Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, January 28, 2016

After Gallipoli: Whither New Zealand?

New Zealanders Retrieving Bodies at Gallipoli During the May 1915 Truce

In the Middle East

In all, 2,779 New Zealanders had died at Gallipoli. Following the evacuation the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, which had fought at Gallipoli as infantry, joined Australian mounted units to form the ANZAC Mounted Division. This unit continued the fight against the Ottoman Empire, taking a prominent part in the Sinai–Palestine campaign of 1916–18. Some New Zealanders served in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq, then a Turkish province). New Zealand’s cruiser, HMS Philomel, was also deployed in the region, patrolling in the Red Sea. In 1916 the emphasis shifted to Europe. The Sinai–Palestine campaign cost 543 New Zealand lives.

But these operations against the Ottoman Empire became a sideshow in New Zealand’s war effort. 

To the Western Front

In preparation for joining the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), the New Zealand Division was formed, with citizen-soldier Andrew Russell as commander. Two additional infantry brigades were provided by the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and the 2nd Infantry Brigade, formed from accumulated reinforcements in Egypt. The Māori contingent was incorporated in the division’s Pioneer Battalion (which in 1917 became an all-Māori unit – the (Maori) Pioneer Battalion). These changes raised the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) strength to about 25,000.

The Māori Pioneer Battalion Performing the Ceremonial Haka for Visitors

Non-divisional units

Some NZEF units, such as a mounted rifles regiment and the cyclist company, were not part of the New Zealand Division. They included the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, which was the first New Zealand unit to arrive on the Western Front (in France and Belgium) in early 1916. Many New Zealanders also served in British and Australian units, including the Royal Flying Corps (the precursor of the Royal Air Force). About 700 New Zealanders served as airmen during the war.


The deployment of a division demanded an increased flow of reinforcements. With volunteering slowing, and some sectors of the public demanding equality of sacrifice, the government introduced conscription during 1916, with the first ballots in October. As a result 32,000 conscripts served overseas with the NZEF (alongside 72,000 volunteers) — together representing 42% of New Zealand men of military age (21–49). Of the dominions in the British Empire, New Zealand made the largest per capita contribution of its manpower.

Western Front 1916

Although the troops were [initially] deployed in a relatively quiet sector, at Armentières in northern France, they quickly became aware of the true impact of industrialized warfare. They were shocked by the scale of the artillery, which far surpassed that employed by Turkey at Gallipoli.

The Battle of the Somme

Service on the Western Front involved a steady flow of day-to-day casualties, from artillery bombardments, trench raids, or accidents. But the real bloodletting occurred when either side sent troops over the top to assault the opposing trench line. This was dreadfully apparent when the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme opened on 1 July 1916 — on that day alone the BEF suffered 60,000 casualties.

Longueval and Flers

New Zealanders in a Trench Near Flers, Somme Battlefield, September 1916

The New Zealand Division took part in the second major phase of the battle, attacking as part of a new "big push" near Longueval on 15 September 1916, an effort notable for the advent of tanks. The New Zealanders captured their objectives, though at heavy cost, and assisted in the capture of the village of Flers, but the offensive petered out. By the time the New Zealand Division was withdrawn from the line 23 days later, it had lost 2,000 men — a death rate far exceeding that experienced at Gallipoli.

Source: Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand


  1. Didn't know that NZ had conscription. I wonder how many Maoris were conscripted?