New Zealanders remembered on the Chunuk Bair Memorial (Photo © Centenary News)

Centenary study doubles New Zealand troop numbers at Gallipoli

Posted on on 31 March 2016
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Many more New Zealanders fought at Gallipolli than originally thought, a new study by historians in New Zealand confirms.

The total is 'certain to have been more than 16,000', say researchers from the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Culture & Heritage (MCH). 

They point out this almost doubles the original number of 8,556 soldiers suggested by Gallipoli commander Sir Ian Hamilton in 1919 in his preface to the New Zealand official war history of the campaign.

Hamilton's calculation has been questioned by some historians in recent years.

The latest study, begun in November 2015, is described as the most comprehensive investigation ever undertaken into total New Zealand troop numbers at Gallipoli.

MCH Chief Historian Neill Atkinson said: "The First World War Centenary in particular has provided a valuable opportunity to review and re-evaluate research about New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War.

"Thanks to Archives New Zealand’s digitisation of First World War service records in 2014, the researchers were able to analyse thousands of individual military service files but soon discovered there were limitations to these types of records.

"First World War military service files recorded a soldier’s military career, movements between units, and illnesses, but were less concerned with placing them in a particular campaign or theatre of war. Sometimes that ‘Gallipoli box’ simply wasn’t checked." 

The early days after the August offensive: elements of 2nd NZ Field Company set up their 'bivvies' at the foot of Hill 971, Chailak Dere, Gallipoli (Image courtesy of the New Zealand National Army Museum-1992.757)

Further analysis of unit movements and official war diaries gave a much better understanding of Gallipoli service.

But the major breakthrough was made in January by New Zealand Defence Force historian John Crawford.

He discovered the notebooks of the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) of the Australian and New Zealand Division in Archives New Zealand.

"These meticulously kept records detail the movements of Australian and New Zealand Division soldiers on and off the peninsula during June, July and August 1915 and meant we could calculate the total numbers with a much higher accuracy," Mr Crawford explained.

Combining these records with other sources, including figures for the final reinforcements, produced the new estimate of more than 16,000 New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli.

It's now certain that fresh arrivals from New Zealand, via Egypt, greatly outnumbered wounded men returning to the peninsula after treatment.

"This figure is by no means final but it’s the most accurate we can achieve using the evidence we have discovered to date,” said John Crawford.

The actual total could exceed 17,000.

The research methodology was overseen by Statistics New Zealand.

For the project's historians, the findings show how knowledge is constantly evolving as new information is discovered and interpreted.

Neill Atkinson, of the NZ Ministry of Culture & Heritage, commented: "The First World War Centenary in particular has provided a valuable opportunity to review and re-evaluate research about New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War."

For the full media release, visit thNew Zealand Defence Force website.

Further reading and background can be found in a blog by David Green, Historian at the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, on the official New Zealand WW100 website.

Sources: New Zealand Defence Force; NZ WW100

Images: Chunuk Bair Memorial - © Centenary News; 2nd NZ Field Company - courtesy of the New Zealand National Army Museum, accession number -1992.757 

Posted by: CN Editorial Team