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.
All 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.
The 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.
Donated 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.
Generously 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.
It 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.
Trips 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