurch and Dunedin and was the defence agency vested with the responsibility for the provision, storage, maintenance and repair of all of the Defence Forces stores and equipment.[8] Reorganising to meet the need of the post-war Army, the Ordnance Corps would reduce its presence at Mount Cook when it transferred its warehousing functions to Trentham in 1920, followed by the Ordnance Workshops in 1930. Not immune from the effects of the depression, the Ordnance Corps faced its most significant challenge in January 1931 when massive workforce reductions across the NZ Army saw the Ordnance Corps reduced to a strength of 21 Officers and Soldiers with seventy-four men transferred to the Civil Staff, and the remainder retired. Few records of the sporting participation of the Ordnance Corps during the interwar period remain with one of the few pieces of evidence a photo in Joe Bolton’s 1992 History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps. [9] Bolton dedicates eight pages to the interwar period, but in tune with other publications covering New Zealand Military history during the same era, makes no mention of the NZAOC’s sporting participation, except for a single photograph of the 1934-35 Ordnance Cricket team at Upper Hutt’s Maidstone Park.[10]  The general theme of published military history works covering the period set the narrative of the interwar period of one of the struggles of the Military with much of the focus on the Territorial Army with little written about the small Permanent Forces, leading to the assumption that the Ordnance Corps as a military entity did not participate in any sporting activities. However, newspaper archives and records held by Archives New Zealand provide ample evidence that the Ordnance Corps was the most prominent component of the Permanent Forces that participated in community-based sporting competitions, with members of the Ordnance Corps acting as either administrator’s or players.[11] A search of the Papers Past Database using a combination of search criteria show that the Ordnance Corps was an active participant in many sporting activities in two distinct periods during the interwar years. The first recorded period of sporting activity was from 1918 to 1920, with the second period from 1933 to 1939. The absence in the newspaper record between 1920 and 1932 of any Ordnance Corps participation sporting competitions is unexplained. It could have been that resources and the tempo of work precluded participation, or it could be due to a quirk of editorial choice and sports were just not covered in detail during that period.

From 1918 to 1920 the Ordnance Corps was active in a range of team and individual sports including Rugby Union, Shooting, Cricket and Bowls. The Evening Post of October 14 1918, provides an account of a Rugby match between Ordnance and Base Records resulting in an 11 to 3 win for Ordnance. The article describes how the winning tries were scored by Captain King and Private Batchelor with Quartermaster-Sergeant McIntyre converted one try.[12] During 1919, prominent Wellington Newspapers such as the Evening Post and Dominion provided extensive coverage of most sporting competitions in the Wellington region which the Ordnance Corps provided teams to including the Wellington Miniature Rifle Association Osmond Challenge Cup.[13] The Osmond Challenge Cup was an intense competition between several Military and civilian teams from across the Wellington region. An exciting feature of this tournament was that the competition was mixed gender with a team of ladies competing, several of whom were the wives of some of the senior Ordnance Staff.[14] Cricket was also anther popular sport with the Ordnance Corps contributing a team into the Wellington Cricket Association Junior Men’s competition.[15] Lawn Bowls was also popular with the Ordnance Corps maintaining a bowling club up to 1918 participating in competitions and one-off matches. The Ordnance Bowling Club merged into the long-established Johnsonville Club in 1918, raising that club’s membership from Twenty-Four to Forty-Two.[16]  Based on the newspaper records Ordnance Corps participation in Wellingtons sporting competitions fell off after 1920. The likely reason for this sudden disengagement could be attributed to the move of the bulk of the Ordnance Corps to Trentham in 1920, and the reduction of Army staffing levels.

Cricket 1919

The second and most crucial period of Ordnance Corps sporting participation began in 1932 when after twelve years at Trentham the Ordnance Corps Main Ordnance Depot (MOD) entered a team into the Upper Hutt Cricket League competition.[17] The Ordnance Corps would provide a single Ordnance team from the 1933/34 season until the end of the 1938/39 season. During the duration of each season, the Evening Post Newspaper would provide a summary of each game detailing the results of the matches and the high scoring players.[18] By following the Newspaper articles, a roster of the teams participating in the competition is identified, with the Ordnance team along with Upper Hutt and Trentham teams identified as one of the anchor teams of the competition. The Newspaper articles also identify twenty of the men who played for the Ordnance team from 1934 to 1939. Having the names allows cross-referencing against other articles and military personnel files, providing further evidence that the Ordnance Cricket team was not only a sports team but an incubator for the future leaders of the Ordnance Corps. A high number of the players would serve in some capacity in all the different theatres that NZ Ordnance units served in during the war.[19] For example two of the players’ Alan Andrews and Henry McKenzie Reid, then both junior officers would rise to senior Ordnance command positions during the war. Andrews in the 2nd NZEF in the Middle East and Reid in the Pacific. After the war, both would be Director of Ordnance Services (DOS) and then Colonel Commandants.[20] Other players such as Leighton, Stroud and Keegan would all be commissioned during the war and end up commanding Ordnance Subunits in Trentham, Palmerston North and Linton into the early 1950s. The war would bring an end to the Upper Hutt cricket competition with the 1938/39 season the final season of the decade. Sports would flourish in Trentham during the war years, as the camp became a major training camp and logistics centre.[21] However, the Ordnance Corps would not place any terms into the local competition until 1950 when Rugby and Cricket teams representing the MOD once again represented the Ordnance Corps in regional sporting competitions.[22]

ord-cricket-team

One of the most interesting aspects of the Ordnance Cricket team is the use of symbology in the team strip. The existing photograph of the 1934/35 team, picture the team dressed in a simple team strip of whites, with each member wearing a blue cheese cutter type hat with a stylised NZAOC Badge.[23] The use of the Ordnance badge is significant as symbols such as a coloured cap, and a badge can represent the values of the organisation and distinguish the wearer from others.[24] The 1930s were a period of economic austerity, and the provision of a cap badge stylised badge could have been seen as a frivolous and necessary expense. However that these items existed demonstrates a level of commitment by the individual team members to represent their organisation, in this case, the Trentham Main Ordnance Depot in the best possible light.

King

Brigadier T J King, CBE, RNZAOC Regimental Colonel 1 Jan 1949 – 31 Mar 1961. RNZAOC School

In addition to the Ordnance Corps personnel participating in sports throughout these two periods, two individuals are prominent in the field of sports administration, Major Thomas Joseph King and William Saul Keegan. As the DOS from 1924, King was the head of the Ordnance Corps until 1939. In addition to his military duties managing the Ordnance Corps, King was also a significant member of the Wellington Rugby Union (WRU) administration. In the lead-up to the Great War, King served in the Territorials while working as a public servant. King had a lifelong passion for sports and was an accomplished swimmer and capable rugby player. Serving in the NZEF King was one of the first two officers promoted into the newly created NZEF Ordnance Corps. King would serve at Gallipoli where he was injured and repatriated back to New Zealand early in 1916. King continued to serve in the Defence Stores in Wellington and commissioned into the NZAOC on its formation as part of the permanent forces in 1917. He was serving as the second in command of the Ordnance Corps until 1924, King then assumed the appointment of DOS.  As a member of the Oriental Rugby Club in Wellington, the club elections of 1923 saw King appointed as a Vice President.[25] King would then be elected to the WRU management committee from 1926 until 1939. King would not only be involved in the day to day operation of Wellington Rugby; he would also be one of the WRU delegates to the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU). [26] On one occasion King’s WRU duties intersected with his military responsibilities when he recruited Alan Andrews into the NZAOC. Studying at Christchurch University, Andrews played rugby for Canterbury and had made the grade for selection as an All Black in 1934. However, as he was at university, Andrews made the difficult decision to forgo rugby and complete his studies. This decision would be a lifelong regret. Andrews moved to Wellington to complete the practical work for his degree, and King had organised a placement for Andrews through the WRU on the proviso that Andrews played rugby for the Hutt. On completion of his degree, King recruited Andrews into the Ordnance Corps and an Ordnance Officer in 1936.[27] Kings decision was a wise choice, Andrews would have an eventful career attaining the rank of Brigadier. Andrews rugby career high would be when he was selected by General Freyberg early in the war to manage the 2nd NZEF Rugby Team on the cessation of hostilities, a task he completed with much success, with the Khaki Blacks becoming one of the most famous and successful Rugby teams produced by New Zealand.[28] Wartime service would see King resign from the management committee of the WRU, however, in recognition of his long and dedicated services to Wellington Rugby; King received the honour of life membership of the union in 1939.[29] King’s passion for rugby continued during his service in the 2nd NZEF, where in addition to his duties as the Deputy Director of Ordnance Services (DDOS) King would put his skills as a rugby administrator and selector to good use organising fixtures for the various 2nd NZEF teams.[30]

Administering at the club level was William Saul Keegan. Keegan had been a regular Ordnance soldier who was transferred to the civil service in 1931 as part of cost reductions across the Army, continuing to work at the MOD as a civilian throughout the 1930s. In addition to playing cricket for the Ordnance team in the Upper Hutt competition, Keegan was also the President of the Upper Hutt Rugby Club. A legacy of Keegan’s time as club President was the institution of the Wylie-Keegan cup, which remained an annual fixture with Otaki for several years.[31]  A highlight of Keegan’s tenure was that he brought he club out of the financial difficulties into a more stable position.[32] Keegan volunteered for war service and was commissioned as an officer in 1940 and would serve in Ordnance Command appointments until 1950.[33]

In conclusion, the participation of the Ordnance Corps in sporting competitions during the interwar years has remained anonymous in the historical narrative of the period. However, the Ordnance Corps participation was far from anonymous with the newspapers of the day, providing a record of the Ordnance Corps sporting participation with teams and individuals as players and administrators throughout the interwar period from 1918 to 1939. The single reaming team photograph offers a view of the team strip, demonstrating a level of commitment and pride in the Ordnance Corps and a desire to promote it to the local community. Given the nature of the sports, it is evident that sporting participation was useful in maintaining morale and esprit de corps during some difficult times while enhancing the image of the Ordnance Corps and the Army within the community. Finally, the leadership and teamwork that sport encourages were to provide inherent benefits to the Ordnance Corps in the World War of 1939-45. Many of the men who participated in sport as either administrators or players would go on to occupy critical leadership positions within the expanded wartime Ordnance organisation.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

“Army Team Enters H.V.C.A.” Upper Hutt Leader, Volume XII, Number 40, 5 October 1950.

“Compulsory Sport.” Wairarapa Daily Times, Volume 46, Issue 14081, 23 March 1920.

“Dinner and Presentation.” Upper Hutt Weekly Review, Volume III, Issue 39, 16 September 1938.

“Hutt Valley Cricket.” Evening Post, Volume CXVIII, Issue 140, , 11 December 1934.

“Johnsonville Club.” Evening Post, Volume XCVI, Issue 9, Page 5, 10 July 1918.

“Junior Competition.” Evening Post, Volume XCVII, Issue 33, 10 February 1919.

“Minature Rifleshooting.” Evening Post, Volume XCVI, Issue 14, 16 July 1918.

New Zealand Army. “Role of Army Sport.” NZ P20 Sport Chapter 1, Section 2 (2000).

“New Zealand Army Ordnance Department and New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps Regulations.” New Zealand Gazette, No 95, June 7 1917, 2292.

“Regulations for the Equipment of the New Zealand Military Forces.” New Zealand Gazette, June 14 1917, 2369-498.

“Regulations for the Military Forces of the Dominion of New Zealand.”. New Zealand Gazette, 25 May 1927, 1555-600.

“Rifle Shooting.” New Zealand Times, Volume XLIV, Issue 10310, Page 8, 19 June 1919.

“Rugby Football.” Evening Post, Volume XCVI, Issue 91, 14 October 1918.

“Rugby, the Oriental Club.” Evening Post, Volume CV, Issue 57, Page 4, 8 March 1923.

“Upper Hutt Club.” Evening Post, Volume CXXIII, Issue 63, Page 5, 16 March 1937.

“War Diary, 2nzef – Ddos [Deputy Director of Ordnance Services], June 1940 to November 1942.” Archives New Zealand Item No R20111233  (1940).

“William Saul Keegan.” Personal File, New Zealand Defence Force Archives, 1918.

Secondary Sources

Bolton, Major J.S. A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps. Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992.

Cape, Peter. Craftsmen in Uniform: The Corps of Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers: An Account. Corps of Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, 1976. Non-fiction.

Clayton, Garry. The New Zealand Army: A History from the 1840s to the 1990s. [Wellington, N.Z.]: New Zealand Army, 1990, 1990. Non-fiction.

Cooke, Peter. Warrior Craftsmen, Rnzeme 1942-1996. Wellington: Defense of New Zealand Study Group, 2017.

Elliott, Matt. War Blacks. HarperCollins Publishers, 2016. Bibliographies, Non-fiction, Collective biography.

Kelleher, J. A. Upper Hutt: The History. Cape Catley, 1991. Bibliographies, Non-fiction, Government documents.

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

McKie, Robert. “Ordnance Cricket Team 1934/35.”  https://rnzaoc.com/2020/04/19/ordnance-cricket-team-1934-35/.

Ryan, Greg, and Geoff Watson. Sport and the New Zealanders: A History. Auckland University Press, 2018. Bibliographies, Non-fiction.

Swan, Arthur C., and Gordon F. W. Jackson. Wellington’s Rugby History, 1870-1950. Reed, 1952. Non-fiction.

Van Maanen, John Eastin, and Edgar Henry Schein. “Toward a Theory of Organizational Socialization.”  (1977).

Weddell, Howard. Trentham Camp and Upper Hutt’s Untold Military History. Howard Weddell, 2018. Bibliographies, Non-fiction.

Whatman, Mike. Khaki All Blacks: A Tribute to the ‘Kiwis’: The 2nd Nzef Army Rugby Team. Hodder Moa Beckett, 2005. Bibliographies, Non-fiction.

Notes

[1] New Zealand Army, “Role of Army Sport,” NZ P20 Sport Chapter 1, Section 2 (2000).

[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, 506.

[3] Matt Elliott, War Blacks (HarperCollins Publishers, 2016), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, Collective biography, 274.

[4] “Compulsory Sport,” Wairarapa Daily Times, Volume 46, Issue 14081, 23 March 1920.

[5] Greg Ryan and Geoff Watson, Sport and the New Zealanders: A History (Auckland University Press, 2018), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 151.

[6] Garry Clayton, The New Zealand Army: A History from the 1840’s to the 1990’s ([Wellington, N.Z.]: New Zealand Army, 1990, 1990), Non-fiction, 105-10.

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

[8] Less rations and Fuel “Regulations for the Equipment of the New Zealand Military Forces,” New Zealand Gazette, June 14 1917.

[9] Major J.S Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992), 80-88.

[10]  Peter Capes, 1976 Craftsmen in Uniform and Peter Cooke’s 2017 Warrior Craftsmen both, cover the NZAOC during the interwar period, but similarly to the contemporary military histories any mention of the Sporting contribution of the NZAOC is absent  Peter Cape, Craftsmen in Uniform: The Corps of Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers: An Account (Corps of Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, 1976), Non-fiction, 16-34.; Peter Cooke, Warrior Craftsmen, Rnzeme 1942-1996 (Wellington: Defense of New Zealand Study Group, 2017), 14-17.

[11] The 1927 Regulation for NZ Military Forces details that the Permanent Forces consisted of the following elements:

  • NZ Staff Corps.
  • NZ Permanent Staff.
  • Royal NZ Artillery.
  • NZ Permanent Air Force.
  • NZ Permanent Army Service Corps.
  • NZ Army Medical Corps.
  • NZ Army Ordnance Corps.
  • NZ Army Pay Corps.
  • General Duty Section of the Permanent Forces.
  • NZ Air Force.
  • NZ Veterinary Corps.
  • NZ Dental Corps.

“Regulations for the Military Forces of the Dominion of New Zealand.,” New Zealand Gazette, 25 May 1927.

[12] “Rugby Football,” Evening Post, Volume XCVI, Issue 91, 14 October 1918.

[13] “Minature Rifleshooting,” Evening Post, Volume XCVI, Issue 14, 16 July 1918.

[14] “Rifle Shooting,” New Zealand Times, Volume XLIV, Issue 10310, Page 8, 19 June 1919.

[15] “Junior Competition,” Evening Post, Volume XCVII, Issue 33, 10 February 1919.

[16] “Johnsonville Club,” Evening Post, Volume XCVI, Issue 9, Page 5, 10 July 1918.

[17] J. A. Kelleher, Upper Hutt : The History (Cape Catley, 1991), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, Government documents, 312-13.

[18] “Hutt Valley Cricket,” Evening Post, Volume CXVIII, Issue 140, , 11 December 1934.

[19] Robert McKie, “Ordnance Cricket Team 1934/35,”  https://rnzaoc.com/2020/04/19/ordnance-cricket-team-1934-35/.

[20] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 35-35.

[21] Howard Weddell, Trentham Camp and Upper Hutt’s Untold Military History (Howard Weddell, 2018), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 129-67.

[22] “Army Team Enters H.V.C.A,” Upper Hutt Leader, Volume XII, Number 40, 5 October 1950.

[23] The colour of the type is badge is confirmed as an example remains on display in the NZ Army’s Trade Training School at Trentham.

[24] John Eastin Van Maanen and Edgar Henry Schein, “Toward a Theory of Organizational Socialization,”  (1977): 44.

[25] “Rugby, the Oriential Club,” Evening Post, Volume CV, Issue 57, Page 4, 8 March 1923.

[26]. Arthur C. Swan and Gordon F. W. Jackson, Wellington’s Rugby History, 1870-1950 (Reed, 1952), Non-fiction, 187-88.

[27] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 257.

[28] Mike Whatman, Khaki All Blacks : A Tribute to the ‘Kiwis’ : The 2nd Nzef Army Rugby Team (Hodder Moa Beckett, 2005), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 18-26.

[29] Swan and Jackson, Wellington’s Rugby History, 1870-1950, 126.

[30] “War Diary, 2nzef – Ddos [Deputy Director of Ordnance Services], June 1940 to November 1942,” Archives New Zealand Item No R20111233  (1940).

[31] “Dinner and Presentation,” Upper Hutt Weekly Review, Volume III, Issue 39, 16 September 1938.

[32] “Upper Hutt Club,” Evening Post, Volume CXXIII, Issue 63, Page 5, 16 March 1937.

[33] “William Saul Keegan,” Personal File, New Zealand Defence Force Archives 1918.

 

Copyright © Robert McKie 2020