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The Driver

Guns in the field in the very early days were drawn by horses handled by civilian drivers, in most cases yokels 'straight off the turnips' untrained and untried in action. So unreliable were they that troops had to be diverted to stop them running away when the shooting started! Surprisingly, this ridiculously unsatisfactory state of affairs lasted until 1793.

In 1794 was formed the Corps of Captains Commissaries and Drivers which provided the Royal Artillery with both horses and drivers. This corps was disbanded in 1801, replaced by a similiar organisation called the Corps of Gunner Drivers, then reorganised in 1806 when its title was changed to the Royal Artillery Drivers. A Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers was established in 1815 but disbanded in 1822.

Recruits were then enlisted as 'Gunner and Driver' with the idea that every man should be trained to perform the duties of both, and change from one to the other as required. In 1858 this system was in turn abolished and men enlisted in the rank of either Gunner or Driver.

Finally in 1920 the Royal Artillery abolished the rank of Driver altogether after which drivers took the rank of Gunner. In New Zealand the rank of Driver ceased to exist in 1926 (General Orders 1 May 1926).

Mechanisation in the RA got under way during World War 1 when all but two siege batteries, the equivalent of modern medium batteries, became tractor-drawn. Each battery had attached to it a company of RASC drivers, but by 1925 the RA had become responsible for driving and maintaining its own motor vehicles. The Driver IC had arrived.

The New Zealand Army lagged badly behind the British in the mechanisation stakes, the first field guns not being modified for mechanical draught until 1938. No attempt to train Drivers IC was made in New Zealand until after the outbreak of World War 2.

WL Ruffell

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