Full interview: NZDF historian talks Gallipoli troops

John Crawford (Paul Henry)
John Crawford (Paul Henry)

Historians have unearthed century-old notebooks that prove twice as many New Zealand soldiers served in the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign than has been believed for more than 100 years.

Until now, historians have relied on the New Zealand Official War History of the Gallipoli Campaign, written in 1919, which says 8556 Kiwis served. The new find puts the actual figure at around 17,000.

It's a remarkable discovery that rewrites the New Zealand story at Gallipoli.

The meticulously-kept notebooks, discovered in January this year by New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) historian John Crawford, detail the exact numbers of New Zealand and Australian troops who landed and then left the Gallipoli peninsula between June and August 1915.

The notebooks belonged to staff officer Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Thoms, whose job was to keep an accurate record of the strength of the New Zealand and Australian Division at Gallipoli on a daily basis.

Not all of Lt Col Thoms' notebooks appear to have survived, but the ones that have provide a record of exact troop arrivals and departures at Anzac Cove for three months of the eight-month campaign.

"It tells you a lot about the chaos that went on at Gallipoli… a lot of the records have just gone. They've been lost over time," says Mr Crawford.

The astonishing discovery proves that thousands more New Zealanders fought at Gallipoli than the 8556 often quoted -- something Kiwi historians have long suspected.

"For decades, no one really challenged it until 10 years ago [author] Richard Stowers looked at it and said, this figure makes no sense," says Mr Crawford.

"I read Richard's book and thought yes, he's right. He thought about 14,000. It was only last year with all the interest generated by the centenary that a group of us got together and sort this out, and try and get the best estimate we can."

And the 17,000 figure could yet grow further, as NZDF historians and their colleagues at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage continue their research.

The discovery of the notebooks not only helps solve a 100-year-old mystery, but it's a major game-changer in New Zealand's understanding of its contribution to the Gallipoli campaign.

"When you think about it, ANZAC and the whole Gallipoli campaign looms so large in New Zealand history, it had such an impact on New Zealand, and when you understand that in fact 17,000 New Zealanders served there -- rather than 8,500 -- that means twice as many families had a direct connection to the campaign," says Mr Crawford.

"It just helps explain why ANZAC is so important for New Zealand."