Dr Chris Pugsley, the Historical Director of Gallipoli: The scale of our war provides some background as to why he stood by the use of the original official figures to calculate a 93% casualty rate for the NZEF on Gallipoli:
As Historical Director of the Gallipoli: The Scale of our War Exhibition at Te Papa Tongarewa, I was the dinosaur that tenaciously held to the 8556 figure of the total number of New Zealanders who landed on Gallipoli, first published in Fred Waite’s Gallipoli (below). I held out against the higher figures of some 13,000-14,000 succinctly argued for by Richard Stowers in Bloody Gallipoli and by David Green at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. I considered that with the digitisation of the personal files we had the means to establish the actual number and until that occurred, we stayed with what we had.
The casualty graphic used in the exhibition, based on the Waite figures, sparked intense debate and a robust interchange between historians and aficionados of the campaign. It forced a working group to be set up to undertake the project. This was initiated by Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the New Zealand Defence Force (and chaired by Chief Historian Neill Atkinson), and it was tasked with establishing the numbers of New Zealanders who served on Gallipoli.
John Crawford and Matthew Buck, conducted a detailed survey of the personal files of the 6th Reinforcements (the last major reinforcement draft to arrive on Gallipoli) to establish how many served on the Peninsula as well as reviewing the record of daily reinforcements held in the surviving notebooks of the staff officer responsible for strength returns on Headquarters, New Zealand and Australian Division (NZ & A Division). This work is continuing with an examination of all of the reinforcement figures, but the published preliminary findings indicate that possibly some 16,000-17,000 New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli, doubling Waite’s figures.
Why this happened is a puzzle, David Green offers a valid explanation for the figures used by General Sir Ian Hamilton in the foreword to Waite’s history, but the correct figures were known at the time, but for some reason this was never questioned?
The actual fighting strength of the New Zealand units on Gallipoli is difficult to establish. By examining the War Diaries it is possible to arrive at an approximate figure. First ashore on 25-26 April was the Infantry Brigade, (strength 4055), then in May the Mounted Rifles Brigade (1541), followed in June by the Otago Mounted Rifles (540) (see cap and collar badges above) and in early July by the Maori Contingent ( 479). Add to that NZ Field Artillery that grew to six batteries (435), Field Engineers and Signallers (582) Ordnance and Army Service Corps (467) and the NZ Field Ambulances with dentists attached (475), totalling 8574 New Zealanders in the NZ & A Division.
One can see that the estimated figure of 16,000 – 17,000 New Zealanders who landed on Gallipoli included 100 per cent reinforcements over and above the actual strength of the Force. Stower’s research gives us a casualty figure of 2779 deaths and 5212 wounded. (This includes multiple incidents of wounding and/or death to the one person). This total for battle casualties is 7991 which is almost equivalent to the fighting strength of the New Zealand units ashore. It does not include those evacuated with sickness and disease. It is sobering to think that despite the 8500-strong NZEF component receiving some 8500 reinforcements, battle casualties and sickness and disease meant that it was just over half-strength at the time of the December evacuation: a raw casualty rate of 150 per cent.
These figures were known at the time and were discussed in the correspondence between Major-General Sir Alexander Godley commanding the NZEF and James Allen, New Zealand Minister of Defence (above). They explain Allen’s reluctance to raise a 20,000-strong New Zealand Division in Egypt in January 1916 which together with the 1,764 men of the NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade totalled 21,809 personnel in the fighting formations not counting training and support units. At the Gallipoli attrition rates, Allen did not believe he could provide the necessary reinforcements to sustain the New Zealand Division in France.
This debate started with a graphic giving comparative statistics between the various national forces. Australia provided two infantry divisions totalling six infantry brigades and an additional infantry brigade and three Light Horse brigades, in the dismounted role (with one of the three with the NZ & A Division). There is no accurate figure for the number of Australians who served on Gallipoli. The guess is 50,000-60,000. If it took 17,000 to sustain New Zealand’s one infantry brigade and one mounted rifles brigade then it seems these figures too, may under-estimate the number of Australian Anzacs?
As a postscript, this is the graphic panel that has now replaced the one which featured the 93% New Zealand casualty rate.