Ngāi Tahu and New Zealand soldiers enlisted in droves to fight in "the war to end all wars". Use this timeline to explore WWI history on the international stage, in New Zealand, and among the Ngāi Tahu soldiers who sacrificed.
On July 28, 1914, one month to the day after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were killed by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, effectively beginning the First World War.
Great Britain declares war on Germany. The declaration is binding on all Dominions within the British Empire including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa.
Aotearoa New Zealand receives the news at 1pm on 5 August. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, William Massey, cables Britain to say that, ‘All that we are and all we have is at the disposal of the British Government.’
Māori had mixed views about the First World War. Some supported the war effort and rushed to join up. Others opposed the war as they did not want to fight for the British Crown, which was seen to have done much harm to Māori communities in the 19th century. The varied reactions reflected iwi experiences of British actions in the previous century.
Initially the Māori Contingent is planned to comprise two hundred men, this is later expanded to five hundred; 250 to be sent to Egypt, 250 to Samoa. This is opposed by the tribes, and the entire contingent is sent to Egypt.
Initially intended to dig trenches rather than participate in armed combat, the British in charge had a change of heart as casualty numbers spiralled and reinforcements were needed. After Gallipoli, the Māori Contingent was disbanded and reformed into the New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion.
The first New Zealander to be killed on active service is Ngāi Tahu soldier John Reardon, of Kaikōura. His submarine, HMAS AE1, went missing while patrolling off the coast of Duke of York Island, Australia, and has never been found.
Update: Since publication of this website the HMAS AE1 was found during the 13th search mission. The survey ship Fugro Equator located the submarine near the Duke of York Islands in December 2017.
The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers to form the Triple Alliance with the signing of the August 1914 Turco-German Alliance.
Turkey formally enters World War I on 28 October 1914 with the bombing of Russian Black Sea ports.
The first Maori Contingent sailed from Wellington aboard the SS Warrimoo in February 1915.
Its motto was 'Te Hokowhitu a Tū' (the seventy twice-told warriors of the war god), signifying the 140 warriors of the war god, Tū-mata-uenga.
This name was given by Wī Pere, an East Coast rangatira. The crest of the contingent bore two traditional Māori weapons, the taiaha and tewhatewha, crossed through a crown.
On 25 April 1915 the New Zealand and Australian soldiers landed at what would become known as Anzac Cove, on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
The landing site was a narrow strip of beach flanked by steep hills; from the very beginning the Anzacs were on the back foot.
The Gallipoli Campaign lasted eight months and cost the lives of more than 130,000 men. 2779 New Zealand soldiers were amongst the dead, and a further 5212 had been wounded. The Ottoman forces had suffered heavily, losing 86,692 men; another 164,617 had been wounded.
Edward Tregerthen rides his horse to a recruiting station where he was anonymous; giving his name as Eruera Tirikātene (the name he would later use permanently), he falsifies his age and enlists for the First World War.
He left for service abroad with the second Maori Contingent, and after three years in Egypt and France with the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion, he was promoted to sergeant. He was noted for his courage, bringing in wounded on his back while under fire. He initiated the Battalion band, playing the cornet. After the war he set up a number of profitable businesses, including a dairy farm, a timber mill and a fishing fleet.
After the carnage on Chunuk Bair and Hill 60, the surviving New Zealanders, along with three exhausted Australian brigades, were sent to Lemnos to recover and rebuild their strength.
At full strength they would have numbered 18,000; just 4000 survivors stumbled into the ‘rest camps’.
The disorganisation that had marred the Gallipoli campaign followed the men even here – on arriving at ‘Sarpi Camp’, the sick and weary veterans found they had to build it themselves.
Wiremu Maopo had left for the war unaware that his Pākehā girlfriend Phoebe was pregnant. Her outraged parents told Phoebe that Wiremu was dead and forced the adoption of their daughter.
Neither Wiremu nor Phoebe ever learned the truth, and only now has the family line been revived by the work of Tania Simpson, a leading businesswoman who is Wiremu’s great-granddaughter. Read more
Private Henry Paipeta is invalided home to Rāpaki, the first Māori soldier to return to Canterbury.
At home in Aotearoa war-weariness was pervasive. The economy slowed as more and more men went to fight overseas; the issue of conscription divided families and communities as men were imprisoned for refusing to serve; and the cost of living skyrocketed while wages stagnated, leading to widespread industrial unrest.
Many people, especially women, were involved themselves in the war effort by organising ‘comforts’ for the soldiers. They knitted and stitched clothes; assembled food parcels; and sent tobacco, towels, bedding and bandages.
The first Anzac Day is commemorated, marking the anniversary of the landings of New Zealand and Australian soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.
The first public recognition of the landings at Gallipoli occurred on 30 April 1915, after news of the dramatic event had reached New Zealand.
A half-day holiday was declared for government offices, flags were flown, and patriotic meetings were held.
People eagerly read descriptions of the landings and casualty lists – even if the latter made for grim news. Newspapers gushed about the heroism of the New Zealand soldiers.
From the outset, public perceptions of the landings evoked national pride. The eventual failure of the Gallipoli operation enhanced its sanctity for many; there may have been no military victory, but there was victory of the spirit as New Zealand soldiers showed courage in the face of adversity and sacrifice.
Men who refused to serve (conscientious objectors) were imprisoned, and men who spoke out against conscription were given 12 months jail under sedition laws.
Using a national register of all New Zealand men of or near military age, and taking over 20 hours to conduct, the first conscription ballot took place on 16 November 1916.
Government statistician Malcolm Fraser drew from two drums containing numbered marbles. The first marble directed him to a drawer; the second to a card contained within the drawer, with the newly conscripted man’s name and details recorded upon it. The first ballot drew over 4140 men, and each was sent a notice ordering them to report to military camp. A handful of Ngāi Tahu men were called up using the ballot process: Joseph Loper; Charles Overton; James Wybrow; Charles Flutey; Robert Fisher and John Kaitai.
28-year-old Private Frank Hughes is the first New Zealand soldier to be executed. Found guilty of desertion, he is sentenced to death by firing squad for ‘Deserting His Majesty’s Service.’
Born in Gore in 1888, Hughes worked as a builder’s labourer in Wellington before enlisting in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). He left New Zealand with the 10th Reinforcements and arrived in France in late April 1916. A month later he joined the 12th (Nelson) Company, 2nd Battalion, Canterbury Regiment.
A heavy drinker, Hughes was soon in trouble. By late July 1916 he had been hauled before his commanding officer three times for ill-discipline.
On 12 August 1916, Hughes appeared before a Field General Court Martial at Armentières, charged with ‘Deserting His Majesty’s Service’. He pleaded not guilty, blaming his behaviour on alcohol: ‘Owing to the effect of drink I was light-headed and wandered out of the trench. I knocked round town until I was arrested. I intended to give myself up as soon as the Police came to me. While in town I was drinking.’
Despite his protestations Hughes was found guilty and sentenced to ‘suffer death by being shot’. At the end of the trial, he was remanded in custody until sentencing was confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, on 22 August 1916. Two days later, and 12 days after his court martial, Hughes was told his fate.
The battle of the Somme in Northern Central France exposed New Zealand soldiers to the unremitting horror of industrialised warfare: shelling, machine gun fire, poison gas, and tanks.
By the cessation of hostilities the New Zealand Division’s gunners had fired half a million shells at the German lines. Over the course of the Somme offensive, nearly 6000 New Zealand soldiers were wounded and more than 2100 were killed. In all, over the four-and-a-half months of conflict, 1.2 million men were killed or wounded at the Somme.
In late 1916 the German raider SMS Wolf sailed from Germany to disrupt and sink allied shipping.
The SMS Wolf brought the war to New Zealand in a tangible way. That the war was truly world-wide was not appreciated by the majority of New Zealanders until it was known that the enemy had laid mines off our coast.
Police confront and arrest Māori objectors to conscription in Waikato. Te Puea Herangi was providing refuge for men.
Māori who had opposed the Crown during the land wars of the 19th century, such as the Waikato and Tūhoe tribes, also resisted conscription and about 100 were arrested. Men who objected to military service could appeal to the Military Service Board and about half of those called up did so.
They could appeal on grounds of family hardship, public interest (that they were carrying out socially useful work at home) or religious objection.
The boards rejected most appeals and unsuccessful appellants who refused to serve were imprisoned. Other objectors left for countries such as Australia, where proposals to introduce conscription had been rejected by the public, or hid in remote areas such as Great Barrier Island.
The campaign to take control of Belgian village of Passchendaele, near Ypres in Flanders, became ‘a byword for the horror of the Great War’.
The Bellevue Spur attack of 12 October 1917 resulted in 3700 casualties, marking it as the darkest day in New Zealand’s military history. The New Zealand Division suffered 18,000 casualties over the course of this horrific battle. The Allies pushed the enemy line back by eight kilometres, underlining the futility of the most Pyrrhic of the Western Front victories.
John Hunter, a Ngāi Tahu soldier from Riverton, receives the Military Medal (MM) for gallantry after leading a team of stretcher bearers into no man’s land in France.
Ngāi Tahu soldier Victor Manson Spencer, of Bluff, is executed for ‘desertion’ despite later suggestions that he was severely traumatised by shellshock, having fought and survived several campaigns.
Shot at dawn by a firing squad comprising 12 fellow New Zealand soldiers, he was 23 years old.
Spencer was formally pardoned under the provisions of the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act 2000 which was passed by the New Zealand Parliament, in a departure from custom since pardons are normally granted by the Crown, and are rarely posthumous. The grounds for the pardon was that the execution was not a fate that Spencer deserved but was one that resulted from (a) the harsh discipline that was believed at the time to be required; and (b) the application of the death penalty for military offences being seen at that time as an essential part of maintaining military discipline. source
Allegedly arriving with returning troopships in October, the influenza epidemic grips New Zealand.
The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed eight-and-a-half thousand New Zealanders and more than fifty million globally. Returning soldiers brought the flu virus home from Europe as they returned home from the war, and it was the secondary infection, pneumonia, that was the greatest cause of death. Māori suffered disproportionately during the pandemic; the mortality rate for Europeans was 5.8 per thousand people, whereas the rate for Māori was seven times higher.
Welcome home ceremony held at Tuahiwi Rūnanga hall for returned Ngāi Tahu soldiers.
Āpirana Ngata’s ‘price of citizenship’ argument for Māori involvement in war only worked insofar as the New Zealand government kept its end of the bargain.
Returning Māori soldiers were ineligible for the farm settlement schemes that were made available to Pākehā soldiers; engendering dissatisfaction and frustration as the bonds formed in the trenches were broken back at home in Aotearoa.
Ngāi Tahu soldiers are honoured on the Rolls of Honour displayed at marae throughout Te Wai Pounamu, and at war memorials in many towns. These include the Ratana War Memorial Arch at Arowhenua and the jetty at Rapaki in Lyttelton Harbour.
Treaty of Versailles signed between Germany and the Allied powers. Prime Minister William Massey signs on behalf of New Zealand.