WWI

Local Defence during World War II

In the 1940s Wanganui was a city boasting a busy port that dated from the 1800s, and a sizeable airport which had opened in 1931. New Zealand was physically many miles from the theatres of war in Europe, but the threat of Japanese invasion brought the realities of war much closer to home.

Wanganui airport, south coast and Landguard Bluff Battery from the observation post

Wanganui airport, south coast and Landguard Bluff Battery from the observation post

By June 1940 Wanganui Airport was one of sixteen landing fields and four defence aerodromes in New Zealand, along with two RNZAF stations in Fiji and one in Tonga, which the Air Force had committed to defend. The Air Force, however, had few means of active local defence. Eventually it was agreed that the Air Force would defend its aerodromes up to the perimeter, and the Army beyond that. The Army was also responsible for defence works for landing grounds. The Public Works Department assisted with technical and on-site design and construction tasks.

By March 1941 the Director of Works for aerodrome defence called for a list of landing grounds within 30 kilometres of the coast, including at Wanganui. But by October it was decided that the port in Wanganui did not require fixed defences after all, being vulnerable only to small raiding force attacks for which an independent local infantry company already existed.

A cylindrical type pillbox at Castlecliff

A cylindrical type pillbox at Castlecliff

In February 1942 the situation had changed again as a result of the Pacific crisis, and defence of the local port became more urgent. Wanganui was allocated a US 155mm field gun, although senior defence officials decreed that the port could be adequately defended by a beach defence battery with light field guns alone. In any case, the US gun did not eventuate because by 1942 these weapons were in limited supply.

Construction of local coastal defence infrastructure finally got underway in 1942. A secret report from March of that year indicates that while the New Zealand Home Guard numbered around 11,000 personnel, only 800 rifles were available, so the structures were more to boost morale than to provide real defence should an enemy attack eventuate.

SS Port Bowen being unloaded from the port side after being beached (W-S-W-154)

SS Port Bowen being unloaded from the port side after being beached (W-S-W-154)

Twenty-eight gun emplacements, or pillboxes, were planned for Wanganui, although only around 15 were actually built. The project was delayed because metal baffles for the loopholes had to be cut at Eastown Railway workshops from plate salvaged from the SS Port Bowen, which had grounded at Castlecliff in 1929. The ship also provided steel for an anti-tank barrier at Lyall Bay in Wellington.

The term “pillbox” dates back to 1917 when it was first used for structures used by the Germans during World War I. Ten pillboxes are still visible locally: at Mōwhanau Beach, between Castlecliff Beach and the river mouth, and along the south coast. All are arrowhead types apart from one round design near Morgan Street. Two additional defence structures, including a gun battery, are also still visible at Landguard Bluff. All were sited so their fields of fire overlapped.

An arrowhead-type pillbox at Castlecliff

An arrowhead-type pillbox at Castlecliff

New Zealand pillboxes varied from a box design in the north to the familiar arrowhead (T49) design locally and a cylindrical design further south (although two cylindrical pillboxes were built locally). Arrowhead pillboxes had a central firing area with wings either side for living quarters. The cylindrical design was developed by Humes Pipes of Christchurch to support, and to benefit from, the war effort.

Construction of the Wanganui Battery at Landguard Bluff began in June 1942 and was completed later that year at a cost of £3950. A 5-inch US Navy type BL MkVIII gun on a MkXV mount was installed on the reinforced pad at the front of the facility. Camouflage works were completed the following summer.

A Barr and Stroud 3m FT29 rangefinder was installed for aircraft observation. Barr and Stroud was a Scottish optical engineering firm (in the late 1950s they built Scotland’s first computer).

The interior of an arrow-head type pillbox

The interior of an arrow-head type pillbox

The Wanganui Battery was manned between 1942 and October 1943 by one army regular for every three Home Guards, and later, by a skeleton crew. By November 1944 the gun was dismounted and returned to store and the Battery was abandoned.

By March 1943 Wanganui had spent £50,000 on defence, including obstruction of the airfield by driving posts into the runway and laying barbed wire to secure local beaches.

Fifty-four roadblocks in the form of large concrete blocks were installed locally, along with 120 road or rail blocks throughout the wider district, including at Gentle Annie, Whangaehu Rail Bridge, Ūpokongaro, and the Aramoho railway bridge.

A Type J anti-tank ditch was constructed from the river north through Castlecliff. It had silted up by early 1943 and required re-excavating and the installation of double weirs to prevent further erosion.

The main principle of local defence was to hold the enemy off until the last round was fired, and the last man was down. Fortunately, our resolve was never put to the test.

For further reading see Defending New Zealand by Peter Cooke.

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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

Christmas on the Front

100 years ago, the approach to Christmas brought a mix of emotions as the preparation for celebrations was overshadowed by the largest war the world had seen.  Those at home and at the front prayed to have the war over in time to be reunited with their loved ones for the festive season but it looked dim.  Instead, a lot of people went about their preparations wondering if their loved ones were safe, and in some cases knowing they weren’t.

The Royal Naval Division Christmas Card

The Royal Naval Division Christmas Card

Families sent festive care packages to their soldiers; the standard socks, photographs, and letters containing news and gossip were accompanied by cakes, chocolate, and other small mementos that were easily sent across the world.  These small tokens helped to boost the morale of the soldiers, as well as include them in the festive season.  The soldiers themselves were not able to return the gifts at the time but many sent Christmas Cards to their families with much anticipated news of their health and wellbeing at the front.

One of the Christmas Tins organised by Princess Mary

One of the Christmas Tins organised by Princess Mary

To help with boosting morale 17-year old Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, organised a public appeal to raise the funds and provide servicemen with a Christmas gift.  The appeal was a great success and £162,591 ($23,978,672 today) was raised, resulting in 2,620,019 gifts.  The presents comprised of a small brass tin featuring a profile image of the Princess with a wreath and decorative border and ‘Christmas 1914’ stamped underneath.  The contents of the tin varied but could include small gifts of tobacco, a pipe, a lighter, cigarettes, sweets or chocolate, bullet pencils, writing paper, spices, and a Christmas Card and picture of the Princess herself.  Over 400,000 of the tins were distributed around Christmas Day to those serving at or near the front, with the remainder being given out in early 1915 with a ‘Victorious New Year’ card.  The tins were held for soldiers in hospital or prisoners of war and for the parents or widows of killed servicemen, although these took a lot longer to be delivered.

On the western front the traditional Christmas message of peace, even if formally a few years away yet, was spontaneously observed with informal ceasefires and comradery among adversaries.  During December 1914, British and German troops exchanged seasonal greetings and sang carols across the trenches to each other, and some even put up conifer trees on the edges of the trenches to simulate Christmas trees.  On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the soldiers from both sides walked across no-mans-land to greet the enemy and exchange tokens from their Christmas packages, followed by a friendly game of football or two.  The officers, knowing such fraternisation was against military law, turned a blind eye and let the soldiers have their fun.  When the voluntary ceasefire ended at midnight the soldiers went back to being enemies.

A newspaper article from the Wanganui Chronicle 4 January 1915, describing the informal Christmas Truce

A newspaper article from the Wanganui Chronicle 4 January 1915, describing the informal Christmas Truce

This truce was not widespread and some areas continued to fight, but the reports of the truce certainly made the event one of the most memorable scenes of humanity in the war.  There were attempts in the following years to recreate the Christmas Truce but the increasing bloodiness and use of poison gases removed the willingness to fraternise with the enemy.

But due to the nature of warfare not all soldiers had the opportunity to play football at Christmas time, although the nurses looking after them did their best to mark the day with as much celebration as could be mustered.  The photographs here of the Mount Felix Hospital at Walton-on-Thames show the ward decked with holly and ivy and festive banners on the walls, and even crackers being pulled.

1802.3773.15 1802.3773.18 1802.3773.20

Postcards from World War I

World War I is on a lot of minds at present.  Museum staff have been busy going through the collection and have discovered a range of amazing items from that war, including postcards which have been sent home to loved ones from soldiers at training or on active service.  These offer a great insight into the life of soldiers and into some of the situations they encountered.

Featherston fancy-work

Training was the first step, where recruits were taught the basics of what they would be doing overseas. Soldiers would often take reminders of home with them, like photographs or trinkets, but sometimes a bigger message was required to remind them what they were fighting for. Little is known about the author or recipient of this card but it portrays the artistic side of life in the training camp in Featherston.

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Hut 139, Featherston M.C. 1.12.16. This is a photo of a bit of fancy-work in front of our hut on the left-hand side from the door. Archie.

 

 

Camp Life, The Camp Barber

The light-hearted joviality and excitement of a new adventure continued and many postcards of the time made light of several facets of army life. This postcard was written to Mr Glenny of the Ben Nevis Hotel in Turakina, the author is unknown. The message is simple and lets the image speak for itself. Apparently having a trim was a real event.

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Not a bad snapshot is it.

 

 

 

Suez, The Docks

The excitement carried through, and optimism was predominant in the early stages of service. This postcard of the docks of the Suez Canal was sent from Henry Eliot Blennerhassett (known to his family as Boy) to his sister Ada in Wanganui, and talks of some of the positive aspects of being overseas. Henry survived the war and returned to Wanganui to live out his life.

1802.3435.1Cairo 19-2-16.This is about the only PC of Suez I could get. It is not bad but it does not give you much of an idea because you have not got the colours. This is a great show and I would like to be staying longer but you have to be ready for anything at this game. Thank you for the letter.  Love from Boy.

 

 

Main Entrance, Woodcote Park

After a while the realities of war set in and a longing for home became stronger. This postcard was sent to a friend by J C Reid. He was on sick leave at the time, and a common theme for soldiers in this position was a great appreciation of England and time away from the front. Nothing compared to home though.

1802.34388-11-15. Dear Friend, A Merry Xmas & Happy new year to you all. I left my job in Gallipoli on Sept 13th and at present am in Convl’nt [Convalescent] Camp recovering from an attack of Gastritis. The camp is in Lord Rosebury’s estate, and at present is the home of about 3000 men. I have been told that the whole [“experience has been” crossed out] of erecting buildings was bound by Lord R. The people of England are making a great fuss of us and I am sure we would not be treated better in NZ. Still NZ would be good enough for me and I will not be sorry when this present trouble is over. Thanks for your many letters, will write home by next mail. Regards to all, J C Read.

 

2010.52.7aErnest Jack Lloyd as John Bull

And when the War to End All Wars finally ended, the celebration postcards began. This card was a memento of peace celebrations and features a portrait of a young Ernest Jack Lloyd dressed up as John Bull, the personification of Great Britain. The Lloyd family was from Fordell and Ernest had relatives who fought in the war, so the long-awaited celebrations of peace were very important to the family.  Although this card has no message written on the reverse, it illustrates the patriotic sentiment and great celebration at the final completion of the war.

Bob Cade’s Sword

Bob Cade's sword II

Museum volunteer Mick, collection manager Trish Nugent-Lyne and I were deep beneath the museum, surrounded by guns and pointy things in the armoury. This is Mick’s second stint as a volunteer and he’s working on edged weapons.  “Anything with a sharp edge … cuts people up, that sort of thing,” he says. Mick likes to get graphic.

We were looking at a sword that once belonged to John Robert Cade, a Wanganui man who fought in WW1.  “It’s an 1897 pattern, British sword, which was a general issue to officers in the infantry regiments,” says Mick. “This particular one has the cipher of Edward VII … which means it was after 1901. They still issue them today; not for killing people anymore because they’re not very effective against machine guns or missiles, but purely as decoration on the uniform.”

The Whanganui Regional Museum holds his war diaries, trench maps, officer’s notes and photos as well as his sword, all items donated by his wife in 1975.

A little bit about the sword’s original owner:

Mr Cade – known as Bob – joined the army in 1900 as a Territorial in Pahiatua. He came to Wanganui in 1902 and joined the Wanganui Guards. He was employed by the Public Works Department as a draughtsman but continued in the military part-time after completing his war service. He held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel when he retired from the Territorials in 1933.  He married Ada Maud Dickson at St Paul’s church in Wanganui on June 28, 1911 and a baby boy was born on September 1, 1912. They called him Thomas. A daughter was born later.

Mr Cade’s war started in 1916 when he left New Zealand as a Captain. On August 23, 1918 he was granted the temporary rank of Major and that same year he was mentioned in dispatches by Field Marshall Douglas Haig. He was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the field”.

In 1919 Mr Cade was stationed in Germany and on January 17 he dined with the Prince of Wales – the man who would later become Edward VIII. The memory of this occasion is preserved in Cade’s diary, as well as a diagram showing the place settings. At the table there was a Major Richardson, Lord Claud Hamilton, Captain Riddiford, General Johnston, Viscount Broome, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson and others. Major Cade describes how he was introduced to the Prince by General Russell. He mentions that he bumped into the Prince again the following day and they had a brief conversation.

At the close of WW1 he was absorbed into the 7th Wellington Regiment with the full rank of Major.  He died in Wanganui in 1962.

This sword was presented to Lieutenant Cade by the Wanganui Guards in 1906. It is stamped with the name Hobson and Sons, but Mick says that could be the name of the retailer of uniforms and accoutrements, rather than the maker.

Bob Cade's sword IThe sword and scabbard are designed to be worn by the officer with his dress uniform, but it looked to me like it would be a serious inconvenience. Edges have been rounded and curled to prevent snagging and wear on the uniform; there’s an odd ‘guitar-shaped’ piece of steel added to the sharp end of the scabbard – it’s called a ‘drag’ and is there to take the wear of the sword scraping on the ground. You would not want to be a small man wearing a sword, unless they made short swords for the ducks-disease afflicted.

Trish pointed out that the swords were a type of men’s jewellery, worn purely for show.  “The higher the rank, the fancier the sword,” says Mick.

Mick was born in 1942, suffering the bombs and bullets of Adolf in his home town of Guildford in Surrey. His interest in things military therefore stems from his childhood in the blackout. He says he saw his father for the first time when he was four years old. His dad had finally returned from the Africa campaign in 1946.

Mick’s been in New Zealand since 1962 when he joined the Hawera Star in the printing department. While there he started as a volunteer firefighter. After six years in printing he took up the calling and became a full time firefighter, serving in Hawera, New Plymouth and Wanganui.  He’s still in the job, but leaves the firefighting to the younger chaps. He’s Brigade Secretary and also works as trauma counsellor.

Mick says he chose the sword because of its local interest and there may still be Wanganui people who remember Bob Cade or his family.  The diaries and stories of what he went through in WW1 made it all especially interesting.

 

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in July 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

Letters from the Front

With centenary commemorations of the First World War underway and continuing for the next five years, more and more stories are emerging; stories of love, stories of loss, and they all help us to remember the effect of the war on everyone at the front and at home.  The Museum was lucky to have recently been donated a collection of archives and images from the Wilson and MacKinnon families in Whanganui that tell yet another wartime story.

2014.61.2 a Arthur Wilson served as a Private in the 24th Reinforcements F Company of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  He was trained at Featherston Military Camp before relocating to Trentham and finally embarking for England on 16th April 1917.  Like many soldiers he wrote regular letters home, including to his sister Mag (Margaret) Wilson who lived at Alton Villa on St John’s Hill in Wanganui, and several of these letters are included in the collection.

2014.61.30Mag was a suit maker during the war, and Arthur made comment in his letters that she would be running out of clients based on the number of troops he witnessed coming into camp.  Once overseas, Arthur tells Mag about his continued weapons training and the conditions both in camp and at the front.  He comments on the ton of mud that stuck to his boots while serving in the trenches in France, and that his feet were never warm.  A highlight for him, despite the circumstances, was being in isolation with measles which took him away from the action during November 1917.

In March 1918 Arthur wrote about another break from the front: “We are away behind the line just now, & it is just alright to be there. Four of us are doing guard work in a small village just now. I can hear those guns roaring away, I simply hate the sound, & I don’t want to be any closer to them but I suppose we will soon be up near them again.”

2014.61.41Another common theme in Arthur’s letters is his love of his hometown Wanganui, and he often expresses the desire to return to the quiet town and live out his life in peace.  However, Arthur did not come home again; he was killed in action on 24th August 1918 at Bapaume, France, aged 35 years.  He is buried at the Grevillers British Cemetery at Pas-de-Calais.

2014.61.22Throughout the letters, Arthur refers to his friend who was also Mag’s sweetheart.  Duncan “Mack” MacKinnon was from Edinburgh, Scotland, but enlisted in the 10th Reinforcements New Zealand Engineers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  Mack embarked to Suez, Egypt, on 4th March 1916, but this collection includes only one of his letters, which he wrote to Mag on 28th May 1918.  He thanks her for the portrait she sent but writes that he is awaiting “the other one”, stating he wished he could be there to take it himself but it would require them having the house to themselves to do so rather than risking it by ‘their tree’ or round by the lake.  There is no mention if this photograph was created or received.

Mack survived the war.  He sent a telegram to Mag in February 1920 saying he had been demobilised and would return home, but he didn’t make it back to New Zealand until May.  They wasted no time and were married before the year had finished.

Paraphernalia confined to the Past

SMOKIN': Kathy Greensides displays the array of smoking utensils at the museum

SMOKIN’: Kathy Greensides displays the array of smoking utensils at the museum

Once again, the intrepid Midweek reporter delves into the dark underbelly of the Whanganui Regional Museum, this time with Kathy Greensides, collections assistant and photographer. There, on an archival table, she had arranged a collection of archaic smoking paraphernalia.
“I’ve pulled out a bunch of smoking related items, which are interesting,” she says, “old tobacco tins, matches, lighters, opium pipes … interesting pipes, and this tobacco tin that George V sent out to all his troops at the request of Princess Mary.” She asked that all soldiers and sailors serving in the war (World War 1) receive a Christmas gift from their sovereign. The gift consisted of the tin, tobacco, confectionery, spices, pencils, a picture of the Princess Mary, a Christmas card and a message from the King: “The Queen and I wish you Godspeed and a safe return to your homes and dear ones. A grateful Mother Country is proud of your splendid services characterised by unsurpassed devotion and courage.”
Three intricately carved pipes are part of the haul Kathy brought out; one, in the form of a Biblical prophet; one, a carved skull; the other a fully carved Maori head. Seeing these items, some now obsolete, brought home the fact that smoking utensils of any kind will, one day, belong only in a museum, and smoking as a concept will be relegated to an unfortunate past. People of the future will marvel at the whole idea of setting leaves on fire and inhaling the smoke.
So, why did Kathy choose these items for her Vaults story? “It’s dying out; you don’t see these things any more, so when I saw them it sparked my interest. And in looking into the history of the [soldiers’] tin, I thought it was kind of touching.” Kathy is not now, nor has ever been a smoker, so for her this was a peek into a foreign lifestyle.
Among the smoking treasures is a Vesta match tin with matches still inside. Although there was a piece of abrasive material attached to the tin, it was generally accepted that these wax matches would strike on almost any surface (including facial stubble).
The opium pipes are of bamboo, but are missing some of their smaller pieces such as the ceramic bowls in which the drug was placed to burn.
Little is known of the provenance of these items, but they are intrinsically interesting. The tobacco tins, designed to be displayed with their creative pictures and slogans, promoting the superior lifestyle of the smoker and suggesting success, good looks, wealth … all can be yours if you smoke this brand of tobacco. Words like “cool” and “satisfying” were standard in tobacco advertising, the very notion of which has already been put into a box labelled “obsolete”.
Interesting that this legacy of Sir Walter Raleigh lasted as long as it has, but its future belongs in a place like the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Original article by Paul Brooks appeared in ‘The Wangnaui Midweek’ on 13th February 2013.  Reproduced with permission from the author.