New Zealand Battlefield Tours: Spirit of Remembrance

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WW1: Gallipoli & the ANZACS: The New Zealand Expeditionary Division on the Western Front

In the First World War following the Gallipoli campaign New Zealanders would also fight with great distinction in the campaign that liberated Ottoman controlled Palestine. On the Western Front in France and Belgium men of the New Zealand Imperial Force who had transferred from Egypt in 1916 played a very significant role in the fighting.
The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance The total population of New Zealand in 1914 was just over one million.
The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance In all, 120,000 New Zealanders enlisted, of whom 103,000 served overseas.
The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance Over 2220 Maori and 450 Pacific Islanders served in the New Zealand forces.
The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance Approximately 3370 New Zealanders served in the Australian or Imperial forces, winning four Victoria Crosses.
The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance 550 NZ nurses served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and many more enlisted in the United Kingdom.
The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance A total of 18,500 New Zealanders died in or because of the war, and nearly 50,000 more were wounded.
The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance More than 2700 NZ soldiers died at Gallipoli and approximately 12,500 were killed on the Western Front.

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance NZ CAP BADGES WW1
"Expeditionary Force"
cap-badge-expeditionary-rouIn WW1 New Zealand initially mounted an Expeditionary Force (1st NZEF) of 17 Infantry Regiments, 12 Mounted Rifle Regiments, Artillery, Medical, Corps and Specialist units etc. The force was further reinforced with 43 drafts during the war, all of which had their own hat and collar insignia. This force was known as the 34ths. The insignia for the 34th Reinforcements (circa early 1917), was adopted throughout the 1st NZ Expeditionary Force, as it gave a sense of identity to all the soldiers. This insignia became known as the 1st NZEF badge and used the motto "Expeditionary Force" for the scroll under the insignia.

         "Onward"
cap-badge-onward-roundIn contrast the other main NZ badge from WW1 appears to be taken from the hat badge used by the British Section of the 1st NZEF (circa 1914) which was made up of New Zealanders who signed up in England, but wanted to serve in a NZ Regiment. This badge used an Oak leaf pattern, instead of the NZ Fern leaf and used the motto "Onward" in the bottom scroll instead of "Expeditionary Force" 

At the outbreak of WW2, New Zealand was still using its individual Regiment badges, and it was not until late 1939 that the universal  2nd NZEF "Onward" badge was introduced for all ranks and used until 1947.
 Map of NZ Divison at the Western Front
 The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance FRANCE, BELGIUM AND THE WESTERN FRONT
The cost of maintaining the Division for two and a half years on the Western Front was appalling. Altogether some 13,250 New Zealanders died of wounds or sickness as a direct result of this campaign, including 50 as prisoners of war and more than 700 at home. Another 35,000 were wounded, and 414 prisoners of war were ultimately repatriated.  Total casualties were over 50,000 - a considerable amount over the total number of those who served in France and Belgium.


The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance LOGISTICS AND CASUALTIES
New Zealand had one of the highest casualty and death rate per capita of any country involved in the war.
New Zealand's major contribution to WW1 and the war effort was the supply of 120,000 personnel, with 103,000 serving overseas. This was all volunteers at the start however by 1916 public support had become very lacklustre as the war dragged on and the number of dead and injured mounted, so conscription was introduced.

 By the end of the war over 30,00 men had been conscripted and 42% of men of military age served in the NZEF (New Zealand Expeditionary Forces). Of these, 16,697 were killed and 41,317 were wounded, a 58% casualty rate. Per capita, this was one of the highest death/injury rates of any country in WW1. On top of this, over 1,000 men died within five years after the war from injuries. It is estimated it took the country two further generations to recover its pre-war population balance.

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance MAORI SOLDIERS
The First World War saw Maori soldiers serve for the first time in a major conflict with the New Zealand Army although a number had fought in the Second Boer War when New Zealand recruiters chose to ignore British military policy at that time not allowing 'native' (?) soldiers to join the forces. A contingent of Maori soldiers took part in the Gallipoli Campaign, and later served with great distinction on the Western Front as part of the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion. 2688 Maori and 346 Pacific islanders -including 150 Niueans served with New Zealand forces in WW1

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance GALLIPOLI
Visit this Link for an AMAZING - and VERY RARE Book - on New Zealanders at Gallipoli - written in 1921

New Zealand troops along with Australian troops first trained in Egypt prior to the disastrous assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in February 1915 as part of the Australian and New Zealand Division, (ANZACS) the New Zealanders landed at Anzac Cove where they fought in the Gallipoli Campaign under the command of British General Alexander Godley. The aim of the Gallipoli operation was to land and then push inland and to eventually capture the Ottoman (Turkish) capital of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Because of a major navigation mistake, the Anzacs came ashore about a mile north of the correct landing point and instead of landing on a flat beach and gentle slope they found themselves facing a series of steep cliffs that provided the Turkish with an ideal defensive position.

However in a day of great heroism - and many more to come - the troops established a foothold and soon scaled the cliffs to the top and established their positions, however the Anzac troops found an advance to be impossible as the Turks resisted fiercely. On 30 April 1915, when the news of the landing reached New Zealand a half-day holiday was declared and an impromptu service was held. This was the origin of the NZ and Australian Public Holiday - Anzac Day - now held ever year on 25th April to honour not only Gallipoli but all of NZ and Australia's war dead and the sacrifices made by men and women in all the wars these countries have fought in.

Over 2700 New Zealanders died during the Gallipoli campaign, however the Gallipoli name and the action itself saw the very birth of the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps - disbanded in 1916) creed and of the 2 fledgling nations transition into determining their own national identity. Whilst the Gallipoli campaign and the birth of the ANZAC legend has captured the imagination and heart of generations of New Zealanders and Australians, it was actually on the horrific killing fields of the Western Front that most New Zealanders saw action and where most of them died – over 12,600 in total.

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance BATTLE OF THE SOMME (1916)
New Zealand Divison at the SommeIn 1916 the newly formed New Zealand Division arrived on the Western Front. Their first major battle was during the  Battle of the Somme (July 1 1916 - October 1916), taking part in the Fourth Army's attack on 15 September 1916 , under the command of the British XV Corps. By the time they were relieved on 4 October, the New Zealanders had advanced three kilometres and captured eight kilometres of enemy front line however it cost them dearly with 1,560  killed and 7,048 injured.
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The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance MESSINES RIDGE (1917)
Messines Ridge Mines

In June 1917 the New Zealand Division further distinguished itself in the storming of Messines Ridge and the capture of the village of Messines. A total of 19 underground ammonal explosive 'mines' were detonated from a total of 22 mines to mark the start of the allies assault on Messines Ridge with the noise of the explosions heard as far away as London. The Messines mines detonation was arguably the largest planned explosion in history up to the Trinity atomic weapon test in July 1945 and history's deadliest conventional (non-nuclear) man-made explosion, killing an estimated 10,00 German troops as the explosions occurred while front line troops were being relieved, catching both groups in the blasts.

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance Messiness Ridge Assault
On 7 June, after the detonation of nearly 500 tons of explosives in huge mines on both sides of the New Zealand sector, the 2nd and 3rd Brigades went over the top supported by a rolling and very accurate artillery barrage weaving in and out of shell holes in no-mans-land and stormed the German front line carrying on right into the village itself, capturing thousands of men, weapons ad munitions. Although deemed a total success by the Allies the Germans regrouped and by the time the Division was relieved on the 10th June it had lost over 3,700 men from the 3 Brigades. It was here that New Zealander Corporal Samuel Frickleton won his VC for his amazing bravery.

 The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance PASSCHENDAELE - The 3rd Battle of Ypres (9 and 12 October 1917) (The worst battle in NZ History since 1840)

Overview: Horror, Incompetence and Utter Futility
Passchendaele has become a byword and probably the worlds most potent symbol of the incredible horror - and futility of the Great War. The name itself is symbolic of images of a shattered 'moonscape' of cold, filth, slime, mud, barbed wire, blasted tree stumps, a sea of mud and corpse-filled shell craters and of thousands and thousands of incredibly brave - but doomed young men scythed down by machine-gun fire, horrific artillery barrages and drowning in the filthy rat infested mud of no-mans land. The capture of the Belgian village of Passchendaele (Passendale), near Ypres (Ieper) in Flanders, became in the end - a pointless objective that cost the lives of many thousands of men including New Zealanders, Australians and Canadians.

This, more than even the horrific slaughter of the Somme in July the year before - along with other terrible battle casualties demonstrates to most historians the gross incompetence, pomposity and the incredible tactical errors that Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig was criticised for in this battle - and in general with his handling of the war for the Allies. In Churchill's devastating judgment,  Haig "wore down alike both the manhood and the guns of the British army almost to destruction." Of the battle of Passchendaele, British military historian J.F.C. Fuller, wrote, "To persist… in this tactically impossible battle was an inexcusable piece of pigheadness on the part of Haig." It is said that Haig's chief of staff being driven to the front and viewing the true horror of the mud and blasted landscape said as he burst into tears:, "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?"

What indicates that this battle - above all others - as one of history's great military blunders is the fact that while Haig is on record as calling it a "victory", the battle nearly lost the war for the Allies. The disgraceful and immense waste of men and munitions in this battle, coupled with the previous 3 years of horrific casualties that the Allies had suffered had so weakened the British and Allied armies that during the 1918 German Spring Offensive the Allies lost nearly all the ground they had gained in the previous 3 years within 8 weeks to the Germans. It is considered by many historians that if it was not for the entry of the Americans into the war at this time there would not have been a decisive outcome - a 'winner' - or 'loser'  - to this most terrible of all wars - and it would have ended in a negotiated truce - and NOT to the Allies advantage.

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance The Battle
In deteriorating weather this battle is remembered by the New Zealand Division in particular as a slaughter. On the 4th of October 490 New Zealand men were killed on the one day, and eight days later on the 12th October over 840 young New Zealanders lay dead and dying in the mud and barbed wire at the village of Passchendaele.

(courtesy Wikipedia : ) "The NZ Division had been training since the end of August to overcome the numerous concrete pillboxes in this sector. The first objective was the Gravenstafel Spur, attacked before dawn on 4 October, as part of a major advance. The 1st and 4th Brigades forestalled a heavy German counter-attack, and the supporting artillery barrage inflicted frightful slaughter on the waiting Germans. Crossing this scene of carnage, the 1st and 4th Brigades gained their objectives after a hard fight, inflicting exceptionally heavy loss on the enemy and capturing much equipment. For such a resounding success the 1,700 New Zealand casualties, though a sad loss, did not in current terms seem excessive. But heavy rain turned the countryside into a bog and tragedy lay ahead.

A British attack on the ninth on Bellevue Spur and part of the main Passchendaele ridge gained a little ground at prohibitive cost. Heavy swathes of barbed wire still girdled the hillside, however, and belated and meagre heavy artillery made no impression on them, nor on the many pillboxes beyond. New Zealand gunners slaved to breaking point to get only a few guns and howitzers forward, but stable platforms and accurate fire were unattainable.

The Division returned to the attack on 12 October, with the 2nd and 3rd Brigades. There was little to encourage the men as they waited overnight in a morass under steady rain. Shelled in their assembly area, some were shelled again by their own guns when the thin barrage opened at 5.25 a.m., and then they led off into a deluge of small-arms fire, speckled with geyser-like eruptions as shells exploded in the mud. Worst of all was the wire, covered with deadly fire, its few gaps deliberate deathtraps. Some men tried to crawl under it, some threw themselves at it, two got right through and were killed in the act of hurling grenades at the loopholes of the nearest pillbox. The left gained 500 yards of slippery slope, the centre 200 heartbreaking yards, the right nothing until the 80-odd occupants of two blockhouses and a trench used up all their ammunition. Then they were captured, blockhouses and all, by two brave and skilful men, sole survivors of two Otago platoons.

For these small gains, the New Zealanders suffered 640 dead and 2,100 wounded. For the first time the Division had failed in a major operation. After this failure, the Division continued to hold a sector of the line. The steady drain of men while units only held the line was less spectacular, though it made up half the losses of the Division. Here, before withdrawing from the front, 400 more men were lost in the 4th Brigade alone."

The utter futility of the attack was demonstrated nine days later, after the New Zealanders had withdrawn from the line when the Germans regained all the ground they had lost on 3 December.

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance Polygon Wood (1917)
The NZ Division now had four brigades, making it one of the largest on the Western Front, and was stationed in the Polygon Wood area. An attack by the 2nd Brigade on 3 December 1917 gained some useful territory however it failed to capture Polderhoek Chateau. When the Division was relieved, on 24 February 1918 - three "quiet" months had cost it over 3,000 men, more than 1,873 of them killed.

As the Germans launched their great Spring Offensive of 1918, the New Zealand Division was rushed to stem a breakthrough in the First Battle of the Somme, which threatened Amiens. The gap was between the British IV and V Corps in the Ancre Valley. After confused fighting, the New Zealanders eventually gained the upper hand and soon were counter-attacking advantageous land, stabilising the British line. Later in the year, they excelled in the open country fighting that was brought about by the Allied counter-offensive.

The Flanders Poppy - The Spirit of Remembrance Le Quesnoy (1918)
In their last action of the war, the Division captured the ancient fortress (Vauban-designed) town of Le Quesnoy in a daring assault on 4 November 1918. The day proved to be the Division's most successful of their whole time on the Western Front as they pushed east and advanced ten kilometres, capturing 2,000 German soldiers and 60 field guns. The town occupied a strategic position in north-eastern France and had been held by the Germans since 1914. Although with no specific orders indicating that the town need to be captured with any haste, the New Zealand soldiers were determined to and just before midday the first New Zealand troops reached the outer walls and scaled them with ladders. Propping the ladders against the precariously narrow inner walls, sections of one New Zealand battalion ascended the walls and engaged in hand to hand fighting with fleeing German defenders. The few thousand strong German garrison surrendered soon after New Zealand soldiers entered the town itself.

The infantry were relieved on the eastern side of the forest at midnight on 5–6 November and the war ended five days later. The Division left the Third Army on 28 November, and marched through Belgium, to entrain at the German frontier for Cologne and take up billets in neighbouring towns as part of the army of occupation. Demobilisation soon started and at Mülheim near Cologne the Division was finally disbanded on 25 March 1919.

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