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First World War History project to be launched

The Centenary History of New Zealand
and the First World War

First World War History project to be launched

A joint project to produce a comprehensive picture of New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War, involving Massey University, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association will be launched in Wellington on Thursday.

The project, called the “Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War”, revolves around the production of nine volumes, each focused on a different aspect of the war. The first history is expected to be complete in time for Anzac Day 2015.

“The First World War has been a pivotal point in world history, creating much of the hostilities and problems that have persisted until now. It changed all those countries that were involved and New Zealand was no exception. In terms of human suffering, the First World War is the most traumatic event that New Zealand has experienced,” says prominent war historian Professor Glyn Harper, the project lead.

“It is nearly 100 years since the beginning of the war and yet, the full story has never been told. There is a risk that if we do not capture the stories now, they may never be heard.” The project will be launched by Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, Massey University Vice- Chancellor Steve Maharey and RNZRSA President Lieutenant General (Rtd) Don McIver at Massey University’s Wellington campus on 15 December.

“This will be the most complete account yet of New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War. It will be the first history to fully cover the role of the navy and the air force in the conflict. We believe it will become the reference text for the next 10 years, but it will also be accessible so that it has appeal to families whose forefathers fought in the war,” Professor Harper says.

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Professor Harper will write the first volume on The New Zealand Soldier at War 1914-1918, and NZDF historian John Crawford the second one, which will focus on The New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Mr Crawford has written on many aspects of the history of the New Zealand Armed Forces and defence policy. His most recent publication is The Territorials, a history of the territorial and volunteer forces of New Zealand.

“There is a groundswell of interest in the part New Zealanders played in the First World War. There is a natural curiosity for several reasons: the time is right, there is a lack of understanding because we don’t teach it in schools, and because military history is our family history. For a small nation we made a huge contribution,” says Professor Harper. New Zealand, which had a population of just over one million at the time, deployed over 102,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen to support Allied troops overseas. Just on 60,000 became casualties, with some 18,000 being killed. Massey and the NZDF are funding the first two histories and Professor Harper hopes the growing interest in our military history and in an event that helped shape New Zealand will encourage individuals and families to contribute to the project and fund the production of future volumes. “We want to ensure we can faithfully produce a history worthy of those who served and suffered in this most terrible of wars.”

Lt Gen Jones says the centenary of the First World War is an important milestone for both the country and the New Zealand Defence Force. “The Centenary History provides a great opportunity to provide the most comprehensive picture of our country’s involvement in one of the most pivotal events of the twentieth century,” Lt Gen Jones says. “We are delighted to be working with Massey University and the RNZRSA on this project. Our links to our history are vital for the Defence Force today and in the future. The New Zealanders who served in the First World War demonstrated the traditions of service to the nation, and the core values of courage, commitment, comradeship and integrity that are important to us as a modern Defence Force.”


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