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Petone's First 100 Years (1940)

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The Petone Navals

No history of Petone would be complete without a brief record of this famous old Corps. Formed originally as a Submarine Mining Corps, and closely identified with cutter sailing and boating, it was later converted into a Garrison Artillery Company (No. 2 and later No. 5 Coy. N.Z.G.A.), but it still retained its naval uniforms and cutters, also a boat station on the Petone foreshore.
The Petone Navals were in the old days largely recruited from the Rugby football and athletic elite of the district, and these men and their devoted officers and N.C.O.s threw the same energy into their gun drill as into their games, with the result that for years, they qualified as the best heavy gun shooting battery in New Zealand, and were holders of the shield for the best shooting and best trained Garrison Artillery Company.
Originally, the company was a Petone contingent of the Wellington Navals, enrolled about the year 1880.
In 1883, it was decided to form a separate corps to be styled "The Petone Navals Artillery," and its first officers being Capt. H. S. Fitzherbert, Lieut. D. Buick, and Lieut. Jackson. The first meeting in connection with the formation was held at the "Marine Retreat," now known as the "Grand National Hotel." In June, 1883, the company built its own drill-shed, the opening being celebrated by a ball.
The company first drilled as an infantry unit, and later on, an old 53 pounder on wooden mountings was installed on the Petone beach and used as a drill gun.
About 1886, submarine mining work was commenced, the first submarine mining camp being held on Somes Island in 1887.
During 1887, the Kaiwarra Rifles were absorbed and detailed to man the old Kaiwarra battery.
The Petone Navals put up some outstanding performances in the course of their training at Ngahauranga, including in 1907, a world's record shoot of 40 hits out of 40 rounds fired.
In the late nineties and early 1900s, the company manned the three inner forts, Ngahauranga (Fort Kelburn, 2.6 inch E.O.C. guns on H.P. mountings), Kaiwarra Fort (2.64 lb.), and the Gardens Battery, now the observatory, a 7 inch M.L. Gun. The present Kelburn Scout house was originally the P.N.A.V. barracks for the Gardens Battery detachment.
The Kaiwarra and Gardens Batteries became obsolete, and the Company devoted its energies to Ngahauranga, where its annual camp was held, and where its shooting records were established.
The corps also owned a fine drill-shed in Nelson Street, Petone, and indulged in infantry drill once a month. On these evenings, it was a common sight to see the company drilling and manoeuvring along the Hutt Road and in Cuba Street, but later on, the advent of motor cars rendered this too dangerous. The "Fetories" were also famed for their rifle-shooting and put up some good performances at Trentham.
From the rapidity and success with which they launched their cutters to save people in distress on the Harbour, they were sometimes alluded to as the "Floating Ambulance." Certainly many a man owed his skill with boats in later life to the early training with the P.N.A.V., and this boating side of their activities was a great help to recruiting.
The two naval cutters brought the company equal fame with the six- inch guns. One of the first wins was the cup presented by Capt. Johnston (of the Wellington Navals) for competition between the two companies. A crew also beat the famous champion crew of H.M.S. "Espiegle," which had carried all before it in Australian waters. In 1886, a crew was sent to Auckland to compete in the £100 whaleboat event.
Other notable wins were the White Horse" and "Mothes" cups.
In 1911, on the introduction of universal service, the company donned khaki and was the first corps in New Zealand to receive and train its quota of compulsory recruits (66).
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The Petone Navals.

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It still maintained its fame for shooting and retained many of its old N.C.O.s along with its old traditions; foremost of these we recollect were Sergeant-Major George Findlay and Q.M. Sergt. Robt. Cruickshank.
The company was commanded in recent years from 1900 by the late Major R. C. Kirk, Captain Ellis (deceased), Captain Richard Pryce (killed in action at Gallipoli), Major E. V. Bevan (1910/13) and Major A. H. Hollis. Many of those who passed through the company as volunteers or as Territorials served overseas in other units.
During the Great War, no less than five military distinctions were won by members of the corps, which already had the honour of Major W. J. Hardham's V.C., won in the South African War.
In 1922, as the result of experience of the war, the name and nature of the unit was changed. The unit has since then been equipped with 6-inch Howizters and named the 17th Medium Battery, N.Z.A.

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