Growing Hamilton

Earthworks reveal links to Hamilton’s wartime past

Image: C.A.C ammunition factory workers. Image courtesy of Hamilton City Libraries HCL_09003

Earthworks to complete Hamilton’s Ring Road and link to a future new bridge have unearthed tangible reminders of the city’s wartime past.

Remnants of bullets have been found in topsoil between Dey St and Cobham Dr, a site which housed ammunition factories during World War Two. The area is part of the works to extend Wairere Dr to Cobham Dr.

Hamilton City Council Development Group General Manager Chris Allen says the site’s history was known and processes were already in place to deal with any finds of this nature.

“We followed our site procedures and contacted police, specialised consultants, the archaeologist and our site engineers. We also had the Bomb Squad from Auckland on site to identify whether there was any risk of unexploded ammunition,” Mr Allen says.

Specialist staff will remove the material from the site before works can resume.

The ammunition factories were built in Hamilton after concerns the existing Auckland-based factory was liable to Japanese air attack. The first lots of ammunition were produced on 24 June 1942, a remarkable achievement as the decision to move the factory was only made five months earlier.

As well as the factories, there were guards’ huts, accommodation buildings and a storehouse, known as a magazine, for the millions of bullets before they were shipped to soldiers. Today only the distinctive brick building that was the magazine remains in what is now Flynn Park.

The Hamilton operation employed up to 1200 people, many of them women, including Claudelands resident Dorrie Connelly-Caitcheon, who ‘filled the top of bullets with lead’ as she described in an interview as part of the Hamilton Libraries Oral History Programme.

Interviewed by Christine Mauchline in 1995, Dorrie enjoyed working at the factory, making a lot of friends and meeting many workers who had moved from Auckland. She recalled being promoted to the examining room where she had to check the finished bullets for cracks or flaws but didn’t enjoy the role and went back to her former job.

The war effort saw many married women entering the workforce, Dorrie noting there were few married women working anywhere prior to the war. Images of women working in the factories, held by the National Library, include a note that 577 women worked there during the war.

The fragments of ammunition and other items found at the site will be removed in the next few days.

The Wairere Dr extension completes the city’s Ring Road, and works will see Cobham Dr raised to allow four-laned Wairere Dr to pass underneath and link to a future bridge over the Waikato River to Peacocke.

The Ring Road is expected to be complete early 2022.

Image: C.A.C ammunition factory workers. Image courtesy of Hamilton City Libraries HCL_09003

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