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The Permanent Forces were made up of the New Zealand Staff Corps, the New Zealand Permanent Staff and the Permanent Regiment of the Royal New Zealand Artillery.
Immediately after the declaration of war against Germany the New Zealand government offered to raise an expeditionary force for service overseas alongside British imperial troops. The British government accepted this offer and voluntary recruitment for the force – the ‘New Zealand Expeditionary Force’ (NZEF) – began on 8 August 1914.
The troop convoy carrying the Main Body of the NZEF left Wellington harbour bound for Egypt on 16 October 1914. On 29 October the NZEF convoy arrived at Albany, Western Australia, where it joined the troop convoy carrying the Main Body of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). The two contingents formed a single combined convoy for their journey across the Indian Ocean to Egypt. The NZEF portion of the convoy consisted of 8534 soldiers and their horses embarked on 10 transport ships.
The convoy entered the Suez Canal, Egypt, on 30 November 1914 and began to disembark at Alexandria a few days later. The NZEF and AIF were allocated areas in the countryside near the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in which to establish their base camps.
The NZEF contributed an infantry brigade to the British-led Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) that landed in the Dardanelles on 25 April 1915. The New Zealanders were grouped together with Australian troops as the ‘Australia New Zealand Army Corps’ – ‘ANZAC’ – and tasked with landing and seizing the heights of Gaba Tepe (overlooking what was soon to be known as Anzac Cove). The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (minus their horses) arrived as reinforcements in May.
The New Zealanders suffered 8000 casualties during the eight-month Gallipoli campaign and were involved in some of the fiercest fighting on the peninsula. The most renowned New Zealand action of the campaign was the Battle of Chunuk Bair, the seizure and subsequent defence of a key ridgeline overlooking the Dardanelles on 7–10 August by a New Zealand-dominated force during the Sari Bair Offensive. One New Zealand soldier, Corporal Cyril Bassett, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during this battle.
After the Gallipoli campaign the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade of the NZEF returned to Egypt, where it was rested and reinforced during the first four months of 1916. When the New Zealand Division left for France, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles regiments remained behind to serve with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) against the Ottoman Turks, first in the Sinai campaign of 1916 and then in the Palestine campaign of 1917–18. Together with the Australian Light Horse and British Yeomanry mounted units they provided the EEF commanders, General Archibald Murray and his successor, General Sir Edmund Allenby, with the mobile strike force that helped to deliver the EEF victories such as the Battle of Romani in 1916, the Third Battle of Gaza in 1917 and the Battle of Megiddo in 1918.
Notable New Zealand actions of the campaigns included the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade’s seizure of Rafa in January 1916, the storming of the Tel el Saba redoubt during the Third Battle of Gaza in October 1917, and the capture of Hill 3039 during the First Trans-Jordan Raid in March 1918.
After the Gallipoli campaign the infantry and artillery components of the NZEF were reorganised and expanded in Egypt during the first three months of 1916. This resulted in the formation of the 20,000-strong New Zealand Division which served on the Western Front from May of that year.
The first major operation involving New Zealand troops on the Western Front saw the New Zealand Division suffer 7048 casualties in only 23 days on the Somme (service which included taking part in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15–22 September 1916). This was nearly as many casualties as in the entire Gallipoli campaign. Even for Gallipoli veterans, the Western Front was a much more brutal and intense form of industrialised warfare than anything they had experienced before.
The New Zealand Division served alongside Australian infantry divisions in ‘II ANZAC Corps’ until November 1917, when the Australian divisions left to join a new ‘Australian Corps’ set up following a Canadian precedent. 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.
New Zealand troops took part in most of the British offensives on the Western Front from late 1916, including the later stages of the Battle of the Somme, Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). The most notable victories won by the New Zealand Division on the Western Front were those resulting from its part in the British Army’s great advances of the ‘100 Days’ in August–October 1918, such as the Battle of Bapaume and the capture of Le Quesnoy.
The Military Service Act introducing conscription was passed by the wartime coalition government led by Prime Minister William Massey. It made all men aged between 20 and 45 liable for service in the NZEF. Only those deemed medically unfit for overseas service, working in essential war industry jobs or officially recognised as conscientious objectors were granted exemptions.