Key historical facts about New Zealand and the First World War and useful sources for finding out more.
The First World War (1914–1918) was one of the most significant events of the 20th Century and had a seismic impact on New Zealand society.
Just under ten percent of our then population of 1.1 million served overseas, of which more than 18,000 died. There were also over 40,000 hospitalisations due to injury or illness. Nearly every New Zealand family was affected by the impact of the war.
Quick facts and figures
- The total population of New Zealand in 1914 was just over one million.
- In all, more than 120,000 New Zealanders enlisted, and around 100,000 served overseas.
- Most were young men, and nearly one in five who served abroad did not return.
- More than 2200 Māori and around 460 Pacific Islanders served overseas with the New Zealand forces.
- 11 Victoria Crosses were won by soldiers serving with New Zealand forces.
- At least 3370 New Zealanders served in the Australian or British imperial forces, winning a further five Victoria Crosses.
- In all, 550 nurses served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and many others enlisted in the United Kingdom.
- Around 18,000 New Zealanders died in or because of the war, and about 41,000 men were listed as wounded. More than 2700 died at Gallipoli and almost 12,500 on the Western Front.
- The names of those who died are recorded on approximately 500 civic war memorials throughout New Zealand.
- Timeline of the week New Zealand went to war
- Benchmark survey of New Zealanders' understanding
Major battles and commemoration dates
29 August 2014: Capture of Samoa - Auckland/Samoa
When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, Britain asked New Zealand to seize the German colony of Samoa as a ‘great and urgent Imperial service’. The Samoan archipelago had been ruled by Germany since 1899. At the outbreak of war, Samoa was of strategic importance to Germany. The radio transmitter located in the hills above Apia was capable of sending long-range Morse signals to Berlin. It could also communicate with the 90 warships in Germany’s naval fleet. Britain wanted this threat neutralised.
Theme: '2014: Duty and Adventure'.
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25 April 2015: 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli
Gallipoli marks the first major combat role for New Zealand forces in the First World War and is where the Anzac relationship was founded. 2,779 New Zealanders were killed in the campaign. Gallipoli is often considered to mark the beginning of a blossoming of national consciousness in both New Zealand and Australia; in addition to laying the foundations for the emergence of modern Turkey.
Theme: '2015: The Anzac Connection'.
15 September 2016: 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme
The Somme Offensive was the first action undertaken by the New Zealand Division on the Western Front. On 15 September 1916 the New Zealand Division saw action at Morval and Thiepval Ridge. This action is also known as the Battle of Longueval. New Zealand suffered over 8,000 causalities and 2,000 deaths during the Somme Offensive.
Theme: '2016: Transition - a National War Effort'
7 June 2017: 100th anniversary of the Battle of Messines
Messines refers to a ridge south of the town of Ypres (Ieper today) captured by New Zealand forces. Thanks to careful planning, the capture of Messines Ridge was a stunning success and paved the way for the main attack later in the summer by removing German forces from the dominating ground on the southern face of the Ypres Salient. New Zealand suffered 3,000 causalities and 700 deaths at Messines (Mesen today).
Theme: '2017: The Grind of War'
12 October 2017: 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele
The 12 October 1917 attack by New Zealand forces on Bellevue Spur near Passchendaele was poorly prepared, partly because of the extreme weather conditions. The New Zealanders were exposed to German machine-gun fire along with being held back by barbed wire. Within the first few hours the New Zealand Division suffered 2,700 casualties, of which 843 were fatalities. These casualties amounted to six percent of New Zealand’s total casualties in the entire First World War.
Theme: '2017: The Grind of War'
31 October 2017: 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba
Beersheba was considered the key to taking Gaza due its strategically vital water wells. Allied divisions attacked the main Ottoman defences on the western and south-western outskirts of Beersheba on 31 October 1917. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles played a vital role in the Battle of Beersheba, aiding the Australian forces in their role of capturing the town and the eventual capture of Gaza from Ottoman forces. In recognition of these Anzac links, this will be a joint New Zealand-Australian commemoration.
Theme: '2017: The Grind of War'
4 November 2018: 100th anniversary of the Liberation of Le Quesnoy
The New Zealand Division’s last major action of the war was the capture of the French town of Le Quesnoy which had been occupied by German forces from August 1914. The New Zealanders scaled the ancient walls with ladders and took the German garrison prisoners. The town’s liberation was achieved without loss of civilian life or destruction of the ancient fortifications. The liberation of Le Quesnoy represents one of the high points of the war and the town’s residents have maintained close links with, and a high regard for New Zealand ever since.
Theme: '2018: The Darkness Before the Dawn'
- FirstWorldWar.govt.nz - history of New Zealand in the First World War
- Online Cenotaph - access records of New Zealanders who served
- Sites and Sources - directory of further sites & sources
- Overview timeline - key aspects of New Zealand's involvement in the First World War
- Discover WW1 content - find historical content and media from New Zealand culture and heritage organisations
Terminology and style guide
First World War or WW1 or WWI?
New Zealand government historians use First World War, rather than World War One (or 1, or I or WW1 or WWI).
Anzac or ANZAC?
Only use the term ANZAC — with all capitals — when referring specifically to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
For all other uses, such as Anzac Day, the Anzac spirit and Anzac biscuits, ‘Anzac’ is preferred.
Note, use of the term Anzac is protected by law.
Dates — 1918 or 1919? 2018 or 2019?
The most commonly used dates for the First World War are 1914–1918. But many historians argue that the dates 1914–1919 are more accurate and appropriate.
While the guns 'fell silent' at 11am on 11 November 1918, that was an 'armistice' — a temporary cessation of hostilities as a prelude to peace negotiations, not necessarily at the time any guarantee of lasting peace.
The Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919, marked the formal end of the war in Europe. Note that some other peace treaties were not signed until the 1920s, but Versailles in 1919 was the major peace treaty.
Almost all the New Zealand troops still serving overseas in November 1918 returned home during 1919 (the year in which many peace celebrations were also held), and a significant number died that year due to illness, especially influenza.
We use 2014–2019 on this website because the aim for the WW100 programme is to tell the whole story of the war and its impact on New Zealand society, and not just focus on the military aspects.
Outbreak of war - 4 or 5 August 1914?
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo were assassinated on 28 June 1914. Following this event, Austria-Hungary issued Serbia with a harsh ultimatum, effectively revoking Serbia's national sovereignty. Although Serbia consented to almost every point in the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary exploited disagreements on some minor points to declare war on 28 July 1914.
The large empires began to mobilise forces, leading to Germany declaring war on Russia on 1 August 1914 and on France two days later. When Germany invaded Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914.
Time zone differences and the speed of communication meant that this news was received in New Zealand on 5 August, and that day the governor, Lord Liverpool, announced the news from the steps of parliament to a crowd of 15,000. But as part of the British Empire, New Zealand was at war on 4 August 1914, when King George V declared war on Germany.
The 4 August is the date the outbreak of war is marked in this country.