Grenade explosion deaths recalled
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.