First World War in NZ

War is a truly damaging event for any country, and the First World War in NZ marked a significant turning point in the history and identity of today’s New Zealand. Despite being on the opposite side of the world, this small island country had extensive involvement in the war. This led to a profound impact on New Zealanders and the future development of the country over the years.

First World War in NZ

There are many significant contributions New Zealand made to foster the efforts of its British counterparts in Europe and the Middle East. This includes sending thousands of soldiers to fight in the war. The numbers included many young men, especially green ones, who had never left the country. The experiences these men faced changed them and their families forever.

In this article, we will explore the history of New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War. You will learn the history of its decision to join the war and the experiences of soldiers on the front lines. We will also examine the social and economic impact of the war on New Zealand, and how the war has been remembered and memorialized in the years since.

Brief History of the First World War in NZ

A series of events in 1914 led to escalating tensions between the major powers in Europe. Following these events, the First World War broke out in August of the same year. As a part of the British Empire, New Zealand was automatically drawn into the conflict. The geographic distance of New Zealand from Europe was pretty insignificant. The country provided military contributions and had a major impact on the country’s society and economy.

You may wonder why the First World War in NZ even occurred geographically; they could have stayed neutral. Well, a combination of certain factors forced New Zealand’s decision. This included:

  • New Zealand’s fear of a German invasion of the Pacific;
  • The country’s loyalty to Britain;
  • The desire to assert its identity as a nation. 

The government of William Massey, the Prime Minister at the time, quickly mobilized New Zealand’s military forces. It is necessary to note that they were relatively small and ill-equipped at the time.

Brief History of the First World War

Impact of the First World War on NZ

The first world war in NZ caused New Zealand soldiers lots of difficulty and hardship. By the end of the war, around 100,000 New Zealanders had served overseas as part of the Allied war effort. Over 18,000 New Zealanders had been killed. The first world war in NZ had a profound impact on its society, contributing to a sense of national identity and independence. However, it also caused deep social and economic upheaval for the country and its people.

The first world war in NZ also saw the country contributing to war efforts by providing supplies and financial assistance to the Allied powers. The impact of the war on New Zealand’s history and identity cannot be overstated, and it is seen as a defining moment in the country’s history. The sacrifice of the soldiers who fought and died in the first world war in NZ is commemorated every year on ANZAC Day. 

The beginning of a shift in the county’s relationship with Britain is also an aftermath of the first world war in NZ. It was during this time that the country began to assert its independence and identity on the world stage.

Life on the Front

The First World War in NZ was one of the most significant events in human history, affecting millions of people across the world. It saw New Zealand provide thousands of men turned soldiers to serve in the conflict. The war also took a toll on the soldiers’ physical and emotional health, and many experienced extreme hardship and trauma.

The conditions these soldiers experienced on the front lines were particularly challenging and gruesome. They were often exposed to harsh weather, unsanitary conditions, and constant danger from enemy fire. The most common form of combat during the first world war in NZ was trench warfare. With these, soldiers lived in muddy and cramped trenches that were often flooded for weeks at a time, some even going into months. This terrible way of life caused them a variety of health problems. These issues spanned across trench foot, dysentery, and respiratory illnesses.

Compared to modern standards, the medical care available to soldiers during the first world war in NZ was rudimentary. They were often treated in field hospitals or make-shift mobile medical units. There was also a shortage of resources and personnel. The gravely wounded were evacuated from war zones to larger hospitals behind the front line. However, many men died in the first world war in NZ before they could receive treatment.

Roles of Non-Combat

Roles of Non-Combat Personnel

Women played a significant role in the first world war in NZ. For the Allied War effort, they were primarily caretakers, serving as nurses and ambulance drivers. They also occupied non-combat roles, working in difficult conditions and providing essential support to the soldiers. Several women died during the first world war in NZ, serving close to the front line.
Non-combat personnel such as engineers, mechanics, and support staff also played an important role in the war effort. They were responsible for maintaining weapons, vehicles, and other equipment and providing logistical support to the soldiers.
The conditions faced by men and women in the First World War in NZ were challenging and often dangerous. The gruelling event took a heavy toll on their physical and emotional health, and the war had a lasting impact on New Zealand’s society and culture. It is amazing, to say the least, that the hardship these brave men and women endured are not forgotten. Their courage and sacrifice are celebrated and honoured annually in New Zealand.

New Zealanders in Gallipoli

The Gallipoli campaign was one of the most significant in the first world war in NZ. New Zealanders played a major role in this campaign as the Maori Pioneer battalion was first raised here. These men displayed great bouts of bravery and resilience despite the harsh conditions of the campaign. They endured extreme heat, cold, disease, and constant shelling and sniper fire.

Some important events to note in this campaign include:

  • The Gallipoli campaign aimed to secure the Dardanelles and establish a sea route to Russia.
  • The campaign was launched in April 1915 by Allied forces and was raised by troops from New Zealand forces, along with forces from Australia and Britain.
  • The New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) landed at Anzac Cove, a narrow beach on the Gallipoli peninsula, on April 25th 1915. It was made up of about 8,500 who were divided into two brigades.
  • The troops in the campaign at Anzac Forces battle against fierce resistance from the Ottoman Empire for eight months.
  • Although there was a stalemate, the NZEF suffered heavy losses in the first few days of the campaign.
  • The campaign was abandoned in January 1916, and the troops were evacuated as they did not achieve their goals.
  • Over 2,700 Kiwis died in the campaign of the first world war in NZ; more than 4,000 were wounded. 

Despite heroic efforts, the campaign failed, and the New Zealanders suffered heavy casualties. Following their withdrawal from Gallipoli, New Zealand troops were sent to France and Belgium. Here, they fought on the Western Front in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including the Somme and Passchendaele.

The Gallipoli campaign is constantly remembered in modern-day New Zealand as it started the country’s involvement in the war. It is commemorated each year on Anzac Day because of its significant role in New Zealand’s history and to honour those who fought bravely. 

The Aftermath of the War

Following the first world war in NZ, there were lots of changes in the country, and Kiwis spent a significant time adjusting to their new lives. The major consequences of the war include;

Memorialization and Remembrance

Economic Effects

The economy in NW was heavily disrupted following the war. Exports and trade suffered for a while; however, as the country began to rebuild and modernize, there was a boom in some industries, particularly manufacturing and construction.

Memorialization and Remembrance

Political Changes

The political landscape in New Zealand changed drastically. For instance, there was a rise in new political parties, such as the Labour Party and the Reform Party. There was also an increase in economic planning and interest in social welfare.

Memorialization and Remembrance

Memorialization and Remembrance

The war also had a significant impact on how New Zealanders remember and commemorate their war dead. The government established the Imperial War Graves Commission to manage the burial and commemoration of the war dead. Many towns and cities across New Zealand established their war memorials to commemorate those who had served and died in the war.
Despite the many challenges faced by New Zealand in the aftermath of the war, the country also experienced an increased sense of national identity and pride. It also had a lasting impact on the country’s identity and relationship with the wider world.

Key Figures and Events

The impact of the First World War on New Zealand was significant in terms of its social and economic effects and the country’s political and cultural attitudes towards war and military service.

Sacrifice and Remembrance

Social and Economic Effects

The war had a profound effect on New Zealand society, with nearly 100,000 New Zealanders serving overseas and more than 18,000 losing their lives. This had a lasting impact on families and communities across the country, and the country’s small population meant that virtually every family was affected by the war in some way.
The war also had a significant economic impact, with many resources and industries redirected towards the war effort. The government implemented a range of measures to support the war, including the introduction of conscription, the rationing of food and other essential items, and the sale of war bonds to fund the war effort.

Sacrifice and Remembrance


Conscription was introduced in New Zealand in 1916 due to the increasing demand for troops on the Western Front. This move was met with widespread resistance, with many believing that conscription was a violation of their rights and freedoms. The introduction of conscription had a significant impact on New Zealand society, leading to protests, strikes, and divisions between different groups.

Sacrifice and Remembrance

The Treaty of Versailles

To mark the end of the war and a beginning of a new era for affected parties, the Treaty of Versailles was introduced. This peace treaty between the Allied Nations, of which New Zealand was a part, and Germany was signed on June 28th 1919. The treaty fostered significant changes in foreign policy, providing an avenue for New Zealand to assert itself on the world stage.

The Legacy of the First World War in NZ

The First World War had a profound and lasting impact on New Zealand and its people, shaping the nation’s identity and values for generations to come. Some key legacies and long-term effects of the war include.

Sacrifice and Remembrance

Sacrifice and Remembrance

The first world war in NZ claimed over 18,000 Kiwi lives, leaving a significant impact on families and communities across the country. To remember lost ones, The Anzac Day holiday, which is observed annually on April 25th, has become a day of remembrance and reflection. This reminder is forever etched into the country and its society, as there are a good number of monuments and statues erected all over the country.

National Identity

National Identity

The first world war in NZ defined the history of this island country, solidifying its identity as a loyal member of the British Empire and a proud defender of freedom and democracy. There is also a strong and evident camaraderie among New Zealanders and other Commonwealth nations who fought in the war. Australia tops the list as their shared sacrifice is so evident that both countries observe the ANZAC day together.

Social Change

Social Change

Several major changes took place within society. For instance, the first world war had a profound impact on New Zealand society. It played a huge role in hastening the process of social change and paving the way for women’s suffrage and other important reforms. There is also a great generation of artists, musicians and writers who have grown hearing witness actions of the horrors of the conflict. They have been able to explore the themes of sacrifice, loss, and resilience in their work.

International Relations

International Relations

New Zealand’s involvement in international affairs is a major effect of the first world war in NZ. Throughout the 20th century, the country played a significant role in global conflicts. New Zealand is recognized as a leader in peacekeeping and conflict resolution, reflecting the lessons learned from the sacrifices made by previous generations.

The legacy of the First World War continues to be felt in New Zealand and is an important part of the country’s history and identity.

War Memorials and Commemoration

The first world war in NZ can never be forgotten, as its profound and lasting impact rocked the small nation in many ways. This legacy is often evident in the many war memorials and commemorative events occasionally across the country. 

For starters, a good number of war memorials were erected in various towns and cities throughout New Zealand in the years following the war. These memorials were often funded by local communities or raised through public subscriptions. Some of the most significant structures include:

  • The National War Memorial in Wellington was unveiled in 1932. It serves as the focal point for ANZAC Day commemorations in the capital;
  • The Auckland War Memorial Museum;
  • The RSA National War Memorial in Wellington;
  • The Otago Soldiers’ Memorial in Dunedin.

Physical memorials are one way to remember and celebrate the fallen heroes and all New Zealanders who fought in conflicts and wars. However, through the years, there have been numerous commemorative events for Kiwis to participate in. These events include:

  • ANZAC Day, which holds on April 25th to commemorate the landing of New Zealand and Australian soldiers at Gallipoli in 1915
  • Armistice Day, which is held on November 11th, marks the end of the First World War.

Frequently Asked Questions

At the time of the first world war, New Zealand was believed to be a member of the British Empire, so it automatically declared war on Germany. The New Zealand government pledged support to Britain and sent troops, men and women, to the war effort.

Over 100,000 Kiwis served overseas as regiments in The British Army during the First World War in NZ. At the time, this was about 10% of the country’s population. Around 18,000 of this number never returned, and over 40,000 were wounded.

The war had a significant impact on the country’s society, both during and after the conflict. The loss of young, able-bodied men affected the economy and workforce were affected by the loss of young men.