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Events in Canterbury and the world during 1914 - 1919.


28 June - Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are shot dead while visiting the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, prompting a diplomatic crisis with Serbia and a domino effect which leads the European powers to declare war on each other.

4 August – Britain Declares War

Britain and her Empire (including New Zealand) declares war on Germany. The First World War begins, with Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers) pitted against Great Britain, France and Russia (the Entente).

5 August - New Zealand Declares War

At 1.00pm Governor Lord Liverpool reads out the official telegram received from London, “War has broken out with Germany”, to a crowd of nearly 15,000 gathered outside Parliament in Wellington. 

29 August - Samoa Captured

The 1,385-strong Samoa Advance Party of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) lands at the capital Apia, under a request from Britain to seize German Samoa. There is no resistance from German officials and New Zealand troops seize all German-controlled buildings. A New Zealand military presence remains until the end of the War.

12 August - The Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment

The first men reported to the Mobilisation Camp at the Addington Showgrounds. This Camp included all branches of the service in the Canterbury Military District

23 September - First Canterbury contingent sails from Lyttelton.

First Canterbury contingent sails on Tahiti and Athenic from Lyttelton.

16 October - NZEF Departs New Zealand

The main body of the NZEF, comprising 8,454 soldiers and some 3,000 horses in ten troopships depart Wellington bound for Europe. During the voyage, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) declares war on the Entente, and the New Zealand troops are diverted to Egypt.

3 December – New Zealand Troops Arrive in Egypt

New Zealand troops disembark in Egypt to bolster British troops already there in anticipation of facing the Turks.


19 January – First Zeppelin Attack on England

Three German Navy Zeppelin airships attack locations on the east coast of England, resulting in four civilians killed, 16 wounded and some physical damage. Raids continue intermittently throughout the War.

2-3 February – First New Zealand Combat Casualty

The Ottoman Army attack the Suez Canal in Egypt, which New Zealand, Australian and British troops are deployed to protect. Two platoons from the 12th (Nelson) Company come under fire resulting in the injury and subsequent death of Private William Ham, New Zealand’s first combat fatality.

26 March – First Māori Contingent arrives in Egypt

The First Māori Contingent arrives in Egypt in time to take part in the final parade of the New Zealand and Australian Division which is about to sail for Gallipoli. They perform a haka to demonstrate their willingness to fight, but are instead sent to Malta for training and garrison duties.

2 April – ANZAC Soldiers Riot in Egypt

Hundreds of New Zealand and Australian soldiers notoriously run wild in a drunken riot in Cairo’s brothel district of Wasa’a, fuelled by rumours of theft and scams by the locals.

22 April – First Gas Attack on the Western Front

French colonial troops near Ypres in Belgium witness a green cloud floating towards them from the German lines. In minutes many are dead. This is the first use by the Germans of poison gas, something which would become common on both sides throughout the War, resulting in many casualties.

25 April - Gallipoli Campaign Begins

Just before midday, the first New Zealand troops land at ANZAC Cove and engage in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula as part of a British initiative to knock the Turks out of the War. Plagued by poor planning and lacking sufficient resources, the campaign makes little impact against a seriously underestimated enemy. For eight months, soldiers from New Zealand, Australia, Britain and France battle against the Turks in horrendous conditions before being withdrawn in late December 1915. By this time, 2,721 New Zealanders have been killed.

7 May – Sinking of the Lusitania

A German submarine torpedoes the ocean liner Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland. More than 1,000 men, women and children lose their lives, including almost 200 citizens from neutral America. The event sparks an international outcry and inspires a wealth of anti-German propaganda.

July – Māori Troops go into Battle

Māori soldiers are finally given the opportunity to prove themselves on the battlefield when they are sent as reinforcements to Gallipoli.  

17 July - Canterbury’s First Wounded Soldiers Return Home

The troopship SS Willochra docks in Lyttelton Harbour carrying the first Canterbury soldiers to return home, wounded in the Gallipoli campaign. An official party and reception by the Mayor meets them in Christchurch and residents are encouraged to fly flags and hang bunting in welcome.

30 July – First New Zealand Airman Dies

Christchurch man William Burn of the Royal Flying Corps becomes the first New Zealand pilot to be killed in the War when he lands in the desert in Mesopotamia (Iraq) with engine trouble and is killed by pro-Turkish Arabs. 

6 August - New Zealand Troops Capture Chunuk Bair

An ANZAC assault is launched at Gallipoli, which aims to seize the high points of the Sari Bair range in order to remove the Turkish troops’ advantage of higher ground. Chunuk Bair is captured and held for a short period by the Wellington Battalion led by Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone.  Overall, however, the attacks are a failure and result in heavy casualties.

23 October - Sinking of the Marquette

The ship Marquette, carrying 741 medical personnel and troops along with mules, horses and wagons of ammunition, is struck by a German torpedo and sunk. 167 people perish, including 10 nurses, eight of them with Canterbury connections.

December – New Zealand Flying School Established

The New Zealand Flying School is established by brothers Vivian and Leo Walsh at Kohimarama in Auckland to train pilots for future service with the Royal Flying Corps.  83 pilots had graduated from the school by the War’s end.

15-20 December - Evacuation from Gallipoli

After eight months of battle, resulting in heavy casualties for New Zealand, Australian, British and French troops, Turkish forces still hold the Gallipoli Peninsula. Authorities in London order the evacuation of Gallipoli to be carried out at night to avoid alerting Turkish forces.  New Zealand troops are withdrawn in batches between 15 and 20 December, with the last British troops evacuated during the nights of 8 and 9 January 1916.


1 March - The New Zealand Division is Formed

The various units of the NZEF in Egypt are combined into a single infantry division, the New Zealand Division, separating them from the Australian units they had served with at Gallipoli. Members of the Māori Contingent form part of the Pioneer Battalion of the Division.

April – New Zealand Division Arrives on the Western Front

The newly-formed New Zealand Division arrives in France and establishes base camps in England. Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain becomes the main base camp for the New Zealand Division in Europe. Up to 5,000 men at a time are based there as reinforcements, for training or returning to their units.

25 April - New Zealand’s First ANZAC Day Service

Around New Zealand people gather to mark the first anniversary of the landing of ANZAC troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

31 May-1 June - HMS New Zealand Takes Part in the Battle of Jutland

The Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS New Zealand  takes part in the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea, the largest naval battle of the First World War. The New Zealand Government had paid £1.5 million to build HMS New Zealand as a gift to Britain in 1911. 

1 July - The Battle of the Somme Begins

The major British offensive for the year, the Battle of the Somme is designed to break the stalemate on the Western Front. The first day is a disaster, with the British suffering almost 60,000 casualties.  The battle drags on for another 141 days, with the New Zealand Division fighting their first engagement at Flers, France, in mid September. By early October, the Division had suffered some 7,000 casualties of which 1,500 were killed.

August – Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company Ltd Formed

The Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company is established by Sir Henry Wigram at Sockburn, Christchurch, but does not begin operating until June 1917.

1 August – Conscription Introduced in New Zealand

The Military Service Act is passed, allowing conscription to take place if volunteers do not fill the ranks of New Zealand’s military forces.  Conscripts are to be selected by ballot, beginning with single and recently married men.

3 August - Battle of Romani

The ANZAC Mounted Division, comprising the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the Australian Light Horse, sees their first action at Romani, just east of the Suez Canal in Egypt, when they stop a determined Turkish attack on the Canal.

15 September – First Tanks Appear

At Flers during the Battle of the Somme, a British secret invention is unleashed for the first time, when 15 tracked and armoured tanks go into action in support of the attacking soldiers. Many more had already broken down or got stuck, but the remainder succeed in striking terror into the German defenders and the attack is a success.


9 January – Battle of Rafa

With Ottoman forces threatening the British from their garrison at Rafa on the Egypt-Palestine border, an attack is launched to capture the town.  The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade successfully outflank the Turks. They break through the defences and the Ottomans’ last outpost in Egypt falls.  With the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal now secure, preparations begin for an invasion of Palestine.

26 March – Egyptian Expeditionary Force Defeated at Gaza

The British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) launch the first of three attacks on Gaza, a strategic point in the Turkish-held province of Palestine.  The ANZAC Mounted Division join the assault, engaging in fierce fighting throughout the day, but outnumbered by Turkish reinforcements, the ANZAC and British troops are forced to retreat.  A second attack on Gaza three weeks later proves to be an even bigger defeat. 

6 April – America Enters the War

After nearly three years of neutrality, the United States of America declare war on Germany, prompted in large part by German submarine attacks on American shipping, beginning with the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915.

June - Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company Ltd Commences Flying Training

The Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company, formed by Sir Henry Wigram at Sockburn, Christchurch, in August 1916, begins operating under Chief Instructor Cecil McKenzie Hill. This private flying school provides basic pilot training for men who wish to go on to join the Royal Flying Corps.  By November 1918, 150 pilots had graduated from the school, although only a few arrive in Britain in time to see active service.

2 June - German Raider SMS Wolf Captures SS Wairuna

SMS Wolf, a heavily armed German warship disguised as a freighter, seizes and sinks the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand’s vessel, SS Wairuna, off the Kermadec Islands.  All 42 sailors on board are taken prisoner.  During its foray into New Zealand waters on a mission to interrupt and destroy enemy ocean commerce, the Wolf also lays mines around the New Zealand coast, which later claim two more vessels.

7 June - Battle of Messines

The Battle of Messines takes place as a prelude to a new British offensive on the Western Front.  At 3.10am nearly 1 million pounds of explosives laid in tunnels beneath the German defensive stronghold at Messines Ridge are detonated, killing 10,000 German soldiers instantly. Together with the British and Australians, New Zealand troops quickly overrun the German position, then successfully secure the village of Messines, capturing hundreds of prisoners in the process. 

31 July - Third Battle of Ypres

A massive offensive is launched by the British Army around the Belgian city of Ypres. British forces assault the German defences on the higher ground facing the city, but the ground soon becomes a sea of mud on account of the unseasonably rainy weather. British attacks at first fail but some successes follow, including the New Zealanders’ capture of Gravenstafel Spur on 4 October 1917.

September –Reorganisation of the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion

The growing number of Māori and Pacific Island men in the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion means it once again becomes an “all Māori” unit and is renamed the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. However, this does not reinstate the men as combat troops and Māori in the Pioneer Battalion continue to serve as a labour force for the remainder of the War.

12 October - New Zealand’s Blackest Day (Battle of Passchendaele)

At 6.00am, the New Zealand Division attacks the ridge at Passchendaele in wet weather and with little preparation. In the appalling boggy ground the attack becomes a slaughter, with the exposed New Zealanders unable to advance through the mud against the German bunkers. A second attempt in the afternoon meets with more failure. By the end of the day, the 2nd Brigade and 3rd (Rifle) Brigades suffer 2,700 casualties with about 845 men dead or dying. 282 men of the Canterbury Regiment are killed and 618 wounded. This represents New Zealand’s worst loss of life in a single day.

31 October – ANZAC Mounted Division Capture Beersheba

In a third British offensive against the Ottoman stronghold at Gaza, the ANZAC Mounted Division successfully outflank Turkish forces by capturing the strategically-important town of Beersheba, leading to victory for the British at Gaza.

16 November – New Zealand Mounted Rifles Capture Jaffa

The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade capture the port of Jaffa as part of the pursuit of the retreating Turkish forces through southern Palestine.

2 December - Six O’clock Closing Introduced in New Zealand

The Government introduces six o‘clock closing for bars and pubs, following efforts from prohibitionists to restrict the consumption of alcohol in New Zealand.  Although only originally intended to last for the duration of the War, 6 o’clock closing was not lifted until 1967.

11 December – Egyptian Expeditionary Force Captures Jerusalem

Having advanced through southern Palestine, the EEF, which includes the ANZAC Mounted Division, finally takes Turkish-occupied Jerusalem.   British Prime Minister Lloyd George calls it a “Christmas present for the nation.”


11 January - Henry Nicholas Awarded the Victoria Cross

Henry James Nicholas becomes the first Canterbury soldier to be awarded a Victoria Cross (VC). Nicholas earns the VC for his “for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack” during a charge against German forces at Polderhoek Chateau in Belgium. Tragically, he is killed only 19 days before the Armistice, on the evening of 23 October 1918, while on guard duty near Le Quesnoy.

21 March – The New Zealand Division Returns to the Somme 

The Germans launch a last great offensive to try to win the War before American troops arrive in numbers. Taken by surprise, the British Army is forced to retreat over a large front. To fill the gap, the resting New Zealand Division march to positions on the Somme and are able to assist in blocking the German advance at a cost of some 500 New Zealanders killed and 1,800 wounded.

1 May - Riot at the King Edward Barracks in Christchurch

Members of the 41st Reinforcement converge in Christchurch where, for the first time, balloted married men are to be sent overseas. In protest, a 1,000 strong crowd assembles at the barracks and spills out onto Montreal and Cashel Streets, throwing rocks, hooting and jeering at the authorities to such an extent that the conscripts can not be assembled and the recruits miss their train for port.

August-September – British Forces Break Through the Hindenburg Line

The German failure to break the British Army in March sees them retreat to the strong Hindenburg Line defences north-east of the Somme. On 24  August, the New Zealanders capture Grévillers and after hard fighting take the important town of Bapaume on 29 August. On 27 September the British assault the Hindenburg Line itself, the New Zealanders joining the battle on 29 September. The New Zealand Division reach the Scheldt Canal and cross it at Crèvecouer as the outflanked Germans start to retreat.   

19 September - Final Actions in the Middle East Commence

The final offensive in Palestine commences at Megiddo, with the Turkish Army in retreat. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade advances over 75km in just five days, taking 3,000 prisoners. The Syrian cities of Damascus, Homs and Aleppo all fall in early October.

29 September – Bulgaria Sues for Peace

Germany’s ally, Bulgaria, asks for peace after French, Serbian, British and Greek troops break their lines in the Balkans.

October-December - New Zealand Struck by Influenza Epidemic

A deadly influenza epidemic strikes New Zealand, resulting in the deaths of more than 8,600 people. 

30 October – Ottoman Empire Sues for Peace

With Allied forces breaking through in the Balkans, the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires are now exposed to attack.  As a result, the Turks, defeated in the Middle East, ask for an armistice.

4 November – Austria-Hungary Sues for Peace

Austria-Hungary, barely holding out against Italy and facing political disintegration amid nationalist unrest at home, accepts defeat and asks for an armistice.

4 November – The New Zealand Division Liberates Le Quesnoy

The advance against the Germans continues, and with the New Zealand Division helping pursue the retreating enemy, they successfully take the imposing fortress town of Le Quesnoy in France. This is the last action for the Division in the First World War.

11 November – The Armistice is Signed

With the exhausted German Army in full retreat, Germany is forced to accept the need for an armistice. A German delegation is escorted to a railway carriage at Compiègne near Paris and an armistice is signed at 11.00am.

11 November - Canterbury Celebrates the End of the War

At 9.00am, the bells of Christchurch Cathedral ring out in celebration of Armistice Day. Huge crowds gather around the city and move towards Cathedral Square, where there are spontaneous outbursts of joy and thanksgiving.

28 November - New Zealanders Begin Occupation Duties in Germany

The New Zealand Division forms part of the force intended to occupy German territory and begins a 240km march to the German border through France and Belgium, finally arriving in Cologne on 26 December 1918.

December – Repatriation Department Established in New Zealand

The New Zealand Government establishes a Repatriation Department to help with the repatriation and rehabilitation of the more than 56,000 New Zealanders who have served overseas during the War.


25 March – New Zealand Division Disbanded

The last draft of New Zealand soldiers on occupation duties in Germany leave Cologne for home and the New Zealand Division is disbanded.

19 April - Ngāi Tahu Soldiers Welcomed Home

The New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion is the only battalion of the NZEF to return to New Zealand as a complete unit. The majority of Māori soldiers from Te Wai Pounamu (South Island) return to Canterbury and are taken to Tuahiwi for an elaborate reception at the Rūnanga hall.

28 June - The Treaty of Versailles is Signed

The Treaty of Versailles is signed as part of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, a series of negotiations which formalise the terms of the individual armistices with Germany and her allies. The Treaty strips Germany of military power and hands much territory and many colonies to other nations.

19 July - Peace Celebrations

New Zealand holds three days of peace celebrations to mark the official end of the First World War, observing a day of thanksgiving, a soldiers’ day and a children’s day.