Gallipoli never seems to leave us. A month before the country gathers in the darkness before dawn to commemorate the soldiers who did not return from the Mediterranean battlefield, a revised count has concluded nearly twice as many New Zealand soldiers served in the 1915 Ottoman campaign than previously accepted.
For close to a century, the original total - 8556 soldiers - has stood the test of time, though questions have surfaced about its accuracy and the methodology used to generate the figure. The number appeared in a preface written by General Sir Ian Hamilton in Major Fred Waite's 1919 official history, The New Zealanders at Gallipoli. It now seems General Hamilton was referring to the first New Zealand Expeditionary Force units who made it ashore in April and May 1916. Major Waite's account makes clear the 8556 total did not include waves of reinforcements sent to the Turkish peninsula as casualties climbed and landing forces were rotated.
In all, six contingents of reinforcements sailed from New Zealand for the Middle East during the Gallipoli conflict, arriving in time to join the campaign from April until December 1915. Research begun last November using digitised service records and the discovery in Archives New Zealand files of meticulous notebooks compiled by an administrative officer in the NZEF has allowed Defence Force historians to produce what they believe to be a far more accurate Gallipoli tally. It is now certain, the Defence Force calculates, more than 16,000 troops served in the Gallipoli theatre in 1915. The figure may have exceeded 17,000. The new campaign total does not, however, alter the Gallipoli death toll, which stands at 2779, and who New Zealand will once more honour next month.
The officer whose record-keeping 100 years ago gives military historians comfort that the new total is correct was British-born Nathanial Thoms, a career soldier appointed to the job of Deputy Assistant Adjutant General of the New Zealand and Australian Division. Lieutenant Colonel Thoms' task at Gallipoli was to maintain an accurate record of the division's strength on a daily basis. He had to provide to headquarters commanders an impeccable picture of the movements of Anzac forces on and off the peninsula. For the months of June, July and August 1915, his record-keeping proved invaluable in creating a fresh picture of the famous campaign. Using Thoms' thorough accounting, the service records of 2429 soldiers in the 6th Reinforcements, and unit files kept for administrative, the research team arrived at its new "more than 16,000" total.
For the descendants of World War I veterans, the research could lead to the discovery that the family service file could have skipped Gallipoli, given that documentation recorded military history, unit transfers and illness and was less focused on particular campaigns. Last year, the Herald's series on WWI casualties revealed the first New Zealand soldier killed on duty died as a result of an accident in Auckland. Now, a little of the fog of war has lifted over Gallipoli.
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