Two New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) historians have published an e-book confirming that the number of New Zealand soldiers who served at Gallipoli in 1915 was more than 16,000 – almost double the accepted number of 8,556.
The book builds on previous research carried out in 2016, which was widely reported at the time.
Phenomenal and Wicked: Attrition and Reinforcement in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, by Defence Force Historian John Crawford and Senior Advisor Heritage Matthew Buck, is the culmination of five years of research.
The research was highlighted in 2016, when Mr Crawford discovered the notebooks of the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General of the New Zealand and Australian Division in Archives New Zealand.
The book also provided insight into the planning undertaken prior to the main body of soldiers leaving New Zealand in 1914, Mr Crawford said.
“New Zealand’s political and military leadership were well aware that losses in a major war were likely to be extremely heavy,” he said.
“However, their extensive preparations were almost overwhelmed by the scale of the losses that were actually experienced – more than 2,700 killed and many thousands more becoming sick and wounded.”
By late September 1915 the infantry had typically suffered about 170 per cent attrition, of which about half were caused by a dysentery epidemic that raged through the Allied forces on the peninsula.
“This very high attrition rate seems to have been common to all the Allied contingents fighting at Gallipoli,” Mr Crawford said. “The infantry battalions in the New Zealand and Australian Division were losing about 30 per cent of their strength every month, which was double the attrition rate of the British infantry on the Western Front.”
Another key to the research was the more recent discovery of financial records that show exactly how the New Zealand forces were distributed over the course of the campaign.
“The financial records confirm that relatively few of the thousands of men who became sick or wounded at Gallipoli returned to their units during the campaign,” Mr Crawford said. “The only way that the New Zealand Expeditionary Force could stay in the battle was by pouring in thousands of fresh reinforcements.
“We now know that up to 17,000 New Zealand Expeditionary Force personnel had a direct connection with the campaign. Twice as many New Zealand families as previously thought had at least one member on the peninsula in 1915.
“We think that this goes a very long way towards explaining why Gallipoli had such a profound effect on contemporary New Zealand society, and why it continues to have such a central place in our national memory.”
The book is the result of cooperation between the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the NZDF, Archives New Zealand and Statistics New Zealand. Mr Crawford and My Buck followed a research trail from Archives New Zealand to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to piece together a story that corrects faulty assumptions that for decades distorted how the nation’s involvement at Gallipoli was seen.
Partly for their work in establishing the new numbers, in 2019 Mr Buck received a Chief of Defence Force Commendation and Mr Crawford received the Defence Meritorious Service Medal.
The book is available free at: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/gallipoli-campaign-numbers