First World War – overview

On 28 June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie were assassinated in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. The fallout from this faraway event would ultimately claim the lives of 18,000 New Zealanders and lead to the wounding of 41,000. Places thousands of miles from home with exotic-sounding names such as Gallipoli, Passchendaele and the Somme etched themselves in national memory during the First World War.

The war took approximately 100,000 New Zealanders overseas, many for the first time. Some anticipated a great adventure but found the reality very different. Being so far from home made these New Zealanders very aware of who they were and where they were from. In battle, they were able to compare themselves with men from other nations. Out of this, many have argued, came a sense of a separate identity, and many New Zealand soldiers began to refer to themselves as ‘Kiwis’.

Ormond Burton, a decorated veteran of Gallipoli and the Western Front, summed up a popular and enduring view of the significance of the war on New Zealand society, stating ‘somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme, New Zealand very definitely became a nation’ [1].

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