When Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, the New Zealand government followed immediately and without hesitation, despite its geographic isolation and small population. It was believed at the time that any declaration of war by the United Kingdom automatically included New Zealand as a proud member of the far flung glorious British Empire.
The volunteer men of New Zealand became part of the ANZAC Corps – a contingent renowned for its bravery and ability to achieve almost impossible goals set by the Generals in their fine chateaux behind the lines. These men fought in a world thousands of miles away from home that they could never have imagined. Yet, their contribution in many of the major battles on the Western Front is famous and forever set the image of the NZ fighting forces as one of the bravest and fiercest in the world along with the birth of the ANZAC legend.
11 Victoria Crosses were won in World War 1 by New Zealanders fighting within NZ units and a further 7 other VCs where New Zealanders fought in other countries WW1 armed forces.
By the end of WW1 New Zealand had suffered terribly, probably more than any other British Empire country. Over 30,00 men had been conscripted and over 40% of men of military age served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces with over 17,000 killed and 41,317 wounded, a 58% casualty rate. Adding to this over 1,000 men died within six years after the war from injuries received in the war. Per capita, this was one of the highest death and injury rates of any combatant country in WW1. It is estimated it took the country two further generations to recover its pre-war population balance.
THE NZ ANZAC Story (Part 1) (Cover) (PDF File)
THE NZ ANZAC Story (Part 2) (PDF File)
(*Thanks to the NZ Government and Brian Lockstone for this amazing document)
This is a tremendous story, within which are many rich and vibrant tales. Join us on a journey through the battles that changed the course of History. This is a voyage of discovery and understanding for everyone.
ANZAC Day Tours to France & Belgium specifically for New Zealand Commemorations
Unlike the Australian ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Australian WW1 War Memorial at Villers-Brettonnex in France ever year, NZ does not specifically have an ANZAC Day service on ANZAC Day itself in France.
However, ANZAC Day ceremonies are held every year in Longueval and Le Quesnoy, usually on the nearest Sunday to ANZAC Day itself (April 25th).
We would be delighted to arrange a tailor made itinerary - (either a day tour or longer) for you visit to either of these specific ANZAC Day ceremonies. Please contact us for further information.
The NZ Embassy is heavily involved in commemorations at Longueval at ANZAC Day where the New Zealand National Memorial marks the position which the New Zealand Division gained as their original objective in the first battle of the Somme, and from which they launched the successful attack on Flers on 15 September 1916.
A few minutes' out of Longueval is a long, narrow forest called Caterpillar Wood and on the high ground of a nearby valley is located Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, with 125 New Zealand graves. The cemetery also contains the memorial to the men of the New Zealand Division (A total of 1,205 ) who were killed in the Battles of the Somme in 1916 and whose bodies were never found.
The NZ Embassy also holds an ANZAC day ceremony here on Anzac Day. On 4 November 1918 it was attacked by men of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, who scaled the high walls of the outer ramparts and seized the German Commander and his garrison of over 1,000 men. On the face of the walls scaled by the New Zealanders is a memorial commemorating their success and the ninety New Zealand lives that were lost in the process.
Suggested Day Tour ex London to WW1 NZ specific Battlefields France/Belgium
** Note Tour is "Tailor Made" specifically for you so you can devise your own itinerary **
Duration: Day Tour (Tailor Made) (*Non scheduled departure tour)
Departs: London: Departs/Arrives Victoria Station (Other UK locations can join at Eurotunnel)
Transport: Private vehicle
Departures: On demand
Minimum Numbers of Passengers: 1-4 (We can arrange larger passenger numbers)
Costs: On Application: (Depending on numbers, time of year (summer/winter) & type of vehicle)
Summer Schedule (*Note: Winter schedule will vary to summer schedule // contact us for timings)
Departures: Departs London Victoria Station approximately 5-5.30am (can be varied)
Returns: London Victoria: approximately 11-30pm – 12 midnight (can be varied)
Timings: (Note itinerary can be changed/amended to suit clients if sole use of vehicle)
0700 Arrive Calais (France) Eurotunnel exit
0900 Pozieres; Fler-Courcelette; NZ Memorial; NZ Memorial to the Missing, Caterpillar Valley Cemetery; Battle of Rosieres 26/3/18; Colincamps Cemetery
1200 Battle of Havrincourt
1330 Le Quesnoy
1500 Arras Tunnels: NZ Tunnelling Company
1730 Messines, Polygon Wood Memorial, Passchendaele
1945 Menin Gate
2200 Calais Eurotunnel
All transportation by comfortable private vehicle
Highly personalised attention of accredited Driver/Battlefield Guide/Historian for duration of tour
All road tolls and fees and return Eurotunnel fare
Lunch (no alcohol included)
All cemetery and museum/memorial entry fees where applicable
Does not include:
Museum entry fees
Any other items of a personal nature
NZ Memorial to the Missing: Caterpillar Valley Cemetery
Battle of Rosieres
Battle of Havrincourt
Arras Tunnels: NZ Tunnelling Company
Polygon Wood Memorial
Price: On Application
Background: The New Zealand Division served alongside Australian infantry divisions in 'II ANZAC Corps' from the start of the Some offensive in 1916 until November 1917, when the Australian divisions left to join a new 'Australian Corps'. The New Zealanders remained in the '22nd Corps' as II ANZAC Corps was renamed, alongside a number of different British divisions for the rest of the war. Over half the New Zealand Somme dead have no known grave.
Part of the Battle of the Somme which began on 01 August 1916 with such horrific repercussions for the allies, the battle of Pozieres involved the new ANZAC force of Australian and NZ forces with the Australian 1st and 2nd divisions. In the fighting at Pozières and Mouquet Farm, the Australian divisions suffered over 23,000 casualties, of which 6,741 were killed. The 15, 000 strong New Zealand Division suffered 8,000 casualties in six weeks – nearly one per cent of their nation's population. These losses were on par with New Zealand casualties in 8 months fighting at Gallipoli. By the time New Zealand's artillery was withdrawn from the line in October they had fired more than 500,000 shells.
Also part of the Battle of the Somme - the Battle of Flers-Courcelette began with the overall objective of cutting a hole in the German line by using massed artillery and infantry attacks which was then supposed to be exploited with the use of cavalry. It was (in)famous for the first use of tanks in WW1 which were a failure as they were not tested enough prior to their introduction.
It also marked the debut of the New Zealand Division on the Somme battlefield. The New Zealand Division fought for and captured a position known as the Switch Line in 30 minutes. During the Battle of Flers-Courcelette four Victoria Crosses were awarded. New Zealander, Sergeant Donald Forrester Brown of the Otago Infantry Regiment was awarded a VC for his heroic actions in battle southeast of High Wood on September 15th.
Battle of Rosieres (26 – 27 March 1918)
This was part of the pivotal battle to save the allies from the German Spring Offensive that went within a whisper of turning the tide of the war to the Germans. The German offensive (code named 'Michael') was finally stopped just short of Amiens. All three German armies were given very ambitious targets, which included the capture of Amiens and an advance towards Compiègne.
A gap in the British line near Colincamps was held against a vastly superior German force by newly-arrived elements of the New Zealand Division that had moved to the line Hamel-Serre to close the gap. They were assisted by British "Whippet" tanks which was their first time in action. When the tanks suddenly appeared and produced an instantaneous effect with some three hundred of the enemy fleeing in panic.
Battle of Havrincourt
While in the overall context of WW1 this was considered a small action it was never the less another ferocious performance by the battle hardened NZ troops. Three divisions of the 3rd Army (the 62nd Division, the New Zealand Division and 2nd Division) attacked and captured the village of Havrincourt on 12 September 1918 against a numerically superior German defence of 4 divisions. While other attacks were taking place further to the south in Somme and Aisne, the British and Canadians attacked and liberated Cambrai in two days (8-9 October 1918). The Hindenburg Line was by now breached in a number of places and the previous fixed piece battles had now turned into a rout with the German Army retreating rapidly and clearly falling apart.
The New Zealand Division, withdrawn from front line duties on 12 October 2018, was re-committed on 23 October 1918 and seized German positions by the Ecaillon River . Its final push was in the Battle of the Sambre River , where its last major action was the liberation of the fortress town of Le Quesnoy . Lieutenant Leslie Averill led an escalade of the town walls, and his men flushed out the few remaining German resisters before they surrendered. The people of Le Quesnoy have never forgotten this action and even today continue to celebrate the anniversary of the New Zealanders in liberating their town from the Germans. Although the New Zealanders did not realise it, their war was effectively over. At 11.00 a.m. on 11 November 1918, the fighting ceased, and their war – and the greatest war in history was finally over.
Arras Tunnels: NZ Tunnelling Company The Wellington Quarry (La Carrière Wellington)
The battle of Arras in 1918 was famous for many reasons, not the least being the efforts of the NZ Tunnelling company that excavated and expanded the existing 20 or so huge underground quarries under the town of Arras to encompass 20 kilometres of tunnels. The plan was for the allies to hide their troops underground prior to the attack on the German lines without attracting the attention of the enemy and avoid the large scale slaughter experienced at other battles when troops were concentrated in easily observed area(s) prior to action.
The work involved would link these vast underground quarries with tunnels that would take the troops from the centre of Arras to the German front line underground. The scale of the work was enormous, with one sector alone using 2000 men working 24 hours a day in 18 hour shifts for two months. They built 20 kilometres of tunnels; subways (foot traffic); tramways (for taking ammunition to the line and bringing casualties back) and railways. By the time of the first battle of Arras the tunnel system could hold 24,000 men, with electric lighting as well as kitchens, latrines, and a medical centre with a fully equipped operating theatre. To assist getting around the vast network the locations in a lot of the underground systems were all given New Zealand names. The New Zealanders also left graffiti on the walls, including a large 'Kia Ora' flanked by ferns.
The tunnellers also tunnelled towards the enemy lines from inside the cavern system and laid three huge mines under German trenches for detonation when the attack began. Tunnels were also driven to positions just short of the German trenches so that when the offensive was launched, troops dug through the foot or so left to the surface and popped up virtually in the enemy front lines.
Following the successful attack on 9 April, the German line was pushed back over 11 kilometres with the Canadian Corps seizing Vimy Ridge. In the meantime, German tunnellers were also probing the NZ tunnels, seeking out Allied tunnels to assault and counter-mine. Of the NZ tunnellers 41 died and 151 were wounded as a result of German counter-mining. The NZ Tunnelling Company finally left the Arras area in July 1918.
A memorial to the 41 New Zealand tunnellers who lost their lives was unveiled at Arras on 8 April 2007 and an underground museum, Carrière Wellington, which incorporates parts of the tunnel system, was opened in February 2008 and represents an extraordinary time capsule that is visited by many thousands ever year. * Its a must visit for New Zealanders.
The Battle of Messines took place on 7 June 1917 and was a prelude to the Passchendaele offensive and required the removal of the Germans from the Messines ridge to the south. The New Zealand Division was among those selected for the assault on the ridge and the village of Messines.
The carefully prepared attack was a striking success. It began at 3am with the explosion of 19 huge mines that had been placed under the German lines by tunnellers. These caused enormous casualties to the Germans with the explosions heard in London. At the same time New Zealand troops of 2nd and 3rd (Rifle) brigades advanced towards the ridge in front of them towards the ruins of Messines village. Australian and British troops on either side of them also advanced behind a meticulously planned series of creeping artillery barrages, crossing no man's land in minutes.
Everything went to schedule, and by 7 a.m. the New Zealanders had cleared Messines of the enemy. The capture of Messines was achieved with relatively few casualties. However the Germans regrouped and later in the day German artillery bombarded the newly captured areas with great ferocity, and many New Zealand and Allied troops were killed. By the time the New Zealand Division was relieved on 9 June, it had 3700 casualties, including 700 dead.
Passchendaele was without doubt the most infamous and horrific battle that NZ troops have ever been involved in. It was a complete and utter bloody disaster and nearly broke the back and the spirit of the NZ fighting force on the Western Front in WW1. Over 800 men were killed in a single day and it represents the largest loss of life of NZ forces ever recorded. All for nothing.
It is considered that this horrific battle, fought in the most appalling weather conditions of mud and rain in a freezing swamp is simply and utterly imaginable to us today. It is a terrible - but precious legacy - that in its own way represents to NZ what Gallipolli is to the Australians and Vimy Ridge is to the Canadians. It has however never been taken up as a pivotal symbol of national remembrance by NZ as it should have become, and the battle and consequences was repressed by the NZ authorities for many years. Today in NZ realisation is slowly dawning that this most terrible of battles should be given much more prominence in NZ remembrance. Hopefully this movement will continue.
The capture of the Belgian village of Passchendaele (Passendale), near Ypres was also called the Third battle of Ypres. Many of the 2800 New Zealanders who were killed or wounded at Passchendaele were the original Anzacs who had survived 20 months at Gallipoli. The Germans had built a massive system of concrete fortresses protected by hundreds of machine guns and layers of razor wire. The allies plan for a huge artillery bombardment pre the attack to cut the wire and demoralise the Germans did not work because of the mud which simply absorbed any artillery explosions no matter how fierce.
Of the NZ troops that attacked in this battle and for those that did not drown in the mud and shell-holes, by the time they reached the razor wire they were cut to pieces by multiple German machine guns. They then had to withdraw leaving over 800 men dead including nearly all their officers, with two thousand wounded New Zealanders crawling back. The loss of life was appalling. No German lines were breached.
The Canadians took Passchendaele at an enormous cost of life a few days later. ALL of this land was given up by the Allies without a fight some months later as it was decided it actually provided no strategic importance whatsoever.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of the worlds most famous and inspiring war memorials in the world. Located in the ancient market town of Ypres, Belgium it is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. Every evening at 8pm since its unveiling in 1928 (except for WW2) the road through the gate is closed and a special memorial ceremony and the playing of the 'Last Post' is conducted which is attended by people from all over the world.