Although best known for fighting at Gallipoli as part of the ANZAC troops, New Zealand played a vital and varied role in the War. Around 18,000 New Zealanders died in or because of the war, and there were 41,000 instances of wounding or illness. In 1914 New Zealand had a population of just over one million people, and by the end of the war one in every four New Zealand men aged 20-45 was either killed or injured.
Of the 250,000 men in New Zealand who were of eligible age to fight, 100,000 served overseas in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force NZEF). This included more than 2,200 Māori and around 500 Pacific Islanders, mainly from the Cook Islands and Niu. Conscription was introduced in 1916 by the Military Service Acts, and the men who were called up to fight served alongside volunteers.
The New Zealand Native Contingent was a contingent of Māori troops. They were attached to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and took part in the August Offensive at Gallipoli. When the command was given to charge, the soldiers burst into chants of “Ka mate, ka mate!” terrifying men in the Turkish trenches.
The Pacific Islands offered troops to the British as soon as war broke out, but the offers were not accepted until after 1915, when the New Zealand forces were seriously depleted. When Niuean soldiers were sent to the Western Front 82% were hospitalised with Western illnesses. After this, Pacific Islanders of the Rarotongan Company were sent to Sinai and Palestine to support the British, where they did vital work handling ammunition.
DID YOU KNOW...?
10,000 horses from New Zealand went to war with the NZEF! New Zealand horses were considered to be very sturdy and reliable, and the New Zealand Veterinary Corps worked hard to look after them.
New Zealand Army Nursing Service
The New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS) was established by Heather Maclean, who went with five other nurses to provide medical support to the NZEF force that captured German Samoa. The Government were unwilling to allow women to serve overseas. Heather received huge numbers of applications from other women to enlist and demanded that they be allowed to serve, and eventually the Government allowed her to take nurses overseas. The nurses faced judgements from the British about being ‘colonials’, but quickly proved themselves to be better trained, more flexible, and better able to cope with the climate than most nurses from England.
Throughout the war about 550 New Zealand women served in the NZANS. This included working on Hospital ships (see page 106), at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, and at New Zealand hospitals in England.
Many people were supportive of involvement in the War in 1914, and remained generally assured of eventual victory throughout the war. Huge numbers of casualties at the Battle of Passchendaele lowered morale, but anger was mostly directed towards the USA for not helping.
New Zealanders at home held Queen Carnivals to raise money for the forces. Women competed for the title of Queen in their local area and charged money for votes. Women of all ages took part, and claimed the crown based on their wit, intelligence, beauty, and patriotism. There were also concerts, fetes, bazars, and lotteries to raise money. Although some people felt that in the face of grief and suffering these were inappropriate, the cheerful fundraisers were very effective at collecting money and many people found them to be a positive distraction from the difficulties of war.