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5.5in Gun Dedication
Hamilton: 2 December 2006
by Brig (Rtd) G D Birch, MBE,
Colonel Commandant: Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery
On 2 Dec 2006, the 5.5 inch gun restored by Hugh Vercoe, was presented to Hamilton City on behalf of the RNZA by Brigadier Graham Birch. The ceremony was attended by the Governor General, all the region's Mayors, some Members of Parliament, a large turnout of ex Waikato gunners and local people. Archbishop Hui Vercoe dedicated the gun, which can be seen in the War Memorial Gardens, Hamilton, NZ. This is the address given by Brigadier Birch.
Most of us are familiar with paintings of armies of old marching into battle with Colours flying and bayonets fixed. Originally the colours were regimental identifying symbols for troops to rally behind. Later they became ceremonial and the battle honours of the parent unit were emblazoned on them, and when they became worn or their unit disbanded they were laid up in a consecrated area. We see examples of this in cathedrals and parish churches throughout New Zealand. However in the case of the artillery because our honours were so numerous we were granted the battle honour 'UBIQUE' - the Latin for everywhere - and our guns were accepted as colours. When on parade on ceremonial occasions our guns are accorded the same compliments as the standards, guidons and colours of the cavalry and infantry. And to signify our guns as colours the royal cipher is engraved on the barrel of the gun. In the case of this 5.5in gun that we are presenting today the royal cipher is engraved on the top of the barrel just in front of the breech block. So it is appropriate that the gunners of the Waikato be represented by their colours, permanently emplaced here in Memorial Park.
So how did the gunners happen to be here? We have to go back to the early 1900s to answer that. Up until then New Zealand's military organisation was based on a largely unpaid and ineffective volunteer force, and was inward looking - focusing on local defences. But in 1909 far reaching changes occurred. The catalyst for this was the growing strategic tension in Europe, which led to the Imperial Defence Conference of that year recommending New Zealand commit to providing an Expeditionary Force suitable for possible employment overseas. After considerable political objection and infighting this recommendation was accepted, and resulted in New Zealand adopting its first compulsory military training scheme and raising a paid Territorial Force. One artillery battery, a mounted rifles regiment and an infantry battalion were to be raised in the Waikato. Thus on 19 March 1911, K Battery - within months to be redesignated G Battery of the New Zealand Artillery - was formed in Hamilton.
With one exception it has not been New Zealand practice to deploy its Territorial Force artillery units overseas on active service as complete units in their own right. Rather men and equipment were drawn from the regional units to form the regiments and batteries of the specially raised expeditionary and emergency forces. So with the coming of World War 1 the Waikato gunners found themselves amalgamated with gunners from other regions into a NZA Artillery Brigade and Ammunition Column.
Waikato men served the guns with distinction during the First and Second World Wars, and later in Korea and Vietnam. Some were with the first New Zealand artillery to serve at Gallipoli, with our No 4 Battery, landing with their guns at ANZAC Cove the day after the initial infantry assault - deploying ashore at 6:30am on the 26th April 1915 - and others followed later with the remaining batteries. Those who survived Gallipoli were joined by reinforcements, and later served on the Western Front in France in the line from the Ypres Salient in May 1916 to the final battle at Le Quesnoy in November 1918.
The inter-war period was a time of retrenchment, and later, modernisation. G Battery was redesignated 2 Battery in 1921, and a much depleted Battery was disbanded in 1929 to be reformed in 1936 as a 60 Pounder Medium Battery, and to be redesignated yet again, in 1940, this time as 7 Medium Battery.
During World War 2 Waikato gunners served overseas in all our theatres of war - the Middle East, Italy, and in the Pacific - again in an Expeditionary Force mode and across all the New Zealand Artillery units. For those Territorial Force Waikato gunners who continued to serve within New Zealand the 7th Medium Battery was mobilised following the entry of Japan into the war, deploying initially to Papakura Camp a week after Pearl Harbour, on the 14th December 1941, and serving full time, primarily in Northland, until the threat of invasion decreased in 1943. Some of these Waikato field gunners were also deployed with their 60 Pdr guns in the coastal defence role, in the Bay of Islands, onto Great Barrier Island and in the Marlborough Sounds.
Post World War 2 Waikato gunners served overseas with the Emergency Force 16 Field Regiment in Korea and the Regular Force 161 Battery in Vietnam.
7 Medium Battery was redesignated 4 Medium Regiment in 1948, with its gunners continuing to be drawn from throughout the Waikato. The Regiment was initially equipped with obsolete 6 inch Howitzers until the 5.5in guns were purchased and issued in 1951. 4 Medium Regiment was reduced to Battery size in 1961, becoming 4 Medium Battery, and in 1972 its Waikato origins were acknowledged by incorporating the parent G designation into its title to become 4(G) Medium Battery. The 5.5in guns were withdrawn from service in 1987, and in 1999 4(G) Medium Battery was amalgamated with 11(A) Battery in Auckland to form 11/4 Battery, the currently serving Territorial Force gunners who we see here today with their 105mm guns.
The 5.5in gun was designed in the UK in the late 1930s, and entered service in the British Army in 1942. It proved to be a most successful design and very popular with those who manned it. It was manned by a detachment of 10 men, weighed 5850kg, and was capable of firing an 82lb (37.2kg) shell out to 16400m at a rate of 2/3 rounds per minute.
The gun we see on the presentation mount has been restored magnificently. Major Vercoe has told us of the tremendous effort of all concerned in the movement, restoration and mounting of this gun, and I want to add the thanks of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery for a job so well done. Thank you to all involved, and a very special thank you to Maj Hugh Vercoe for initiating and masterminding this project. It is a very fitting memorial to the RNZA's Waikato units since 1911 - chronologically K then G Battery, 2 Battery, 7 Medium Battery, 4 Medium Regiment, 4(G) Medium Battery and now 11/4 Battery. It is great to see so many who have served in those units on parade here today, including a number of past Commanding Officers and Battery Commanders. I must mention also the support given by our RNZA Band, which I might add is the longest continuous serving band in New Zealand, service or civilian - 142 years from 1864 to the present.
It is appropriate that this gun be mounted in the Memorial Park here, alongside the anchor from HMNZS Waikato representing the Navy and the Spitfire representing the Air Force. And while this gun is particularly representative of the artillery I see it also in a wider role as representing the Army as a whole, and to remind us of all those Waikato men and women soldiers who have served this region and our Country so well, in war and in peace. They have a long and illustrious history.
I am proud on behalf of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery to present this gun to Hamilton City.
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