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Historic Trentham, 1914-1917: The Story of a New Zealand Military Training Camp, and Some Account of the Daily Round of the Troops within Its Bounds

Camp Quartermaster's Stores

page 35

Camp Quartermaster's Stores

Somebody lost his rifle,
Somebody's window broke,
Somebody's broom, a trifle,
Was 'pinched" by another bloke.
And up in the busy office,
They wrote the story down:
Something to pay by Company A,
On account of Smithers and Brown.

Everything movable in Camp, except the A.S.C and its wagons, is kept track of by the Camp Quartermaster—everybody and everything, from a soldier to an electric light bulb. The Camp Quartermaster knows where they all should be; and if they aren't where they ought to be, he generally knows where they are."

In these words a wise n.c.o. explained certain matters to the recruits, and warned them concerning losses or breakages of equipment or hut fittings and furniture.

"Always report these matters," he said, "and get a new issue. If you don't, you'll have to pay for it."

"And what sort of a cyclone hits you when you report that you've lost anything," asked Curly.

"No sort of a cyclone, unless you have been careless. Then you get it hot—and serve you right, too!"

When the new men, after being equipped, were taken away to their quarters, there was no haphazard selection of huts made. Before the Reinforcement began to mobilise, it was all arranged, down to the last scrubbing-brush in each hut. The huts at Trentham will accommodate two Reinforcements; but there is not much left over. Usually, when a new draft enters Camp, there is another Reinforcement there. There are nine companies in a draft, lettered from A to J. Half of the block of hut buildings is lettered on a plan in such a way that J Company is in the centre of the block of buildings. The other half is lettered in the same manner, but with the letters running in the reverse way, so that J again comes into the middle of the plan. If there is a shortage in one draft and an overflow in the other, here is where the give and take occurs: it is the only semblance of elasticity there is to ease the situation.

An officer of each company of the incoming troops, accompanied by a sergeant-major of the Camp Quartermaster's staff, goes through the huts which his company is to occupy, on the day before the recruits or troops page 36come in. Anything that is damaged or missing is noted down by the n.c.o., and the officer signs the list and makes it his business to see that everything is put into order before the troops arrive. Tin wash-basins, scrubbingbrushes, brooms, etc., are supplied in full, and are duly entered up against that company. If a broom, for example, is broken, the Quartermaster's stores will replace it, if the broken one is returned to the barracks store. If it is not returned and is thrown away instead, the value of it must be paid for out of that company's regimental funds. Every article issued to men or to huts must be accounted for—it is a debit that must be liquidated—and the proper way to do so is to take care of the article and return it when the proper time comes, except in regard to the service equipment which is issued to the men to be taken away with them.

The Camp Quartermaster's stores occupy several buildings and are beginning to overflow. The largest of the stores is the bulk store. In it the men's equipment is stored in vast quantities. Boots fill tiers of shelves that rise to the ceilings, tunics make a khaki wall of colour, blankets—a blue shadow of warmth—are alongside them, while equally large supplies of the other articles that are issued fill the store and fill the eye. Order and system are everywhere.

On the eve of a mobilisation the issue store makes out a requisition for the equipment it is likely to want and sends it to the bulk store. It is like a retailer sending an order to a wholesale house. Delivery is made at once, and the smaller issue store looks, for a time, like a left luggage office. Soon every line of goods is stowed away in its appointed racks. When the rush comes on the morrow, it is simple work for the orderlies to make up each man's issue from the racks. The book-keeping is extensive, both before the goods are issued and after, for the issue cards which the men sign have to be filed and repeatedly taken out to have further entries made upon them. Immediately after the issue they are entered in ledgers and filed away. A few days later the boxes of cards, each box representing a company, are taken out again for the second issue to be entered on and signed for. At the issue of rifles and bayonets they come out again, and for the issue of web equipment. When the Reinforcement is on the eve of sailing much of the equipment is returned, and the final issue, including shoes for shipboard, is made. Once more the cards are brought out. Eventually, after everything has been checked by the office and the O.C.'s companies, the cards are taken away by the latter, to be carried wherever the troops go. So far as the Camp Quartermaster is concerned he is finished with them, though a few may come back, ere the ship sails, owing to men missing their passage. Each card must always be where the soldier is to whom it belongs.

page 37

The third building of importance is the barracks store. It is the most interesting, too, though it deals only with stores that are used in camp. There is no glamour of war about it. All the domestic necessities of life are stored there—wash-basins, coffee-pots, metal polish, brooms, cook-tins, firebars, paints, and hundreds of other things necessary for training and equipment. Such items as paint, which is used to make distinguishing marks on the sea-kits of departing troops, are not expected to be returned after use; but what may be termed the hardware of the camp sooner or later comes back to the store, either broken or worn out. Often the breaks can be repaired; if not, new ones are issued in place of the returned articles, which are made up into bundles and laid out neatly in the ordnance yard behind the store, to be "Boarded." A list of them is made, and when the Board has deliberated on the worn-out material its verdict is entered on the list and the signatures of the members of the Board appended. Against an entry of old fire-bars, for example, might be written, "To be sent to Headquarters, Buckle Street, for produce." So far as the camp is concerned, the books are closed by this entry. From Headquarters the iron is sold. Worn-out broomheads might figure thus: "Fifty-six pounds of broomheads to the A.S.C. for bakehouse fires." That ends the broomheads, too. The A.S.C. sends a receipt and an assurance that they have been used as directed.

Adjoining the barracks store is the boot-shop, where repairs are carried out. The floor is covered with boots—newly-soled ones and old road-worn ones that sadly need the cobbler's hand. Often the rush of work is so great that the workers cannot keep pace with it: then a reserve of repaired boots that have been mended in the Headquarters boot-shop in Wellington is called into service. The soldier who brings in a pair of boots, instead of waiting for his own, takes his pick and ensures a comfortable fit from the 'hundreds of pairs on the floor. It may not always be as comforting as to get his own back, but, after all, every soldier gets two pairs of boots Before he sails, so he has choice of wearing. Every item in the C.Q.M. stores is dealt with in thousands, including the ledger accounts, over two thousand being opened every month, while the current ledger accounts always number about eight thousand. Few business firms in the Dominion conduct their businesses on such gigantic lines as do the C.Q.M. stores at Trentham. During the first three months of this year the items issued to soldiers personally—apart from the furnishings of huts—were as follows:—5,557 mess tins and covers, 13,781 jackets, 13,775 trousers, 109 pantaloons, 8,261 putties, 8,702 greatcoats, 8,921 hats and puggarees, 19,190 brass titles, 8,632 palliasses, 8,718 kitbags, 30,798 pairs of blankets, 5,639 pairs of braces, 17,623 boots, 17,498 drawers, 17,500 shirts, 17,501 undershirts, 5,571 shoes, 9,013 denim jackets, 26,238 pairs of socks, 5,535 cholera belts, 5,639 page 38holdalls, 5,594 sea-kits, 8,733 jerseys, 8,088 tooth-brushes, 8,069 housewives, 8,726 knives, forks, and spoons, 8,719 plates and mugs, 17,418 towels, 9,082 waterproof sheets, 9,085 denim trousers, and 8,263 denim shorts. These figures, multiplied by four, give an amazing total of the amount of equipment required in fitting-out the Infantry and Engineers of the New Zealand Army during one year, and of the extent of the organisation required to keep the stocks in such order that there is never a shortage of any particular line.

An important work of the Quartermaster's stores is the training of quartermasters for service with the drafts of troops proceeding overseas. Each company is allowed one company quartermaster-sergeant, and each regiment one regimental quartermaster-sergeant. These men are selected by the Camp Quartermaster, with due regard to their business ability and to their occupations when civilians. Other things being equal, married men with children are given preference.

The training begins in the stores, where the soldier carries out duties in every branch dealing with clothing and equipping the men. He is trained, also, in the methods of constructing field kitchens, incinerators, latrines, washing and cleaning arrangements, striking and pitching camps, making bivouacs, billeting men, organising ammunition and water supplies, and the drawing and distribution of food to troops. Finally, he is required to pass an examination to qualify for appointment as a quartermaster-sergeant.

All new soldiers, on entering camp, are taken under the wing of the Q.M.S. They look to him for advice, and he pilots them through their many trials and tribulations, administering here a kind word and there a "blast"—which is the army word for a reprimand—as occasion requires.

The Quartermaster-Sergeant is really the housekeeper of the unit. He works long hours, and on every day of the week, supplying the needs of his n.c.o's and men, from a pair of socks to a tot of rum. Behind him are comprehensive regulations which support his authority in his department: it is a saying that without these it would be impossible for him to keep both feet down and his head up. The Q.M.S. knows the size of every man's uniform in his company, and of his boots and hat, and keeps a record of every article of kit on issue. He attends to the kits of men sick or discharged, transferred or absent, with or without leave; and he controls cooks and fatigues and is responsible that waste of food does not take place.

All these things he learns at the C.Q.M. stores before he is attached to a unit, and he has further training while his company is in camp, for the C.Q.M. stores, in conjunction with the Army Service Corps, control the whole work of feeding every man in camp.