Historical Significance or Value
The battery site was built at a time when the threat of enemy attack (by Japanese and to a lesser extent German forces) was genuinely feared and ports such as Timaru regarded as potential targets. Although there was no evidence to suggest that Timaru might be attacked, approval was given for a defensive battery of significant proportions. Where many other 'minor' ports as these were deemed, were allocated one gun, Timaru got two (showing it to rank as important as Nelson and Akaroa harbours). It has historical significance as a reminder of a particular period in New Zealand history, and its physical remains are relatively intact.
The battery site is an example of collaboration between the New Zealand Army, Public Works Department and building professionals. Its construction was carried out in strict secrecy, which has also contributed to the comparatively low profile the site has had since the war.
TECHNOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
The design and construction of the Timaru facility is representative rather than being special or outstanding. The Timaru Gun Emplacements were relatively small in scale, being designed to mount conventional six inch naval guns, which were in effect the standard armament for the majority of New Zealand's coastal defences.
Within a period of about three months the Timaru coast defence battery brought one gun into use, and a second about five months later. It also showed technological advance in that the battery's fire control, in the Battery Observation Post, was an integrated system of optical range-finding equipment, mechanical calculators and display dials at the guns. This gave the battery an effective counter-bombardment coast artillery capability.
SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
The need for the battery reflects a social characteristic common in New Zealand during the war - one of insecurity, arising from the country's isolation and the outbreak of the Pacific War. Its building reflects another characteristic, that of meeting the need in a particular, pragmatic and speedy manner. It has direct social significance in the builders and suppliers who were involved in its rapid construction, and in the local Army personnel who served there (such personnel accepting the possibility of sustaining injury or death while serving their country).
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Timaru Coast Defence Battery site represents an important aspect of New Zealand's war effort during the Second World War, that is, the rapid building of coastal defences to defeat a feared attack. The Timaru site is a good surviving representative example of the smaller type of coastal defence installation that was commonly built around that coastline of New Zealand during World War Two.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The site is associated with the defence of New Zealand against potential attack during the Second World War. It is linked to persons eminent in the defensive effort in New Zealand - Major General Sir Guy Williams (the government's military advisor in 1941 who defined Timaru as a port of major military importance), and TG Beck (the PWD District Engineer linked with a number of the department's defence measures). It can also be argued that a growing use of coastal defences was an indication of New Zealand's lessening dependence on the United Kingdom for its security.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:
Any site which was built before many of today's grandparents (and before all baby-boomers) were born has the potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history. It is also just within the period of time when people involved first-hand in its use (in 1942-44) are still alive - though being in their 80s their numbers are dwindling rapidly.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
Community association with, and public esteem for, the Timaru coast defence site has gained momentum in recent decades, particularly with the growth of interest in military history. There is a relatively high level of knowledge among staff of the freezing works about the site's purpose. Interest in and knowledge of the site has been stimulated by local researchers John Watson and Russell Cook since the mid-1990s. Their efforts have resulted in the site being listed by the Timaru District Council on its district plan as a heritage site (Cat B). The Department of Conservation and Defence of New Zealand Study Group also recognise the historic and heritage values of the site.
(f) The potential of the place for public education:
The Battery Observation Post could add to an understanding of the role of coast defence sites because it is accessible by the public. (Although on Alliance Group Ltd's land, it is outside their boundary fence and open to inspection by the public walking along the foreshore.) The rest of the site is not accessible by the public. Nonetheless the emplacements can be seen from the BOP and appropriate interpretation erected at the Battery Observation Post (with consent of the landowners) could serve to inform people about the site as a whole.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
The Timaru coast defence site has the potential (through interpretation as discussed in (f) above) to inform people of the technical aspects of coastal defence artillery. While the battery was never linked to radar for fire control or early warning, it was in communication with the local Coast watching post, manned by Timaru Harbour Board and Army personnel at the signal station until late 1943.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The Timaru coast defence site forms part of the wider complex of defence structures built during the Second World War, which can tell a wider story of Timaru's preparedness to defend itself. Included in this would be knowledge of the battery camp, the A&P Showgrounds' camp for other mobilised troops, the Coast watching post, the Headquarters Area 10 and the recruitment and training function conducted in the Drill Hall (24 Barnard St) in town.
SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUES:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: (a, b, c, e, f, g, k). The site has a significant place in the history of Timaru and its surrounding district, associated with security from external threat. It has the potential to educate people about New Zealand's defence history and the technological nature of some of the defensive measures taken in WWII. Socially too it has recently gained a place in Timaru's record from the small numbers of local soldiers who served there. This is all part of a cultural landscape of selflessness, of service and sacrifice by people at a time of need.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
At the time of first European contact, the area now known as Timaru was only sparsely populated. An early traveller noted Maori 'plantations at the most valuable part of the bay [Caroline Bay]' in 1848. Archaeological evidence places a small kainga on the northern headland of Caroline Bay (NZAA site K39/1). There were four headlands and three bays (Te Aitarakihi, Waimataitai, Caroline) providing a haven for waka travelling up and down the coast. Indeed the name Timaru is most likely a corruption of Te Maru, meaning a place of shelter. Shelter was needed in waters without any other safe landfall: Tuhawaiki for instance drowned in the vicinity of Timaru while on a sea journey north. Whalers were briefly based in Caroline Bay. The colonial Government established a town south of Caroline Bay at Timaru in 1856, as did members of the Rhodes family who bought parcels of land from hapu of Ngai Tahu in the early 1850s. These were combined into the borough of Timaru in 1868, which started developing the port and hinterland industries.
One of the industries was sheep farming, and meat processing was started at a factory just north of Timaru on the hill above Washdyke (Waitarakao hapū) in 1871. This rendering plant was on land owned by Robert Smith, called Smithfield. In 1883 a new company was established in Timaru to set up a freezing works, and this company purchased 17 acres of land from Rhodes between the Washdyke lagoon, railway line and coast. Being near the earlier works, this adopted the name Smithfield. It started freezing sheep in the 1885-86 year. It is still in substantially the same business now, as part of the Alliance Group.
Within a decade of being formed, the town of Timaru accepted its responsibilities for defence against external threat. A corps of artillery volunteers had formed there in 1866 and specialist naval artillery volunteers in 1885. They were issued with and drilled on cannon to defend the port should a hostile foreign warship suddenly appear. That is, they were given artillery and they practised with that artillery. A similar approach to defence lasted into the early years of World War Two, when two obsolete '15-pounder' field guns were allocated to a 'scratch unit' formed in Timaru.
The Japanese invasion scare in 1942 led War Cabinet to look at permanently defending secondary ports such as Timaru. After the country's four main harbours had been taken care of, the Government's military advisor Major General Sir Guy Williams had suggested in October 1941 that other ports be given fixed gun defences in the event of a Pacific War. He initially classed Timaru as a port of ‘major military importance' but shortage of artillery prevented him from allocating any to it. With the outbreak of war with Japan the Government pressed ahead with this programme. It went as speedily as the supply of guns and ability to emplace them allowed. By early 1942 this and 16 other ‘minor ports' (as they were all now known) were allocated gun defences - Timaru to get two guns (or one if numbers were short). Outside the main harbours in the South Island (including the Marlborough Sounds), Nelson, Akaroa, Timaru, Oamaru, Bluff, Greymouth and Westport were to be armed. Initially two 5-inch US Naval guns were allocated to Timaru. Their arrival was delayed, by which time, in March 1942, Timaru was allocated two British 6-inch guns by the Chief of Defence Staff. These were rifled MkVII wire-wound guns made by the Royal Gun Factory around the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Formerly used as naval armament (details unknown) they were now intended for mounting on merchant ships. Their mountings, model P-III, were intended for simply bolting to a ship's reinforced deck. The guns arrived in mid-June.
With the decision to erect the battery, a reconnaissance was carried out to find the best location for it. The only headland in the vicinity of Timaru harbour which had enough flat land for the guns, Battery Observation Post (BOP) and a camp was in front of the Smithfield freezing works. Two parcels of land were therefore taken from the New Zealand Refrigerating Company Ltd under Section 252 of the Public Works Act, 1928. The Temuka office of the Public Works Department (PWD) notified the New Zealand Refrigerating Company Ltd on 12 May 1942 of the intention to enter the land and use it for defence purposes. On a rolling 12-month lease, 2 acres 2 rods 26 perches (2.66a, 1.07ha) were taken at the headland, where the guns and BOP would go, with another 2 acres for the battery camp site about 300 metres behind or west of the emplacements. Both were open paddocks, fenced for stock holding. A rental of £10 per annum was arranged a little later.
Taking land at Smithfield was not meant to affect the operation of the freezing works plant, which had earlier in the year been declared an ‘essential undertaking' for the purposes of the National Service Emergency Regulations, 1940. This protected its workforce from being called up and helped it supply New Zealand's export markets.
Late in May 1942 TG Beck, the PWD District Engineer in Christchurch, was instructed to start the process for building Timaru's coastal battery and battery camp. He requested plans from the Engineer in Chief in Wellington (which were largely standard British War Office plans). Copies of the standardised plans for the battery structures arrived in the first week of June. The seven plans covered the emplacement itself for a 6-inch MkVII gun (of which two would be built, with overhead cover), the holdfasts for bolting down the PIII-type naval deck mounting inside each emplacement, the BOP, magazine, and war shelter. There were also plans for general buildings in the battery camp. No specifications had been drawn up for the work, and Beck was left to allocate workforces or contractors to do the work. For the emplacements and war shelter, Beck suggested the PWD's own labour build them, but contractors would be used for the other structures: Timaru Combined Builders No.1 Group for the BOP and various camp buildings (the quarters and latrines), and Petrie Construction for the magazine and camp showers, stores, mess and recreation room. Despite the urgency, he said ‘The battery installations themselves can follow more slowly, as the equipment [guns and fire control] is not yet available, but they (the Army) have certain field pieces which will be available and they desire to erect the accommodation and train men in this camp.'
An allocation of funds had been made for this work in Timaru on the April-September half-yearly estimates. £10,000 out of an estimated total of £50,000 was placed on the estimates, and Beck calculated the work would in the first instance cost £30,000. This included around £9,000 for the permanent concrete structures, and £300 for land purchase. The rest was for the camp and laying down the utilities (water, electricity, sewerage). To reduce costs, HQ Southern Military District in Christchurch revised the plans for the camp buildings. Various other adjustments brought the job estimate down to £18,900. Other changes cut costs. Rather than being built in concrete, the war shelters were to be three 4-man removable huts and the main magazine was reduced in dimension to 23.5x18ft (7.1x5.6m).
While the details of the battery camp were being finalised, work had already started on the gun pads. The Clerk in Charge of the Temuka Works Depot WP Noble received a requisition on 17 June to start this job, and by 15 July work was well under way. He said he was forced to start the job when ‘Army Artificers etc from the North Island arrived with the battery guns and we had no option but to put the job in hand...' 17 June 1942 is the date from which the Army lease on the property begins.
From the beginning, the unit to operate the guns was known as 85th Heavy Battery, New Zealand Artillery. It was regimented (controlled for administrative and corps purposes) by 11 Heavy Regiment, New Zealand Artillery, which was headquartered in Christchurch.
The process for building a battery such as this was to get one gun in action as soon as possible. For this, a circular thick concrete pad would be laid, into which were set the holding-down bolts. This would allow the first gun to be mounted, which happened on 16 July 1942. From around September the battery was deemed to be ready for action, able to offer the fire of one gun. Only later would the overhead covers be built, as a second phase of the work.
When these artillerymen arrived without warning some accommodation was required for them and a cottage on the freezing works property was made available. The New Zealand Refrigerating Company agreed not to demand rent but charged for the cottage's water usage. This arrangement was initially intended to last 6-8 weeks, but may have continued ‘for the duration' of the war. The camp was built between August and October 1942. The BOP was started in October and completed around March 1943.
To give the guns a field of fire, 40 trees (planted in 1917) were cut down. The field of fire was roughly NNE through the eastern arc to SSW. Also a number of fences sub-dividing the paddock were removed.
With one gun in use, work on the second emplacement slowed. It was ready in November when the first gun was moved to it (on 5 November). The second gun was not mounted in emplacement No.1 until 11 February 1943. After this date fire from two guns was possible. A map of the battery is at Appendix 2.
Work by the Timaru Combined Builders No.1 Group was ‘satisfactorily completed' by 14 June 1943. It is presumed this included the BOP and part of the battery camp. A naval-type Barr & Stroud stereoscopic rangefinder was in use with the guns from the beginning. At first it would have been located in the open, probably between the two gun positions and protected by earthen parapets, until being relocated to the BOP once it was finished.
As built, the camp had about 19 buildings. The sloping ground was first terraced and paths laid and gravelled. According to the PWD, sleeping quarters included a 2-man hut for officers, two 2-man huts for Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and seven 4-man huts for other ranks. These 34 beds were to augment the existing cottage to provide accommodation for a total of two officers, five NCOs and 37 gunners. The Artillery's records later in the war show more people accommodated in the camp - two officers, 12 NCOs and 20 gunners, and 14 WAACs (Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, personnel who operated fire-control equipment and communications), a total of 48 people. As well as the war shelters, buildings such as the orderly room and Regimental Aid Post (RAP) were converted from the standard 4-man hut shell. Other buildings were the mess, cook-house, ablutions, latrines, laundry and various stores. For the latrines a septic tank was laid, with overflow waters drained off into the sea. This, and some terracing and foundations, remain of the camp. A map of the camp is at Appendix 2.
With the battery and camp complete and functional from February 1943, life settled down to the routine of training and vigilance. The battery worked with at first the local National Military Reserve infantry company (later mobilised Territorial Force company of 7 Battalion Canterbury Regiment) and D Company of the Timaru Home Guard Battalion, in providing local defence. For this the battery site was fenced with an unclimbable fence, and slit trenches dug in front and on both flanks. From weapons pits machine-gun and rifle fire could be brought to bear on any advancing enemy. Only members of the artillery battery lived in the camp.
With a lessening threat, the battery was reduced to a ‘Care & Maintenance' state later in 1943, on 13 October. In this state the called-up personnel was reduced to just eight (including three officers) who were to provide a slow rate of fire at ten minutes notice. The rest of the personnel were either demobilised (for return to industry) or transferred to other defence roles. This state continued until August 1944, when the camp was finally disestablished and the battery site handed to Headquarters, Area No.10, in Timaru for administration. The guns were removed on 18 February 1945 and the holding-down bolts covered in weak concrete (for possible re-use). All other equipment (in the BOP) and wiring was also removed at this point, leaving the emplacements in the state they have been in ever since.
Immediately after the war the Army and the New Zealand Refrigerating Company agreed to a compensation package. Army and PWD representatives jointly inspected the site with Mr WW Baxter, the New Zealand Refrigerating Company's plant manager. The permanent defence structures were to remain undisturbed, with Army given a right in perpetuity of access should they be required again. The company resumed use of the land around the emplacements and BOP (and magazine) for holding stock, with the fences reinstated. The camp site was returned to pasture (and non-concrete buildings were to be removed).
The camp, which was by now called Camp No. 50, had 24 buildings in it. Ten were Ye huts (4-man) with five others being for officers and NCOs. In March 1946 the local Member of Parliament Clyde Carr attempted to get some of the huts assigned for local housing (which was in acute shortage), but was unsuccessful. All buildings except two had been sold by August.
The guns are by popular lore believed to have fired only twice. This at least proved that the technology of the battery (the guns, ammunition and the fire control equipment) worked.
Of the personnel stationed at the Timaru Defence Battery, a number were local residents serving in the Army, and the commander for most of the time was Captain Roberts. Names of the officers and men of the 85th Heavy Coastal Battery include Nelson Bent, Sergeant Jack Dobler, Captain Roberts (Commander), Cunningham, G Stericker, Dakar, C Andreassend, J M Andrews, J Flett, R Miller, A Collett and Hamilton. Two of the local gunners, Charlie Andreassend and Andy Collett are recorded as revisiting the site in 1985 to mark over 40 years since they served at the place.
The New Zealand Refrigerating Company Ltd signed a deed with the Government on 21 July 1947 agreeing to the terms as negotiated for the site's future. WHE Flint and HE Agar signed as Directors of the Company, with Robert Semple on behalf of the crown (witnessed by civil servant W Janes). After negotiation, the company received £488-11-0 in compensation for the use of its land and reinstatement of fences. When coast defences were disestablished in 1957-59, the four structures at Smithfield were ‘struck off charge' late in 1959, meaning that the Army no longer had any use for the structures, and for all intents and purposes they became the property of the owners of the land on which they were built. The deed signed in 1947, however, outlined that the Government would have rights in perpetuity of access and that the structures were not to be demolished or their field of fire impeded. There is no indication of the deed being revoked.
The World War Two defence battery installations were, with few exceptions, built of reinforced concrete. In this, they were unlike the older forts built for the 1880s Russian Scare and recommissioned in both World Wars, which had been built mostly of brick and mass concrete and were therefore less resistant to modern artillery bombardment.
The NZHPT has a only a few World War Two gun emplacements and battery sites on its Register. These include Godley Head Battery Historic Area, Christchurch (Registration No. 7554), Battery Point Battery Historic Area (Registration No. 7553) and the Castor Bay Battery and Camp, North Shore (Registration No. 7265).
However, there is a relatively significant body of information about more than 50 coastal batteries commissioned by the Defence Construction Council during the Second World War. These are described in the Defence of New Zealand Study Group publication, Defending New Zealand, Ramparts on the Sea 1840s-1950s, published in 2000. In many cases concrete structures are extant at these places, for example at the Akaroa Battery (Wainui Battery), Russell Battery, Bluff Battery, Castor Bay Battery (Auckland) which still has its emplacements, Battery Observation Building and one camp building, Godley Head at Lyttelton Harbour, Greymouth Battery, a number of batteries in the Marlborough Sounds including Blumine Island Battery, Maraetai Battery, Maud Island Battery, Post Office Point Battery and Whekenui Battery, Motutapu Battery in the Auckland Harbour, Oamaru Battery, Fort Opau Battery at Makara, Rangitoto Island Battery which has its concrete emplacements, Battery Observation Post and searchlight house intact, Tomahawk Battery (St Kilda Battery) in Dunedin, Waiheke Battery, Wanganui Battery which has emplacement and Battery Observation Post intact, Whangarei Harbour Battery and the Wrights Hill Battery in Karori.
The design and construction of the Timaru facility is representative rather than being special or outstanding. The Timaru Gun Emplacements were relatively small in scale, being designed to mount conventional six inch naval guns, which were in effect the standard armament for the majority of New Zealand's coastal defences. The exceptions were counter-bombardment batteries at Wrights Hill at Wellington and Waiheke Island and Whangaparaoa in Auckland, which were very large coastal defence installations designed to mount 9.2 inch coastal defence guns.
The closest other coastal artillery remains of a comparable type to those at Smithfield in Timaru are at Oamaru and Akaroa. The nearest ‘minor port' battery, erected in a similar timeframe and for similar reasons to that in Timaru, is at Oamaru. It was however a single-gun battery, built for a different type of gun (an American 5-inch gun) and located on public land (a light house reserve at Cape Wanbrow). To the north, Akaroa's battery is very similar to Timaru's, in that it was a two-gun 6-inch MkVII battery. The structures are also on private land and are unmodified, but access is very difficult.
The Timaru Defence Battery is situated approximately 16 metres above sea level, on a low headland north of a small cove at the mouth of Taitarakihi (or Taitarakahi) Creek. The south head of this cove is Dashing Rocks, the northern headland of Caroline Bay.
There are two emplacements left. Each emplacement includes the pad on which the gun sat, the ante-room immediately behind it and an overhead cover contiguous with the roof of the ante-room. Each emplacement has the appearance of a large concrete box with an open front. The Battery Observation Post (BOP) is in front of the two emplacements and slightly set into the cliff edge. The main magazine also survives intact, as does the septic tank in the battery camp. There are only a few foundations from the camp. Two parts of the battery camp where buildings had been erected have been modified at an unknown date since the war, with wide excavations (at an estimated 2m deep, 4m wide and 10-12m long). These are unconnected to its original purpose. Elsewhere in the camp site, levelled terraces for hutments can be seen. Some of the last 200 metres of road leading to the emplacements may retain be elements of the original surface (it has not for instance been resealed in a tarmac surface).
The two emplacements (which were identical) were each built as a 1-metre deep flat pad in reinforced concrete, approx 6 metres in diameter, onto which the gun was mounted. A small ante-room (approx 6x4m, and 3.5m high) was then built behind the pad (to serve as a ready-round magazine), with the overhead cover extending over about half the pad. This protected it from air bursts but left the gun able to traverse through approximately 180 degrees. The BOP is a separate structure, approx 6x4m, with access down stairs and through a door at rear. A slit at front allows vision over the battery's arc of fire. All fittings have been removed. It has, however, remains of the painted inventory marks on it from the end of the war - 'SMD 50/4' (denoting the fourth building in Southern Military District's Camp No.50).
The northern-most emplacement (built as No.2) has had its doors into the ante-room concreted up and the ante-room incorporated into a tall water tower projecting up through its roof. It is otherwise unmodified.
No.1 emplacement (southern-most) is largely unmodified, though a concrete-block wall has been added inside the ante-room, blocking off one internal entrance into it. Latter-day wiring and electrical fittings (light switches, etc) have been added. Signs remain of original wiring and attachment thereof. There is minor graffiti.
Construction of gun pads (June)
First gun mounted (July)
Construction of camp (August-October)
Construction of battery observation post (March)
Guns dismounted (February)
1946 - 1959
Camp buildings removed
Modification of northern emplacement to water tower
The Public Works Department's Temuka depot staff built the emplacements, under Clerk of Works WP Noble, with Timaru Combined Builders No.1 Group (possibly including C Lund, 207 Church St, Timaru) and probably Petrie Construction building associated structures.
Reinforced concrete and steel
10th June 2008
Report Written By
Johannes Andersen, 'Jubilee History of South Canterbury', Whitcombe & Tombs, Auckland, 1916
P. Cooke, Defending New Zealand; Ramparts on the Sea 1840-1950s, Wellington, 2000
Te Wai Pounamu, The Greenstone Island, Wellington, Aoraki Press
Oliver A. Gillespie, South Canterbury: A Record of Settlement, 2nd edn., Timaru, 1971
J.S. Parker, Timaru Centenary, 1868-1968, Timaru, 1968
Timaru District Council
Timaru District Council
District Plan, June 2005
Built Heritage Inventory, July 2004
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Southern region office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.