Topic: Hamilton's ammunition factories
During World War II two ammunition factories were built in Hamilton East. Many women (and some men) worked in the factories making bullets for the War. Remnants of one of the factories remain.
Ammunition was first manufactured in New Zealand in 1886 by a company started by John Whitney. The first factory was located in Auckland and was where Whitney & Sons (later the Colonial Ammunition Company) produced cartridges for the New Zealand Government.
When a suspicious looking light plane flew over the Auckland factory of the Colonial Ammunition Company at the start of World War Two it was decided to move production south, to Hamilton.
Hamilton contractors built two factories and local manufacturers duplicated existing machinery, tools and dies from drawings made by New Zealand Railways draughtsmen.
One factory was constructed at the southern end of Dey Street and was known as Norton as it was built on farm land owned by a Mr Norton. The other factory was known as Galloway, but rather than being located on Galloway Street was also on Dey Street on land between where Kirikiriroa Marae and the Hillcrest Stadium are now (2011) (Betty Laloli Smith).
Loading the rounds in to clips HCL_09003
Staff and materials for the new plants began to be shifted to Hamilton in April of 1942. The transfer was completed by June of 1942 with little loss of production experienced at either end.
Staff worked one of 2 eight hour shifts 6 days a week. Dorrie Connelly (nee Caitcheon) of Hamilton was "manpowered" to work in the ammunitions factory. After awhile working there she was promoted to the examining room.
"I hated every minute of it and after several weeks I asked to go back into the main building...there are a different crowd of people [in the main building] and it wasn't such intense work...I used to get headaches from examining the bullets...you had to examine for any little crack or flaw in them and I found it very tiring sitting under the fluorescent lights." Hamilton City Libraries OH 0235
To listen to Dorrie talking about her experiences at the ammunition factory, click here (Hamilton City Libraries OH0235). This clip is 2 minutes and 18 seconds in length.
A worker inspects a bullet for flaws HCL_09017
Staff were accommodated in purpose built accommodation on Peachgrove Road and buses were provided to get them to and from work. But it wasn't all work. Marjory Carey (nee Print) writes in the Historical Review
"There was a big Recreation Hall further down the road at the other flats. We could go there for a meal if we didn't want to cook our own. The Airforce at Rukuhia used to invite us to dances and so did the Army, We could go to the Sunday pictures, put on by the Forces provided we showed our Passes. There was plenty of sport..."
Factory workers board the bus outside the Artillery Flats HCL_09001
On average, 74 million rounds of ammunition were produced per year and as many as 1200 people worked in the factories at one time. When Japan surrendered, production slowed and eventually ceased and the machinery and equipment was returned to Auckland.
Presumably the Galloway factory building was demolished around this time as there is nothing on the site where it was located. The Norton factory remained and was converted to offices for the Ministry of Works and remained as such for 41 years.
Carey, M. (1995). Working in the ammunition factory at Hamilton. Historical Review, 43, 2, 103-104.
Harris, L.H. (1981). A little further, a little faster: a nostalgic look at the Colonial Ammunition Company, its history and cartridges. Wellington: New Zealand Cartridge Collectors' Club
Ihaka, J. (1990, 19 May). An old factory gets the bullet. Waikato Times, 12
Personal Conversation with Betty Laloli Smith, August 2011
Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato. 1982/77/3 Colonial Ammunition Company photograph album created and maintained by Susan Gordon.
Photographs can be viewed at Garden Place Library on Level 3