The population of New Zealand responded to Britain’s entry into World War One with a great deal of positive energy. Unlike South Africa where the population was split into factions oriented around being pro-British or anti-British, the population of New Zealand was almost pro-British to a person. In 1916 New Zealand adopted compulsory overseas military service. It was not a contentious issue within the nation.
At the start of World War One, New Zealand was experiencing a process of political transition. The dominance of politics by Richard Seddon, pictured, had ended and the recently created Reform Party was becoming more and more important and formed its first government in 1912 with William Ferguson Massey as Prime Minister. He remained Prime Minister for the next 13 years. In the immediate build-up to World War One, only 6 Labour politicians spoke out against the war. New Zealand promised to feed British forces and there is little doubt that some in New Zealand saw the war as a way to make large sums of money. Wool, grain and dairy produce were sold off at high prices.
There was little doubt in New Zealand that she would join the war once war was declared in August 1914. New Zealand was the first dominion to provide troops for the European cause. In 1909 compulsory military service had been introduced for all of those over 12 years of age. Throughout World War One, New Zealand “maintained a pro-British sentiment and she was considered to be more British than her Australian neighbour” Christopher Falkus).
Altogether 120,000 New Zealanders saw active service. 17,000 were killed, many at Gallipoli. “Despite the smallness of her population and her distance from Europe, New Zealand’s contribution to the Allied victory was far from negligible. (Falkus). If in August 1914, New Zealand was just another member of the British Empire – even with dominion status – by November 1918 she had seen a growth in identity that propelled her towards a nation state as opposed to a colony.