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The First World War and New Zealand’s Involvement

The National War Memorial Park is being built for the 100th anniversary of the First World War. The war was fought from 1914 to 1918.

Memorial Park  will open in time for Anzac Day 2015. On that day it will be 100 years since our young country’s first major battle in the First World War.


Anzac Day is named after the ANZACs. They were the men of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in the battle at Gallipoli in Turkey.

First World War

  • Just over 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in the First World War (1914-1918)
  • Many were young men who had never left home before
  • Some thought it might be a great adventure but found it was very different
  • More than 18,000 died
  • Over 40,000 more were wounded.

War broke out in Europe in August 1914. Britain asked New Zealand to seize German Samoa. This was New Zealand’s first involvement in the First World War. New Zealand forces also fought at:

  • Gallipoli (Turkey)
  • On the Western Front (France and Belgium)
  • In the Middle East.

The Gallipoli campaign

  • On 25 April 1915 thousands of young men, stormed the beaches on the Gallipoli Peninsula
  • For nine months New Zealanders, Australians, French and British soldiers (the allies) battled harsh conditions
  • The Turkish opponents were desperately fighting to protect their homeland.

Over 120,000 men died in the Gallipoli campaign; 

  • More than 80,000 Turkish soldiers
  • 44,000 allied soldiers including 2,721 young New Zealanders (about a fifth of those who had landed on the peninsula).

The Western Front

Twelve thousand five hundred New Zealanders died and thousands more were wounded fighting on the Western Front in Europe. New Zealand was involved in many campaigns including;

  • The Battle of the Somme in 1916
  • Fighting for Belgium at Passchendaele in 1917
  • Capturing the German-invaded French town of Le Quesnoy.

The Middle East

There were battles in Sinai and Palestine in 1916-18. They led to the Allied victory over the Ottoman Turks.

  • The Sinai campaign set out to protect the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is a vital transport route that allows ships to go between Europe and Asia without going around Africa
  • The Palestine campaign captured Palestine, Jordan and southern Syria.

Quick facts and figures

  • The total population of New Zealand in 1914 was just over one million
  • 120,000 New Zealanders joined the armed forces and 103,000 served overseas
  • 2,227 Māori and around 460 Pacific Islanders served overseas
  • 550 nurses served overseas
  • 18,500 New Zealanders died because of the war. Around 41,000 were wounded. More than 2,700 died at Gallipoli and 12,500 on the Western Front.
  • New Zealand had the highest percentage (5%) of its military-age men killed
  • The names of those who died are recorded on approximately 500 civic war memorials throughout New Zealand.

Many New Zealanders thought that going to war would be an adventure but the reality was very different. Image: Public Domain.


Life in the trenches was dangerous and difficult and often soldiers became sick because of the poor conditions they were living in. Image Public Domain.


New Zealand soldiers land at Gallipoli in 1915. Image Public Domain.

Find out more about the First World War from the New Zealand History website.