When Britain entered into the First World War in August 1914, the population of New Zealand responded with enthusiasm and was the first of the British Dominions to provide troops.
The main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) left New Zealand on 16th October 1914. They landed in Egypt to complete their training alongside the Australian troops, and were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).
The Anzac's first baptism of fire took place on 25th April 1915, when the men landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey alongside British and French troops. After eight months of fighting, the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign was abandoned and the troops evacuated.
The Western Front
The New Zealand troops were then sent to the Western Front in France and Belgium. The first major engagement of the New Zealand troops was on 15th September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, during the Somme Campaign. This was also the very first time tanks were used in battle. Following this successful battle, the Division continued with two more attacks on Morval and the Transloy Ridges. The infantry brigades were relieved on 4th October; objectives had been attained but losses amounted to 8000 casualties, including over 200 killed in action.
In 1917, the New Zealand Division was involved in the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres, during which they experienced their blackest day at Bellevue Spur, Passchendaele where they suffered 3700 causalities on 12th October alone.
In 1918, the New Zealanders played a crucial role in the defence of the Allied lines during the German Spring Offensive of March 1918, when the German Army surged forward from the Hindenburg Line and swept across the 1916 battlefields in just a matter days. Later that same year the New Zealand Division was involved in breaking through the Hindenburg Line, which eventually led to the Armistice and the end of the war.
The war took more than 100,000 New Zealanders overseas, many for the first time. Some anticipated a great adventure but found the reality very different. Being so far from home made these New Zealanders very aware of who they were and where they were from. In battle they were able to compare themselves with men from other nations. Out of this came a sense of a separate identity, and many New Zealand soldiers began to refer to themselves as 'Kiwis'.
Almost 12,500 New Zealanders died on the Western Front and over half of the members of the New Zealand Division who died on the Somme have no known grave. The names of over 1200 men are inscribed on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery west of the village of Longueval.