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War Economy

War and Accelerated Construction of Defence Buildings

War and Accelerated Construction of Defence Buildings

At the outbreak of war the Public Works Department had in hand the construction of seventy defence buildings of a total floor area of nearly 800,000 square feet. All except two of these buildings were on RNZAF stations. Such was the impact of war that less page 225 than two weeks later, on 13 September 1939, the Department had under construction 650 defence buildings covering a total floor area of over one and a half million square feet.1

Construction of mobilisation camps for the training of troops was included in this early wartime programme. The construction of Burnham Military Camp for training troops in the South Island, and Papakura Military Camp for training troops in the Auckland district began almost immediately war was declared and both were completed within two months. Of the Papakura Camp the Public Works Department wrote:2

‘As Army had requested that both battalion blocks be ready for occupation within eight weeks from 18 September, the entire resources of the Department and of the contractors were organised with a view to achieving this objective. All available plant and machinery were diverted to Papakura, and graders, rollers, bulldozers, mechanical shovels, draglines, trench diggers, mechanical loaders, compressors, and similar equipment were soon in operation. Despite adverse weather conditions in the initial stages, the work progressed uninterruptedly for 12 hours a day, six days weekly. The number of men employed reached 1,200 during October.

‘On 6 November 1939 the Permanent Head was able to report to the Minister of Public Works that Nos. 1 and 2 battalion areas were completed and ready for occupation; they were, indeed, to be occupied by troops on the following day.’

It was to be expected that there would be a diversion of resources from housing and other work to defence construction. Within a few months, the state housing construction programme started to slow down.

1 Official War History of the Public Works Department, Vol. I, p. 97.

2 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 382.