Much of the focus in this week which marks Britain’s entry to the First World War has been on the experience of British politics, of British troops, and British people. Yet, the implications of Britain’s decision were also felt over 11,000 miles away in New Zealand. The New Zealand government followed Britain’s lead and declared war the day after, the 5th August 1914. While New Zealand’s men mainly served in the Middle East, on the Western Front, and in Samoa, many arrived in England for training and convalescence.
Thousands of soldiers of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB) arrived for training at Brocton Military Camp on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Their presence there would leave a lasting impression on the local people in the area. They became much loved. The men enjoyed a good relationship with locals in the area and enjoyed visits, concert parties, musical concerts and tea dances. Some of the rifle brigade even ended up marrying local women before heading back to New Zealand.
In June 1915 200 soldiers arrived at an army camp near the village of Chickerell in Weymouth. These wounded soldiers were the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps – and most of them were survivors of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. They’d come to Weymouth to convalesce, and by the end of the war over 105,000 had stayed and recuperated in the area. The Anzacs were welcomed by local people. The womenfolk of Chickerell organised a huge strawberries and cream tea.
Eighty-six Anzacs were never to see their homeland again and are buried in Weymouth and Melcombe Regis cemeteries. Weymouth observes Anzac Day on the 25 April every year with a service at the Anzac memorial along the esplanade.
Elsewhere in England, the Ministry of Defence still maintains a chalk kiwi carved into a hillside in Wiltshire near to Bulford. The carving entertained troops after the war while they waiting for the troop ships to take them back home.
Find out more about how the war involved soldiers from other counties with the BBC’s World War One at Home collection.