War oral history programme

Page 5 – Second World War


One hundred and forty thousand New Zealanders served overseas in the Second World War as soldiers, airmen, sailors and nurses. Another 128,000 served in uniform on the Home Front. This site gives a brief background to some key aspects of the war and also suggests questions for veterans, depending on their individual war history.

The Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF) fought in Greece (including Crete) then North Africa, and from the end of 1943 in Italy. Many soldiers served in at least two of these campaigns, depending on when they enlisted. Men in this fighting arm of 2 NZEF were known as the 2nd Division, or 'the Div'.

Servicemen with the 3rd Division of the army served in the Pacific, along with the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) and the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

New Zealand nurses served in North Africa, Italy and the Pacific. Other women served as Tuis in North Africa with the Women's War Service Auxiliary.

Seventeen thousand New Zealanders served with the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy, based in the United Kingdom.

Several thousand also served with the Merchant Navy on ships from New Zealand, Britain and other countries.

More than 8000 New Zealand servicemen became prisoners of war between 1939 and 1945. The vast majority were imprisoned in Italy and Germany. Those captured in the Pacific region by the Japanese were imprisoned in South-East Asia and East Asia.

Learn more about the Second World War on NZHistory.net.nz.

How to cite this page

'Second World War', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/hands/from-memory/second-world-war-introduction, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012