military

Local women were pioneering wartime auxiliaries

When the South African (Boer) War was declared in 1899 between Britain and the Boer-ruled republics, colonies from across the British Empire rushed to participate in a wave of excitement; it went without saying that New Zealand would be contributing soldiers. New Zealand differed from its allies in that it had its own semi-official female troops. With Government approval, well-connected girls and women put on uniforms, held military titles and were trained by soldiers.

These female troops indicated relatively high gender equality in comparison with other parts of the world, and patrolled, wielding real weapons, just like their male compatriots. They did not, however, serve at the front like other New Zealand women who taught and nursed. Instead, they served as a singing, fundraising public face of support for the upholding of Empire, and to demonstrate a newly emergent New Zealand identity.

2. Wanganui Ladies' Contingent

An article from December 1900 shows “the latest and loveliest thing in khaki: the Wanganui Ladies’ Contingent”
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19001207-9-4

Different regions had their own groups, grabbing media attention due to their unusual attire. For a short time “khaki girls” could be found all over New Zealand, appearing in overseas newspapers and books. One of the largest groups was formed in Whanganui in around June 1900. The Wanganui Amazon Carbineers were initially created to perform as characters in a fundraising pageant titled The Birth of the Empire.

Following the trend set by Wellington’s Young Ladies Contingent, local women created their own group. For months they rehearsed every Thursday afternoon into the evening under the training of a male drill instructor, Sergeant-Major Anderson. He appointed “most popular lady in the corps” Captain Manson as commanding officer. Members bought uniforms from local retailer J Paul and Co for 17s 6d (around $163) each. The high cost ensured that members came from comfortable and socially aspiring backgrounds.

3. Wellington Amazons

 Sister group to the Amazon Carbineers were the Wellington Amazons, seen here at Government House
Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 31 Mar 1900, via trove.nla.gov.au

The Birth of the Empire was a great success, running for eight consecutive nights in September 1900, and as the Wanganui Chronicle reported, “the severe tax on the performers is beginning to tell its tale”. The Amazon Carbineers became the stars of the show, performing military manoeuvres and demonstrating their bayonet skills. Their advertised “weird war cry” was a “haka, which had to be twice repeated in response to vociferous encores”.

1. Wanganui Amazon Carbineers

 The Amazon Carbineers posing on Drews Ave for a group portrait c.1900
Whanganui Regional Museum Collection Ref: 2002.64.48

The Amazon Carbineers kept up their drills after the pageant ended and became a regular feature of the community. In the subsequent media frenzy there were only limited spaces for new applicants. Recruits were elected in a popularity contest by existing members. They became, however, too popular for their own good. After offering to hold a garden party for the 1901 New Zealand Band Contest they were ordered by the Contest committee not to appear in uniform at any of the associated events in fear that they would outshine the bandsmen. While frustrated and disappointed, members agreed to wear mufti instead.

By the end of the war in 1902, uniformed women had disappeared from New Zealand streets as the conflict had grown unpopular. Only one khaki uniform is known to have survived, in the Te Papa collection. The uniforms were probably recycled for other uses including later conflicts. The women’s groups of the South African War are now largely forgotten. Nevertheless, New Zealand’s ladies-at-arms were well ahead of their time and may have inspired future auxiliary women’s groups during the wars to come.

 

Scott Flutey is a student of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. He is working as a summer intern at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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The 25 Pounder Gun

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With the centenary of World War I now upon us there is currently a global interest in the recovery and conservation of military objects. These relics, many from both World Wars, are now eagerly sought after by Museums, collectors and historians. Fuelled by this enthusiasm, some of the world’s rarest military hardware is now being recovered from various sites and conserved. For many people these objects embody and symbolise the sacrifices made by our forebears, and their conservation will enable future generations to view, touch and appreciate what has gone before.

High on the list of the most interesting are artillery guns and the Whanganui Regional Museum has such a weapon in its collection. It is a 25 pounder Vickers Armstrong Mk2 /1 which was built around 1942. This type of gun is notable for being among the first light field artillery guns to embody the multiple role capabilities of field guns, anti-tank guns and howitzers all rolled into one. The Vickers Armstrong 25 pounder was considered by many to be the best light artillery gun of World War II. An additional benefit of its multi-role capability was that the Army could retire all of their howitzers and anti-tank guns and only had to mass produce one type of gun.

GL1All the Mark 1 25 pounders were sent to France. When the British withdrew from Dunkirk all had fallen into German hands. The Germans tested them and liked them so much that they kept them right to the end of the war; when their supplies of captured British ammunition ran out they manufactured their own. All subsequent 25 pounders were built from scratch as 25 pounders, as opposed to modified 18 pounders, and were designated Mk 2/1, signifying an all-new Mark 2 barrel in a Mark 1 frame.

GL2The Museum’s 25 pounder is one of these and was probably built in 1942 before being sent to New Zealand for army training and military exercises during the war. There is a possibility, however, that it may have been used by the New Zealand contingent that served in Korea. Because all the brass plaques that could have told us when it was made, which factory had built it and its service serial numbers, were removed, it is difficult to say where it was used with any certainty.

GL3Donated to the Whanganui Regional Museum by the New Zealand Army in 1979, this weapon was mounted in Queens Park until 2010 when it was removed so that the Wanganui Antiquities Trust could undertake a major conservation and stabilisation task upon it.

 

GL4Generously sponsored by Emmetts Civil Construction, the gun was lifted from its mount and transported to Boyds Auto Museum on Great North Road in Whanganui. There it was stripped of its smaller parts before being moved to Garmac Engineering for the removal of its axle, barrel and recoil frame and for an assessment of its overall condition.

GL5It then went to Edmonds Industrial Coatings where the myriad of parts were sandblasted to remove corrosion and lightly painted in preparation for later conservation. Corrosion was also removed from the frame and new steel added.

 

GL6Trips were made to New Zealand Army Museum in Waiouru so that missing parts could be identified, measured and photographed. A trip to Dannevirke by the team to visit veteran WWI gunner, Gordon Menzies, yielded a copy of an original 25 pounder parts manual.

To date all the major parts have been repaired, repainted and reassembled. All that remains to do now is the ancillary parts; these small parts are often more time consuming and require more skills than the large parts. With the barrel reinstalled and now back on its original wheels, the project completion is not far away.

 

By Geoff Lawson, Wanganui Antiquities Trust

Diorama leads to Masters

Diorama

Kyle Dalton’s first view of the museum’s diorama of the Rutland Stockade that once stood on Queen’s Park hill was a crucial moment.  He can, in fact, trace his lifelong interest in military history back to that time.
Part of that interest led him to learn about the Rutland Stockade itself; “At 60 by 30 metres it was the largest stockade in New Zealand,” he says.  “At the time it was built it was one of eight in the country and four of those were here [in Wanganui].”
Kyle arrived in Wanganui from Marton in 1997. He was a policeman and had, before that, transferred from Auckland to Marton in 1991. From 1994 he had been coming over to Wanganui as part of 5 Battalion, the next stage of his career.
“I left the police, started a couple of security businesses; bought and sold, bought and sold them and then joined the army in `94.  One day when I was over here I came in [to the museum] and saw the diorama.”
His curiosity piqued, Kyle visited Queens Park to see where it was. Of course there are no obvious signs of its former location but it got him interested.
The stockade stood for 40 years, dominating the town with more than just its rudimentary architecture. Building on it started in 1846 and finished in April 1847.
“Conveniently, the timber was supplied by the very Maori who later attacked it,” says Kyle. “They were paid £500 for it.”
So what was in the stockade?  “There was very little. There were the two main buildings of American design; that’s why they overhang. The diorama had capping on the fence but originally they were sharpened stakes.”
Sharpened – not because pointy wood deterred people from trying to climb over, but because a sharpened stake sheds water and inhibits premature rot: trivia courtesy of Kyle Dalton.
As a matter of interest, there are two lines of bricks in the path leading from the Queens Park car parking area that overlooks Ridgway St up to the cenotaph. In 2002 when the walkway was being installed, workers uncovered two old stockade fences; one in corrugated iron from when it was used as a prison, and one in wood from its days as a stockade. Those brick lines mark the locations where the fences still stand, rotting beneath the soil.

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson's Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson’s Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

When it was in use as a stockade, it was never used as living quarters.  “The officers had their own quarters where Andersons is now [on the corner of Victoria Ave and Ridgway St], which was next door to the military hospital. The soldiers would camp out in tents on the flat ground now adjacent to the Davis Library,” says Kyle.
The stockade would have been manned around the clock by a skeleton crew.  The bulk of the units left in 1869, with the final soldier leaving in 1870. By 1872 it was a prison, but the untreated timbered structure, by then 20 years old, was starting to show signs of age.  “Members of the town council wanted to preserve it. They saw it as a significant feature of Wanganui, but it came down to cost … the issue was raised as late as 1883 when a large part of it came down. It was taken down in stages,” says Kyle. By 1888 it was gone, with some of the wood ending up in the local Masonic Lodge as furniture.
That view of the diorama, produced by the museum’s exhibition people some time in the 1970s, has led Kyle through further education to the point where he is now studying for his Masters degree.  “An examination of the role of the military in the development of Wanganui,” is his subject. At the centre of it, though long gone physically, stands the Rutland Stockade.

Article original published in Wanganui Midweek on December 19, 2012; reproduced with permission.