Archives New Zealand holds many records of the armed forces, from the 1840s to the 1970s. Most are held in the Wellington office, in either War or Army Department records.
This guide is organised by period and war, focusing mostly on the Army. Records held for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Navy are outlined at the end of the guide.
Archives New Zealand holds individual personnel files from the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 [AABK 18805 W5515]. Unfortunately individual records include very little about actual service, but references to records may be found by name in ARCHWAY: http://archway.archives.govt.nz
Archives New Zealand also holds individual personnel files from the period 1914-1920, including the First World War [AABK 18805]. All files are searchable by name on ARCHWAY, which gives individual file references.
Personnel Files for service after 1920, including the Second World War and later, are mostly held by the New Zealand Defence Force. Contact details are:
New Zealand Defence Force
Private Bag 905, Upper Hutt 5140
Phone: 04 527 5280
Fax: 04 527 5288 / 527 5275
Medal information can be obtained through the website:
Archives New Zealand does hold personnel files for:
At various times fourteen British infantry regiments and Royal Artillery, Staff & Service Corps served in the wars in New Zealand, 1845-1847 and 1861-1866. They were eligible for the New Zealand Medal (see below). Some soldiers took their discharge in New Zealand. If they received a pension they may appear in Treasury Registers (see BIO 1). [T 9/1-7]
Archives New Zealand holds microfilm copies of Muster Books and Pay Lists for each of the regiments stationed in New Zealand. A regiment and dates of service are needed to give access to information on a particular person. [WO 12]
There is also a card index recording soldiers who died in the wars of the 1860s:
Historical War Graves Index Cards [IA 76/9-12]
The Fencibles were retired British soldiers who were settled near Auckland. See Research Guide: Migration.
The New Zealand Medal was awarded to nearly all British troops who served in New Zealand in the 1840s and 1860s. However, it was awarded only to New Zealand colonial troops who, on application, could prove they had come under enemy fire during their service.
Archives New Zealand Wellington holds an alphabetical War Medal Card Index in the Reading Room which gives references to one or more of the following, depending on what force the individual served with:
All these may give brief details of a soldier’s service. The colonial records include some Maori who fought for the Crown.
AJHR (Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives), include lists of many successful colonial medal applicants, particularly in:
AJHR 1871 G-1 (pp4-8 & 21-22); G-1A (pp1-3 & 5-6)
AJHR 1873-1875 (H-16A, -17, -25 respectively)
Many different New Zealand colonial forces were raised in the nineteenth century, often temporarily, for military, policing and settlement reasons.
Under the Militia Ordinance 1845, militia units could be raised in New Zealand, for temporary service in times of emergency only, in the locality where the force was raised. The Militia Act 1858 continued these forces, but it also provided for volunteer units, and from the 1860s the Militia were replaced by Volunteer Corps.
The Militia Rolls which still exist at Archives New Zealand Wellington are very incomplete. Within the period 1845-1850 there are some Rolls for:
Volunteer Corps were recognised by an Act of 1865 but they had been active before that date. These were locally organised forces for local needs, and some of the members and forces were Maori.
The strength of each corps varied between 40 and 100 men. In the later 1860s the total of Volunteers stabilised at about 6000. These forces were active in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty in 1863-1864 and against Titokowaru and Te Kooti 1868-1872.
After the wars the corps were only sporadically active, often in drill halls. An annual capitation grant was paid to each officer and ‘efficient’ volunteer, but no training was prescribed. Uniform varied from group to group, and for many corps their only public appearances were in ceremonial parades.
Though inefficient, the Volunteers remained until the Defence Act 1909 formed a Territorial Army 1910-11.
Records of the Volunteer forces exist, mostly Rolls of various sorts, such as: Capitation Rolls, Nominal and Casualty Rolls, Acquittance Rolls.
In the Reading Room is an alphabetical card index to the volunteer corps. Knowledge of the corps a person served in can lead to Rolls which list corps members’ attendance at training and the pay disbursed.
The Colonial Defence Act 1862 authorised the formation of the first Regular Force in New Zealand, and a number of Special Forces, such as the Forest Rangers (see Volunteer Corps), were also raised. Archives New Zealand Wellington holds a copy of:
The Colonial Defence Force was disbanded on 22 October 1867 and many members transferred to the Armed Constabulary that year (see next page).
Historical War Graves – 19th century soldiers. Alphabetical card index [IA 76 (Boxes 9-12)]
Register Room, Wellington
New Zealand Gazettes 1863-1865 include lists of troops (imperial and colonial) killed or wounded at various engagements in those years.
Other lists of ‘Killed in Action’ and ‘Died of Wounds’ are to be found in:
AJHR 1871 G-1A (p7 – pre 11 July 1868 deaths)
AJHR 1871 G-1 (pp8-10 – post 11 July 1868 deaths)
The Armed Constabulary (AC) was a force raised under the Armed Constabulary Act 1867 and its members were in active service mainly 1868-71.
In the 1870s the AC were at the forefront of settlement in ‘frontier’ areas of the North Island, building roads and serving both a military and a police purpose.
The attack on Parihaka in 1881 was the last active service for the Armed Constabulary which was divided into Police and a military Field Force in 1886.
Archives New Zealand in Wellington holds various AC records, though some originals are not available to the public for preservation reasons.
There are many Nominal and Muster Rolls, often called Descriptive Returns, usually restricted to a particular time and place. The overall date range of the rolls is 1863-1885, but most belong to 1868-1869 [P 8/5-96]. These records include two general returns:
Includes people who served in other police/military forces pre-1867. Some information not found in the Description Book, eg: ship/date of arrival in colony.
A Permanent Militia was established in 1886 to take over the military functions of the Armed Constabulary. In 1909 it was renamed the Permanent Force.
In Wellington is a Card Index of those who held Army Commissions up to 1911. Cards give references to various lists and register books [AD 20/1-27], including:
See also ‘Waikato Immigration Scheme’ in Research Guide Migration page 3.
Four regiments of Waikato Militia military settlers were raised to help keep order in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty after the 1860s wars. Many men were recruited in Australia. Their service entitled them to land grants but much of the land surveyed was unsuitable for farming and was deserted or bought up by speculators.
1st Waikato [AD 76/1; AREPRO 4711/360] (AK)
3rd Waikato [AD 76/3; AREPRO 4711/361] (AK)
Commissions investigated military land claims between 1882 and 1910. The main records are:
Other records created in the 1890s include:
Another possible approach is through the Indexes and Registers of the Lands (and Survey) Department, held in the Register Room, Wellington.
The South African or Anglo-Boer War was the first overseas war for New Zealand. As an imperial war it was supported by great patriotic enthusiasm and local Volunteer Corps numbers reached a peak of 17,000.
New Zealand sent 6337 ‘mounted rifles’ in ten contingents, with about 8000 horses. Proportionately New Zealand sent more troops than any other colony, but the units did not operate as a national force.
Erratic and incomplete records of this force are held at Archives New Zealand in Wellington. The best lists were published in the AJHR:
Searchable by name on ARCHWAY, these are mostly W5573 (with microfilm) or W5614 (without microfilm).
Overall date range 1875-2003; majority 1890s-1920s. Most are not Personnel files and not very informative.
Archives New Zealand holds a great variety of records of the service of New Zealand forces in the First World War. Most of these are Army records. For Military Service personnel records see page 1.
In 1910-1911 New Zealand organised a Territorial Force of some 30,000 men, with permanent staff and an expanded General Headquarters. New weapons and improved training meant that when war broke out on 4 August 1914, New Zealand was able to offer Britain an expeditionary force immediately.
There were enough volunteers to fill the numbers required for the force and its reinforcements until 1916. News of Gallipoli and of the trenches in Belgium and France showed that the war was no longer a ‘glorious adventure’. Conscription was introduced in 1916 to maintain force numbers.
In the First World War, just over 100,000 troops left New Zealand for service overseas in Samoa, Gallipoli, Sinai-Palestine, Belgium and France. Of those serving overseas, more than 16,000 lost their lives and over 41,000 were wounded, a very high casualty rate.
See Research Guide: Citizenship.
Archives New Zealand holds various records of casualties in the First World War. Microfilm copies should be used where available.
Access to individual entries is open 20 years from death. Otherwise permission to access entries is needed from Capital & Coast Health, Wellington.
Most records relate to the more notable decorations and awards of the First World War, such as the Victoria Cross, Military Medal, Distinguished Service Order, and decorations awarded by the French government to members of the NZ Expeditionary Force. See also ‘Photographs’ page 6.
New Zealand Gazettes and New Zealand Year Books 1915-1919 may include details of awards. Most citations appeared in the London Gazette. See also:
Wayne McDonald Honours and Awards to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Great War 1914-1918, Napier 2001. Record number entry in this book refers to WA 22 file above.
Access to these records is restricted for 100 years from birth of the individual involved. Holdings include:
Archives New Zealand holds some Diaries, Statements and Reports covering operations by New Zealand Expeditionary Force units, in both Europe and the Middle East. The variety of material includes some personal diaries and statements. [WA 10/3]
Further records of the Maori (Pioneer) Battalion may be found under Maori Affairs and Army Departments.
Maps can be useful in tracing the movements of an individual or unit, perhaps used in combination with other material, such as Unit Diaries. Archives New Zealand holds a variety of maps of areas of conflict.
The New Zealand War Histories, published after the First World War, also include many maps.
Army Department Embarkation Rolls for the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force (1 NZEF) are arranged by Unit, listing personnel by rank and only then alphabetically. They are held on Microfilm and in Army and War Department records.
Nurse Service records are held with all the other Military Service records – see Page 1.
Archives New Zealand also holds a considerable number of papers relating to the New Zealand Army Nursing Service for the period 1910-1924, including the First World War. [AD 64/1-32]
Many files are administrative, but some hold material on individual nurses. For example, the file ‘Hospital Ships 1915-1919’ [AD 64/4] contains the names of the nurses who travelled and worked on such ships.
Archives New Zealand holds few files relating to individual war pensions, but there are two useful series of index cards to war pension applications:
There are also General Correspondence files which include some names:
Archives New Zealand holds several First World War photograph collections:
A number of servicemen suffering from shell-shock, etc, spent time in the Queen Mary Hospital, Hanmer. See Research Guide: Mental Health. Many of the records are restricted access.
The government also made efforts to rehabilitate soldiers into civilian life after the war. A key initiative was the land settlement scheme which aimed to provide cheap farms for those who wanted them, and loans to help finance the purchases. About 9500 soldiers were settled but much of the land was marginal. Considerable hardship and failure resulted.
A variety of Army and Lands & Survey Department records can provide information on the government’s efforts to rehabilitate soldiers after the First World War.
Lists of Reservists were drawn up by ballot under the Military Service Act of 1916.
Lists contain no information about place of residence at ballot time. The names of those called up were notified in the New Zealand Gazette November 1916-September 1918, arranged by recruiting district, and with addresses included.
The unit diaries of the 1st NZ Expeditionary Force were systematically collected to provide material for later published histories of New Zealand’s efforts in the First World War. Unit Diaries from the war are held in Wellington under Unit name. [WA 1-252]
Each unit has its own series number. A series list for each unit shows what items are held and their time periods. Usually a diary part/file covers a calendar month. Each one needs to be ordered individually.
The unit diaries often include Routine Orders and information on the activities and movements of the unit. Few individuals are mentioned by name.
Two card indexes relating to the graves of First World War servicemen are held in Wellington:
These should include every soldier killed overseas; details of burial are often given. [AABK 519/1-94]
Information about the war graves of most soldiers who died on active duty during the First World War can be obtained from other institutions:
Further information about ex-servicemen may be found in the records of Funeral Grants for ex-servicemen.
Archives New Zealand holds a great variety of records of the service of New Zealand forces in the Second World War. Most are Army records, but there are some Air Force and Navy records (see page 12).
New Zealand was much less prepared for the Second World War than for the First because defence spending had been much reduced, especially in the Depression of the early 1930s. However, by mid-1940 some 20,000 men had embarked for overseas service with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF). They went first to the Middle East and Britain. Later many of them were also to fight in Italy.
New Zealand sent its first troops into the Pacific, to Fiji, in November 1940. After war was declared against Japan in December 1941, many other troops were also sent into the Pacific, though some were later transferred to Italy.
The Home Guard in New Zealand was an important force until the threat from Japan eased in late 1943.
A total of about 105,000 men and women from New Zealand served overseas during the Second World War. Of those nearly 7000 died on active Army service and a total of over 11,000 in all services. Nearly 16,000 were wounded as well. Casualties were a much smaller proportion of service men and women than in the First World War.
Aliens (Enemy) during the Second World War
See Research Guide: Citizenship.
Archives New Zealand holds various records of awards to New Zealanders in the Second World War:
Access is restricted for 50 years after death.
General and individual records of these groups in the Second World War are found in the files of the National Service Department (Special Tribunal and Appeal Board records) and the Labour Department District Offices (Conscientious Objector files).
Access to records is restricted for 100 years from the birth of the individual involved. Contact:
Group Manager, Access Services, Archives New Zealand, PO Box 12 050, Wellington.
Access to records is restricted for 100 years from the date of closure of the file. Contact: Chief Executive, Department of Labour, PO Box 3705, Wellington.
Access restrictions apply.
Archives New Zealand has extensive holdings of film relating to the Second World War, much of it on video in Wellington. See ‘Guide to Reference Videocassettes’ or contact the Film Archivist.
The New Zealand Home Guard existed from mid-1940. It became Army proper in August 1941, compulsory and formalised in early 1942, and was wound down in later 1943. At its peak it involved some 123,000 men. Some records, but no full rolls, are held.
Two books include considerable information on the Home Guard:
Nancy Taylor The Home Front 1986, Vol.1 pp450-480
Peter Cooke Defending New Zealand 2000, Vol.2 pp571-622
Archives New Zealand holds many records for the Maori Battalion.
Other material on the Maori (28th) Battalion is to be found in the archives of the Maori Affairs, External Affairs and Army Departments.
Archives New Zealand holds a variety of maps from the Second World War.
Maps can also be located, through the heading ‘Maps’ or a place name, in the Subject Index in the Reading Room Wellington (see page 10). Other maps are to be found in Unit Diaries (see page 10) and in published War Histories.
Most medical records of the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF), including official reports, Operational Unit records, Medical Narratives and Medical Unit Diaries, have been collected into one archive series. [WAII 4]
Records of the embarkation and disembarkation of New Zealand troops in New Zealand during the Second World War.
Embarkation rolls usually include: name, number, rank, unit, conjugal status, place of enlistment, occupation, last New Zealand address, name & address of next-of-kin. Some records are organised by Brigade or similar level unit. The main holdings of 2 NZEF embarkation rolls are:
Many embarkation rolls are to be found elsewhere in Army or War Department records [AD 1/349]
Some duplicates : [WAII DA 510 & DA 511]
Access to this file is restricted.
A card index in the Reading Room Wellington, which gives a detailed chronology of embarkation and disembarkation, may be helpful.
Archives New Zealand holds a number of papers relating to the New Zealand Army Nursing Service for the period 1939-1948, including the Second World War and the J-Force in Japan 1946-1948. The files are mainly unit histories and administrative files, but some include details of individual nurses. [AD 64/33-41]
Archives New Zealand Wellington holds two major series of Second World War (Pacific) photographs and a number of smaller series.
Other groups of photographic images from the Second World War include:
Index (also in Appendix L, AD series list binder) [WAII 21/72a]
Photographs [WAII 21/72a, 73a, 75a, 77a]
Photographs can also be found through the Second World War subject card index in Wellington.
Other institutions, such as the Alexander Turnbull Library and service museums, hold significant collections of Second World War photographs.
Archives New Zealand holds a number of records relating to New Zealanders who were Prisoners of War (POW) or Civilian Internees overseas.
Enemy Prisoners of War, Aliens & Internees. Some access restrictions apply
See also Research Guide: Citizenship
Archives New Zealand holds little detail on the rehabilitation of soldiers back into civilian life after the Second World War.
Former Servicemen’s Rehabilitation files (24117 in total) are held, 1936-1985 overall, and can be searched for by name on ARCHWAY, but they often include limited information and are restricted access. [AADK 20203 W3729/1-1562] R100/40
A number of servicemen suffering from shell-shock, etc, spent time in the Queen Mary Hospital, Hanmer. See Research Guide: Mental Health. Many of the records are restricted access.
Other government agencies were also involved in soldier rehabilitation.
The War History Branch card catalogue, located in the Wellington Reading Room, provides an excellent means of accessing Second World War and J-Force (Japan) records by subject.
The unit diaries of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF) were collected systematically to provide material for later histories of New Zealand’s efforts in the Second World War.
Unit Diaries from the war are held at Archives New Zealand Wellington under Unit name. A list in the Finding Aids [WAII] gives the unit diaries and dates. Each individual diary part/file usually covers a calendar month. A number of diaries are available on microfilm.
Two card indexes relating to the graves of Second World War servicemen are held in Wellington:
Information about the war graves of most soldiers who died on active duty during the Second World War can be obtained from other institutions:
Other relevant records are:
Some records are held of New Zealand forces after the Second World War:
At the end of the Second World War New Zealand sent a force – the J-Force – to take part in the occupation of Japan 1945-1948. Records of this force can be found in the War and Army Department archives. The records include:
Some Second World War records also include records of the J-Force.
New Zealand participated in the United Nations force in Korea, from 1950 to the armistice in 1953, and then until Commonwealth forces withdrew in 1958. Records of this force can be found in the War and Army Department archives. The records include:
The Malayan ‘Emergency’ or ‘Incident’ involved battalions from a New Zealand Army Regiment and a Special Air Service Squadron. Archives New Zealand in Wellington holds:
Most records of New Zealand’s involvement in the war in Vietnam are still held by the New Zealand Defence Force. Archives New Zealand in Wellington holds:
Access to these records is restricted.
Korea, Malaya, South Vietnam [AAAC 17726 W1834/18]
NZDF Death Cards 1954-1973 (killed serving overseas) [ABFK 6739 W4380/1]
1993?-1997? (microfiche - alphabetical) [AABK 6913/1-6] R
1989?-1997? (microfiche - alphabetical) [AABK 6492/1-26] R
1989?-1997 (microfiche - alphabetical) [AABK 6914/1-5] R
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Held by New Zealand Defence Force (see page 1).
There was some air involvement of New Zealanders in the First World War. A few records of this are held in Army Department archives. [AD 1/35/132 (2nd sequence); AD 11/1; AD 19/106; AALJ 483]
A permanent air force, later the Royal New Zealand Air Force, was established in 1923, and Archives New Zealand holds many of its records. Access restrictions apply to some records. The main records which might be useful to family historians are:
‘Index B’ [N 15/13]
A record of New Zealanders who served 1939-1945 in the British Fleet Air Arm, in associated British Air Force Squadrons and bases, and on British naval vessels. There is considerable detail about a few people, but for most just brief notes about their service.
Access restrictions apply to some Naval records.
Army Department files on troop movements in the First World War include some information about troopships and troop movements [AD 1/25]
Naval archives include:
Other Navy Staff files relate more directly to personnel:
First World War A-K & L-Z [ABPL 7461 W4963/50-51]
Second World War A-H, I-S, T-Z [ABPL 7461 W4963/47-49]
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