Grenade ex­plo­sion deaths re­called

Upper Hutt Leader - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN WIL­LIAMS

While the Davis Field recre­ation park op­po­site the Tren­tham Mil­i­tary Camp is well known to lo­cals, the tragic story be­hind its nam­ing is much less fa­mil­iar.

Yes­ter­day marked the 75th an­niver­sary of the death of five sol­diers at the army base in­clud­ing Ma­jor Richard ‘‘Dickie’’ Davis.

An­other 11 men were in­jured on that day in 1942 when a grenade det­o­nated dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion Davis was run­ning .

Those killed along­side the 58-year-old Davis were Cor­po­ral Richard Geard (19), Sergeant Robert Peters (20), Act­ingSergeant Roland Thom­son (39) while Act­ing-Sergeant Her­bert Wood (46) died the next day.

A squad of 26 men were tak­ing part in grenade in­struc­tion at the Army School of In­struc­tion.

Wit­ness re­ports said Davis in­serted gelig­nite, a gel made of ni­tro­glyc­er­ine, into an empty grenade case and put in the fuse and det­o­na­tor. The fuse which was de­signed to burn for at least seven sec­onds ap­peared to go out and Davis flicked it with his fin­ger. It re-ig­nited, started to burn down, and ex­ploded as he was about to throw it.

At an in­quest an army of­fi­cial tes­ti­fied all points of dan­ger in as­sem­bling the grenade had been cov­ered and Davis had not taken any un­nec­es­sary risk. The flick­ing of the fuse would not have caused the ex­plo­sion be­fore the seven sec­onds but the ac­tual burn­ing of the fuse was in ad­vance of what was ap­par­ent. Use of that type of grenade was im­me­di­ately stopped.

Born in Aus­tralia, Davis ar­rived in New Zealand as an 18-year-old in 1902.

He car­ried out in­struc­tion at mil­i­tary cen­tres through­out the coun­try for three years from 1911 and in World War I served in the Welling­ton Mounted Ri­fles in Egypt and Gal­lipoli where he was wounded and evac­u­ated to Eng­land where, while re­cov­er­ing, he did a three-month course at a Small Arms School in Kent.

He be­came As­sis­tant Mus­ketry In­struc­tor at Tren­tham and in 1919 was ap­pointed Chief to the South­ern Mil­i­tary Com­mand, a po­si­tion held un­til 1925 be­fore re­turn­ing to Eng­land for two years to at­tend spe­cial­ist small arms train­ing cour­ses.

In 1938 Davis re­tired but he was re­called to the Army at the start of World War II. He was made a Ma­jor in 1940 and Chief In­struc­tor at the Small Arms School at Tren­tham.

Davis’s fu­neral at Karori was at­tended by Prime Min­is­ter Peter Fraser and sev­eral Gov­ern­ment Min­is­ters. Davis Field, on Messines Av, is op­po­site the army camp and in­for­ma­tion about Davis and that fate­ful day is at its western en­try gate.

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