Today we start a special series about 100 New Zealanders who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I. Here, Andrew Stone reports on five ‘firsts’ from the Great War.

One hundred years ago, a day after Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, its loyal dominion New Zealand announced it too was involved in the conflict. Across the country the news was greeted with excitement. Thousands of men lined up for the adventure of their lives. When the fighting ended in November 1918, the "war to end all wars" had left deep and lasting scars on New Zealand. Of the 100,000 who served overseas, 18,042 died. More than 40,000 were wounded or fell ill. In a small country, the profound loss left a legacy of sorrow, grief but also pride that her soldiers had helped the Allies win the war.

1 The first casualty

New Zealand had been at war with Germany for just eight days when Sapper Robert Hislop died.

The young Territorial was guarding the Parnell rail bridge on the night of August 13, 1914 when he tumbled off and plummeted 6m to the hard ground below.


Admitted to hospital with broken legs, Hislop, 21, a member of the New Zealand Corps of Railway Engineers, never recovered and died on August 19. An inquest returned a verdict of death from "shock" arising from his severe injuries.

The Auckland Star described Hislop, who came from Christchurch, as the "first casualty in the 'war' as far as New Zealand soldiers are concerned."

But unlike thousands of other New Zealanders who died in World War I, Hislop's name is not recorded on any official war grave, even though he was given a military funeral. His death came very early in New Zealand's World War I history but history, it seems, has passed him by.

The turnout for his funeral on a sunny Auckland Friday lunchtime was huge. Hundreds of soldiers formed a cortege to accompany Hislop's casket after his body was collected from Auckland Hospital.

Watched by sombre crowds, the procession, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel George Barclay, accompanied by the Garrison Military Band, ended at the railway station, where Hislop was taken to Waikumete Cemetery by train.

At the graveside the young soldier was given a solemn farewell.

The service was conducted by Major-Chaplain John Luxford, a Boer War veteran who lost a leg when shot in the knee at Gallipoli. The Christchurch Press reported Major Luxford presided over "fitting military honours" for the deceased soldier.

In the century since the Christchurch railway worker was buried, his gravestone has deteriorated. But cemetery records say the weathered headstone on grave number 1775 has a railway inscription and bears the words "In memory of Sapper Robert Hislop No 2 Company North Island Railway Battalion NZ Engineers the first NZ soldier to give his life during the Great War accidentally killed while on duty guarding the Parnell bridge."

Hislop had been in Auckland just six weeks, having arrived from Darfield, 30km west of Christchurch. Employed in the goods department, Hislop's employers recalled a young man "courteous in public and private life".

When he fell and died, effectively in the service of his country, he left behind no records to confirm he had been medically checked or signed to enlist.

Hislop's death, unlike the 18,042 New Zealanders killed in the world's first great mechanised war, did not qualify for the Roll of Honour as an official war casualty.

2 Life ends at war's beginning

Ludolph Edwin Wynn West, like Robert Hislop, never served his country in a theatre of war. But when his story was rediscovered a decade ago he was acknowledged in a wreath-laying ceremony and added to the Roll of Honour.

The Ministry of Defence considers West to be the first soldier in the NZ Expeditionary Force to die in World War I. The 19-year-old gunner succumbed to pleurisy and pneumonia on August 25, 1914 at a Palmerston North mobilisation camp - nearly a week after Hislop. The failure to record West's passing as a war death was put down to "clerical error".

The son of Danish-born architect Ludolph Georg West and his second wife Alice, Ludolph went to Palmerston North Boys High where he played cricket and hockey. A corporal with the school cadets, he made the shooting team in his final year, 1911.

He was for several seasons a member of the first XI and one of our most prominent hockey players. He was also a corporal in the cadets and a member of the shooting team in 1911. In the Palmerstonian, the school's magazine, West's "bright and cheerful disposition" was said to make him a popular pupil.

After matriculating, he left school and became a draughtsman, and kept up his military training as a member of J Battery, a Territorial unit in the Manawatu and part of the NZ Field Artillery.

When war was declared at the beginning of August 1914, thousands of young men put their names up for service. West made his way to Awapuni Racecourse where a sea of canvas tents housed hundreds of recruits. Sticking to British training manuals, the troops learned to march, fight and behave like soldiers. West had been in camp at Palmerston North for just eight days when died. The NZEF had its first casualty.

3 Entombed but not forgotten

The first New Zealander killed on active service would appear to be John Reardon. His name is not etched on any memorial in this country but can be found in Canberra on the Australian War Memorial. A dark-haired man with fresh complexion, Reardon, who came from Kaikoura, left New Zealand to go to sea. In March 1913, at the age of 22, he signed up to the Royal Australian Navy. Service records note Reardon, who signed up for five years, had an anchor and clasped hands tattooed on his left forearm.

Unlike New Zealand, which opted for its own unit of the Royal Navy, Australia formed a navy to defend its territorial seas. As part of its fleet it commissioned two submarines - novel and highly-secret vessels at the time powered by two diesel engines and armed with four torpedo tubes.

Reardon was assigned to the crew of AE1, possibly on transfer from the Royal Navy. Crew selection followed tough training to prepare sailors for underwater duties.

The pioneer vessels, 55m long and weighing 660 tonnes, set off on their 21,000km maiden voyage from Portsmouth to Sydney in March 1914. It was an eventful trip: a prop fell off one sub, and mechanical failures forced them to be towed for nearly half the distance. Through the Suez Canal, to beat soaring temperatures inside the crammed 6.7m wide craft, AE1 was painted white.

On May 25, Empire Day, the subs reached Sydney - the end to a "most wonderful journey of endurance, both for men and engines," wrote engine room hand John Marsland in a diary of the trip.

Repaired and refitted, the subs were tasked to attack the German Pacific Fleet when war was declared and went hunting for enemy ships near Rabaul in what was then German New Guinea. AE1 - which one tribe called "a devil fish" - was part of an Australian flotilla when, at 3.30pm on September 14, contact was lost in poorly charted waters full of dangerous reefs. It was the last ever seen of AE1 and her crew, including Able Seaman Reardon. Its final resting place has eluded searchers ever since, including the famed undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau. Reardon is remembered on a plaque at the Garden Island Naval Heritage Centre in Sydney which honours the 35 men lost when AE1 vanished. "Entombed but not forgotten," it reads.

4 Sons of Ngatimoti

Ten kilometres from Motueka lies Ngatimoti. Like many small New Zealand settlements, the hamlet has a memorial to the sons it lost in World War I. Fifteen men are named on the Ngatimoti plaque - among them Willie Ham, the first NZ Expeditionary Force soldier to die in combat. Irish-born Private William Arthur Ham sailed to war on October 16, 1914 with 8454 soldiers and almost 4000 horses. The black haired, blue-eyed labourer and the oldest of six boys, Ham had emigrated on the ship Athenic with his parents and two brothers in the hope a better climate might help his father William's poor health. A strong young man, school cadet and a keen territorial, Willie enlisted as soon as war was declared. When the Athenic, pressed into service as a troopship, left Wellington with nine other vessels, Ham was among 14 soldiers from Ngatimoti. By December the troops reached the Suez Canal and were assigned to guard the vital shipping lane from advancing Turkish columns. At 3am on February 3 1915, enemy soldiers launched a water-borne invasion on metal pontoons. NZ troops, an Indian unit and a Lancashire artillery battery, backed by gunfire from French and British warships, fought back. Ham was critically injured when a round deflected off his rifle and broke his spine. He died at Ismailia Hospital on February 5. Lieutenant Alexander Forsythe, a Motueka jeweller, wrote in his diary: "Ham was groaning badly, so I crept back and made him as comfortable as possible. He could speak, and said he had lost the power of his arms and legs, so I knew the bullet must have lodged in his spinal column and so paralysed him. Shortly after the native stretcher bearers went out and brought him in." A month later Ham's father died in Nelson from pneumonia. His mother Hester remarried but her second husband, Private Cyril Montague Bartlett, was also killed in action, on the Western Front in December 1917. His name too is on the Ngatimoti Memorial.

5 Killed by enemy action

Three days after Willie Ham died, Able Seaman William Edward Knowles became the first New Zealand naval sailor killed as a result of enemy action. Liverpool-born Knowles, 38, a "well known and respected resident" of Lyttelton, was an experienced merchant seaman who crewed on the ship Terra Nova which took Sir Robert Scott on his ill-fated journey to Antarctica. In early 1915 Knowles was serving on HMS Philomel, on patrol in the eastern Mediterranean. It harassed Turkish communications by shelling railway lines and sending troops ashore at night. On February 8, a shore party including Knowles landed near Alexandretta in southern Turkey to intercept a mule caravan but 100 Turkish soldiers were lying in wait. During a skirmish, Knowles was hurt in the abdomen. Early the next morning Knowles died onboard of his wounds and was later buried at sea. He left a wife in Lyttleton and is remembered on the Canterbury Provincial Memorial in Christchurch, along with 32 other World War I casualties with no known grave.

Tomorrow: More stories of our war heroes.