WW100 centenary theme for 2016 is “Transition – A National War Effort”

06 November 2015

New Zealand’s Anzacs withdrew from Gallipoli to Egypt in December 1915. They arrived in Alexandra on 26 December and journeyed on to camp for a second spell at Zeitoun, on the edge of the Egyptian desert.

In 2016, WW100 – the New Zealand First World War Centenary marks the retreat of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) from Gallipoli to Egypt and their transition to the Western Front. In 1916 New Zealand soldiers served in France, in the bloody battles of the Somme. The centenary will also present commentary on the growth of the ‘national war effort’ at home, including conscription, shipping and the impacts on industry and society.

The Western Front was roughly 700 kilometres of parallel fortifications over which an ocean tide of soldiers crashed in large-scale battles. This line of conflict between First World War protagonists stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea and persisted until the end of the war.

The NZEF were engaged in the second offensive in the Battle of the Somme, known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. New Zealand infantry ‘went over the top’ at 6.20am on 15 September. The New Zealanders achieved their objectives but experienced heavy losses. By the time the Somme campaign ended in November, approximately one in seven of the roughly 15,000 members of the New Zealand Division deployed had been killed and around 40% were wounded.

At home, almost everything and everyone was focussed on the war effort. The great majority of the working population contributed to the war effort through their involvement in farming, manufacturing and other industries. New Zealand’s contribution to the British Empire’s war effort included its meat, dairy and wool products, which were delivered to the United Kingdom – despite a considerable threat from German submarines – by the ships and seamen of the merchant marine.

In some occupations there was a significant increase in women’s employment, although the war did not lead to an enduring change in female employment patterns. Women played a more prominent role in community-based patriotic, fundraising and relief efforts. By 1920 the nation’s combined patriotic societies had raised at least £5.69 million in cash (equivalent to nearly $700 million today) and despatched goods valued at £560,000 ($66 million today) to men serving overseas.

The role of the state expanded during and after the war. There was a significant increase in government revenue (through taxation) and spending, which had long-term consequences for economic management. The war also led to the introduction of pensions and other assistance to returned servicemen, helping to lay the foundations for the longer-term expansion of social welfare.

Conscription was introduced and conscientious objectors hit the headlines. Not everyone supported the war: some Māori (especially in Waikato and Taranaki) were reluctant to fight for a Crown that had dispossessed them of land. These were the only areas where conscription would be applied to Māori. Others opposed the war on religious-pacifist, Irish nationalist or socialist grounds. New political parties emerged during the war and industrial unrest amongst miners and watersiders saw strikes and opposition to conscription, amongst other labour demands. In general new parties supported the war but condemned wartime inflation and profiteering, and opposed the conscription of men without a corresponding conscription of wealth.

The Industrialisation and Organisation component of the 2016 theme will include the centenary of the Nursing Corps, the role of New Zealanders in the Royal Navy and merchant marine, the history of the Pioneer Battalion (largely made up of Māori and Pacific Island soldiers) and the changes in warfare technologies that were introduced. will publish stories on these themes during 2016.

The official WW100 commemoration in 2016 is the Battle of the Somme (Flers-Courcelette) on 15 September, both at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park and in France. The publication programme launches The Price We Have To Pay and The Western Front.

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