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New Zealand’s sacrifice on the Somme

News: 9 September 2016


Remembering the centenary of New Zealand’s sacrifice on the Somme

On the morning of 15 September 1916, soldiers from New Zealand went ‘over the top’ for the first time during the Battle of the Somme. The New Zealand Division was part of the third great offensive of the battle, which had raged since 1 July, and the men were tasked with capturing and defending the village of Flers. Supported by tanks, which were being used for the first time, the New Zealanders captured three successive lines of German trenches and achieved all their objectives.

But success came at a cost. Over the next three weeks of fighting, the 15,000-strong New Zealand Division suffered nearly 7,000 casualties, around 2,000 of whom were killed. The population of New Zealand at the time was only 1.1 million people.

Many of the men who died are buried in the cemeteries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), across the former Somme battlefields. However, around 1,200 of the dead have no known grave, and their names are commemorated on The New Zealand Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which forms part of the Eastern wall of the CWGC Caterpillar Valley Cemetery.

Commemorative events:

HRH The Prince of Wales, Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army, will attend the New Zealand Somme Commemorations at the Caterpillar Valley Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemetery, Longueval, France. He will be joined by the New Zealand Minister of Defence, the Hon. Gerry Brownlee and the New Zealand Ambassador to France, James Kember.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be represented by Mrs Victoria Wallace, Director General.

On Thursday 15 September, three special commemorative events will be held in the area fought over by New Zealand’s troops a century ago.

• 06.30: a traditional dawn ceremony at the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial.

• 11:00: New Zealand Battle of the Somme national commemoration at the CWGC Caterpillar Valley Cemetery and Memorial.

• 19.30: Return to the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial for a sunset ceremony.

The New Zealand Battlefield Memorial, which is maintained by the CWGC, lies just to the north of the village of Longueval. All events are free and open to the public. No ticket is necessary.

Further Media Opportunities:

On 13 September at 14.00 hours the CWGC will host a tour of its Headstone Production workshops at Beaurains in Arras, including filming and interview opportunities. Please contact Nelly Poignonnec, Media Supervisor: [email protected].


The valley that runs behind the present day cemetery was named Caterpillar Valley by British troops. It was from here that soldiers of the 9th (Scottish) Division attacked at dawn on 14 July 1916, capturing the ground on which the cemetery now stands. Fierce fighting over the following months for Delville Wood to the east and High Wood to the north-west, saw the surrounding landscape transformed into a wasteland of shattered trees and shell holes.

German forces retook this area in their 1918 spring offensive and the first burials were made here in late August 1918 when the 38th (Welsh) Division recaptured this ground and buried some 20 of their fallen comrades in what is today Plot 1.

After the Armistice the cemetery was greatly enlarged with many thousands of graves brought here from the surrounding battlefields.

The cemetery was designed by Arthur James Scott Hutton, who served with the Royal Engineers during the war, and Sir Herbert Baker. This is now the final resting place of more than 5,570 servicemen, of whom nearly 3,800 remains unidentified.

In 2004 the remains of an unknown New Zealand soldier were exhumed from the cemetery and laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Wellington, New Zealand. A special headstone marks his original resting place in Plot XIV, Row A, Grave 27.

The CWGC Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, is the final resting place of some 200 New Zealand servicemen, while nearby CWGC Thistle Dump Cemetery contains the graves of 37 who died in September. CWGC Bulls Road Cemetery is the final resting place of over 120 New Zealand servicemen. While some are buried close to the battlefields, others lie far behind the front lines. More than 120 can be found at CWGC Heilly Station Cemetery, where a casualty clearing station was located.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s New Zealand Memorial at Caterpillar valley is the largest New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in the world.

After the Armistice, the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, in consultation with its member governments, built memorials across the former battlefields to commemorate servicemen with no known grave; those whose bodies could not be recovered; whose graves had been unrecorded, lost or destroyed in the fighting; or whose remains could not be identified and were buried beneath a headstone bearing the inscription chosen by author Rudyard Kipling ‘A Soldier of the Great War. Known Unto God’.

The New Zealand Memorial at Caterpillar Valley is one of seven Memorials to the Missing of New Zealand forces on the Western Front. Each is located at a cemetery close to the area in which the servicemen died. In Belgium over 2,370 are commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial and on memorials in Messines Ridge British Cemetery and Buttes New British Cemetery. In France, in total, more than 1,700 men are commemorated on this memorial and those in Cité Bonjean Military Cemetery, Grévillers British Cemetery and Marfaux British Cemetery.

The memorial was designed by Arthur James Scott Hutton, who served with the Royal Engineers during the war, and Sir Herbert Baker. It commemorates over 1,200 servicemen of New Zealand forces who fell during the Somme Offensive between 31 August and 25 October 1916.


Having fought at Gallipoli as the New Zealand and Australian Division, soldiers of New Zealand units were reorganised while in Egypt into the New Zealand Division in March 1916. Its 15,000 men reached France in mid-April, training in the Armentières sector before being deployed to the Somme in late August.

In 1914, the total population of New Zealand was just over one million and yet some 120,000 New Zealanders enlisted – with more than 100,000 serving overseas.

The CWGC commemorates 18,053 New Zealanders who died in the First World War and 11,931 who died during the Second World War.

The total number of New Zealand war dead of the two world wars commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is 29,994.

The countries in which the largest number of New Zealand war dead are commemorated are France (7,778), Belgium (4,711) and Turkey (2,358) mainly from the First World War and Egypt (2,924), Italy (2,157) and Greece (1,148) from the Second World War.

New Zealand casualties of the two World Wars buried in New Zealand number 2,908. Their graves and memorials will be found in more than 430 locations throughout the country.



1. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive and accessible records archive.

The Commission operates in more than 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries.

Get to know the Commonwealth War Graves Commission





Updated on 12th September 2016