Arrival of the NZ Division in France

11 April 1916

New Zealand troops march through Marsaille (Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19160706-38-2)

The Minnewaska, a troopship carrying the headquarters of the recently formed New Zealand Division, arrived in Marseilles, France. Thirteen more ships followed over the next fortnight, bringing the whole of the Division across a calm Mediterranean Sea from Alexandria, Egypt.

Though they were far from the front line, the people of Marseilles were pleased to see the New Zealand troops. Cecil Malthus travelled on the Franconia, which docked on 12 April. He wrote that the locals ‘milled around in the wildest excitement and made our progress difficult’:

Our Captain Gray was heartily kissed by a fat businessman, to the joy of the troops, and a number of the said troops broke ranks to do some kissing and hugging on their own behalf. [1]

Soldiers writing home found ingenious ways to get around the prohibition on disclosing their whereabouts. The ‘Unofficial War Correspondent’ of the Victoria University College Review wrote that ‘we passed the castle in which Monte Christo was imprisoned. Do you remember your Dumas?’ Alexandre Dumas’ fictional hero was unjustly imprisoned in the Chateau D'If in Marseille Harbour.

The men of the New Zealand Division spent little time in Marseilles. Soon after their arrival they boarded trains for a 58-hour journey north. France in springtime was a welcome sight. In a letter home William Prince of the Auckland Battalion remarked that the French countryside, ‘with its green fields & hedges & orchards is a treat after the eternal sands of Egypt’. [2]

Divisional Headquarters travelled in relative comfort on a mail train and reached their destination, Hazebrouck near the Belgian border, on the 13th. The troops, travelling cattle class, began arriving on the 15th. They were in for a period of intensive training behind the lines before seeing their first action on the Western Front.


[1] Cecil Malthus, Armentières and the Somme, Reed Books, Auckland, 2002, p.24

[2] William Alfred Prince, letter to Dearest Mother & All, 6 May 1916, William Alfred Prince MS2011/3, AWMM (as quoted in Glyn Harper, Johnny Enzed: the New Zealand soldier in the First World War 1914–1918, Exisle, Auckland, 2015, p.271)

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