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by W.L. Ruffell


Meanwhile Headquarters Staff were working out an establishment for a new force to be called "The New Zealand Permanent Militia". It was to comprise the following troops:

Garrison Artillery120NZ Permanent Artillery
Field Artillery50NZ Permanent Artillery
Torpedo Corps50 

Strengths are for all ranks in each case. Garrison Artillerymen were organised into Nos 1,2,3, and 4 Batteries of 30 men each, stationed respectively at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin.

Finally the Defence Act of 31 July 1886 severed the AC from the NZ Constabulary which became the NZ Police. Armed Constabulary Field Force and/or Reserve personnel now had the option of joining the NZPM, which came into effect on 1 September 1886, or the Police. Those who chose the NZPM were tested, classified, and posted as Gunners, Torpedomen, Artificers (Engineers), or Privates (Rifles).

They were issued with new numbers regardless of corps; the original nominal roll dated 28 May 1886 shows the foundation members numbered from 1 to 328, Officers not being numbered in those days. RNZA (RF) Regimental numbers, which ended near 2000 in 1940, were a continuation of this series.

In 1887 the NZPA assisted by the artificers successfully mounted two BL 6-in disappearing guns at Wellington, much to the amazement of Major General Harding Steward RE, who had not believed them capable. He had previously recommended the importation of experts from England 'as had been found necessary in Australia'.

Although lacking the heavy equipment the experts considered essential, the ex-NZAC New Zealanders did the job efficiently and without mishap, using gear they improvised locally. Their resourcefulness saved the taxpayer a great deal of money at a time when that commodity was in short supply. Meagre as it was by standards prevailing in other colonies, the NZPM establishment proved to be short-lived. In 1888 the Government 'having found retrenchment necessary' drastically reduced it. Field Artillery and Engineers disappeared, those who were not sacked being absorbed into the Garrison Artillery and Torpedo Corps. The Rifles eventually went the same way.

In 1839 the NZPM strength having been reduced to less than 200, Major General Harding-Steward, instructed by the War Office to report on the state of the New Zealand Defences saw difficulties in keeping such a small force efficient, and as a solution suggested amalgamation with the permanent forces of the Australian Colonies! Thankfully wiser counsel prevailed.

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Regulations published in 1838 ruled that the NZPM furnish drafts to fill vacancies in both Police and Prison Services. In addition the PM was from time to time to supply squads of trained men to the Police when the latter were short-handed. This aid was supplied not for any special or emergency purpose but for ordinary run-of-the-mill police work, eg crowd control at race meetings.

Few of the men themselves objected. Relations between Police and PM were excellent; most knew one another, many had served together and indeed these 'combined operations' invariably ended in after-duty celebrations in the nearest hostelry. On the other hand Officers responsible for maintaining large quantities of expensive equipment, and for training over two thousand Volunteers did not appreciate their depleted staffs being used as Policemen. Direct transfers between the Services were permitted in those days, which meant men were frequently induced to leave the PM by the higher rates of pay ruling in Police and Prison Departments. In 1893 Gunners were being kept on a rate of pay lower than that prescribed. While labouring under these burdensome legacies from their Armed Constabulary past, the Permanent Militia found it hard to maintain its own strength, and on more than one occasion vacancies in both Police and PM were filled by men who were only half-trained. Complaints to Parliament were of little avail.

In a vain attempt to salvage some of the soldier skills lost under this pernicious system the Commandant, NZ Defence Forces, in 1893 proposed that Policemen who had been trained as Gunners form a reserve upon which the Permanent Militia could draw in an emergency. He further proposed that a hundred of them go into camp each year for a ten-day gunnery refresher course, and that they be included in the NZPM establishment. One such course was actually held in 1895. It was reported as successful - no doubt it was a very good reunion. Had an emergency arose the scheme would have been quite impracticable as the Police would have been occupied to a mail with their own problems. Probably for this reason the first course was also the last.

With reductions in Permanent strength and no money even to pay the 'unemployed' the fortification programme languished. To maintain some progress the Government in 1888 put convicts to work on the installations in areas where existing PM barracks could be 'specially fitted up for them' ie windows barred etc. Four temporary prisons were so prepared at Fort Cautley (North Head, Auckland), Point Halswell (Wellington), Ripapa Island (Lyttelton), and Taiaroa Head (Port Chalmers), to house a total of 200 prisoners. The NZPM did not think much of the idea - not only did they have to give up barrack space to these 'guests of Her Majesty', but for the first year had to guard them as well. Warders then relieved them of this unpleasant duty.

Convicts remained on forts and works until the outbreak of the First World War. After the War Defence requisitioned them for short 'tours if duty' during which they cut scrub, repaired roads, whitewashed tunnels etc, until the depression if the 1930s. The prisoners then lost what they considered a 'perk job' and the 'unemployed' inherited it.

Owing to the Governments 'stop-go' defence policy, plus the employment of convicts who in most cases were neither skilled nor willing, progress was painfully slow. Consequently the last emplacement was not ready until near the turn of the century. As one by one the BL guns were mounted the Permanent Artillery pointed out in 1897 that their numbers were not keeping pace with the growth in their responsibilities. Defence Department requested Parliament to authorise an increase in establishment sufficient to ensure adequate care and maintenance of this valuable equipment, but it took them three years to get it. Their efforts moved certain politicians to absurdly accuse them of trying to hand the 'colony over to militarism'.

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In the meantime another reorganisation took place. Firstly someone at last recognised that 'NZ Permanent Militia' was a misnomer, since members of that body were all volunteers, and in 1897 substituted the title 'NZ Permanent Force' - which in fact was the title first used in 1885 immediately prior to its formation. Secondly, the Force was organised into two 'companies':

  • No 1 Service Company - Artillery.
  • No 2 Service Company - Submarine, miners and engineers.

Personnel in No 2 Company were at first wrongly called Gunners, but about a year later the error was corrected, and they were re-named Sappers.

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Trouble erupted in 1898. Maoris in the Hokianga district, angry over a number of grievances, chiefly Dog Tax, took up arms and made threatening demonstrations against Rawene township. The Government despatched a column of 120 Permanent Force equipped with two QF 6-pr Nordenfelt guns on field carriages plus two .45-in Maxim machine guns to deal with the situation. The column arrived at the 'theatre of danger' on 5 May 1898.

Fortunately for both sides the affair ended peaceably because the Member for Northern Maori, who happened to be on the spot, persuaded the 'rebels' at the last minute not to open fire. It was just as well for the Force for in their long obsession with coast defence they had forgotten all the lessons the Maori had taught them in the New Zealand Wars of thirty years before. They were marching into a well-laid ambush - and this time many of Maori were armed with Winchester repeaters, not tupara!

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Then came the South African War (1899-1902). The New Zealand Government sent no Permanent Force unit to that conflict, but seconded a few Officers to Royal Artillery batteries for active service experience. One was attached to a New Zealand Hotchkiss machine gun battery, for in those days the Artillery manned machine guns. The Permanent Force played a prominent part in the training of Mounted Riflemen for South Africa. Principal subjects were musketry and horsemastership, and in these the PF were well versed.

One instructor deserves a special place in this history: No 62 J. Gentles, whose service record reads: Armed Constabulary 1873-86, NZ Permanent Militia Force 1886-1902, RNZA 1902-09, whence he retired Warrant Officer Class One. During the South African War Gentles spent a great deal of his time training instructors who in turn trained the Mounted Rifle Contingents before they went overseas. He has often been called 'the father of the RNZA' because he trained recruits at the Depot in Wellington for some thirty years.

A BL 15-pr field battery manned by New Zealanders was formed in South Africa from Mounted Riflemen 'converted' to Gunners for the purpose. Equipment was supplied by the Imperial Forces and training carried out by Royal Artillery instructors. The New Zealand Forces could not have equipped such a battery. (As far as is known no Permanent Force men served in this battery.)

In 1885 the best field guns in the country were RBL (Armstrong) 6- and 12-prs dating from1860. They had long since been declared obsolete in England, were nearly worn out, their wooden carriages shaky, many of their small stores missing, and little or no harness was available to move them. These were on issue to the more fortunate Volunteer batteries; the less fortunate had ancient smoothbore muzzle-loaders. Some were obliged to 'convert' to Infantry because the Government would not supply them with guns.

In the same year in a belated and penny-pinching re-equipment, exercise the Government approved the purchase of eighteen 'new' RBL Armstrong 9-pr guns Pieces made in 1862, carriages in 1874, delivery to be spread over three years. One or two of these still survive, including a partly restored specimen in the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum, Waiouru. On the left trunnion you will see 1862, the date of manufacture, which speaks for itself.

Other equipment purchased during the year 1886-89 included ten hybrids - QF 6-pr Nordenfelt coast defence guns mounted on ordinary field carriages said to have been 'specially designed for New Zealand'. It seems the carriages were built in the Railway Workshops, Addington, copied from a sample imported from England. Two were issued to each Permanent Artillery battery in 1892.

The 6-pr was a long, high velocity piece, expressly designed for use against torpedo boats. Its mounting, intended to sit on a steel pedestal anchored to the ground by several tonnes of concrete, permitted only a short recoil. In action the behaviour of this combination attached unmodified to a light field carriage can well be imagined. Lt Col Fox, Royal Artillery, Commandant NZ Forces, described it as 'probably the worst field gun in the possession of civilised troops'. Why this peculiar equipment was adopted is not hard to perceive. A century ago the New Zealand Forces, fearful of attack by a foreign power, treated field artillery as an adjunct to coast defence. They made little attempt to train field Gunners in the close support of Infantry, their traditional role. Senior Officers considered it 'unwise' to spend time training in the field - and anyway there was insufficient harness. The 6-pr was intended as a 'gun of position'; it was put on a field carriage only so it could be shifted about within a fortified area.

Except at camps the Garrison Permanent Artillery was unable to train Volunteer batteries elsewhere than at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Batteries located at other centres eg Napier, Nelson, and Gisborne were left to fend for themselves. They received little encouragement; drill hall and gun park facilities were often primitive, and in some cases equipment had to be left exposed to the weather and the depredation of small boys. Until Master Gunner George Richardson undertook to write a field artillery training manual in 1895 no books were available, and every battery had a different gun drill. In his 1893 report on the Volunteers Lt Col Fox stated he was unable to find 'what might be called an efficient field battery'.

In 1900 during the South African War (1899-1902) the New Zealand Government decided to re-equip field batteries.

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