New Zealand army engineers on the hill, 1918


Home (contents) Miscellaneous On the hill part 1: South and central New Zealand army engineers on the hill, 1918

New Zealand army engineers on the hill, 1918

New Zealand army engineers constructing a narrow-gauge railway on St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Hampshire, in 1918. Photo by Thomas Frederick Scales.

New Zealand army engineers constructing a narrow-gauge railway on St. Catherine’s Hill, Christchurch, Hampshire, in 1918. Photo by Thomas Frederick Scales.

Before shipping out from Southampton in 1918 to join my father on the battlefields and trenches in France*, army engineers from New Zealand (including some from Christchurch) trained in trench and railway construction on St. Catherine’s Hill, Christchurch, Hampshire, England.

* He might have already been medevacked out by 1918: Cecil Cunion, Durham Light Infantry.

Incidentally, in about 1970, county boundaries were redrawn and Christchurch moved from Hampshire to Dorset as a result.

Light railway track

Cropped and leveled photo of New Zealand army engineers constructing a narrow-gauge railway on St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Hampshire, in 1918 by Thomas Frederick Scales

Cropped and leveled

The camera is pointed about south-west, toward the coast. Southbourne water tower is visible on the horizon. The main track up the hill is at far left (farther left than it is nowadays), the small escarpment ‘Sandy Point’ angles upwards to the left, and the army engineers are creating a cutting for the narrow gauge light railway at center foreground.


Photo from the same place 102 years later, in December 2020

Photo from the same place 102 years later, in December 2020

The row of short stakes in the ground where the woman is walking her dogs (just left of the bottle on the post) marks the base of Sandy Point. (For more about that feature, see East Point later on this page.) That used to be a gently sloping grassy area suitable for picnicking, but it is now (2020) rough ground.

The railway line, which the closest group of men are building in the 1918 photo, became a path to the first gravel and sandstone quarry, which since about 1966 has been used as a firing range. In recent years a green-painted metal gate (open at right) has been placed across it. Incidentally, the original firing range was at the base the east side of the hill below the triangulation point at the top of the main track. (See Old firing range in On the hill part 2: North, east, and west.)


Moving some metres up hill…

View from farther up the slope on St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Dorset

View from farther up the slope in January 2021

The main track with its wooden gate is at left and the light railway path is at right. Its metal gate (closed) is in front of the parked vehicle.


Shifting a few metres sideways (left) onto the main track…

On the main track up up St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Dorset, England

On the main track looking down hill toward the gate

The main track in 1918 apparently ran in a direction more like straight ahead in this view, curving right farther down, nearer Sandy Point.


From there we proceed down the main track past the gate and turn around…

Gates on main track up St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Dorset, England

Track for narrow gauge railway at left and main path up the hill at right

This photo, taken in 2021, is from about were the farthest of the four engineers are bent over carrying a length of railway track, or perhaps a little farther. The railway line track where the men closest to the camera in 1918 were working is at left. (It leads to the firing range quarry.) The ground slopes up from left to right, so the rail line track is lower than the main path to the top of the hill.

East Point

Cropped, leveled, and annotated photo of New Zealand army engineers constructing a narrow-gauge railway on St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Hampshire, in 1918 by Thomas Frederick Scales

I added the text About here at the base of Sandy Point, where the left-most distant group of engineers are.

The slanting hillock at left in the 1918 photo, which my friends and I named Sandy Point in the mid 1960s, is hidden by trees from the same view point in 2020. (Its southern face at the far end was exposed sandstone, but it is overgrown nowadays.) However, here is the north face of Sandy Point from the same direction, but a closer position, in January 2021:

Sandy Point in January 2021

Sandy Point viewed from the north in January 2021

It seems to me that I took this photo from about where the main path up the hill used to run before the ‘corner was cut’, likely for trucks carrying away material in I think the 1930s from the quarry farther north (not the present day firing range quarry). Where that curve starts, bricks inlaid into the surface of the track are still evident (in 2021).


Main path up St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Dorset

View north (up hill) from adjacent the base of Sandy Point

This is adjacent to the base of Sandy Point, where the left-most distant group of engineers are in the 1918 photo (annotated About here in the preceding version of the 1918 photo).

Path up Sandy Point, St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Dorset

Path up Sandy Point

Staying in that position and turning to the right (east) brings into view the path up Sandy Point.

Overhead view

Satellite view of St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Dorset, UK

Satellite view via Google Maps

Aerial view from the south of St. Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, Hampshire, in 1951

Aerial view from the south in 1951

My red text Here in this aerial photo from Britain from Above (see under External links) marks the spot a third of a century later. By then the quarry existed, but the bare sandy ground where the New Zealanders worked looked much the same (apparently). The south face of Sandy Point is clearly visible.

The track might have already existed before the New Zealand army engineers used it for their narrow gauge railway. I have the impression that it was another main track to the top, joining the other (present day) main track at about where the water containers are. If so, the engineers cut a channel into the rising ground of that alternative main track, most of which vanished when the quarry was created. See Eye in the sky in On the hill part 2: North, east, and west for more aerial views.

External links

Britain from Above

New Zealand Engineers building a light railway at their camp in England (1918 photo source)

2 Responses to New Zealand army engineers on the hill, 1918

  1. Brian Wood says:

    Very interesting stuff, as always Everard…

    • Thanks Brian. The National Library of New Zealand has just updated their record so it no longer says ‘thought to be St. Catherine’s hill…’ (or similar): I sent them a link to this page to assure them that it definitely is.

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