----  CENTENARY 1915-2015 ----

Why did New Zealand join World War 1?

Britain’s imperial interests and its part in rival European blocs led to it declaring war on Germany on August 4, 1914. New Zealanders considered themselves British so there was no question of support when news of the declaration of war reached Wellington on August 5.

Somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme, New Zealand very definitely became a nation.


Stretcher-bearer  Ormond Burton

The main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force left on October 16, 1914. They were expecting to be sent to fight in France but were instead redirected after the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) joined the war on November 5, 1914. The New Zealanders landed in Egypt for further training while a plan was hatched by the allies to take control of Constantinople (Istanbul) and break the deadlock in Western Europe.

Then-First Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill, suggested a naval assault up the 50km Dardanelles Strait. The naval attack started on February 19, 1915, but soon faltered.

It was then decided that the New Zealanders, Australians and the British would make an assault on land, supported by the French make a diversionary attack. Early on April 25, 1915, the first Anzacs landed, 2 km north of the planned site, in a narrow bay that would become known as Anzac Cove.

We are going ashore now: but I do not think anyone is going to be killed today.


Major W W Alderman, just before leading the 16th Waikato Company ashore at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. By the end of the day, all his officers and sergeants were dead or wounded.

As a result of missing the intended landing spot, the Anzacs faced steep and rugged terrain when they arrived at Gallipoli. It also took longer than expected for several of the boats carrying men to make it ashore. Some got lost. Many were wounded or killed straight away.

On the first day, 152 New Zealanders died. An evacuation was recommended.


But the British commanders were determined to dig in, consolidate the ground they had made and push forward over the peninsula. The New Zealanders were heavily involved in two assaults on Ottoman positions on May 2 and 8, which both led to heavy casualties for little or no gain.

Fighting on the peninsula soon degenerated into the stalemate of trench warfare. Conditions were extremely difficult in the tiny Anzac perimeter, and as the campaign dragged on, many troops started to suffer from dysentery and disease as a result of the poor diet and inadequate sanitation.

They were being sent to chaos and slaughter, nay murder.


Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone,

whose diary entries showed growing disenchantment with his

superiors and the conduct of the campaign.

In August, the allies decided upon a plan to break the stalemate.


Late on August 6, New Zealanders marched out of Anzac Cove with the goal of taking the strategically significant peak known as Chunuk Bair.

After a night of tough climbing, on the morning of August 7 the Auckland Battalion pushed on to the Pinnacle, a ridge just below Chunuk Bair. In the struggle for the Pinnacle, some 227 New Zealand lives were lost, including 78 from the Auckland Infantry Battalion, 75 from Canterbury and 46 from Otago.


In the midst of the battle, the Wellington Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Malone refused to send his men to their slaughter and resolved to press for Chunuk Bair at night.

A naval barrage early on August 8 virtually cleared Chunuk Bair of the Ottomans and the Wellingtonians took the ridge virtually unopposed. However, it was difficult to defend and the Ottomans were on the counter attack by 5am. A day of fierce fighting followed with a total of 424 New Zealand lives lost. The Wellington Infantry Battalion - spared from the heaviest fatalities the day before - lost 296 men in a single day. It was by far the worst day of the Gallipoli campaign for New Zealand fatalities.

On August 9, the exhausted men holding Chunuk Bair faced third consecutive day of fighting. Attempts to send in reinforcements against a fierce Ottoman counter-attack faltered and the New Zealanders suffered further casualties. Those that remained of the New Zealanders fell back in the early hours of August 10.

During the battle, Victoria Cross winner Cyril Bassett - along with a handful of companions - laid and subsequently constantly repaired a telephone wire to the front line in broad daylight and under continuous and heavy enemy fire. Although he wasn't wounded, two bullets passed through the fabric of his uniform. He was modest about his actions, saying "it was just that I was so short that the bullets passed over me".

But the way men died at Chunuk is shaping the deeds yet to be done by the generations still unborn. When the August fighting died down there was no longer any question but that New Zealanders had commenced to realise themselves as a nation.


Stretcher-bearer Ormond Burton.

After the failures in August, the allies started to wonder about the future of the Gallipoli campaign. A request for reinforcements made by Lieutenant-General Ian Hamilton was declined and he was replaced as commander.


The Ottomans were gaining in number and strength, meanwhile, because they now had a direct line through Serbia to receive heavy artillery from their allies Germany and Austria.


The Anzacs also were suffering through deteriorating weather - a storm flooded the trenches in November and many men were suffering frostbite and hypothermia.

Evacuation from Anzac Cove started on December 15 and was completed early on December 20.

So all we have suffered and sacrificed here has been in vain, a most glorious chance in the history of this war absolutely foiled and lost by the most absurd and ridiculous manner the scheme was commenced.


New Zealander Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Hart watching the evacuation.

What were New Zealanders doing in Gallipoli?

What went wrong and why?

What happened at Chunuk Bair?

How did the campaign end?

Designer: John Cowie

Project editor: John Hartevelt

Images:, Australian War Memorial, Fairfax NZ archive