Timeline in text

The causes of the First World War originate in the 1800's, but our summary starts from the Spring of 1916. It is sourced from official histories, written by senior officers who had fought in the campaigns but who generally had no training as historians.  Our work continues comparing each volume to create a complete understanding of events.  

Spring 1916

  • The New Zealand Tunnelling Company, formed in New Zealand in October 1915, went to the Arras neighbourhood on arrival in France in March 1916.
  • Cyclist Company formed in April 1916.
  • Some of the New Zealand Division arrives in northern France in April, after a voyage via Marseilles from Egypt.

Summer 1916

  • Early stages in the development of the organisation and Establishments in England to train, send reinforcements and care for the wounded.
  • The Division moves into France in a period described as, "Armentières, the Quiet Sector" and are involved delivering raids and discharging gas on the enemy. During this period they had sustained 2,500 casualties. 25 officers and 350 other ranks had been killed. 70 officers and 2,000 men had been wounded, and 30 men were missing. After a continuous stay of 3 months in the line on the Lys, the entrainment of the Division was commenced at Arques and St. Omer for a training area east of Abbeville. 
  • The Battle of the Somme (1 July - 18 November 1916) begins, "it was the British Army's major offensive on the Western Front in 1916. It was entrusted to General Rawlinson's Fourth Army which included thousands of confident citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory. The main line of assault ran for 25,000 yards, nearly 14 miles, from Maricourt in the south, northwards to Serre."

 Autumn 1916

  • The New Zealand Division took part in its first major action in two of the twelve Battles of the Somme, the Battle of of Bazentin Ridge, 14-17 July and the Battle of Delville Wood, 15 July - 3 September 1916. 
  • The Battle of of Bazentin Ridge, 14-17 July involved the storming of Switch (where the Longueval New Zealand Memorial stands), Crest, Goose Alley and Abbey Road trenches. Fighting for Longueval village continued after 17 July and was "intimately connected with the long struggles for Delville Wood", which uncaptured threatened the new British salient and further eastward attacks on the German lines. 
  • In six weeks fighting 1,853 New Zealanders were killed with their place of commemoration laying in France and the United Kingdom.   
  • 3rd October, "The 41st Division commenced to relieve the forward infantry units. The command passed on the following morning to the new Division. During the relief the enemy artillery was unusually inactive. The weather, however, still remained execrable and it was through miry trenches and slippery shell holes that the battalions wearily plodded back to the camp at Pommiers Redoubt. There they found enough tarpaulins to give overhead shelter, but the ground was a swamp."
  • By the 12th of October, the Division moved into the Sailly sector, replacing an area where, four months beforehand, the Battle of Fromelle cost 5,500 Australian casualties.
  • On 13 November 1916, when he was in command of the “Hood” Battalion near BeaumontBernard Cyril Freyberg won the Victoria Cross “by his splendid personal gallantry” during the battle of Ancre.

Winter 1916-1917

  • 22nd February, crossing the Belgian frontier, they relieved the left brigade of the 25th Division in the IX. Corps area immediately north of the Lys.
  • New Zealand Pioneers and New Zealand Tunnelling Company provide assistance to the British Third and First British Armies in preparing for the forthcoming Battle of Arras.

 Spring 1917 

  • On 13th March, in view of coming events, the Corps front was extended north-wards to the road from Wulverghem to Wytschaete. The New Zealand Division side-stepped northwards to relieve part of the 36th (Ulster) Division on the southern flank of the IX. Corps. In consequence of this move, the 57th Division took over the Rue de Bois subsector from the 3rd Australian Division to enable the latter to relieve the New Zealanders in the Le Touquet and Ploegsteert trenches.
  • The Engineers, Pioneers and Infantry included the laying of an elaborate buried cable system, the excavation of advanced headquarters dugouts for battalion and brigade headquarters, the construction of signal dugouts, relay-posts for runners and stretcher-bearers, regimental aid posts and advanced dressing stations, the tunnelling of new catacombs in Hill 63 for the accommodation of the Divisional reserves, the formation of forward dumps, the screening of approaches, the clearing of obstacles behind our front line, the thinning of the thick hedgerows in No Man's Land, the preparation of portable bridges over the Douve and Steenebeek. Above all, the infantry were engaged in the completion and draining of the assembly trenches and the arrangements for rapid egress from them. 

 Summer 1917

  • Preparatory bombardment continues.  New Zealand heavy mortars focusing on concrete emplacements along the two front systems of the overall German Line.
  • 7th June. The New Zealand Division went over the top at Messines and, in two days of fighting, took all of its initial objectives. The battle continued until 30 June 1917.
  • 27th July. The 1st Brigade attacked and captured the village of La Basse Ville, but was driven out again by an enemy counter-attack. This was followed by a second, and completely successful, attack on La Basse Ville on 31 July 1917.

 Autumn 1917

  • To set the context, the British artillery had pounded the German positions with 4.2 million shells in the two weeks before the Battle of Passchendaele, explaining why 55,000 names of soldiers who have no known grave on the Menin Gate Memorial and another 35,000 names are on the Tyne Cot Memorial at Passchendaele. There are 1,166 names of New Zealand soliders who have no known grave on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
  • After a period of training out of the line, the New Zealanders returned to take part in the closing stages of the Third Battle of Ypres. They attacked the Gravenstafel Spur near Passchendaele before dawn on 4 October 1917 and suffered 1,707 casualties.
  • 12th October 1917. The aim was to strengthen the hold on the main ridge by capturing the;Bellevue Spur, Passchendaele village and the Goudberg Spur to the north.But,in just two hours, more than 2,800 New Zealand soldiers were killed, wounded or listed as missing - the most disastrous day in New Zealand’s military history.  

 Winter 1917-1918

  • The winter passed busily in the Polygon Wood of Becalaere sector at Ypres, with the attack on Polderhoek Chateau, preparing defences and running small attacks.

 Spring 1918

  • On the first day of spring the German Offensive commences. About 60 infantry divisions (approximately equal in numbers to the entire population of New Zealand) advanced over an 80 kilometre front, taking the Allies by surprise. At points the Germans advanced 14 kilometres in two days a great distance by World War I standards. 
  • The New Zealanders found themselves fighting to hold the enemy near Mailley Maillet and Serre and along with Australian efforts at nearby Hébuterne, they successfully helped fill a dangerous gap that had developed between two British corps. 
  • For the time (6 April) the second Battle of the Somme was at an end, and the pointer of the German offensive had swung northwards to the Lys.
  • The Division side-stepped northwards on 25 April from near Serre, to occupy now a somewhat longer front from One Tree Hill to the east of Hébuterne and onward to capture a wider observation over the Puisieux valley. 

 Summer 1918 

  • The Division went into the line again at the beginning of July in the centre of the Corps front. The new Divisional sector ran southwards from the southeast tip of Biez Wood, which lay south-west of Bucquoy, along the north of Rossignol Wood (which covered 20 acres and sloped downhill from the point where it abutted on our lines, it provided the enemy with exceptional cover in which he could mass forces) to east of Hébuterne. A mile northwards from Hébuterne were the shattered remains of the village of Gommecourt, whose defences had broken the subsidiary British attack of 1st July 1916, and which was occupied by us on 27th February 1917 in the preliminary stages of the German retreat. Now, owing to the trend of our line to the north-east, it lay at a greater distance from our outposts than Hébuterne itself. Both villages stood on high ground, and from their ridges one could overlook the wastes of the Somme battlefield as far as Flers of 1916 memory, some 8 miles to the east, and see the smoke of distant German trains in whose windows, on a bright afternoon, the western sun's rays were brilliantly reflected. The Gommecourt ridge, on whose forward slopes lay the Park and the wood surrounding the village, was a particularly important tactical feature. Its possession was essential for the safety of the New Zealanders and the Division on their left, and it formed a pivot on which counterattacks must hinge.
  • It was in this area that Sergt. R. C. Travis (born Dickson Cornelius Savage), who "went over the top 15 times and always did magnificent work. He won the D.C.M., M.M., (Belgian) Croix de Guerre, and Victoria Cross", lost his life after being stuck by a shell fragment.
  • On the night 13/14th August the enemy began to fall back from positions principally because of the collapse of their offensive and defeat in the Battle of Amiens (8-12th August)
  • The start of the 10 day Battle of Bapaume (21 August-1st September, 1918) proved to be the beginning of the end of World War I.

 Autumn 1918

  • On 18th September, on a 17 miles' front south of Gouzeancourt, the Fourth and Third Armies undertook operations which were the second phase of the fourth stage of the offensive, in which the Havrincourt operations had been the first phase. They were successful over practically the whole front. In the Havrincourt-Epehy Battle (12th-18th September,1918) the 2 Armies had captured nearly 12,000 prisoners and 100 guns. Sergt. Harry John Laurent earned the Victoria Cross when his fighting patrol captured 111 rank and file, and an officer with 2 messenger dogs in African Support. What was of no less importance was that the stage was now set for the attack on the Hindenburg Line and other artificial obstacles, the smashing of which was a necessary prelude to the final and overwhelming blows of October.
  • The Battle of Cambrai and the Hindenburg Line (27th September-5th October, 1918) had given us a footing on the east bank of the Scheldt and the "wall of bronze", which Admiral Hintze had assured the Reichstag would never be broken, was now irretrievably shattered.
  • Now the Second Battle of Le Cateau (8th-12th October, 1918) terminated in the successful establishment of a bridgehead on the Selle.
  • Completion of another long stage on the march towards Maubeuge. If objectives were attained, it would now be brought under effective range of our artillery. As a preliminary phase of the advance, it was necessary to drive the enemy from his line on the Selle, and hence the whole operation, is defined as the Battle of the Selle River (17th-25th October,1918).
  • The general plan laid down for the British Armies was to continue their advance on the Aulnoye junction and other centres of communication about Maubeuge vital to the enemy, and, if possible, to cut the main avenue of escape for the German forces opposite the French and Americans, which led to The Battle of the Sambre (1st-11th November 1918).
  • Using scaling ladders, New Zealanders attacked the 18‑metres high ramparts of the fortress town of Le Quesnoy and captured it from the Germans on 4 November 1918. It was the last major action of the war for the New Zealand Division and one in which it captured nearly 2000 prisoners and 60 field guns
  • The armistice came into effect at 1100 hours on 11 November 1918.

 Spring 1919

  • 25th March. The New Zealand Division, which had become known as the Silent Division, was disbanded after spending three years on the Western Front. The final draft of New Zealand troops left Germany for England on this date.
Source: The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records by Colonel Hugh Stewart
Last updated: 27th February 2014