Wounded World War 1 New Zealand soldiers being placed in a
motorised ambulance in France, in April 1918. Photo:
Alexander Turnbull Library.
Preventative measures could have significantly reduced
the death toll of New Zealand soldiers in World War 1, new
research into the war's injury deaths suggests.
The study using modern statistical analysis also confirmed
World War 1 was by far the worst mass injury event in New
Published in yesterday's New Zealand Medical Journal,
the research by by University of Otago, Wellington and Massey
University researchers, was timely, given the 100th
anniversary of the outbreak of the war would be celebrated
Massey University Professor of War Studies Glyn Harper said
while historical interpretations differed, there were many
plausible, preventive measures that could have been taken to
reduce loss of life, and the study supported that.
''A key one would have been better military planning to avoid
failed campaigns such as Gallipoli and preventing the poor
military leadership that resulted in the extremely high death
rate of New Zealanders at Passchendaele.''
Improved preventive measures, such as the use of steel
helmets by troops earlier in the war, could also have reduced
both injuries and deaths, he said.
University of Otago Wellington Associate Prof Nick Wilson
said it was the first time an analysis of the mortality
burden on New Zealand military forces in World War 1 had been
done using modern analytic methods.
Updated electronic versions of the roll of honour and the
cenotaph database from Auckland Museum were used for the
The research showed it was the first war where the major
cause of death was injury, rather than disease, he said.
Of the 16,703 deaths among New Zealand forces, from July 1914
to November 1918, 63% were ''killed in action'' and 23%
''died of wounds'' and only 11% of disease.
Injury deaths peaked at 1335 per 10,000 soldiers in 1915
during Gallipoli and peaked again in 1917, mostly due to the
Battle of Passchendaele.
At the worst period in the war, 450 New Zealand soldiers were
dying each day.
Another finding was the proportion of deaths from wounds, out
of all injury deaths, peaked in the last year of the war,
1918, at 29%, he said.
''What this suggests is that the ongoing improvements in
medical services for the wounded were being overwhelmed by
other factors like changes in weaponry and military
tactics,'' Prof Wilson said.
On the Western Front, there was an initial return to
horse-drawn ambulances while civilian society was generally
using motorised ones by that time.
With 13% of New Zealand forces killed or dying of wounds
during the war, it was the worst mass injury event in New
''It's way ahead of World War 2, the influenza pandemic and
way ahead of even the worst earthquake at Hawkes Bay, with