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Trentham Jan-Jun 1938

by W.L. Ruffell

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On marching in to the RNZA Barracks, Narrow Neck, on 6 Jan 38 we were attested into the regular force. However, on arrival in Trentham we were re-attested with effect from 12 Jan 38 because somehow a SNAFU had occurred. Our files apparently had gone astray.

The total number of men from the TFSR selected for regular force service was 36, 12 from each military district. We were to be known as '14 Wing', and were now 'privates on probation'. Each man was allotted a number which also indicated where he 'lived', eg 8/130 which meant soldier No 8 from hut 130.

Our hut commanders were Acting Lance Corporals from the previous regular force wing, in this case No 10, the intervening wings being Air Force, Police or Permanent Staff, all of whom trained in Trentham in those days.

The 'Q' department issued us with 'new' uniforms, of World War 1 design - and vintage in many cases. There were some improvements: in lieu of 'pantaloons dismounted pattern' we received 'pantaloons mounted pattern', which had strengthened seats and were of better quality material. Hats felt were also of better quality, being of officers' pattern. In addition we received other items not issued to .the TF, ie sandshoes, shirts flannel (collarless, of World War 1 pattern) caps SD, khaki drill (KD) including shorts, and hose. Cap and collar badges were modelled on the Dixon Crest, later worn by cadets of the now-defunct RF Cadet School. On hats felt we wore a plain blue hat band.

As basic training at Army Schools was very much infantry-oriented we received rifle, bayonet, and pattern 1908 web equipment.

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Our quarters were corrugated iron huts built during World War 1, with bare wooden floors. Beds originally of the wooden slat variety were upgraded just before our tenure to an iron variety closely resembling a type in use in British Army barracks in 1880. Instead of mattress or palliasse each bed had three 'biscuits' about 90 x 90 x 75 cm of canvas filled with some unyielding material completely devoid of comfort.

Each morning all our bedding and equipment had to be laid out on the bed according to a strictly-enforced pattern. Each bed and its contents had to be lined up with the same items on neighbouring beds with great precision. Any deviation brought adverse comments from inspecting officers and more drastic measures from the hut commanders.

Heating in winter consisted of a small wood or coal-burning iron stove situated in the centre of the hut. It was of benefit to those handy to it; the rest froze.

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Ablutions consisted of a row of cold-water taps in the middle of every street. If it was raining you became wet through just going to wash your hands. Hot water was not available except for shaving for which an orderly brought a bucketful from the cook-house. By the time he arrived at the hut it was only luke warm.

Toilet facilities were about the same distance from the hut as the showers. Therefore each day there appeared on routine orders the name of some unfortunate detailed as 'PTO'. This stood for 'piss tin orderly', who had to obtain a 'rosie', ie a 20-gallon bucket, and place it at the door of the hut so anyone could use it to relieve himself during the night. In the morning the PTO emptied the contents of the rosie down the nearest drain! After we had been in Trentham some weeks, to our undying amusement there appeared in routine orders a notice to the effect that henceforth the PTO would be known as the 'UTO' ie 'urine tin orderly'. Were we becoming civilised?

The shower block, like the toilets, was three or four hundred yards from the quarters. The place was utterly dilapidated, with cracks and holes in the concrete floors, and appeared to have been built during World War 1.

The latrines were of the type emptied once a week by a 'night cart'. At each 'throne' was a bag of sawdust with a notice exhorting the user to 'use sawdust freely', the idea being that the soldier covered his droppings with the sawdust to discourage the flies. But the joke of the decade occurred when a soldier reported sick with a rash on his backside. It transpired he thought 'use sawdust freely' meant use it instead of toilet paper!

To launder underwear, drill uniforms, denims etc one boiled them up in a 'copper' of which a number were situated near the shower block. Laundering had to be done over the weekend in 'spare' time. Compared to Trentham, Narrow Neck was idyllic!

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When first we appeared on the 0840 parade (the morning 'hate') the redoubtable RSM George Fergusson McCulloch, then a WO2, ordered us not to bring our rifles on parade until we had learned to handle them Properly. Naturally we all felt insulted.

In my opinion we were not all that bad. Standards in Army Schools were higher than in NDSI, but I suspect inter-school rivalry was to blame for the 'insult'. After all, our basic training in NDSI was run by RNZA, but in Trentham by NZPS.

For instance, in Trentham when ordering arms we had to slap the rifle with our bare hands until they literally hurt - and the instructors screamed at us until the loudness of the slaps convinced them. NDSI instructors merely demanded reasonable smartness.

We had had an easygoing introduction to discipline at the District schools of instruction, but at Army Schools we really learned the meaning of the word. The slightest lapse in smartness in any aspect of our existence brought swift retribution. The basic portion of the course was characterised by a ruthless pursuit of perfection.

I myself believe our training imbued us with the most important attribute of a good soldier - ruthlessness.

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The basic training programme for the first month was extremely simple: three periods in the morning of PT (physical training), IT (infantry training, ie foot drill) and WT (weapon training (rifle) with the same in the afternoon. For the second month the programme was identical except WT meant LMG (World War 1 Lewis gun). For the third month WT was replaced by signal training, and for the next two months by artillery training. Whoever designed the programme had the easiest job in Army Schools - and of course put the least thought into it.

There were no lectures. The nearest we ever got to lectures were harangues by the RSM between intervals of pounding the parade ground each lasting but a few minutes. These apparently were considered sufficient to introduce us to Military Law and New Zealand Regulations.

One wondered what the officers did to earn their salaries, apart from inspecting the troops on the 0840 'hate' parade.

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Those who disobeyed the rules - and were stupid enough to be caught-had to parade at the orderly room at 1205 hrs, five minutes after lunch was served. Thus the rank and file usually missed out on the meal or at least part of it. Officers and Sergeants messed later so were not affected. Also, a man sentenced to one or two days' CB on a Thursday automatically forfeited weekend leave.

As well as meaning 'confined to barracks', CB also meant 'chase the bugle', ie at any hour of the day or night (up to tattoo) the orderly NCO and the Bugler would repair to some point a distance from the quarters where the Bugler would be ordered to blow "Defaulters'. Those on CB then had to find the two 'at the double'. Failure to satisfy the NCO inevitably brought further punishment.

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Wednesday afternoons were devoted to sport - in our case rugby and hockey. Teams also practised twice a week late in the afternoon. Of course with two periods of PT a day in addition we were superbly fit. Our rugby team, known as Hutt Army, won every match against local teams during that season with very few points scored against it. I myself played lock.

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Saturday mornings appeared on the programme as 'Interior Economy'. All beds and bedding had to be carted outside, weather permitting, and blankets etc shaken to air them. The wooden floors of the huts were then scrubbed with soap and water.

Every square yard of the Wing area was carefully searched for the odd match-stick, cigarette butt or other miniscule item of rubbish which had to be picked up and deposited in the container provided.

As Trentham Camp was not tar-sealed in those days - all roads and spaces between huts were metalled - weeds frequently made their appearance, so 'interior economy' also meant they had to be removed. Chipping weeds was a job often given to men on CB as well.

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On Saturday afternoons those not confined to barracks could take leave until tattoo (2200 hrs). Every fortnight a Church Parade was held at which attendance was compulsory, so week-end leave was restricted. For those who 'had a few bob' in their pockets the hostelry known as Quinns Post between Trentham and Upper Hutt was a favourite 'watering hole'.

When going on leave, week-end or otherwise, beyond Upper Hutt or Silverstream (between Trentham and Wellington) we were ordered to wear mufti. Uniform was forbidden. The reason was the very modest build-up of the Defence Force then taking place, and the rabid anti-military attitude of a certain section he populace which the politicians did not wish to antagonise; it might have cost them a few votes at the next election.

The authorities went to some trouble to ensure that as a body we were never seen by the public or any dignitaries not connected with Defence. If any such visited the camp we were marched to the rear of the rifle range area and there kept out-of-sight until the 'enemy' had departed. On one such occasion the excuse given (we were not supposed to know the real reason) was that a horse with a broken leg had to be put down and buried in the same area, but no one explained why the job took the whole 36 of us plus four instructors!

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As at Narrow Neck rifle shooting was confined to the 30-yard (27-metre) range. However, during our stay in Trentham the National Rifle Association (NRA) held their annual competitions in which any who fancied his chances was permitted to compete. I myself competed in the Service Shoot but not having had any long-range practice did not make a particularly good score.

I must say that my rifle, the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (No 1) of World War 1 vintage was in excellent condition and performed extremely well on the 30-yard range, where it had been accurately 'zeroed'.

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During our signal training we used exactly the same equipment, most if not all of which was of World War 1 vintage, as I had trained on as a Territorial in the Hauraki Regiment. For details see my Service in the Territorial Force 1934-37.

While working in pairs practising sending and receiving with flag or lamp (I forget which) my mate and I were caught sending naughty words! There was nothing obscene about them; they were just soldiers' talk. At worst they would be classed as rude. Nevertheless an old goody-goody WO slapped us on the mat. We each received three days' CB and were each fined five shillings (50c). Modern soldiers may not think that too much but in those days it amounted tt the best part of a day's pay.

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In May we commenced artillery training, the programme being slightly amended to allow more than one consecutive period on the subject instead of the usual one period of WT.

Strange as it may seem at this stage standards seemed to slip.

The equipment upon which we trained was the QF 18-pr Mk 2, still on the wooden wheels and carriages designed for horse draught. The gun itself had become obsolete before the end of World War 1, having been superseded by the MK 4 version in 1918. Britain had commenced the mechanisation of field artillery in 1928, but in 1938, ten years later, New Zealand had not even started.

The cream of the joke was that at the beginning of our course we were told "as the artillery is now mechanised you will not receive any instruction in equitation and horsemastership". But instead of tractors to move the guns we pushed them from the gun park to the nearest paddock by hand.

Towards the end of the course - as a great privilege - we were permitted to witness the first conversion of an 18-pr Mk2 to Mk2P. The 'P' stood for pneumatic. The conversion consisted of removing the wooden wheels, associated brake gear etc, and fitting a conversion kit known as the 'Martin Parry' gear because it was produced by an American firm of that name, and included pneumatic tyred wheels. It was produced in the States because the Americans were just as out-of-date with their field artillery as we were. They had copied the British 18-pr but had chambered it for the ammunition of the French M97 75-mm of which they had large stocks.

During the last few days at Trentham we had an opportunity of working on converted 18-prs, but no tractors were available to tow them. Hence we were denied practice in the reconnaissance and occupation of positions, an essential part of the Gunners' art.

Although there were spare guns stored in the Ordnance Depot adjacent, four only were allotted to the Wing for training, which meant nine men to a gun normally manned by six in action. The result: endless boring hours of standing gun drill, eg 'With dragropes prepare to advance', 'Without dragropes prepare to advance', followed by 'With dragropes prepare to retire', and of course 'Without dragropes prepare to retire, etc. Detachments changed round ad infinitum until every man had done every job - and all had become utterly brassed off in the process.

Looking back I concluded that perhaps the instructors deliberately postponed the more technical aspects of gun drill because they did not fully understand them.

Laying was very poorly dealt with; at the end of the course few of us had more than a hazy ides how to lay a gun. Laying the guns in the original line, checking parallelism etc were not even attempted. At no time during the course did we see a director.

Instruction on equipment, eg breech mechanism, recoil system etc was rudimentary. We did see a breech mechanism stripped and assembled but few of us were given the chance to practise the process.

We had neither manuals on gun drill nor handbooks on equipment, although the former cost only 4-lid (about 4c) and the latter 1/6 (15c). We were instructed to purchase notebooks from the YMCA and write down everything we were taught. Alternatively we were advised to purchase books from HM Stationery Office in the UK!

No Officers on Army Schools Staff were RNZA, but with the Directorate and a Field Cadre only some 30 km away in Wellington I have often wondered why no RNZA Officer ever came to Trentham to check on our progress. Had one done so some improvement might have occurred. Similarly no Army Schools Officer ever watched us on artillery training, which was left entirely in the hands of NCOs - as it was in Queen Victoria's day.

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Regular Force pay in 1938 was �155 per annum for men under 21 years of age and �180 for those over 21 ($310 and $360 respectively).

At Narrow Neck we received free rations and quarters but in Trentham we were charged 2/6 per day. In addition, our sheets and pillow slips, laundered free at Narrow Neck, cost us 10d (about 8c) a week. We were paid on the 15th and last day of each month.

Contributions to the Government Superannuation Fund were deducted at the rate of 5% (1/- or 10c) in the pound, and later Social Security Tax at 7.5% (l/6 in the pound). We did not pay income tax as we did not receive sufficient income to 'qualify'.

When we arrived in Trentham we had received no pay since 21 December 37, and as Christmas had intervened several men were 'broke'. However, we were informed we could obtain credit from the canteen, then run by a YMCA Secretary. He did in fact supply a number of men with necessaries on condition they settled on pay day. This arrangement seemed satisfactory - like the one we had had with the management of the Masonic in Devonport - until the day of reckoning arrived. Some soldiers - not without good reason it later transpired had kept careful accounts of their purchases. In nearly every case the amounts demanded by the YMCA gentleman exceeded the soldiers' versions. As might be expected, hard woods ensued - some being put on the mat by the YMCA - believe it or not. Hence the old soldiers definition of the YMCA - Your Money Christ Afterwards.

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In Narrow Neck a number of men were detailed as mess orderlies each day and spent long hours 'spud barbering' and on other menial duties thus losing much training time.

However, in Trentham mess catering was provided by civilian caterers who did the bulk of the work involved. Each table of ten men supplied one man for the duration of the meal only, his duty being to bring a tray containing the rations from the cook-house and return it after the meal. Orderlies thus lost no training time.

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After three months' training it was the custom at Army Schools to review the progress of recruits for the regular force and discharge any man 'not likely to become an efficient soldier' or words to that effect. We lost one man whose main faults were as far as I could see a lack of personal cleanliness and the fact that he was a bully.

At the end of the course our company conduct sheets were torn up, so that when posted to stations we arrived with 'clean sheets' as it were.

Early in June came the great day when we were to be posted to RNZA stations. We had previously been asked our preferences in this respect, but few wishes were gratified. It seemed the principle was to post a man to a station as far away as possible from the one he desired. Members of the Wing were distributed to the three main RNZA stations at Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch according to the needs of their respective establishments. I myself applied for Auckland but was posted to Wellington.

We now shed our Army Schools badges and were issued with RNZA cap badges and metal shoulder titles. No collar badges were issued; these were worn by officers only in those days. The Government could not afford to issue them to the rank and file.

As we had not undergone training in equitation spurs were not issued but on arriving at our stations we found spurs were still an item of RNZA dress, horses or not. To add insult to injury we now had to purchase them in order to appear 'properly dressed'.

We were now 'Gunners on probation' and would so remain until 12 months had elapsed when we would be confirmed in our rank - or otherwise.

New numbers were issued. These were actually regimental numbers, not army numbers as issued to-day. They were a continuation of the sequence which started No 1 with the Permanent Militia in 1886. Mine was 1754.

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In 1938, to encourage young men to join the Territorial Force the Government proposed the issue of 'new' uniforms comprising khaki service dress (as already issued) motorcyclist uniform, consisting of SD plus black beret, knee boots and gauntlets, blue full dress, and blue walking-out dress.

Four soldiers resident in Trentham, three from 14 Wing (including myself) were chosen to model the uniforms so photographs for publicity purposes could be taken.

A year elapsed. Just a few weeks before the outbreak of World War 2, a free issue of the blue walking-out dress was made to regular force, but rather than wear the FS type cap provided most of us purchased blue SD type caps.

Immediately after the outbreak of war the uniforms were withdrawn and not re-issued after the war - although the Royal Artillery were re-issued with blues in 1950.

WL Ruffell

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