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The Lost Guns of New Zealand

by Mike Subritzky


The first one I'd like to mention is the 'Portabello' gun and this was a 7.5 cm Krupp (with German cypher and markings) Field gun from WWI, which had been captured by the New Zealand Division. As many of us are aware, after the end of the First World War a considerable number of captured field pieces were brought back to New Zealand and held for the construction of a National Military Museum. However, for one reason or another (money) the museum was never built and all of these guns were then given to various communities around New Zealand, one being the Portobello gun. This gun stood on the seaward side of the township for many years and was towed by car late one evening by young petrol heads and one of its wooden wheels was broken. It was then unceremoniously buried in the local dump.

In about 1976, I learned of this gun through a photograph in a book and went to some lengths to eventually find it, minus a wheel. I was given permission by the residents of Portabello and the BC of 31(B) Battery to bring the gun back to 'Central Battery' in Dunedin and begin restoring it. Eventually with help we managed to locate the other gun wheel on a farmer's house wall and he was persuaded to give it to the project. Shortly afterward another local farmer rang me and informed me that he had heard that we were attempting to restore an old gun and that he had 'another' old gun on his property on memorial hill which he wanted us to remove.

Ron Martin, Jim Taituha and myself went and retrieved this second gun from the bottom of the hill where it had actually been thrown off the monument. This gun was also a Krupp 7.5 cm, but had a Turkish cypher and markings; perhaps from Gallipoli? Naturally when we got back to Central Battery, the BSM Ivan Trueman was not a happy pirate as he regarded them as 'older than himself and bloody messy'. Over the next year the guns were quietly being restored by a number of Territorial Gunners and myself, and then I was posted back to 161 Battery and lost touch. I understand that the Portobello gun eventually went back to its original location.



A third gun that I recall was the Armstrong Gun that was used by the Thames Navals during the old Volunteer days, and later rested for many years outside the Thames RSA. It was traditional for any Gunners who lived locally to parade at the RSA on a certain Sunday morning once a year and carry out cleaning and painting of this old field piece; naturally the bar was opened and on occasions it meant that many an ex-serviceman had to delve into the very depths of his memory to try and claim some remote and distant association with the guns (Army or Navy). This Armstrong I understand was in recent years swapped with the NZ Army and replaced by a modern 25 Pounder.



The fourth gun is/was located in Ngaruawahia and the background of this gun is a little similar. Some few years ago I was reading a book about the history of the township ("Meeting of the Waters" A.M. Latta, Ngaruawahia Lions Club, 1980 - Page 125) when I saw a photograph of a large German Field piece set as a memorial in the Ngaruawahia Octagon. This gun was a very large equipment, its tube was about the same length as a 5.5 inch (Medium) Howitzer, I think from memory it might have been an Krupp 18cm. This gun stood in the local octagon for many years and then I understand it was re-located during the Second World War as it might have been considered a target from the air. Later it was in such a bad state of repair it was considered an eyesore and was dumped across the bridge as landfill for the road that runs beside the old Ministry of Works. So much for history.


61 (Light) AA Regiment:

When I was a small boy this Territorial Regiment was quite large and stored a number of 25 Pounders and also 40/60 Bofors in the Drill Hall in Waihi. I guess that about 1958/1960 the NZ Army was once again 'downsized', and the Drill Hall closed down. The 25 Pounders must have been sent back to Waiouru or Trentham, however the Bofors Guns (about a dozen or more) were secured by the local Waihi Wrecker who had them parked outside his wrecking Yards for quite some few months. I understand that a battery's worth had come from Waihi and the remainder from Tokoroa. It was really hard to comprehend as my eldest brother Dave had served in that Regiment and had been very proud of these once pristine guns now rusting away. The guns were eventually cut for scrap and the elevating and traversing arrangement from one of these Bofors, was utilised for many years as the Waihi tow truck, having been placed on the back of an old chev (from memory).


The Fiji Guns:

On one occasion when we were in Fiji, Captain Joe Rutherford was with us and one day we were doing deployments with several L5 Howitzers that the Battery had taken with us (the first since WWII I understand). Smokey Joe came to check on us while we were having a break and said words to the effect "Funny to see guns back here after all of these years, and they're just about over the top of where we buried all of the guns we used in the last war". We asked him what he meant and he said that during and after the War, Fiji and a number of other Islands had bristled with guns, that had for many years remained at QEB finally being pushed over a bank so as to serve as land fill. The Battery was deployed over their last resting place.


Queens Garden Guns:

This is unconfirmed as I have yet to see a photograph of them in place, but I was told on a number of occasions by ex-members of B Battery in Dunedin that for many years a number of heavy guns had been placed in Queens Gardens. They served as war memorials/trophies to the First World War and had remained there until early in the Second World War when it was felt by the local military authorities that they might be considered targets for Japanese bombers. I am told that these guns were buried where they stood, and that they were buried quite deep. As already stated the existence of these guns I was never able to confirm via photographs, but if they are buried where the old gunners said, they are in the two northern corners of the park.


Blenkisops Cannon:

Good news about this one. Someone has realised the historic significance of this piece and it now resides outside of the Town Council Chambers in Blenheim.* History says that this cannon was part of the reason that the Wairau Affray took place in June of 1843. Some years earlier a sea captain by the name of Blenkinsop had sailed into the Marlborough region and traded with the local Maori for flax. The Maori were paid for the flax with tobacco and this cannon. They were also made to place their moko on a deed for the sale of the Wairau plains which they understood to be a receipt for the flax...the rest is history, and captain Arthur Wakefield and his slain company lie buried at a place called Tua Marina. Incidentally, there is a very nice small calibre German field gun (WWI vintage), mounted beside their mass grave. This gun is in very good condition.

* Blenheim RSA also received in about 1990, a very nice 25 Pounder. I tried to pursuade various ones to place it inside the clubrooms somewhere but the costs involved were enormous, and so a cover was made for it under the direction of Wilf Young and it now rests at the rear of the RSA beside the bowling green.


The Dargaville Gun:

About 1978 I was chosen to take a 25 Pounder up to Dargaville to be presented by General Poananga to the Dargaville RSA. I can't remember who went with me but I have a newsclipping of the event, and as well a photograph with all of my detachment identified. I was chosen because my family came from the Far North, and the rest of the detachment was 'supposed' to be made of gunners with links to Northland, but somehow Leroy Forrester (a Cantabrian) managed to also sneak in amongst us.


The New Lynn Gun:

This gun has a very personal association with myself as the tube number for this L5 (Pack) Howitzer is: 01318.

This gun was the first gun that I served on when I joined 161 Battery. The last time it was taken overseas was when the Battery went to Singapore/Malaya in 1972. The Gun detachment on that occasion being: Sgt John Niwa, L/Bdr Jim Bell, Gunners Don Stratton, Bob Down, Mike Subritzky, Whitu Rakai, and Guy Timu. It was also the first occasion that 161 Battery wore the Raglan Panther on its shields.

A Gunner Millennium Project (Perhaps)

Proposed by Mike Subritzky


Now as we are entering the new millennium and New Zealanders are finally waking up to the fact that we don't really have a lot of history, quite simply because we as a nation have either buried and burnt most of it. So perhaps now might be the ideal time for possibly the Army Museum, Old Comrades, or the New Zealand Army to track down and record where these gems of New Zealand's historic past lie. If possible dig them up and have them displayed in a suitable environment where they have some actual meaning.

It should not be lost on most of us that young men actually died capturing these tools of war.

Well that's my five cents worth, if any Gunner has anything to add to the history of the above guns, or knows of any more, I am sure that the Old Comrades' Association would love to hear from you.

"Kia Ora".

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Mike Subritzky