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A Question of Numbers

The fundamental starting point for a photographic project such as Onward is to know who served. Without a comprehensive nominal roll we wouldn't know whose photograph to look for, so we have spent many years building just such a roll. At first glance, the official Nominal Roll of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force would appear to be all that is required - but that is just a start. The Nominal Roll is actually the Embarkation Roll i.e. a list names of all those who sailed from New Zealand on active service. It contains many duplicates i.e. men and women who left New Zealand on more than one occasion (Hospital Ship staff, Troop Ship staff, those who served in Samoa and later re-attested for service in Egypt and France etc). The result is that the Embarkation Roll amounts to some 103,000 names - and it this number oft-quoted as New Zealand's contribution to the War Effort via the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The actual number is somewhat less than this.

In 1914 233 men enlisted in the British Section, NZEF. As such, they never left New Zealand and do not appear on the Embarkation Roll. Added to this are nearly 300 individuals who attested into the NZEF in England over the next three years and a handful who enlisted in Egypt. There are also the 40 or so members of the YMCA who attested into the NZEF so as to give them legitimacy to serve near the front lines - having previously been hindered by their civilian status. Essentially hundreds of individuals attested for service in the NZEF who are often overlooked or simply not recorded. The photograph below is of 18538 Ernest James O'Neill, who attested into the NZEF in London on 17/7/1916.

18538 Ernest James O'Neill, Attested in UK 17/7/1916

Once the duplicates in the Embarkation Roll have been consolidated and the additions made to the Nominal Roll from the overseas attestations, we arrive at a figure of around 97,500 (97,542 at time of writing). This is a much more accurate reflection of the numbers of those who served overseas in the NZEF.

The problem for the Onward Project is locating photographs of these men and women, many of whom had their next-of-kin in the United Kingdom. There may be no photographs of them in New Zealand, so we are hoping international exposure of our project might shed some light on these mostly-unseen individuals.

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