And poor Jim was laying there cuddled up in a heap as men die. Don’t forget we was all young, we didn’t die easy. You don’t die at once, you’re not shot and killed stone dead. You don’t die at once. We were all fit and highly trained and of course we didn’t die easy, you see. You were slow to die and you’d find them huddled up in a heap like kids gone to sleep, you know, cuddled up dead.

From interview with Sidney Stanfield - hear and read more

During and after the First World War, New Zealanders on the battlefields and at home reflected on their country’s role in the conflict with a mixture of sadness and pride. The huge losses in northern France and Belgium left deep scars and forged an enduring bond between New Zealand and these countries. War cemeteries in these areas and hundreds of memorials back in New Zealand serve as permanent reminders of the terrible toll of 1917. 

Dealing with death

In 1914 most New Zealanders made sense of the cost of war through the idea of the good Christian death. The consolation and ritual within this, though, could not prepare people for the scale and manner of death experienced on the Western Front. The great distances separating New Zealand soldiers from their families and communities back home added to the difficulty of dealing with grief.

When a soldier was killed, his comrades formed the primary circle of mourners. Back in New Zealand, the grief of mourning families was compounded by the absence of a body or funeral. In the case of those reported missing, families faced an agonising wait for news of their loved ones’ fate. More ...

Buried in foreign soil

More than 12,000 New Zealand servicemen are buried or commemorated in around 430 cemeteries in Belgium. France and the United Kingdom, most of which are situated close to where men fell in battle. Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery on the Western Front. It contains the graves of more New Zealanders – 520 (322 of them unidentified) – than any other First World War cemetery. The New Zealand Memorial Apse in the cemetery's Memorial to the Missing commemorates the 1176 New Zealanders who died on the Western Front and have no known grave. More ...

War memorials

In the years following the end of the war, New Zealanders erected more than 500 civic war memorials to those who died in the conflict. With most of New Zealand's war dead buried overseas, local memorials acted as surrogate tombs, places for families to grieve for their loved ones. Many of these memorials commemorate those who died at Messines and Passchendaele, and other places, events and people associated with the Belgian battlefields. More ...

A memorial on rails

Decorative or utilitarian, some of New Zealand's First World War memorials were more unusual than others. In 1925 the minister of railways, Gordon Coates, agreed to a proposal to name a steam locomotive ‘in memory of those members of the New Zealand Railways who fell in the Great War’. More ...

How to cite this page

'Remembering the dead', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-Dec-2021