Doubling the scale of our war

On Monday 21 March, I eagerly read the results of an intensive research project that gives us the clearest indication, to date, of the number of New Zealanders that served on Gallipoli.

This research, undertaken by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the New Zealand Defence Force, reveals that the total number of New Zealand soldiers who served at Gallipoli in 1915 is certain to have been more than 16,000. This new total number doubles the original number of 8,556 soldiers implied by General Sir Ian Hamilton in 1919 in his preface to the New Zealand official war history of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Nathaniel Thoms on Gallipoli April-June 1915. Photograph by Percival Fenwick. Auckland War Memorial Museum PH-ALB-337

Nathaniel Thoms on Gallipoli April-June 1915. Photograph by Percival Fenwick. Auckland War Memorial Museum PH-ALB-337

A key source for this new figure were the newly uncovered notebooks kept by Nathaniel Thoms, Deputy Assistant Adjutant General of the New Zealand and Australian Division on Gallipoli (see above). These notebooks, held at Archives New Zealand, meticulously record the movements of Australian and New Zealand Division soldiers on and off Gallipoli during June, July and August 1915.

These findings show us that history is never settled – it is a dynamic and living entity, and its interpretation is (and should be) open to debate. The new numbers will undoubtedly prompt historians to review previous claims and sources, and will  have an ongoing ripple effect on past, current and future research about the Gallipoli campaign.

Comparative casualty rate on Gallipoli. Photograph by Kirstie Ross

Comparative casualty rate on Gallipoli. Graphic panel in Gallipoli: The scale of our war. Photograph by Kirstie Ross

Numbers of New Zealand troop landing on Gallipoli April to August 1915. Photograph by Kirstie Ross

Numbers of New Zealand troop landing on Gallipoli April to August 1915. Graphic panel in Gallipoli: The scale of our war. Photograph by Kirstie Ross

Here at Te Papa, there are two graphics (see my snapshots above) in Gallipoli: The scale of our war that we are looking at, to see how the new information can be incorporated in them. We will make these changes as soon as we can.

Sister Lottie Le Gallais. Photograph by Norm Heke

Sister Lottie Le Gallais in Gallipoli: The scale of our war. Photograph by Norm Heke

Of course, during the exhibition’s development, Te Papa’s curators pored over individual military personnel files at Archives New Zealand to research and inform the creation of the exhibition’s eight larger-than-life models. Above is Sister Lottie Le Gallais as she appears in the exhibition, based on information on a page (below) in her military file.

Sister Charlotte Le Gallais WWI 22/137 from Archives NZ personnel file

Sister Charlotte Le Gallais WWI 22/137 from Archives NZ personnel file.

With this newly-released research we see another critical way in which our national archives help us to appreciate, understand and uncover the past. But it doesn’t change the story told in Gallipoli: The scale of our war. In  fact, the new figure reinforces even more forcefully the magnitude of the campaign and the war’s impact on the lives of New Zealanders.

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