The Beginning - July 1940
In July 1940 New Zealand was a country at war. It had become totally committed to the global conflict that had erupted on the 3rd of September 1939. New Zealand had aligned itself with Britain, France and Australia in declaring war against Germany in the fight to suppress the spread of Nazism following the invasion of Poland. From that time onwards, while Britain and France sat it out opposite Germany in the Phoney War, New Zealand was in a period of training and preparation. New Zealand needed to build up its much-depleted armed forces so its soldiers, sailors and airmen could be sent to Europe to join in with the war. The country would became something of a mass training camp for the military, and also the food production machine that would help feed the Allies. With the war on the other side of the globe, little consideration was given to New Zealand's own defence needs. After all, the country was isolated in the Pacific, and as far from the war as you could get. Plus, the war would probably all be over by Christmas anyway, so everyone thought.
But the Phoney War continued past Christmas, and well into 1940. Then the German forces suddenly broke the stalemate with their rapid and successful Blitzkrieg campaign of May and June 1940. It was at that time that people in New Zealand began to realise preparation of the armed forces for overseas service was not enough.
All too soon, Europe had fallen and Britain stood alone. Faced with imminent invasion itself, Britain's new Government under Winston Churchill made a decisive, if perhaps desperate, move. On the evening of the 14th of May 1940 the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, made a landmark speech on the wireless. He called for men aged between 17 and 65, who were fit and not otherwise engaged in any military activity, to rally together and join the Local Defence Volunteers, or LDV for short. This new army, to be raised entirely from civilians, would primarily repel any attempts of a Nazi invasion from the air and the sea, but they would soon find many more roles that contributed to the safety of Britain.
The response to the call to arms was amazing. Over 250,000 men all over Britain signed on in the first 24 hours, and eventually at its peak as many as one and a half million men came to serve. On the 23rd of July 1940 Prime Minister Winston Churchill used his natural talent for inspirational wordmanship by changing the name of the LDV to the Home Guard.
The LDV had been a last ditch solution to a very worrying situation. That worry was not Britain's alone. Seeing the current state of the war, and reading the news headlines of what was happening in Europe, many New Zealanders were becoming very worried. If Britain should fall to the might of the Germans, the countries of the Empire would surely be next. Or worse, the Germans may attempt to take the smaller nations in the Empire first, thus strangling the vital supplies of food and men to Britain. Here in New Zealand the situation had sparked some panic too. New Zealand's defences were in a very poor state, because until now the whole war effort had been to supply our best men and equipment to the war abroad.
The news of the success of Britain's Home Guard, a defensive force made up of everyday shopkeepers, farmers, factory workers, thousands of veterans and ex-servicemen and so on, had quickly spread around the world. Soon New Zealanders began to look at following Britain's lead and forming our own citizen's army. And the people of Cambridge, which was already a town very involved in all aspects of the war, were quick to rise to this challenge. This was the beginning of Cambridge's Home Guard movement, and the seeds of the force originated as early as July 1940.
At the request of the National Services Department, old soldiers, particularly members of the Returned Soldiers' Association (RSA), began to form Auxiliary Reserve Companies to supplement the already established National Military Reserve. The companies that were forming across New Zealand would be made up of civilians who were all returned servicemen. They would train in warfare and fitness just like the Home Guard in Britain, and would be ready to repel any attack should it come.
The Cambridge RSA became one of the front runners in forming an Auxiliary Reserve Company. A report in the Waikato Independent, Cambridge's town newspaper, on the 8th of July 1940 stated the desire by the RSA to form a Company, and launched an appeal for members. The article said that similar units had already formed in Hamilton, Tirau-Okoroire, Matamata and Te Awamutu.
The official channels within the RSA swung into action as men began to come forward to help in the defence of their town, and their country. The Cambridge Auxiliary Reserve Company (ARC) officially came into being on the night of the 25th of July 1940, when 125 men of the district turned out at the Drill Hall in Fort Street. The RSA's appeal had certainly been effective.
By a unanimous vote it was decided that Edward James Fletcher Kennedy, (known to his friends as ‘Ken'), would be appointed as the Officer in Command. Kennedy had served in the First World War and after that conflict he became an accountant. He had served with the Territorials between the wars, and held the Reserve rank of Captain. By 1939 he was Secretary in charge of the Cambridge Dairy Company, where he continued to work whilst he served as the commander of the ARC and later Home Guard, in Cambridge.
Kennedy had addressed the men gathered at the inaugural parade, saying that he hoped the Army Department would provide arms and equipment at a later stage. During the parade the Cambridge branch of the Legion of Frontiersmen organisation offered to assist in the training of the Company.
The Waikato Independent reported on the 26th of July that foot and rifle drill would be carried out, and later the men were to be trained in the use of machine-guns. Wishful thinking perhaps, as they had neither rifles nor machine-guns. The newspaper also stated that the unit was to be responsible for stopping 'fifth columnist' activity. The Fifth Column was a mythical force of Nazi spies and saboteurs that were believed to be dropping all over Britain dressed as nuns! This was a widespread fear that proved totally unfounded. Germany only ever sent five spies to Britain and all were rounded up within days of arrival. But the fear had spread as far as New Zealand, and so the ARC would be ever vigilant against any unusual activities by suspicious looking characters.
The assembled men were split into three platoons, and Alfred James Swayne (who was known to all as either 'Alf' or 'Cocky') was appointed the second-in-command. The local traffic inspector Francis (Frank) Hudson Green was made Company Sergeant-Major, and Joe Richards was appointed as Sergeant in charge of records.
Each new platoon was given its own commander, with No. 1 Platoon under the command of Arthur John Stewart Richardson; No. 2 Platoon was taken under the charge of David Justin (Dave) Lundon; and No. 3 Platoon was to be commanded by William Webber. This inaugural meeting was finished off with a route march from the Drill Hall to the Cambridge Town Hall and back.
The Minister of Defence, the Hon. Frederick Jones, made a radio broadcast to New Zealand on the 28th of July 1940, in which he announced that the New Zealand Government planned to soon form the Auxiliary Reserve Companies, which were now springing up around the country, into a proper Home Guard just like that in Britain. Meanwhile in Cambridge it was decided that the Auxiliary Reserve Company was to meet every second Tuesday, beginning on Tuesday the 6th of August.
On the 2nd of August 1940 New Zealand's War Cabinet finally approved the formation of the Home Guard, and the new Emergency Reserve Corps Regulations were gazetted on the 17th of August 1940. These regulations linked three organisations for home defence under the National Service Department, under the leadership of the Hon. Robert Semple as Minister of National Service. The three organisations were the already established Women's War Service Auxiliary, the fledgling Emergency Precautions Scheme (which was a wartime Civil Defence movement, much like Britain's Air Raid Precautions group) and the soon to be formed Home Guard.
So Cambridge's private army, the Auxiliary Reserve Company, was now destined to become part of the nationwide Home Guard, and with this government interest legitimising the force further, the ARC continued to grow week by week. On the 16th of September 1940, it was reported that the Cambridge roll had reached 224 members, having almost doubled in size in just two months. No doubt the constant stream of desperate news from abroad had spurred on the compulsion to do something.
In Britain a desperate fight for very survival was taking place, the Battle of Britain. Cambridge was proudly represented in this conflict by the locally born Spitfire pilot Edward Preston 'Bill' Wells, who would go on to become an ace, and lead the New Zealand Spitfire Squadron. As Britain fought on, Cambridge prepared for what now seemed inevitable to some, the Battle of New Zealand.
Activities within the Cambridge Auxiliary Reserve Company during the month of August 1940 revolved mainly around the signing on of new recruits at their fortnightly meetings. There was little else for them to do apart from a bit of drill and marching, which no doubt was enjoyed by the older soldiers in the group. But the very thought that they were doing something as an organisation at least must have been a comforting thought for many. They had much to look forward to and now had to merely wait to be taken under Government control so that they would receive their uniforms and weapons. Little did they know at these early stages how long this would actually take. At least they had elected an inspirational leader to keep them interested.
By the 3rd of September 1940, a year since war began, some 550 Cambridge young men had joined the Armed forces - more than 10% of the town and district's population of around 5000 people. Thus, at this time when German raider ships were sinking New Zealand vessels and other scares were occurring, the locals of Cambridge, like many other New Zealand towns and districts, must have felt a vulnerability in the face of possible invasion whilst their fittest fighting men were elsewhere. It was a matter of duty for most to do their bit and the Auxiliary Reserve was a great way to feel one was doing this.
On the 11th of September 1940, the Minister of National Service Bob Semple visited Hamilton to address local town leaders on the forming of the Home Guard. Although the New Zealand Government had been pleased with what the privately run Auxiliary Reserve Companies were achieving, they thought it best to follow Britain by taking over and putting the force under the Government's control. The Cambridge Mayor, Edgar James, was present at this meeting along with his councillors. Also present was Company Commander, Captain Kennedy, who was given the opportunity to explain to the minister the activities that the Company had been involved with since its formation. Upon hearing Kennedy's address, Semple expressed his satisfaction that much progress had been made already.
Semple had been open to questions about the new Home Guard movement, and one such question asked was whether Maoris would be allowed to join the force. It is reported that he replied, "Maoris will be on a 50-50 basis in the Home Guard - they have their kumara patches to defend."
While Captain Kennedy was at the meeting in Hamilton, the Company had been training in Cambridge. They were given specialised training in their various fields. The company had been split into specialist groups, including Vickers and Lewis gunners, snipers, scouts and signallers. First Aid lectures were also given at the St. John Ambulance Station. Other areas of training being addressed were drill and route marching.
When the Cambridge Auxiliary Reserve Company transferred to the Home Guard it would come under the jurisdiction of the recently formed Auckland District Command. Colonel Max Aldred, V.D. had been appointed the District Commander. Aldred had served in the Territorial Force from 1908 till 1934 and had seen action in World War One in Egypt and Palestine. During his career he had commanded both the 1st Auckland Mounted Rifles and the 1st New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade. He was awarded the Volunteers Officer's Decoration (VD).
The actual official transfer of the Cambridge Auxiliary Reserve Company to the Home Guard took place on Tuesday the 8th of October 1940. The change was made at the usual fortnightly parade at the Drill Hall, with 150 men present. An oath of allegiance was taken by every man before a Justice of the Peace to serve in the Home Guard, or the Defence Forces if necessary. The men filled out new enrolment forms, which outlined any special qualifications members had that would assist in the defence of New Zealand.
The new Home Guard unit's Commanding Officer, Captain Kennedy, outlined the conditions of service within the Home Guard to his men. He explained that they were to be given no pay, and that they accepted their own liability for any disability that may occur while in the Home Guard. He went on to say that if the Company used any member's vehicles, horses or goods, no payment would be made. Other details given by the commander were that should the Governor-General decide that circumstances were warranted, he could issue a proclamation to embody the whole or any part of the Home Guard into the Defence Forces under the Defence Act of 1909, with those affected instantly becoming soldiers under the control of the NZ Army, with pay and equipment as in the army.
Also, Kennedy added that while in the Home Guard the members were still liable for military service, at home or overseas, in terms of the National Service Regulations, but could remain in the Guard until called up for such service. Kennedy then explained to the new Home Guardsmen that they would not be issued with uniforms, but they would all receive 'brassards', or arm bands, which would be worn on the left sleeve while on duty. He finished with the announcement that arms and equipment would not be issued to individual guardsmen, but they would be made available to the unit as a whole for their training purposes. With this list of uninspiring rules, most without any incentive to stay, Cambridge had formed the first Home Guard unit with Company strength in all of New Zealand.
The Cambridge Auxiliary Reserve Company
Rank Structure and Organisation
July 25th 1940 - October 8th 1940
Captain Edward Kennedy
Second in Command
Sgt Joe Richards
No 1 Platoon
No 2 Platoon
No 3 Platoon
Formed by Cambridge RSA on the 25th of July 1940, with a role of 125 men.
By the time the unit became the Cambridge Home Guard Company on the 8th of October 1940,
a total of 224 men had joined the Cambridge Auxiliary Reserve Company.
Go To Chapter Two
Turn Out The Guard Index