Learn about life at North Head's fort from the 1880s through both World Wars and even in more recent times when part of the summit was used by the navy as a Communications Training School.

The 1800s

In 1885 there were only 120 artillerymen in New Zealand and by the 1890s there were still only 190 in the country. The shortages were made up by volunteers. These men were part of New Zealand’s social scene and throughout the late 19th century could be seen marching and training at the drill halls or forts. The volunteers who manned the guns at the forts were mostly “Naval Artillery Volunteers” and dressed in naval uniform. In 1904 they became “Garrison Artillery Volunteers” and dressed in khaki. 

First World War

During the First World War the guns at North Head were manned and ready. As the war progressed the large numbers of men required for service overseas meant that it was hard to keep all guns operational. The Garrison Artillery, both the regular soldiers and the Territorials, had mostly gone to serve overseas. These men were replaced by cadets, too young to serve overseas, or by older volunteers.

As well as servicing the guns the men also operated the searchlights and the generators used to power them. These were looked after by men from the Electric Light Section of the Artillery. Although the guns were never fired in anger there was an exciting event in 1917 when a party from North Head were sent to help track down the German Naval Captain Von Luckner who had escaped with some of his crew from Motuihe Island. 

Second World War

On 4 September 1939 war was declared and the government notified the Territorial soldiers over the radio. Men poured into North Head and were sorted out at Torpedo Bay. Some were immediately posted to North Head while others sailed for Motutapu to man the guns there.

At North Head housing was a problem with soldiers at first having to bunk down in the old tunnels. In 1940 North Head became the home and headquarters of the 9th Heavy Regiment of the New Zealand Artillery. Many new buildings were constructed to house the influx of new personnel. The WAACs, the women’s army personnel, also served at North Head, as did the Navy, which had a wireless station on the north side of the hill.

A number of the men from the fort went overseas and personnel from North Head served in Africa, Greece, Italy and the Pacific. Many men transferred to the Air Force and other services.

World War II Camp 

At the start of WW II there was not enough accommodation to house everyone on North Head and the gunners and searchlight crews had to bunk down in tunnels. A building programme was started to rectify this and at one stage North Head had over 30 buildings on it.  Of these, five timber buildings remain.

The Navy takes over

In 1958 the coast artillery was disbanded and most of the army transferred to Narrow Neck. Most of the guns were scrapped. The navy took over part of the summit and ran a Communications Training School and other training facilities there, while the Devonport Borough Council took over the rest as a reserve.

In 1972 North Head became part of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park and later a historic reserve managed by the Department of Conservation. The navy finally left the summit in 1996. 

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