More than 12,000 New Zealanders served with overseas forces in World War I.

That's more than twice what Glyn Harper expected before he and two assistants began their research for his new book For King and Other Countries, released this month ahead of Anzac Day on Thursday.

Most were overseas when the war broke out in 1914. Many travellers were middle class and able to pay for expensive sea travel, but the larger group were working overseas, mostly in Australia.

New Zealanders served for nations including Britain, Australia, France, the United States and even Germany.

Advertisement

Read more: Interactive: World War I Roll of Honour

Some were among the top soldiers, sailors or airmen, doctors and nurses in the world.

But among them was the odd shyster, con artist or ratbag.

Hero or Ratbag?

Roger Patrick Farnham Moag-Levy's life sounds like a film. The Kiwi soldier, liar and bigamist was able to join different armies or even rejoin the same one by using different combinations of his multi-barrelled name.

Most of the armed forces that Moag-Levy signed up with, kicked him out, including the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Moag-Levy was born in Dunedin. He called himself Henry for his civilian job as a mate with the Union Steamship Company, which he started in 1912.

But he wanted to serve in the war, and three years on, joined in Australia, where he was either living or on a ship that called in.

The Australians were seduced by the 22-year-old's amazing story of 14 years service, including as a marine with the Royal Navy. They did not notice that something was amiss - an 8-year-old could not have gone to sea.

Advertisement

He told them he had been awarded a chest full of medals including the top award for officers, the DFC (Distinguished Service Order), service medals for the South African War and Zululand Rebellion and the Royal Humane Society Medal (for saving lives).

He had the actual medals to prove it - Harper thinks perhaps he purchased them from a military tailor.

For King and Other Countries by Glyn Harper, with Christine Clement and Rebecca Johns.
For King and Other Countries by Glyn Harper, with Christine Clement and Rebecca Johns.

A troop ship carrying Moag-Levy and other reinforcements for Gallipoli left Australia in July 1915, and he served with the Anzacs at the end of the battle. At first he did well, perhaps helped by his fake medals and gift of the gab. He was quickly promoted to lieutenant, and became acting brigade machine gun officer.

The Anzacs would soon be broken up, most to be sent to the Western Front. But back at the base in Cairo, Moag-Levy struck a snafu - he got drunk and missed a briefing meeting. He pleaded not guilty at his court-martial, claiming he had a bout of malaria.

The story didn't wash and he was sentenced to be "dismissed from His Majesty's service". The conviction was harsh but, reading between the lines, Harper, professor of war studies at Massey University and a former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel, reckons that considering Moag-Levy had been transferred twice in a few weeks, something was amiss. They were suspicious.

"It seems really strange they kicked him out for a really minor offence," he says.

The AIF put Moag-Levy on a ship back to Australia, but he talked his way into being discharged in Britain, where he returned to the sea, working his passage to New York. He jumped ship and travelled to Canada, and signed up for the Canadian Mounted Rifles as Maxwell Farnham. His long-term goal was to join the Royal Flying Corps.

Things began to improve. Moag-Levy quit the Canadian Mounted Rifles after just a few months so he could apply for the RFC. Flying planes was generally a middle-class job. So he sexed up his application, saying he had qualified as an engineer from Otago University and added Compass Adjuster.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Military Police had discovered his true identity, including his discharge for drunkenness. They told the RFC recruiters.

Moag-Levy's dream of becoming a pilot was vaporised. Harper reckons the fake DFC - a medal only given to a few brave officers - may have been his downfall.

Moag-Levy aimed for an easier goal - he enlisted for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the UK as a machine gunner - but admitted his discharge. After running some checks, the Kiwis kicked him out after just a month for "enrolling with a false name".

That dream of being a pilot looked elusive. Then in March 1917, New Zealand newspapers reported a 25-year-old New Zealand Army officer had been arrested for "wearing a Captain's uniform of the RFC with ribbons of the DSO".

The officer defending him said he "wanted to serve ... was not a coward ... and that his ruin" was caused by his desire to put on a swank and "fast living". The judge appeared sympathetic but sentenced Moag-Levy to two months' hard labour.

After serving his sentence, Moag-Levy returned to the sea, on an American ship, the SS Halifax. The northern seas were dangerous, with German U boats on the hunt. On December 11 the ship disappeared, reportedly with all hands. Apparently Moag-Levy was dead.

Or was he? In 1926 a New Zealand newspaper reported one Hyman Levy (Moag Levy's original name) had tricked his fiancée into removing her engagement ring, which he then stole. Which ending is true? Harper is not sure if Moag-Levy had drowned, or continued his life as a conman.

Perhaps Moag-Levy now wanted a low profile. By the age of 25, he had been married four times to women around the world, without having divorced any of them, making him a bigamist. One wife had been chasing him, serving papers after he came out of jail.

But Moag-Levy doesn't hold the record for multiple enlistments. Harper says that goes to Aucklander James Glover who enlisted eight times, first as an infantry private with the AIF. Glover managed to find plenty of booze and prostitutes, but never saw action.

He contracted gonorrhoea, never fired a shot at the enemy but managed to punch out Aussie officers when arrested for being drunk. Despite doing almost nothing for nine months, Glover still collected his service medals. His father, Albert, was an Auckland councillor but Harper says Glover was a black sheep.

"He had a severe drinking problem."

Meanwhile, Selwyn Joyce was a journalist and fraudster. A staff officer in Canada, then briefly an officer in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Joyce saw no action in World War I. His army record was not good and he was chucked out - Harper thinks probably for fraud.

As a journalist he had worked round the world, including for the New York Times and Daily Telegraph.

But after the war he became a con man in Australia and New Zealand, wearing his RSA badge and ribbons, while asking people for money for his "sick wife" - who always happened to come from the donor's home town - a ruse designed to make the victim feel they might know her. Actually Joyce was married, and also had a child to another woman, called Annie Winter. But he had deserted them.

He had many aliases and served jail time in both countries. He later returned to journalism.

Unknown heroes

WWI Alfred Shout, Victoria Cross recipient. Photo / Supplied
WWI Alfred Shout, Victoria Cross recipient. Photo / Supplied

Many Kiwis who served overseas in World War I took huge risks, becoming true heroes.

Former Wellington carpenter, Captain Alfred Shout went to Australia to get work. He signed up for the AIF early on and served at Gallipoli in 1915.

Shout was one of two New Zealanders to earn a Victoria Cross at Gallipoli but he's largely unknown here.

Harper calls Shout a natural leader who led an attack on the Turks at the Nek, a narrow stretch of ridge on the Gallipoli Peninsula, throwing jam tin bombs (home-made hand grenades) in a trench. Shout lost both hands and was taken to a hospital ship where he died.

Shout, who also had a military cross and was mentioned in dispatches as Australia's most decorated soldier at Gallipoli.

Cecil Humphries, a publican and representative rugby player, was on holiday with his mother in Britain, when the war broke out. He immediately signed up with the Army Service Corps, in a support role, but soon transferred to infantry.

Cecil Humphries. Photo / Supplied
Cecil Humphries. Photo / Supplied

Humphries had a stellar career, rising through the ranks from private to acting lieutenant colonel. He was lucky at first. While bending over to check a wounded man, his shirt tail was hit by machine gun fire. He sent the shirt, with eight bullet holes to his mum.

He saved a burning ammunition train in Belgium, winning a Military Cross and bar, in addition to a Distinguished Conduct Medal won earlier. In mid 1918, a few months before the war's end, he was acting lieutenant colonel, in charge of the Norfolk Regiment's First Battalion.

Humphries was killed by German artillery after his unit took the high ground in the Somme in 1918. Little consolation, no doubt, for his mother, when his boss, a brigadier, wrote to her that her son "was without exception, the bravest man I know".

Few New Zealanders have served for France. But James Waddell signed up with the French Foreign Legion after not fitting into a British regiment, which he had joined in the late 19th century.

He was quite short at five foot three inches. Wealthy upper-class officers saw him as an outsider. Higher command took his side, which Harper says probably did not help.

His wife, Blanche, suggested he join the Foreign Legion. He joined up in 1900. Promoted to captain, he served with the Legion at Gallipoli in 1915.

He was severely wounded, but continued to direct the attack at Cape Helles, at Gallipoli, until the position was taken. This won him a Croix de Guerre.

James Waddell. Photo / Photo / Supplied
James Waddell. Photo / Photo / Supplied

Waddell continued with the Legion, fighting in many key battles including the Somme, Verdun and defending against the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

A curious episode was Waddell's application in 1916, to join the New Zealand Division. Strangely the commander, Major-General Sir Andrew Russell, turned him down, despite, Harper says, a shortage of experienced officers.

Waddell served in the Foreign Legion until well after the war. He returned to New Zealand in the 1950s, to spend time with his grown-up children. He died aged 84.

Perhaps the saddest story is that of Dr Angus McNab. The New Zealand-born eye surgeon, who worked at Charing Cross hospital, had a Harley St practice and had written a textbook.

McNab joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914. He served with the London Scottish Battalion, in the First Battle of Ypres in Belgium.

During this action they found nearly half their rifles were defective and were over-run. According to a survivor's letter, "McNab was bayoneted [and killed] while attending two wounded men. It was bright moonlight, he had a white badge and red cross on his arm, and even a blue tunic on, so as to be unmistakable, and was of course, without any (fire)arms."

McNab's death led to a tit-for-tat killing spree, the London Scottish refusing to take any prisoners, and the Germans responding in kind.

McNab, age 39, left behind his wife and two young children. McNab has no known grave, his name is one of more than 100 New Zealand names etched on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Belgium.

Women of the war

Pixie Laing. Photo / Photo / Supplied
Pixie Laing. Photo / Photo / Supplied

A minority of plucky Kiwi women had the opportunity to travel and find work in Europe in World War I.

Dunedin-born Pixie Laing travelled to France in 1916, to work for the Folies Bergere, famous for its extravagant costumes - or virtually none at all. A year on, Pixie was driving ambulances for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. She survived the war.

Lena Ashwell, a concert producer, battled with British bureaucrats to provide concert parties for the troops. She won, and there were more than 5000 concerts.

Lena Ashwell.
Lena Ashwell.

Among the New Zealanders working there was Rosemary Frances Rees, a playwright and actress. She used her contacts to get 20,000 free tickets for the use of Zealand soldiers.

After the war she had her own theatre company in New Zealand and wrote best-selling romantic fiction.

Beatrice Maunder was probably New Zealand's most successful woman during World War I.

Beatrice Maunder. Photo / Supplied
Beatrice Maunder. Photo / Supplied

She set up several hospitals in Belgium, one in a converted hotel and another in an outdoor entertainment area. One of these accommodated 1000 soldiers.

She recalled a busy fortnight where there was no time to bathe or sleep in a bed. She was truly remarkable. The King of Belgium awarded her the Order of Merit. Curiously, she never discussed where she came from.

For King and Other Countries
By Glyn Harper, with Christine Clement and Rebecca Johns.
RRP: $47.99
Massey University Press