Donald Edward Harper

This article is republished with the permission of the Facebook page “Upper Hutt War Stories“. Upper Hutt War Stories is a Facebook page dedicated to commemorating the war service of Upper Hutt’s citizens and those with strong connections to the City. It remembers those who put their lives on the line for the defence of our Nation.

Buried beneath a weathered brass plaque in the graveyard of Trentham’s St John’s church is a former Commander of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps. A veteran of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force North Africa and Italian campaigns, he was wounded in action and continued to serve as a Territorial Force officer after the War.

Born in Petone, Don Harper attended Wellington College, where he was exposed to military life as a member of the school’s cadet corps for six years. After leaving school and graduating from Victoria University with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in accounting, he joined the public service as a clerk with the National Provident Fund in 1932.

When the Second World War broke out Don was living with his parents in Russell Street, Upper Hutt and working as an auditor with the Government’s Audit Department. He enlisted straight away, entering camp at Trentham on 3 October 1939 as a Private with the 4th Reserve Motor Transport Company. A week later he was sent on the Potential Officers Course, and after six weeks training was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Don was subsequently posted to the Main Ordnance Depot at Trentham for training and departed Wellington for the Middle East on 5 January 1940. He was attached to the headquarters of the 2nd New Zealand Division as they established themselves at Maadi in Egypt, and at the beginning of June 1940 was promoted to Lieutenant.

The New Zealand Division had seen little action up to this point and Don was active helping establish the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force’s Base Ordnance Depot at Maadi Camp in September 1940. Promoted to Temporary Captain to fill the Base Ordnance Officer post, he remained with the Depot in Egypt for almost a year, missing out on the campaigns in Greece and Crete.

View of the working area of the Ordnance Depot at Maadi Camp in 1941. Photo H.J Gilbertson

Then at the beginning of August 1941, Don was posted back to the headquarters of the 2nd New Zealand Division to be Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (DADOS) in the rank of Temporary Major. This was a critical logistics role resupplying the Division and marked a stunningly quick progression from private to major in less than two years.

Don experienced the realities of warfare for the first time in November 1941, when the Division was attached to the newly formed 8th Army and attempted to relieve the beleaguered garrison at Tobruk. Despite losing all their tank support the Kiwis succeeded in reaching Tobruk, but suffered horrendous casualties in what was described as some of the hardness fighting of the War at Sidi Rezegh and Belhamed, when Rommel’s Africa Corps counterattacked.

Withdrawn to Suez to recover and retrain, Don and the 2nd New Zealand Division were subsequently rushed to Syria in February 1942, to protect against an Axis invasion of the Northeastern flank. But in April he was back in Cairo, where he married Elisabeth Rothschild in a short ceremony. Don and Elisabeth were fortunate to be able to spend time together, as in May he was posted back to Maadi.

Don took over command of the New Zealand Engineers and Ordnance Training Depot, where he was responsible for training reinforcements. Then two months later he was posted as Deputy Director Ordnance Services with 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force headquarters and base depot. His efforts in helping establish and maintain the New Zealand contribution to the campaign were recognised with a mention in despatches on 15 December 1942.

After the fighting in North Africa came to a close, Don was deployed to Italy in October 1943. He arrivied at Taranto as the Kiwis began operations against the Germans, and was tasked with conducting a review of New Zealand Division ordnance support. He recommended a significant reorganisation, including establishing a new base deport at Bari, as an extension of the main depot back in Egypt.

Promoted to temporary Lieutenant Colonel, Don was appointed Assistant Director Ordnance Services in March 1944, and worked in resupplying the 2nd New Zealand Division in action at Cassino. In early June he was caught in an enemy artillery barrage and received shrapnel wounds in his back. Fortunately, the wounds were light, and once the small chunks of metal were removed under local anesthetic he returned to his unit.

Lieutenant Colonel Donald Harper Bull, George Robert, 1910-1996. Lieutenant Colonel D E Harper – Photograph taken by George Bull. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-05919-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23233849

At the end of 1944 Don was told that due to his lengthy war service and changes to the furlough scheme he would be returned home. Appointed commander of the returning draft he boarded ship with his wife and their young child, arriving in New Zealand on 3 January 1945, where he reverted in rank to Major.

Don was advised that his services were no longer required and that he could return to civilian life. However, he chose instead to be the posted to the New Zealand Temporary Staff in the rank of Captain in April 1945 and continued contributing to the war effort. In July he was advised he had received a second mention in despatches, this time for his services in Italy.

Considered unfit for deployment to the tropics due to service induced hearing loss, Don served at the Main Ordnance Depot at Trentham Camp until the end of the War, when he was posted to the retired list in the Rank of Major. He then returned to his life as an accountant and auditor, and moved his family to Lower Hutt.

Continuing to serve in the Territorial Army, Don was formally promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 1 December 1948 and appointed Commander Royal New Zealand Ordnance Corps. He served in this part time role with the headquarters of the 1st New Zealand Division based out of Linton until October 1951, when the death of his business partner and failing health forced his resignation.

Don remained proud of his time in the military throughout his life, and after passing away in 2002 he was buried in a family plot at St John’s Church with his wife, under a plaque commemorating his war service. A key member of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force for an extended period of the North Africa and Italy campaigns, his grave gives little indication of the scale of this contribution. Lest we forget.

References

https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/…/online…/record/C136496
https://rnzaoc.com/2020/08/31/rnzaoc-1950/
https://rnzaoc.com/…/new-zealand-base-ordnance-depot…/
P.J. Beattie & M.J. Pomeroy, Gallant Acts & Noble Deeds: New Zealand Army Honours and Awards for the Second World War, Fair Dinkum Publications: Auckland, NZ, 2016.


NZAOC June 1923 to May 1924

Personnel

The strength of the NZAOC on the 31st of May 1924 was 108, consisting of:[1] [2]

  • 6 Officers
  • 69 Permanent Other Rank
  • 33 Temporary Other Ranks

Director of Ordnance Services

  • Lieutenant Colonel H. E. Pilkington, RNZA

Chief Ordnance Officer

  • Captain T.J King

Ordnance Accounting Officer

  • Lieutenant T.W Page

Northern Command Ordnance Officer

  • Lieutenant A. W. Baldwin

Central Command Ordnance Officer

  • Lieutenant H.H Whyte

Southern Command Ordnance Officer

  • Captain A.R.C White

Featherston Camp Ordnance Officer

  • Captain F. E. Ford

Ordnance Accounting Officer

  • Lieutenant T.W Page

Inspecting Ordnance Officer and Acting Inspector of Ordnance Machinery

  • Captain William Ivory, RNZA

Proof Officer, Small Arms Ammunition

  • Captain E.H Sawle

NZAOC appropriations year ending 31 March 1924

NZAOC appropriations year ending 31 March 1924

Ordnance Stores

The provision of proper Ordnance Depots in all three commands had become an urgent matter, for economic as well as strategic and tactical reasons. Valuable equipment was stored in temporary structures, which in most cases was quite unsuitable for the purpose. As a necessity, the bulk of the equipment was held at Trentham and Burnham in wooden buildings erected as temporary accommodation for troops, not as permanent storage for valuable equipment. The development of Burnham and Ngaruawahia as ordnance depots was a matter of some urgency and would be put in hand as soon as funds for the purpose are available.[3]

At Burnham and Ngaruawahia, high charges for maintenance of the temporary buildings were being incurred, the cost of transportation of stores and equipment was increasing, and proper supervision and control was becoming very difficult.[4]

Northern Command

The Northern Command was the worst off in this respect. The site at Ngaruawahia was suitable, but with no buildings there, equipment for Northern Command was held partly at Featherston and partly at Trentham.[5]

Southern Command

The Southern Command was in a better position. The buildings at Burnham, though inadequate for the storage of all the equipment for Southern Command, were more or less satisfactory.[6]

Central Command

The Central Command had ample accommodation, of a kind at Trentham and Featherston, but proper fireproof stores needed to be erected at Trentham, and the buildings at present in use for storage of equipment can then be taken into use for the purpose for which they were built, the accommodation of troops. Featherston will be dismantled when Ngaruawahia depot is built.[7]

Magazines

The magazine accommodation for both gun and small-arms ammunition was quite insufficient for the army’s requirements, and all sorts of temporary accommodation in unsuitable buildings was being utilized. In consequence, the usual safety precautions could not be adhered to, and there was the danger of accidents and deterioration of ammunition. Proposals had been submitted for the erection of up-to-date magazines at Ngaruawahia for gun ammunition, and for small-arms-ammunition magazines in each command at Ngaruawahia, Trentham, and Burnham.[8]

Stores and Equipment

Stores and equipment generally were in a satisfactory position, but as a consequence of the unsuitable accommodation, they were subjected to considerable deterioration. The capacity and efficiency of the Ordnance workshops were considerably increased by the installation of new machinery; and the arrears of work which were accumulating overhauled, and that the deterioration that was threatening material, vehicles through lack of attention as prevented.[9]

The Cost Accounting system of accounting for stores was proving successful, and everything in connection with this was satisfactory with few losses occurring.[10]

The sale of surplus stores was still proceeding, although the returns had fallen off, for various reasons. The total receipts for the year were approximately £52,000, making a grand total, to date of approximately £424,000. The present method of sale was considered more satisfactory in every way than a sale by auction; it enabled the general public throughout New Zealand to obtain the stores at low prices and provided an efficient organization to deal with surplus stores as they became available from time to time. The dyeing of surplus khaki uniforms for sale to the public was proving a successful venture and was the only satisfactory method of disposing of those large stocks.

Vacancies

Applications were requested to fill Vacancies for Armourers in the NZAOC. The call was for Qualified Armourers and Gunsmiths who had previous experience in the repair of small-arms and machine guns. Mechanics would be considered if they had had training in armourer s duties.

1924 Ad

Evening Post, Volume CVII, Issue 114, 15 May 1924. Papers Past

Gallant Conduct

On 11 March 1924 Corporal Artificer John William Dalton, NZAOC was instrumental in saving the lives of four non-swimmers during extreme flash flooding which destroyed the encampment of the 6th Battery, NZA during their camp at Eskdale.[11] [12] [13]

GO 164 of 1924

General Order 164

eskdale flood 1924 07b

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

eskdale flood 1924 07a

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

dalton jw 11c eskdale flood 1924

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

dalton jw 11b eskdale flood 1924

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

eskdale flood 1924 08b

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

eskdale flood 1924 08a

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

eskdale flood 1924 06b

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

eskdale flood 1924 06a

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

dalton jw 11c eskdale flood 1924

Corporal Articifer Dalton supervising the recovery of guns after the Eskdale flood 1924. Norm Lamont Collection

New Zealand Rifle Team

Sergeant Ching a member of NZAOC, was invited to join the New Zealand Rifle Team for the shooting competition to be held at Bisley in the United Kingdom in September.[14]

NZ Army Dress Regulations 1923

The following extracts are from the 1923 NZ Army Dress Regulations that relate to the NZOC.  The 1823 Dress Regulations were the first update to the Dress Regulations since 1912.[15]

Overalls

Ordnance Corps – Two 1/4 in stripes, maroon cloth 1/2 in apart

Shoulder Titles

Brass letters, worn by officers, warrant officers, Non-commissioned officers and men on the shoulder straps of jacks (service and blue) and greatcoats. The will not be worn on mess-jackets.

NZAOC STAB

NZAOC Shoulder Titles. Robert McKie Collection

Puggaree

Ordnance Corps – Red-Blue-Red

RNZAOC_PUG

NZAOC Puggaree. Robert McKie Collection

Forage Cap Band

Ordnance Corps – Scarlet

Obituary

Corporal Peter Gow Scrimgeour passed away at his residence at William Street, Upper Hutt, on Wednesday 24 October 1923. Joining the NZEF with the Eighth Contingent, Scrimgeour saw considerable service in France and at the time of his death was employed with the Trentham Detachment of the NZAOC.[16]  Scrimgeour was provided with a military funeral on 26 October 1923.[17]

 

Personnel Movements -July 1923 to June 1924

Releases

  • 176 Armorer Private Reginald Albert Percival Johns
  • 820 Private James Clements
  • 838 Lance Corporal William Robert McMinn
  • 914 Armourer Sergeant John Boyce
  • 954 Company Sergeant Major Joseph Arthur Head

Deaths

  • 666 Corporal Peter Gow Scrimgeour

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

Notes:

[1] “H-19 Defence Forces of New Zealand, Annual Report of the General Officer Commanding the Forces from 1 June 1923 to 30 June 1924,” Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives  (1924).

[2] “B-01-Part02 Public Accounts for the Financial Year 1923-1924,” Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives  (1924).

[3] “Hydro-Electric Development,” Press, Volume LIX, Issue 17850  (1923).

[4] “H-19 Defence Forces of New Zealand, Annual Report of the General Officer Commanding the Forces from 1 June 1923 to 30 June 1924.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Caught by the Flood “, New Zealand Herald, Volume LXI, Issue 18659, 15 March 1924.

[12] “Gallant Conduct,” New Zealand Herald, Volume LXI, Issue 18725, 3 June 1924.

[13] “Courageous Conduct,”  in New Zealand Army General Order 164 (Wellington1924).

[14] “Personal Matters – Ching,” Evening Post, Volume CVII, Issue 113, 14 May 1924.

[15] Malcolm Thomas and Cliff Lord, New Zealand Army Distinguishing Patches, 1911-1991 (Wellington, N.Z.: M. Thomas and C. Lord, 1995, 1995), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 34.

[16] “Scrimgeour, Peter Gow “, Personal File, Archives New Zealand  (1914-1918).

[17] “Personal Matters – Ching.”