Second World War - overview

Page 1 – Introduction

Sora during the Italian Campaign
Sora during the Italian Campaign

Our part in a global conflict

The Second World War was the greatest conflict ever to engulf the world. It took the lives of 50 million people, including one in every 150 New Zealanders, and shaped the world that we have lived in ever since.

New Zealand was involved for all but three of the 2179 days of the war — a commitment on a par only with Britain and Australia. It was a war in which New Zealanders gave their greatest national effort — on land, on the sea and in the air — and a war that New Zealanders fought globally, from Egypt, Italy and Greece to Japan and the Pacific.

The impact on the home front was considerable. The nature of the Second World War not only gave impetus to New Zealanders' developing sense of identity but also greatly increased their confidence in their role in the world.

Quick facts and figures:

  • The population of New Zealand in 1940 was about 1,600,000.
  • About 140,000 New Zealand men and women served, 104,000 in 2NZEF, the rest in the British or New Zealand naval or air forces.
  • Fatal casualties during the conflict numbered 11,928 (Commonwealth War Graves Commission figures).
  • Post-war calculations indicated that New Zealand's ratio of killed per million of population (at 6684) was the highest in the Commonwealth (with Britain at 5123 and Australia, 3232). 
  • In contrast to its entry into the First World War, New Zealand acted in its own right by formally declaring war on Germany on 3 September (unlike Australia, which held that the King's declaration, as in 1914, automatically extended to all his Dominions).
How to cite this page

'New Zealand and the Second World War', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Aug-2014