The Journey to War

Almost 10,000 New Zealand personnel were transported to Europe and the Middle East by troopships during the War.

Troops boarding the Tahiti at Lyttelton in September 1914

Canterbury Museum 1976.96.23

The ships were merchant ships chartered by the New Zealand Government and converted to carry troops. Some ships were passenger liners and others were originally built to carry cargo.

Throughout the War, 111 charters were made. It took the first 10 troopships carrying the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force 48 days to sail from Wellington to Egypt. Depending on the type of ship, troopship journeys could be as short as a month and some longer than 2 months.


Troops on the Athenic being farewelled in Wellington on 16 October 1914. Wellington was usually the last port of call for departing troops who may have had to endure many farewells, starting with their home towns, then mobilisation camps and finally main ports. As the War dragged on, the scale of the farewell functions decreased, but saying goodbye would still have been hard.

Canterbury Museum 1986.80.1113

Annie Thomson looks upon her son George William Ladd Thomson, a sergeant from Timaru, for what may be the last time on 16 October 1914. Despite his mother’s angst, George did return to New Zealand.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-2003-1-36

A mother farewells her son PH 2003 1 39