NZ Divisional Ordnance Field Park 1941-1945

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Badge of the 2nd NZEF

The New Zealand Divisional Ordnance Field Park (NZ OFP) was the primary stores holding organisation working in support of the 2nd Division of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force(2 NZEF) from July 1941 until December 1945. Following closely behind the NZ Division the NZ OFPs main role was to provide a holding of spares for the NZ Divisional Workshop, and often as the Workshop deployed elements forward to support individual brigades, sections of the NZ OFP would also be detached forward. Mentioned in passing in many of the war histories produced since the war, the story of the NZ Divisional OFP has remained untold in any detail.

British experimentation in mechanisation during he the 1920s had identified the need for mobile Field Workshops and OFP’s to support the mechanised forces that would fight the next war. Added to British Army War Establishments (WE) in the 1930s but due to the financial depression of the time, it would not be until July 1939 when Britain formed a number of new Field Workshops and OFPs as part of the Territorial Army, setting out to recruit 150 officers and 5000 other ranks to bring the new units to war strength.[1]

A Divisional OFP was a mini Ordnance Depot, with its stock held on vehicles (on wheels). Stockholding would normally consist of fast moving or essential items essential to maintain equipment vital to the dependency, including MT spares, Weapon spares and signal stores,[2] with scaling for each Divisional OFP against a scale set to represent 2.5% of the supported division’s vehicles.[3] Scaling of OFP’s was centrally controlled by the British Army’s Scales Branch of the Central Provisioning Organisation, which developed standard “Middle East” scaled for OFP’s taking into consideration the long lines of communication from the factory to the foxhole and the diversity of equipment sources such as for Britain, India, Canada and the United States.[4]

When New Zealand committed forces to the war in September 1939, an Infantry Division with supporting arms was to be recruited and sent overseas in three Brigade Group echelons.

  • The first echelon consisting of the 2NZEF Headquarters and a Brigade Group arrived in Egypt in February 1940.
  • The second echelon was diverted to Britain and would not join the NZ Division in Egypt until March 1941.
  • The third echelon would arrive in Egypt in September 1940.

Given the title of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC), the initial Ordnance contribution would only consist of Headquarters Staff and Light Aid Detachments (LAD) attached to each Infantry Brigade and Artillery Regiment. Within a short period of time, New Zealand Ordnance personnel would work closely with the existing Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) Base Stores Depots and Workshops in Egypt to establish the NZOC Base Ordnance Depot and Workshops at Maddi Camp. With the arrival of the 3rd echelon in Sept 1940 and the final arrival of the 2nd echelon from England in March 1941 was the NZ Division fully able to be consolidated as a unit. NZOC units consisting of Three Independent Brigade Workshops and 11 Light Aid Detachments were sent to Greece in March 1941 as part of New Zealand contribution to that campaign.[5] The NZOC workshops were supported in this campaign by the RAOC 1 OFP.[6] A lack of consultation prior to the operation saw that the attached British OFP was not scaled correctly to support the New Zealand units. 1 OFP held sufficient spares for Internationals and Crossley’s but this would be problematic as with the NZ Division not equipped with Internationals and only held two Crossley’s. Fortunately, 1 OFP held sufficient quantities of Ford, 25 pounder and 2 pounder spares, spring steel, sheet and rod metals, compressed air and many general items and with supplementation from local sources was able to provide some useful support to the NZ Workshops.[7] The Greek Campaign would ultimately be a defeat for the British Forces who would lose the Island of Crete to German airborne forces in May 1941.

July 1941 – January 1943

NZ Division Ordnance Field Park (1941)

Vehicle Tactical Sign NZ Division Ordnance Field Park 1941

Evacuated to Egypt, the New Zealand Division would undertake a period of rebuilding and expansion. 1 NZ Field Workshop war reformed as1 NZ Divisional Ordnance Workshop on 16 June 1941 followed by the formation of 2 and 3 NZ Field Workshops on 27 June. Taking on board the lesson of the Greek campaign a New Zealand Divisional OFP was formed on 28 July 1941. The NZ OFP would spend August and September assembling its personnel and equipment and bringing its stock to scale with the personnel learning the intricacies of Ordnance accounting. With a strength of 4 Officers and 81 Other Ranks, the OFP was equipped with 27 3-ton Lorries in different configurations optimised for the carriage of OFP Stores.[8]

OFP Formed 41

OFP ESTB 1941

Organised with a Headquarters and three sections, the NZ OFP would participate in Operation Crusader in November 1942 and its subsequent operations. Like any unit of the NZ Division, the NZ OFP was not immune to casualties and would see Major William Knox, Officer Commanding of the NZ OFP injured after driving over a landmine leading to his evacuation from Tobruk, during which it is suspected that he drowned when the ship he was on was sunk.[9] [10] Withdrawn to Egypt in December 1941 the NZ OFP would then accompany the NZ Divison to Syria in March 1942 as a precautionary measure to guard against a German thrust from the North.

Recalled to the Western Desert during June 1942, the NZ Division was urgently called forward to help counter the Axis advances into Egypt. The NZ Division would transit the 1500 kilometres from Syria to Minqar Qiam on Egypt’s western frontier in just over a week and was immediately in the fight.  Forced into a fighting withdraw the NZ Division soon withdrew to new positions in the vicinity of the Egyptian town of El Alamein where the 8th Army would hold fast and hold the line.

Lessons learned in the recent campaign identified the need for the New Zealand Division to have its own armoured element. This led to the converting of the 4th Infantry Brigade into the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade on 5 October 1942.[11] [12] Concurrent with the reorganisation of the 2nd NZEF, the increased mechanisation of the battlefield saw the British Army reform its maintenance and repair organisations and form them into a single Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME) on 1 October 1942.[13] The EME would assume responsibility for all RAOC, ASC and Royal Engineer Workshops, Recovery Sections and LADs.  New Zealand and Australian would follow suit on 1 December 1942, followed by India on 1 May 1943 and Canada on 22 February 1944. The formation of the New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (NZEME) would see the NZ OFP remain with the NZOC,[14] whilst assuming the additional responsibility for the provision of MT Spares to the ASC workshops which had transferred to NZEME, and the scaling of spares for the new armoured component of the Division.

As New Zealand Division had converted to a mixed Infantry/Armoured Division, the NZ OFP was reorganised on 20 November 1942 from a modified Infantry Division OFP of a Headquarters and three Sections into a modified OFP structure of a Headquarters and three task orientated sections consisting of ;[15]

  • A Headquarters Holding Section – responsible for holding reserve stocks of all OFP Stores
  • An Infantry Section – responsible for serving the workshops and LAD’s both of the Infantry Brigades and Divisional troops with MT Stores, weapon spares and signal stores
  • an Armoured Section – Responsible for workshops and LAD’s of the Armoured brigade for armoured specific MT Stores, weapon and signal stores.

The positions of Driver-Mechanics and Electrician were removed from the establishment with the affected personnel transferred to NZEME units and replaced with NZOC Storeman-Drivers, The Fitters were retained as attached NZEME personnel.

RAOC9

RAOC Ordnance Field Park 1944/45 (RAOC, public domain)

February 1943 – January 1944

2 NZ Division Ordnance Field Park

Vehicle Tactical Sign NZ Division Ordnance Field Park 1944-45

On in February 1943, the establishment was again modified with an increase of the strength to 5 Officers and 99 Other Ranks with the structure changed to include an additional section, the Reserve Vehicle Park Section whose role was to hold reserves of the Divisions vehicles.

Further adjustment to the role and establishment of the OFP were facilitated on 7 March 1943 when Controlled Stores became an OFP responsibility’ Included as part of the OFP Headquarters, whose strength grew by one Warrant Officer Class One and one Private.

OFP ESTB 1943

Following the second Battle of El Alamein, the NZ OFP would continue to support the NZ Division in the advance across Libya and into Tunisia until the final defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943. During this advance, there were periods when a New Zealand Advanced Ordnance Depot (NZAOD) was attached to the NZ OFP from the NZ Base Ordnance Depot (BOD) in Egypt. The role of the NZAOD was to provide holding of General stores and consumables not held by the OFP, mainly clothing and personnel webbing equipment.

The New Zealand Division would not participate in the invasion of Sicily but would spend the next few months reorganising and refitting as the 4th Armoured Brigade completed its training and was fully integrated into the NZ Division, and it would not be until October 1943 that the Division would re-enter the war in Italy.

February 1944 – December 1945

After several months in Italy, the NZ OFP undertook another reorganisation in February 1944. The NZ BOD at Maadi camp in Egypt had been split into two parts; No 1 NZ BOD, which would remain in Egypt and No 2 NZ BOD which was based at Bari on the South Adriatic coast of Italy.  With No 2 NZ BOD in Italy, the shortened and narrow lines of communication made the need for the NZAOD less necessary than in North Africa. The NZAOD that had been supporting the NZ Division in Italy prior to the establishment of 2 BOD was disbanded on 16 February 1944. With a requirement for the stores that the NZAOD held remaining forward, some its functions were absorbed into the NZ OFP as a mobile AOD section, increasing the strength of the NZ OFP by one Officer and fifteen Other Ranks and 10 additional lorries. [16]

OFP ESTB 1944

One of the functions that the AOD section brought to the NZ OFP was a Mobile Officers Shop. Officers shops were an organisation developed by the British in North Africa. Centrally provisioned by the Central Provision Office, Officers Shops allowed Offices to buy at reasonable rates, authorised items of kit such as clothing, camp kit, travel bags, Leather jerkins and shoes.[17] In Italy, the Officers Shop organisations were similar to that in the Middle East, but also stocked a range of locally obtained items. Although the Officers shop function was included as part of the AOD Section from February 1944 it would not officially be formalised and added to the establishment of the NZ OFP until 11 May 1945.

Further changes to the NZ OFP happened in August 1944 when an NZASC Warrant Officer Class Two was included in the Headquarter establishment to assist in the coordination of supplies to NZASC units from the NZ OFP.[18]  Additional equipment in the form of a truck-mounted crane to assist with the handling of heavy tank spares and engines in the Armoured Section was also approved during August 1944.[19]

In April 1945 the stockholding of signals stores in Division OFP’s was authorised to be increased. With the increase of holdings estimated to be around six tonnes, an additional three 3-ton Lorries was approved along with an increase of two Storeman and one Clerk.

Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945, bringing hostility’s in Europe to a close, but in the Pacific and South East Asia the war against Japan was still in progress and discussion of the future of the NZEF and its future in the war was underway. By June 1945 the decision had been made to maintain NZOC units in the NZEF at full strength to facilitate the handing back of vehicles and equipment by Divisional units as they were demobilised or reorganised for service against Japan. The August atomic bombing of Japan and their subsequent surrender in September 1945 brought what was going to be a long war to a sudden end. Japan would be occupied by allied forces and New Zealand would contribute a Brigade group (J Force) based on the 9th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd NZEF.[20]

In October 1945 it was decided to disband the NZ OFP, its men and equipment would be absorbed into an NZAOD, a Vehicle and Equipment Handling Depot and attached to 557 BOD, RAOC. The NZAOD and Vehicle and Equipment Handling Depot would receive and sort the equipment, with the best of it going to the J Force elements forming at Florence and the remainder returned to the RAOC. The NZOC personnel seconded to 557AOD who would receive and process the equipment back into the RAOC system, whilst also collection and dispatching new equipment from RAOC stocks for delivering to J Force.[21] [22]

OFP DisbandmentThe NZ OFP was functionally disbanded on 26 October 1945 and formally disbanded after 4 years and 5 months of service as a unit of the 2nd NZEF on 29 December 1945.[23]

During the NZ OFP 4 years of service, the following members died while on active service;

  • Temporary Major William Andrew Knox, 5 December 1941, No Known Grave, commemorated at Alamein Memorial.
  • Sergeant Ronald Roy Moore, 13 February 1942, now resting at the Fayid War Cemetery in Egypt.
  • Private Ivan James Curin, 24 March 1945, now resting Ravenna War Cemetery in Italy

OFP Storage and Accounting

Prior to the beginning of the war of the war, the standard system of field storage was the humble disused ammunition box. As Britain mobilised the influx of men from the automotive industry into the RAOC saw the introduction of the latest in storage techniques and how to maximise space which would be utilised to maximise storage in the OFP’s.[24]

Morris C8 15cwt 4 X 4 GS

Morris C8 15cwt 4 X 4 GS

The heart of the OFP was its store’s vehicles. The NZ OFP used a mixture of 15-cwt (.75-tone) trucks for administration tasks and 3-Ton lorries for the carriage of stores. The 3-ton lorries were generally of two types;

  • GS Lorries for the carriage of large items such as engines, gearboxes and differentials, and
  • Bin Lorries for the carriage of smaller compact items such as nuts, bolts, gaskets, fan belts, brake linings, windscreen wipers

GS Lorries were fitted with a flat floor body with fixed sides and headboard, and a drop tailgate. Usually fitted with a canvas canopy on a tubular frame. At times the tubular frame would be lined with chicken wire to limit pilferage.

Binned vehicles were lorries and trailers fitted with fixed racking made up of bins of different dimensions. Early designs consisted of full-length benches on both sides of the vehicle with storage bins under the benches and compartments for small items above the benches and a writing desk. Stores inside the bins were kept secure on the move by a mesh screen which could be removed when the vehicle was stationary to allow access to the stores. As the war progressed, the design of binned vehicles became more sophisticated with later models having solid bodies with internal lighting. The following illustrations provide an example of different types of bin trucks.

Polish OFP 1

Bin Lorry of the Polish Corps Italy 1943-45. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

Polish OFP 2

Bin Lorry of the Polish Corps Italy 1943-45. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

stores NO1 aust binned

 

c60lBin Truck

Ledger CardStores accounting was managed by the Visidex system. The Visidex system was introduced in the late 1930’s by the RAOC as simple ledger card system to replace mechanical ledger posting systems which had proved to be unsatisfactory.[25] Adopted for wartime service the Visidex system was ideal as it was a simple system that required a minimum of staff training. Using carbon backed posting slips it allowed checks to easily carried out. Each OFP section would maintain a control office for which all indents from units would be received, the stock record would be checked, the location where the stock held identified (in an OFP each truck was a stock location) and the stock record updated. If the stock was available, it would immediately be issued. If the stock was not available, it would be recorded as a Dues Out, and an indent would be placed on the supporting Depot for replenishment which would be marked as a Dues In.[26] Each truck in an OFP would also maintain stock records that that would be reconciled with each issue and receipt and stocktake. The robustness and simplicity of the Visidex system would see it remaining as the primary field stores accounting system in the New Zealand Army well into the 1990s.

Summary

The New Zealand Division was one that was heavy in motor transport, and the close of the war in Europe as General Freyberg canvassed for the Division to be employed in South East Asia, British commanders welcomed the thought of the NZ Divisions participation, but concerns were raised that there would not be sufficient road space for the many thousands of vehicles on the NZ Division.[27]  With vehicles from motorcycles to tanks, weapons from pistols to howitzers and hundreds of other pieces of technical equipment requiring maintenance and repair,  the 2n NZEF developed first under the NZOC and then NZEME a world-class maintenance and repair system based on LAD, Field and Base workshops, which in the NZ Division was kept supplied with MT and other technical spares by the NZ OFP.

In the post-war NZ Army, OFP’s would exist in various iterations from 1948 until the late 1970s, but these would be training units that would never be deployed as standalone units such as the NZ OFP. The direct descendent s of the NZ OFP would be the RNZAOC Stores Sections attached to each RNZEME Workshop. Carrying specialised spares, assemblies and workshops materials to suit the particular requirement of its parent RNZEME workshops, Stores Sections became an RNZAOC responsibility in 1962 when RNZEME Technical Stores were transferred to the RNZAOC. A familiar sight on any RNZEME workshop exercise from the 1960s to 1996, the spirit of the NZ OFP would be well represented by RNZAOC Workshops Stores Sections with their RL Bedford Bin trucks and later Unimog mounted Binned 13’ Containers.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

Notes

[1] “Technicians for Army,” Evening Post, Volume CXXVIII, Issue 22, 26 July 1939.

[2] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945 (London: Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 1965), 153.

[3] Major J.S Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992), 95.

[4] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 184.

[5] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 94.

[6] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 141.

[7] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 95.

[8] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field Item Idr20107590 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/21 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

[9] A commercial traveller, Major Knox had served in the Field Artillery in the Great War attaining the rank of Lieutenant. Enlisting in the 2NZEF in 1939, Knox was posted to the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment as the Quartermaster. On 4 August 1941 Knox was transferred into the NZOC as the Officer Commanding of the NZ OFP and granted the rank of Temporary Major whilst holding that appointment. Injured as the result of driving over a landmine, Knox was admitted to a Casualty Clearing Station on 29 November 1941. Evacuated alongside 380 other wounded soldiers, of whom 97 were New Zealanders on the SS Chakdina on the afternoon of 5 December 1941. Torpedoed by enemy aircraft, only 18 of the New Zealanders were rescued with the remainder including Knox presumed drowned. “William Andrew Knox,” Personal File, Archives New Zealand 1939.

[10] J. B. McKinney, Medical Units of 2 Nzef in the Middle East and Italy, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45 (Wellington, N.Z.: War History Branch Department of Internal Affairs, 1952, 1952), Non-fiction, 179.

[11] 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, 37.

[12] D. J. C. Pringle and W. A. Glue, 20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45 (Wellington: War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1957, 1957), Non-fiction, 292.

[13] Peter Cooke, Warrior Craftsmen, Rnzeme 1942-1996 (Wellington: Defense of New Zealand Study Group, 2017).

[14] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 103.

[15] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[16] Ibid.

[17]  Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 205.

[18] NZASC Units were; 4 & 6 Reserve Mechanical Transport Company, Ammunition Company, Petrol Company, Supply Column, NZ Field Bakery, 18 Tank Transporter Company, NZ Mule Transport Company. Julia Millen, Salute to Service: A History of the Royal New Zealand Corps of Transport and Its Predecessors, 1860-1996 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1997, 1997), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 441.

[19] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[20] Matthew Wright, Italian Odyssey: New Zealanders in the Battle for Italy 1943-45 (Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 2003, 2003), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 166.

[21] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[22] Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, 120.

[23] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[24] P.H. Williams, War on Wheels: The Mechanisation of the British Army in the Second World War (History Press Limited, 2016), 73.

[25] Brigadier A.H Fernyhough C.B.E. M.C, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945, 40.

[26] Williams, War on Wheels: The Mechanisation of the British Army in the Second World War, 73.

[27] Wright, Italian Odyssey: New Zealanders in the Battle for Italy 1943-45, 166.

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NZ Divisional Salvage Unit 1941-1942

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Badge of the 2nd NZEF

During the Second World War, the New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC) provided a variety of Ordnance Services to the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF). The most well know of the Ordnance Service proved are those of the Base Ordnance Depot, Advanced Ordnance Depot. Ordnance Field Park, Laundry and Bath Units, and up to the end of 1942, the Base and Field Workshops and Light Aid Detachments which separated from the NZOC to form the New Zealand Electrical And Mechanical Engineers (NZEME). However, there remains one Ordnance unit which although appearing on the 2nd NZEF Order of Battle, only rates a very obscure mention in only one of nine official campaign histories published after the war, and has mostly been forgotten; this is the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit.

World War One Origins

New  Zealand’s first experience of Salvage units was during the 1914-18 war. Each British formation (including Dominion forces) was required as part of an army salvage plan to appoint a Salvage Officer for each brigade, and a Division Salvage Company, which in turn was supported a Corps Salvage Company.  Formed on 5 May 1916 the NZ Divisional Salvage Company was under the command of Lieutenant  Macrae, NZAOC. The duties of the NZ Divisional Salvage Company were:

  • The care and custody of packs of troops engaged in offensive operations.
  • The care of tents and canvas of the Division.
  • The salvage of Government property, and also enemy property, wherever found.
  • The sorting of the stuff salved, and dispatch thereof to base.
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WW1 salvage dump notice. Photo by British Pictorial Service; public domain image taken from The Business of War at the Internet Archive website

An indication of the type of work carried out by the NZ Division Salvage Company can be found in the work of the British Army’s 34th Divisional Salvage Company which was active on the Somme during July 1916. During this period the 34th Divisional Salvage Company recovered;1

Rifles – 12,998
Bayonets – 6,050
Revolvers – 8
Very Pistols – 28
Machine Guns – 51
Trench Mortars – 12
Small Arms Ammunition – 1,580,000 rounds
S.A.A. fired cases – 145,000
Bombs – 40,000
Sets of equipment complete – 5,500
Groundsheets – 700
Steel Helmets – 9,869
Gas Masks – 13,280
Picks & shovels – 2,000
Wire Cutters – 950
Bully Beef Tins – 16,000
Bagpipes – 6 sets

Total value of one months salvage = £1,500,000.

events-WW1-Salvage-of-the-battlefield-near-Bapaume

Salvage of the battlefield near Bapaume:Photo by David McLellan; taken from the National Library of Scotland’s First World War ‘Official Photographs’ website; adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence

American author Isaac F Marcosson, writing in 1918, described this recycling operation in some detail.2

“At the ‘sharp end’ there was “Battle Salvage, which deals with the debris of actual fighting and includes all trench materials such as wood and iron, shell-cases, guns, rifles, equipment, clothing, tools and other stores that have been damaged in actual fighting.” There was also “so-called Normal Salvage, which is material such as empty packing cases, [fuel] cans and other articles which never reach the battlefield.”

The Salvage system proved to be a success with statistical records published of what each unit had recovered, with competition between units not uncommon. To outdo the New Zealand Division, one of the Australian Divisions went to the effort of stealing copper appliances and hardware from a derelict brewery to accrue additional credits.3 Following the success of the Salvage system in the First World War, provision was made on war establishments for Salvage units on a ratio of one Salvage unit per Division and one Salvage unit as Corps troops.

Western Desert 1941

As the New Zealand Divison became established in Egypt in early in 1941, General Headquarters (GHQ) Middle East requested information on 2 April 1941 on the establishment of the New Zealand Divisional Salvage Unit and when its equipment would be ready. With no Salvage Unit yet formed an establishment for an NZ Salvage Unit, consisting of 1 Officer and 43 Other Ranks was published on 18 April 1941, with no further action towards the formation of the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit taken until August of 1941.4

Estab 18 April 41

NZEF, NZ Divisional Salvage Unit Establishment 18 April 1941

The role of Field Salvage Units was to sort salvage. All RASC motor transport units serving divisions and corps were tasked with carrying salvage on the return journey. This included containers which could be reused, small equipment which could be recycled and ammunition that had been unpacked but not used. T

With Australian and SouthAfrican Salvage units already operating in the Middle East and with Indian and New Zealand units expected to begin operating shortly, GHQ Middle East called a conference to define the relationship of these units with the Salvage Directorate GHQ.

At the conference held on 13 August 1941, it was established that the Dominion  Divisions were formed with a war establishment of one Salvage unit per Division and one per Corps troops. No Salvage units were provided for at present for British Divisions, or Corps, although they were allowed for in the War Establishment.

The pressing question of the conference was if the Dominion Salvage units would be part of the Middle East Salvage Organisation, or regarded as separate units working under their respective headquarters.

The Australians were satisfied with existing arrangements and stated that full cooperation from the AIF could be expected.

The representatives the  1st and 2nd South African Divisions stated that they were willing to cooperate and that the available Salvage units should be used for the common good, but wished that the SA Salvage units remain administered by their Headquarters, and the unit s should accompany their Divisions into action.

The Representatives of 4 and 5 Indian Division stated that when formed, they would prefer it to be used as a GHQ asset rather than as Div troops.

New Zealand represented by its DDOS Colone King, stated that a New Zealand Salvage unit was not yet formed, but could be if requested. As a Divisional unit, it was expected that the unit would remain with the Division, but the Salvage Directorate could rest assure that the NZ Division would cooperate in every possible way.

Base Salvage Depots under the control of GHQ would receive all Salvage irrespective of the unit that it was collected from. GHQ would conduct all sales with the proceeds credited to His Majestys Government. The War Office would be approached to take into account the value of salvage collected in the future when setting capitation rates for equipment.

The consensus was that Salvage Units would remain with their Divisions but that the Salvage Directorate would exercise technical control.

Armed with the knowledge that the Salvage unit would remain with the New Zealand Divison, approval for the formation of the NZ Divisional Salvage unit as a unit of the NZEF was granted by Headquarters 2 NZEF on 16 August 1941. The NZ Divisional Salvage unit was to be a unit of the NZOC and the NZEF DDOS in conjunction with the Military Secretary, HQ NZEF and HQ Maddi Camp were to arrange for a suitable officer and Other Ranks to be posted to the unit and equipment to be assembled.

Formation

On 12 September 1941 the New Zealand Division begun to move into Baggush in the Western Desert as it began to assemble for the upcoming Operation Crusader. On 11 November the New Zealand Division together for the first time assembled at an assembly point near the Matruh-Siwa road. On 18 November Operation Crusader began with the New Zealand Division crossing the Libyan frontier into Cyrenaica and after some hard fighting linking up with the garrison at Tobruk on 26 November. It is in Tobruk that the Salvage unit would get it only mention in the New Zealand War history series of books in the volume “The Relief of Tobruk” it stares: 5

“The NZASC companies provided working parties at the ammunition depot, and the docks, Workshops and Ordnance Field Park overhauled vehicles, and the Salvage Unit for the first time found plenty of work to do.”

On 23 December 1941 the NZ Salvage Unit lost a member of the unit when Private Leo Gregory Narbey died as the result of an accident. Private Narby now rests in the Commonwealth War Grave Commission Alamein cemetery.6

3920030

Western Desert, Egypt, 12 August 1942. Men of the 9th Australian Divisional Salvage Unit checking over captured arms at El Alamein. Public Domain Australian War Memorial

Operation Crusader was a success but one that inflicted heavy losses on British and Dominionarmour and Infantry, as the Axis forces withdrew under pressure, large quantities of enemy equipment and war material was abandoned leaving the battlefield to the battered 8th Army. Due to the magnitude of the Salvage work to clear the battlefield, GHQ request that all Divisional Salvage units be placed under 8th Army control as Army troops to allow their coordinated use. This request was agreed to by the GOC 2 NZEF on 1 January 1942 on the condition that the Salvage would be released back to the NZ Divison if required. As the NZ Salvage unit was at Baggush, its transfer to 8th Army control was immediate.

Libya and Syria 1942

Badly mauled in Operation Crusader and the subsequent operations, the New Zealand Division had suffered 879 dead, and 1700 wounded and was withdrawn from Libya back to Egypt and then at the instance of the New Zealand government moved to Syria during February to recover but also prepare defences for a possible German offensive through Turkey.

As the NZ Divison rebuilt itself in Syria the NZ Divisional Salvage unit remained in Libya under 8th Army command. During March the delay in receiving reinforcements from New Zeland hastened the need to make estimates for replacement drafts, and HQ 2NZEF approached GHQ Middle East with an enquiry on the expected release dates of 2NZEF units including the NZ Salvage Unit who were under direct 8th Army command. The presumption was that the detached units would remain under 8th Army control until the operational situation would allow their release.

013351

Australian 9th Div Salvage Unit under fire 5th October, 1942. El Alamein, Egypt. image 013351 Australian War Memorial.

Remaining detached from the Division the NZ Salvage units establishment was increased to a strength of 1 Officer and 45 Other Ranks, its transport assets were also increase to include one car and five trucks and given the tactical situation ammunition allocation per man was increased from 20 rounds of .303 to 50 rounds per man.

Estab 28 May 42

NZEF, NZ Divisional Salvage Unit Establishment 28 May 1942

With the NZ Divison rushed back into the fight in the Western Desert in June 1942, the NZ Salvage unit remained detached. August 1942 would find the NZ Salvage Unit in Syria and under the command of the 9th Army and operating as Army Troops rather than a Divisional unit as initially intended.  On 24 August 1942, the ADOS of 2 NZ Div sent a submission to HQ 2NZEF recommending the disbanding of the NZ Salvage unit. The main point of the submission was that the NZ Salvage Unit since its formation had always been employed as Arny troops outside of the Division. Also given the reinforcement situation its personnel could be better employed within the main NZOC Divisional organisation.  The GOC 2NZEF approved the proposal in principle but felt that the NZ Salvage Unit might still be usefully employed by the 8th Army in the current theatre. 8th Army rejected the offer, and the decision was made by HQ NZEF to recall the unit from Syria to Maadi Camp while a decision could be made on its future employment or disbandment.

Rolling through to September 1942 the NZ Salvage Unit was still detached to the 9th Army in Syria when on 19 Sept HQ NZEF sent a warning order to Headquarter 9th Army of the interesting to recall the NZ Salvage unit to Egypt for disbandment. Final Order instructing the Unit to return to Egypt were issued on 3 October 1942 with the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit formally disbanded as a unit of the NZEF on 20 October 1942.7

Disbandment

After 15 months of service, the NZ Divisional Salvage Unit was disbanded and its men distributed to other NZEF and NZ Divison Ordnance Units. The Salvage units contribution to the war effort in the Middle East alongside the other Dominion Salvage Units provided an essential function, collecting, sorting and dispatching battlefield salvage, captured allied and enemy equipment to Workshops and Salvage Depots for repair, recycling and redistribution fighting units. It is unfortunate that this crucial administrative war work carried out by one of New Zealand forgotten Ordnance units has been forgotten and it is hoped that future research into this unit will expand on their story.

Video

British Pathe Newsreel providing an example of Salvage work carried out in the Western Desert.  Desert Salvage

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

 Notes

1 Marc Barkman-Astles, “The Archaeology of Star Wars Strikes Back!,”  https://www.heritagedaily.com/2016/05/the-archaeology-of-star-wars-strikes-back/111007.

2 Steve Atcherley, “Llewellyn Atcherley’s World War One,”  http://www.atcherley.org.uk/wp/remembrance-day-seven/.

3 Arthur Forbes, A History of the Army Ordnance Services (London: The Medici society, ltd., 1929), 76.

4 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field Item Idr20107590 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/21 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

5 473W. E. Murphy, The Relief of Tobruk, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45 (Wellington, N.Z. : War History Branch, Dept. of Internal Affairs, 1961, 1961), Non-fiction.

6 “Leo Gregory Narbey,”  http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/record/C30146?n=Leo%20Gregory%20Narbey&ordinal=0&from=%2Fwar-memorial%2Fonline-cenotaph%2Fsearch.

7 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field


Gordon Cumming Bremner

Gordon Cumming Bremner was born at Wanganui on 30 October 1891. Completing his schooling, Gordon took up a career as a farm hand in the central North Island of New Zealand. Fulfilling his obligation to participate in Compulsorily Military Training, Gordon enlisted in the 6th (Manawatu) Mounted Rifles of the Territorial Army on 1 March 1911. Serving in the Territorial Army for three years Gordon would enlist in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) in January 1915.

Taking his attestation on 11 January 1915, Gordon would spend three months training at Trentham before embarking on Troopship No 23 the SS Waitoma on 17 April 1915 as part of the 4th Reinforcements for the voyage to Egypt. Disembarking at Suez on 25 May 1915, Gordon would undergo further training at Zeitoun Camp. Early in June Gordon departed Alexandra, joining the 11th (Taranaki) Company of the Wellington Battalion in the Dardanelles on 9 June.

Bremner GC 01 B Coy 4th Reinfs

Gordon Bremner with B Company 4th Reinforcements, Norm Lamont Collection

Bremner GC 01a B Coy 4th Reinfs

Gordon would have spent the uncomfortably hot months of June and July with the Taranaki Company rotating between Courtney and Quinn’s Posts at Gallipoli as the Wellington Battalion consolidated its position. Participating in the Battle of Chunuk Bair and wounded in action on 8 August,  the injury saw Gordon evacuated from Gallipoli on HMS Alaunia.  Gordon arrived back in Alexandra on 13 August and admitted to the 1st Australian (No.3 Auxiliary) Hospital at Heliopolis on 14 Aug where in addition to his battle injuries Gordon received treatment for appendicitis. Diagnosed with neurasthenia, the term used to describe “shell shock” or what is referred to in modern times as a Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) saw the transfer of Gordon to the New Zealand General Hospital at Abbassia on 13 September. With Gordon’s condition classifying him as unfit for service, he was transferred to the Lady de Walden’s Hospital at Alexandria on 8 October in preparation for his repatriation to New Zealand, departing on the SS Tahiti on 20 November. Arriving in New Zealand on boxing day 1915 and admitted to a convalescent home at Rotorua, Gordon would spend several months recuperating. Recovery was slow, and although his health had improved, Gordon remained classified as medically unfit for military service resulting in his discharge from the NZEF on 19 April 1916.

Bremner GC 07a Otago Witness Sep 1915

Motivated to continue serving, Gordon re-joined the Territorial Army on 1 June 1916 and applied for enlistment into the NZEF on 10 December, but his C2 medical grading precluded his reenlistment into the NZEF. Gordons records do not record his activities during 1917, but in February 1918 Gordon was medially reclassified as C1 – Likely to become fit for active service after special training. Gordon’s medical upgrading was well timed, as on 15 September 1917 authorisation for men medically unfit for active service was granted so they could replace Territorials who remained on duty at the coast defence forts in the main centres. Gordon was ordered to report to the Officer Commanding of the RNZA Wellington on 26 Feb 2018 and on 27 February 1918, Gordon was enlisted as a guard with the Garrison Artillery at Fort Ballance at Wellington.

Bremner GC 09 Garrison Artillery

Gordon Bremner Garrison Artillery. Norm Lamont Collection

On 31 December 1918 Gordon married Irene Pearl Williams at Wellington. Their marriage would see the birth of eight children and the adoption of another;

  • Zita Millicent (adopted), born 27 Dec 16 Christchurch,
  • Jean Kathleen, Born 21 Sept 20 Wellington,
  • James Alexander Gordon, born 31 Jan 22 Taumarunui,
  • Allan Duff, born 21 Apr 24 Wellington,
  • Jessie Elizabeth, born 20 Sept Wellington,
  • Louise Gladys, born 29 Sept Wellington.
  • Nancy Irene, born 1930,
  • John Keith, born 1934,
  • Joyce Kay, born 9 Feb 1936

After four years, the armistice of 11 November 1918 brought the First World War to a close, and by late 1919 Gordon was at a crossroads regarding his future. As a Bombardier (Corporal) in the Artillery, he was well placed to transfer from the Territorials into the Permanent Force and with his savings purchase a comfortable house and pursue a career in the peacetime army, or he could take his discharge and seek fresh pastures. Gordon chose to seek fresh pastures and with his pre-war experience as a farm hand decided to become a farmer. Utilising the Soldiers Resettlement Scheme, Gordon invested his savings in a farm in the King Country. With marginal and isolated land allocated to returned servicemen, Gordons attempt to develop and farm the land was an experience shared by many other returned servicemen and was a futile and hopeless endeavour. After two years of backbreaking and heartbreaking work, Gordon and his family abandoned their farm and now homeless with savings expended returned to Wellington in October 1922.

Attempting to find work with the Main Ordnance Depot at Trentham in October 1923 and again in March 1924, Gordon was initially unsuccessful, but did secure work at the Trentham Racecourse and later as a foreman with the Public Works Department in Trentham Camp. Gordon eventually secured a position as the relieving Camp Firemaster and in charge of the night patrol, with accommodation for his family provided in a target shed adjacent to the rifle range. The delivery of the first motorised ambulance to Trentham Camp saw Gordon appointed as the driver. In July 1925 Gordon’s luck changed as he was accepted for service into the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (NZAOC) and was attested as a Private into “E” Section of the Main Ordnance Depot on 21 July. Up to his enlistment in the NZAOC Gordon had remained efficient in the Territorial Army with his service between 1916 and 1925 equalling four years and 211 days.

Bremner GC 14

Gordon Bremner as Trentham Camp Ambulance Driver C1925. Trentham News 1 September 1955 Norm Lamont Collection

Gordon’s enlistment into the NZAOC would in normal circumstances allowed him to retire at the age of 55 with a comfortable pension, but this was not to be. Due to the world-wide depression and economic recession the government was forced to savagely reduce the strength of the Army by using the provisions of section 39 of the Finance Act, 1930 (No. 2)  military staff could be either;

  • Transferred to the Civil service, or
  • Retired on superannuation.

Using this act, Gordon was discharged out of the NZAOC and transferred to the Civil Service on 31 January 1931 to work in the same position as a lorry driver but at a lower rate of pay.

Discharge 1930

Less than a week after Gordon’s transfer to the NZAOC Civilian staff, a disastrous earthquake struck Napier and Hastings on 3 February 1931. The NZAOC was called upon at short notice to supply tents, blankets, bedding, cooking and eating utensils, for use in the stricken areas. As part of the civilian ordnance staff, Gordon’s skills as a lorry driver were put to full use delivering these stores and equipment to Napier and Hastings. All military employees including the civilian staff such as Gordon who engaged in the relief effort were deserving of great credit for the manner in which they carried out their duties under trying conditions.

Gordon’s wounds continued to cause him issues, and in February 1933 Gordon was admitted to hospital for an operation on a duodenal ulcer which was causing him some discomfort. As a result of the surgery a souvenir of Chunuk Bair, a piece of Turkish shrapnel was removed from Gordon’s stomach.

Gordon would continue to serve with the NZAOC in a civilian capacity for the remainder of the 1930’s. Although New Zealand entered the Second World War in 1939, the NZAOC would not transition into a full wartime footing until 1942 when, with the threat of invasion by Japan perceived as possible, saw the mobilisation of the full military potential of New Zealand. The NZAOC would transition from an organisation primarily staffed by civilians into one with a predominately military establishment, with many of the NZAOC civilian staff including Gordon returning to uniform. Gordon was attested into the Temporary Service of the NZAOC at Trentham on 24 August 1942 and allocated the service number 814628. Promoted to Corporal on 1 September 1942 with promotion to Sergeant following on 1 August 1944.

 

Bremner GC 15 1950s

Gordon Bremner. Norm Lamont Collection

Bremner GC 14b

Gordon Bremner. Norm Lamont Collection

With the end of the Second World War, Gordon transitioned into the post-war Interim Army as a Sergeant on 26 June 1946 and then into the Home Service Section (HSS) of the Regular Force as a Sergeant in the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (RNZAOC). As a driver in the Receipts and Issues Group of the Main Ordnance Depot, Gordon would often be out on runs around the Wellington region collection and delivering store to units and to transports agencies such as the railway, his pleasant manner, willingness to oblige and friendly ways ensured that he was a respected and popular member of Trentham Camp. Gordons activities were not limited to Trentham Camp and throughout his post-war service at Trentham, he would undertake many tours of duty to the other Ordnance depots at Linton, Waiouru and Hopuhopu. Receiving three extensions to his service Gordon would serve throughout the 1950’s.

Bremner GC 14 1950s

Gordon Bremner. Norm Lamont Collection

In1955 a review of Gordon’s service was undertaken, and in acknowledgement of his Sixteen Years and Nineteen days qualifying service in the Territorial Army, NZEF and NZAOC from 1911 to 1931, Gordon was awarded the New Zealand  Long & Efficient Service Medal on 12 May 1955. The New Zealand Long and Efficient Service Medal was rendered obsolete with the standardisation of awards on 23 September 1931 and Gordons award of this medal is notable as due to its late claim, Gordon’s award was possibly the last one awarded.

LSES Medal Bremner

Reaching retiring age in 1956, Gordon was discharged from the New Zealand Army on 6 August 1956 after close to Forty-Five years service, the majority of which spent at Trentham Camp to which he had been a witness of its growth form a rudimentary Training Camp in 1915 to a modern Military Camp.

Gordon retired in Upper Hutt and passed away at the age of 76 on 28 November 1967. Gordon now rests at the Wallaceville Cemetery, Upper Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand.

Tombstone

Gordon Bremner Tombstone, Wallaceville Cemetery, Upper Hutt. Courtesy Dave Morris

During his service Gordon was awarded the following medals;

  • 1914-15 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal War Medal 1939-45
  • New Zealand. War Service Medal.
  • New Zealand Long & Efficient Service Medal

Gordon had also been issued with the Silver War Badge. The Silver War Badge, also known as the “Wound Badge” or “Services Rendered Badge” was issued during the First World War to personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness from military service.

In August 1967 Gordon received his Gallipoli lapel badge in the post with a letter apologising for the delay in sending out the Medallion. Gordons Gallipoli medallion would arrive a  week after his funeral.

Gordon’s son James would also pursue a military career in the Ordnance Corps. Working a civilian storeman at the Main Ordnance Depot in Trentham, James would be attested into the Army on 12 June 1940. Serving in Italy with the New Zealand Ordnance Corps with the 2nd NZEF from 1943 to 1945. Remaining in the NZAOC at the Main Ordnance Depot, James would retire from the RNZAOC as A Warrant Officer Class Two on 21 April 1961.

Bremner JA 06

 

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

 

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New Zealand Ordnance Roll of Honour

20171110_185346-1496398472.png

The Roll of Honour lists those individuals who have died on operational service with New Zealand’s Ordnance Services and rest in foreign fields.

 

Australia

Perth War Cemetery and Annex

  • Lance Corporal Donald James McInnes MID,  2/07/1943

Egypt

Alamein Memorial

  • Temporary Major William Andrew Knox, 5/12/1941, OC Divisional Ordnance Field Park
  • Serjeant Allan Edward Agnew, 2/02/1945 Divisional Ordnance Workshops
  • Private Maurice Thompson,  28/11/1941 16 L.A.D
  • Private Samuel Victor Viall, 23/11/1941 19 L.A.D
  • Captain Frank Daniel Barry MC, 30/10/1942 15 L.A.D
  • Captain Robert George Brasell,  27/06/1942 16 L.A.D
  • Private Leo Gregory Narbey, 23/12/1941 Divisional Salvage Unit
  • Staff Serjeant Walter Jack Perry, 9/10/1941, Attached to 25 Battalion
  • Private Fredrick Albert Single, 16/07/1942

Cairo War Memorial Cemetery

  • Serjeant Hubert Joseph Edward Avery, 12/06/1941, Attached 18 Infantry Battalion
  • Private Berkeley Kristian Bunbury, 5/01/1941, 18 L.A.D.
  • Private Clive George Savage Cross, 23/02/1941 19 L.A.D.
  • Private Roderick Mcleod Matheson, 2/06/1941

Fayid War Cemetery

  • Serjeant Ronald Roy Moore, 13/02/1942, NZ Divisional Ordnance Field Park

Heliopolis War Cemetery

  • Serjeant Allan John Jamieson, 2/08/1943. 2 Divisional Workshops
  • Private David Porter, 15/05/1942, Base Ordnance Depot
  • Private Alan James Robinson, 28/08/1942, Base Ordnance Depot

Fiji

Suva Military Cemetery

  • Second Lieutenant Augustus Henrickson Brown, 4/01/1944

France

Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord

  • Serjeant Percy Clarence O’Hara, 11/04/1917

Germany

Cologne Southern Cemetery

  • Conductor Clarence Adrian Seay MSM, 20/02/1919
  • Staff Serjeant Major Charles Slattery, 25/02/1919

Greece

Athens Memorial

  • Private Nigel Felix Daniel A’court,  27/04/1941
  • Lieutenant Harry Duncan Arthur Bauchop, 20/04/1941, 9 L.A.D.
  • Serjeant Thomas Morris Drummond, 26/04/1941
  • Warrant Officer Class I Andrew Gunn, 18/04/1941, 13 L.A.D.
  • Private Norris Cochrane Kerr, 25/05/1941
    Private Daniel William Neil, 20/04/1941, 9 L.A.D.

Italy

Ancona War Cemetery

  • Corporal Ivan Lawrence Fairbrother, 29/10/1944 16 L.A.D.

Caserta War Cemetery

  • Private Oscar Harold Maxted, 5/07/1944 Adv. Base Workshops.

Florence War Cemetery

  • Private Alister Alexander Phillips, 18/10/1945 38 L.A.D.

Padua War Cemetery

  • Corporal Albert Walter Findlater, 1/05/1945 2 Divisional Workshop
  • Lance Corporal John William Merson, 1/05/1945 10 L.A.D.

Ravenna War Cemetery

  • Private Ivan James Curin, 24/03/1945, Divisional Ordnance Field Park

Rome

War Cemetery

  • Lance Corporal Owen Earle Penny, 28/06/1944

Sangro War Cemetery

  • Private Trevor James Cunningham, 26/11/1943 16 L.A.D.

New Caledonia

Bourail New Zealand War Cemetery

  • Serjeant Richard John Keebel, 8/11/1943
  • Serjeant William James Pearson MID, 27/10/1943

Palestine

Ramleh War Cemetery

  • Serjeant Alexander Charles Wisnofski, 6/11/1918

Tunisia

Sfax War Cemetery

  • Private Alan Norman Head, 6/03/1943 9 L.A.D.
  • Corporal Alexander McCorkindale, 29/03/1943 Workshop Sec.

United Kingdom

Tidworth Military Cemetery, Wiltshire, England

  • Armourer Sergeant John William Allday, 9/01/1917

Mobile Laundry and Bath Equipment 1941-1990

Laundry and Bath Units have played a significant role in the ultimate success of many of the conflicts that New Zealand has participated in since the second world war.  Troops from the fighting units, filthy after weeks of chasing the enemy through the desert, muddy fields and primary jungle would find it slightly surreal to emerge in their filth and greeted by a unit offering them a hot shower and a complete change of clothing. Such was the effect on the morale of our fighting soldiers that it is reasonable to assume that on many occasions the enemy specifically targeted Laundry and Bath units for elimination. The Identity of many Laundry and Bath operators is unknown. This is of course for security reasons. Some soldiers got the wrong laundry back. Moreover, as you all well know, when it comes to personal kit soldiers just don’t forget things like that!

This article will examine the primary Mobile and Bath equipment used by the New Zealand Army from 1941 to 1996

The provision of laundry and Bath functions in commonwealth armies is an Ordnance Corps responsibility, and the role of Laundry and Bath Units was to; 1

  • Decontaminate men and their equipment after a gas attack.
  • Laundry and bath facilities to forward units.
  • Laundry facilities for supported Medical Unit.

Second World War 1939-45

As New Zeland did not have a large peacetime army, there was a reliance on the use of contracts with commercial laundries to meet the laundering needs of the forces, a system which the British military referred to as “Dhobies”. With the arrival of the Main body units of the NZEF at Maadi Camp on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt in 1940, responsibility for the base laundering requirements of the NZEF was provided by civilian contractors or “Dhobies”, in facilities constructed within Maadi camp under the supervision of the NZEF Hygiene Section. The downside of the Dhobie system was that it did not extend to them following the units into the desert and alternative laundering solutions had to be found.[2

1941-42

Structured along British lines, the NZEF included as part of its organisational structure and war establishment, Laundry and Bath units. An unfamiliar capability that the New Zealand Military Ordnance leadership had no experience in, there was much uncertainty if this was even an Ordnance responsibility of a Medical Corps responsibility, leading to delays in the formation of the Laundry and Bath units. Confirmation that it was an Ordnance responsibility was received from the NZEF liaison staff in London on 15 November 1940. Discussion continued for much or 1941 on the formation of the Laundry and Bath units, with the main concern being whether the units be formed, equipped and trained in New Zealand and then sent to the Middle East or formed from within the existing structure of the NZEF.3

As the decision in the formation of the Laundry and Bath units continued the NZEF Order of Battle was updated on 17 April 1941 and included as part of the NZEF, a:

  • Divisional Mobile Laundry and Forward Decontamination Unit, and a
  • Divisional Mobile Bath unit.

Authority for the formation of these units as part of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC)4 was granted on 31 August 1941, with the formation of the Mobile Bath unit set for 3 September 1941 and the Mobile Laundry and Forward Decontamination unit formation set for 22 September 1941.5

bath 42

laundry 1941

With available equipment drawn from British Army stocks, equipping of the laundry unit would drag out until March 1942 when the balance of its transport and trailers were received. Finding the required number of personnel to man the units was a challenge, with available staff drawn from the NZOC reinforcements and Training Group reinforcements. Remaining under the command of HQ Maadi Camp the Laundry and Bath Units undertook their training and familiarisation with the new equipment and when ready, were transferred to the command of the New Zealand Divison.

On 27 March 1942, it was suggested by the 2 NZEF DDOS that as the title of the NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry and Forward Decontamination Unit was rather long-winded and considering that the decontamination function of the unit was not functional, the units name be shortened to the NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry. The name change was published soon afterwards as NZEF order 935.

rename mar 42

NZ Division Mobile Laundry (1941)

Vehicle Tactical Sign, NZ Division Mobile Laundry (1941)

The Mobile laundry would have its operational baptism when it was deployed to support the New Zealand Division which was at the time deployed to Syria. Establishing itself at an old flour mill adjacent to the small village of Burj al-Arab in northwestern Syria, the Mobile laundry Unit would spend a week in May 1942 coming to grips with the new equipment it had only received two months previously. The unit was working with three shifts a day washing and drying over 70000 blankets and all the division’s winter clothing. By the end of the week’s operations, the unit was easily able to process two thousand five hundred sets of battle dress a day, with the assistance of three hundred and fifty locally employed civilians to carry out mending and ironing duties., By the end of this initial operation, the capacity of the unit had increased markedly.6

NZ Division Mobile Bath Unit (1940)

Vehicle Tactical Sign, NZ Division Mobile Bath Unit (1940)

Working in support of the NZ Division the Mobile Bath and Laundry units would deploy forward to assist in the control of typhus in Libya,7 and would also provide welcome relief to soldiers in the forward areas such as a Whangarei soldier in the NZ Divisional Cavalry who wrote home in a letter to his parents that.  “We are now back out of the firing line at long last. We were up there far longer than any other New Zealanders, and from all accounts have done a good job of work. We did not think we had done much ourselves, but we have had several letters from different Generals congratulating us on our work—and they ought to know. Yesterday we had a hot shower from a mobile bath unit. It was grand and a lot of dirt was shifted: that was the first real wash we had had for just on nine weeks. I had a couple of rough sponges in about a mugful of water at different times but that was all. I didn’t have any clothes off for over five weeks”8

In June 1942 the necessity of the decontamination functionality was questioned as finding the additional fifty-two Other Ranks was proving to challenge and unless the unit would be required for service in the near future, that the enabling of this capability be delayed. In August 1942 the utility of both the Bath and laundry was questioned. It was felt that the effectiveness of the units was dependent on the location of the Division and the availability of water. Since the unit’s inception, they had only provided four months of service to the Divison, and the indications were that they would be no more effective in the future. Given the narrow front found in North Africa, it was decided that laundry services could be provided by RAOC facilities or local contracts. Bath services could also be provided by RAOC assets, natural sources, existing or temporary installations constructed as required. The decision was made that the NZ Laundry and Bath units would be disbanded.

The Laundry equipment due to its specialist and technical nature was intended to be returned to British Ordnance for a full credit to the New Zealand Government for its total cost. The Bath equipment would be retained as a New Zealand assets and stored at the NZ Base Ordnance Depot in anticipation of future employment in other theatres.

Forty-Seven other ranks from the Laundry Unit and eleven other ranks from the Bath Unit were transferred back to their respective Depots on 22 August 1942. The two Officers and twenty-five Other Ranks of the laundry Unit and the eleven Other Ranks of the Bath unit were to be transferred to other branches of the NZOC, with the understanding that if the capabilities were to be regenerated, they would be released to train personnel and have the unit functioning in a matter of days.

The NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry Unit, and NZ Divisional Mobile Bath unit were both formally disbanded on 30 Sept 1942.

disbamdment sept 42

1942 -1943

With wartime conditions causing difficulties in obtaining new stocks of battledress, blankets, greatcoats, shirts and woollen underwear it was considered utilising the mobile field laundry to provide economies by renewing part worn articles. Therefore, on 30 Sept 1942 as the NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry Unit was disbanded the NZ Base Laundry was established as a unit if the NZEF. 9

base launder forming

Taking over equipment of the disbanded Div Mobile Laundry unit the NZ Base Laundry was located at Maadi camp in Cairo, Egypt,10 with an establishment of one officer and 20 Other Ranks. It was estimated the over a twelve-month period the following items could be processed through the Base Laundry for Non-Divisional and Divisional units of the NZEF;

  • Battledress – 120000 pieces,
  • Blankets – 100000pieces,
  • Greatcoats 20000 pieces,
  • Shirts and swollen underwear – 180000 pieces.

With the fall of Tripoli in January 1943, the NZ Base Laundry Unit received an additional ten personnel and deployed a laundry section from Maadi to Libya, a distance if 1600 Miles (2574.95 Kilometers). The forward section would wash and replaced much of the NZ Divisions clothing and bedding. It had just become established when the division was hurriedly moved to continue the campaign. However, many men of the NZ Division had been re-equipped with clean battle-dress which had been brought forward to do this, and the withdrawn battle-dress was washed and mended ready for further use.11 The Base Laundry Unit would continue to support the NZ Division as it went into a period of refit and reorganisation following the Axis defeat in North Africa.

With the New Zealand Divison preparing to move into its next tactical role in Italy, the ADOS of the NZ Diviosn made a proposal for the NZ Base laundry accompany the Division with the Laundries role to be;

  • To undertake the washing of the main items of clothing on issue to personnel, and
  • if conditions permit the laundering for a hospital.

With the existing establishment of  1 Officer and 20 Other Ranks, it was envisaged that the washing for the complete NZ Division could be done twice monthly. For the rate to be increased to four times a month the establishment would have to be increased by 10 Other Ranks. This increase would allow the machines to be run for two shifts a day doubling the current capacity. The ADOS proposal was accepted and the  NZ Base Laundry Unit was disbanded on 30 September 1943,12  with NZ Mobile Laundry with a strength of 1 Officer and 36 Other ranks formed as a unit of the NZEF on 1 October 1943.Mobile laundry 1943 During October 1943 the NZ Division, including the NZ Mobile Laundry Unit moved secretly from Egypt to southern Italy, and on the 18th of October 1943, the NZ Mobile Bath unit was formed in Italy as a unit of the NZEF. 13

1943-1945

2 NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (1944)

Vehicle Tactical Sign 2 NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (1944)

In November 1943 the NZ Division ADOS stated his intent to place the Mobile Bath Unit under the Officer Commanding of the Mobile Laundry Unit, allowing both units to be administered economically.

NZ MLBUThe NZ Mobile Bath Unit was disbanded on 16 February 1944 and the NZ Mobile Laundry Unit renamed as the NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit. The New Zealand reorganisation of its Laundry and Bath units brought the New Zealand organisation into line with British Army War Establishment II/293/1 of December 1943, as a Type B: Mobile Field Laundry and Bath Unit, and became known as 2NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (2NZ MLBU). 2NZ MLBU served with distinction in support of the NZ Division throughout the Italian campaign, often with detachments providing support to units on the front line.14 2NZ MLBU was disbanded as a unit of the NZEF on 8 December 1945.

MLBU dec 1945

 

Mobile Laundry Equipment 1941-45

Mounted on 9 Trailers, the mobile equipment of the laundry consisted of;[15]

    • Four Trailer Type A – This was the washing trailer which carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X Bradford Rotary washing machine,
      • 1 X hydro extractor,
      • 1 X soap boiler,
      • 1 X ventilation fan,
      • hot and cold water, steam and electrical equipment.
    • One Trailer Type B – This was a drying trailer and carried the following equipment;
      • 1 x Rotary Dryer,
      • steam, condenser and electrical equipment.
    • One Trailer Type C – This was a drying trailer and carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X continuous drying machine -The continuous drying machine was a line which went through a series of pulleys. Items to be dried were pegged to the line which was slowly pulled through a chamber which blew hot air in one end and extracted it at the other. No ironing was done,
      • steam, condenser and electrical equipment.
    • Two Trailer Type D – With two of these per unit these trailers provided hot water and hot air. It carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X Clarkson steam boiler,
      • 1 X calorifier,
      • 1 X cold water tank,
      • 1 X feed water tank,
      • 1 X oil storage tank,
      • 1 X centrifugal pump,
      • 1 X feed pump,
      • piping, fittings and electrical equipment.
    • One Generator Trailer – This was a standard generator trailer with;
      • 1 X Fowler Sanders or Lister 22/24Kw Fowler Sanders diesel Generator
      • 1 X switchboard
      • 2 X distribution boxes
    • Distributed amongst all the vehicles for water supply and disposal was;
      • 2 X 205 litre (45 gallons) per minute pumps with motors
      • effluent tanks
      • piping
      • water testing apparatus

The Washing machine and Dryer trailers were positioned back to back alongside another pair. Platforms were mounted between the trailers, with a canvas canopy over the top, this can be seen in the picture below.

ww2 brit laundry

For operation the Mobile laundry required;

  • firm standing with an area of 19 meters (60 foot) by 19 meters (60 foot)
  • a water supply of 163659 litres (36,000 gallons) a day
  • a good access road
  • as much cover as possible although the laundry section was designed to operate in the open air

The Mobile laundry could wash 16000 blankets or 12000 sets of personal clothing a week.

ordnance laundry at work

RAOC Mobile Laundry at work 1944/45 (RAOC, public domain)

Mobile Laundry Video

A short video showing a Canadian Ordnance Corps Laundry unit in action in Northwest Europe 1944/45.   Canadian Army Newsreel No. 3

Mobile Bath Equipment

The Mobile Bath Unit was mounted in a 1 ton 2 wheeled trailer, and consisted of the means to heat water and pipe it to the showers, and included;

  • Hot water boiler,
  • oil burner,
  • semi-rotary pump,
  • couplings and fitting

The showers consisted of;

  • tubular metal shower trestles,
  • five or six shower heads,
  • pipework and fittings

The capacity was based on each man taking five minutes to shower,

  • A Subsection could bathe 60 to 70 men in an hour,
  • A section could wash 120 to 140 men in an hour,

The shower equipment was designed to be used in the open, but tents were provided for the showers, and for changing rooms if necessary. Commonly showers would be sited where changing could be in a building. A bath section requires a firm site 18 meters (60 foot) by 12 meters (40 foot) and a water supply of 38641 litres (8,500 gallons) of water a day.

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Canadian Army mobile bath. Wouenhaus, 8 April 1945. Photo by Alexander M. Stirton. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-198131.

A short video showing a Canadian Ordnance Corps Laundry unit in action in Northwest Europe 1944/45.

Mobile Bath Video

A short video showing a Mobile Bath unit in action in the Western Desert. Mobile Bath Unit (Western Desert)

Postwar the 1950’s

The postwar New Zealand Army was committed to providing a Division for service in the Middle East, the RNZAOC Commitment to this was the provision of Ordnance Divisional Troops commanded by the Chief Royal Army Ordnance Corps (CRAOC).

The Order of Battle of the NZ Army in 1953, details that under the NZ Division HQ CRAOC  the Ordnance organisation was;

  • an  Infantry Division Ordnance Field Park, and
  • a Mobile Laundry and Bath Company, consisting of;
    • an HQ,
    • 5 Laundry Sub-Sections and
    • 5 Bath Section Sub Sections.
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Org Chart from “Org & Duty of RNZAOC in NZ Div” CRAOC 5.1 of 1 Sept 1959.  National Archives of New Zealand

The Mobile Laundry and Bath Company intended to provide bathing facilities and wash soldiers underclothing.  The laundry function was supported by carrying a stock of underclothing from which a set could be issued to each man after bathing. Cast off underclothing was then washed and returned to stock for subsequent reissue. Sewing machines would be provided as part of the Company’s equipment to allow “Stich in time” repairs as part of the clothing exchange process.

The Company was structured to allow the use of double shifts. Apart from the normal considerations of accessibility to troops and hard standing then main siting consideration was accessibility to water. the Bath subsection as a requirement of 400 gallons (1800 Litres) per hour and a Laundry Subsection a requirement of 300 Gallons (1360 Litres) per hour.

At this stage, it unknown what equipment was used but some assumptions would be that it was either equipment from the 2nd World War or locally manufactured material.

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Members of 1 Battalion, Wellington Regiment enjoying a field Shower, Daba Camp, Waiouru, Summer 1952-53 (7WnHb Regt, Public domain)

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Showering in Korea, May 1952. Alexander Turnbull Library

The 1960’s and 70’s

In the 1960’s 1st Composite Ordnance Company (1 Comp Ord Coy), RNZAOC had two dedicated platoons for Laundry and Bath services;

  • 5 (Laundry) Platoon,  and
  • 6  (Bath) Platoon.

Laundry unit, single, trailer-mounted. M-532

1 Comp Ord Coy, 5 (Laundry) Platoon,  was equipped with the American  Laundry unit, single, trailer-mounted. M-532.  The M-532 was a self-contained trailer mounted unit which consisted of ;

  • A 2½-ton capacity, 2-wheel trailer;
  • A washer-extractor,
  • A Tumble Dryer,
  • A  water heater,
  • An electric generator,
  • An air compressor, and
  • water pump.

The unit was able to furnish a complete (wash and dry) laundering cycle at a capacity of 120 pounds (54kg) per hour.

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532 (US Army, public domain)

m532 Laundry Trailers

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532 (US Army, public domain)

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Sgt Brian Quinn instructing National Servicemen on the Laundry Unit in the mid-1960’s. Photo was taken in Kuku Valley Ammunition area, Trentham Camp. RNZAOC School.

Bath Unit, Portable, 8-Showerhead M1958

1 Comp Ord Coy, 6 (Bath) Platoon,  was equipped with the American Bath Unit, Portable, 8-Showerhead M1958. The M1958  was a compact unit that included;

  • A 20-gallon (75 litre) water heater,
  • A 3/4-horsepower water pump,
  • Two shower stands with four nozzles each,
  • A 3-k.w. generator set,
  • A 55- gallon (209 litre) fuel drum,
  • moreover, all the necessary ancillary equipment including hoses and fires extinguishers.

The M1958 used approximately 960 gallons (3600 litres) of water per hour, which could be drawn from a tank, mains or a water source such as a river or pond. It is capable of providing continuing support for 3,000 troops.

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M1958 Bath Unit Equipment layout (US Army, public domain)

The January 1972 edition of the RAOC Gazette made mention of the M1958 in service with the ANZUK Force.

” ANZUK Ordnance Depot” The unit has raised a Field Support Detachment, and under the command of Capt J Clarke supported by SSgt’s Ashdown and Shepard, it is supporting 28 ANZUK Brigade in the Mersing area of Malaysia.

The bath unit of the detachment is using an amazing American equipment which requires a brave man to peer though a peep hole until combustion. Fortunately, the unit has such a man in Corporal Smith of the RNZAOC”

and this from the February 1972  issue of the RAOC Gazette:16

” The Bath section apparently run by Corporal Smith RNZAOC, succeed in bathing all comers and, in spite of water shortages, operated almost nonstop for twelve days.”

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ANZUK Ordnance Depot, Forward Ordnance Detachment, setting up a shower unit, Malaysia 1972 (Copyright © Robert McKie 2017)

The 1980’s and 90’s

With the retirement of the Laundry unit,  M-532 in the early 1980’s, leaving the Bath Unit M1958 to although in need of replacement due to support and maintenance issues, soldier on until the later years of the 1980’s. The last time I saw one in action was on the Triad Exercise of 1984 when I was operating on at Baggush Camp at Waiouru under the tutelage of WO2 Smith.

FW-37 Trailer Mounted Field Laundry Unit

The Replacement for the Laundry unit,  M-532 was purchased in the early 80’s, it was the West German FW-37 Trailer Mounted Field Laundry Unit.

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FW-37 Mobile Laundry Equipment. RNZAOC School

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FW-37 Mobile Laundry Equipment. RNZAOC School

The FW-37 was a self-contained field laundry unit mounted on two trailers;

  • Washer Trailer, the washer trailer consisted of;
    • Two washing machines,
    • Hydro extractor,
    • Water pump,
    • Two Diesel/Oil Burners,
    • Hoses, electrical cables and other ancillary connections
  • Dryer Trailer, the Dryer trailer consisted of;
    • A single drying machine,
    • One Diesel/Oil Burner,
    • 3 Phase generator,
    • Hoses, electrical cables and other ancillary connections.

The FW-37 and could be run by either mains power or by its own generator, Water could be supplied from a mains supply, water tank or local water supply such as a river or a pond.

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Kerrick Shower Unit

As the M1958 Bath Units became worn out in the mid-1980’s, a replacement item was provided by Kerrick Industries. Utilising many of the M1958 Bath Units components, such as the hoses and shower stands the Kerrick was an electric powered, Kerosene fed unit.

Karcher Shower System

In the early 1990’s the NZ Army procured several Karcher Multi-Purpose Decontamination Systems (MPDS). Essentially a high tech Steam Cleaner the NZ Army systems were configured as either a;

  • A shower system, or
  • A decontamination System (used only by RNZE units, not RNZAOC).
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Karcher MPDS (Karcher, public domain)

The MPDS was an entirely self-contained system, powered by its own engine and able to suck water from a local source such as a river or from a holding tank fed by mains water. The shower system was capable of showering 15 persons at the same time.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2017

Notes:

1 “Administration within the Division,” in Administration in the Field (London: War Office, 1951).

2 A.H. Fernyhough, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945 (Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 1958), 121.

3 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field Item Idr20107590 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/21 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

4 The New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps was the permanent Corps in New Zealand and the NZOC the tile of the Expeditionary Force Ordnance Corps.

5 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

6 “Mobile Laundry,” Auckland Star, Volume LXXIII, Issue 109, 11 May 1942.

7 “Fit Division,” Otago Daily Times, Issue 24908, 6 May 1942.

8 “Divisional Cavalryman’s Adventures,” Northern Advocate, 25 June 1942.

9 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base, Item Idr20107591 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/22 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

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

11 “Clothing for NZ Troops,” Press, Volume LXXIX, Issue 24011, 28 July 1943.

12 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base.

13 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

14 Robin Kay, “From Cassino to Trieste,” in Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45 (Wellington: Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs 1967).

15 WWII reenacting, “Mobile Bath and Laundry Unit Raoc,” in WWIIReenacting (2006).

16 RAOC, “Anzuk Ordnance Depot,” RAOC Gazette, January 1972.