Sir Julian Corbett rightly expounded that the outcome of a war can only be determined by ‘boots on the ground’, but also that this was not possible without command of the sea. This was particularly the case in World War One. Without command of the sea the Allied armies on the western front and elsewhere could not have been provided with the wherewithal to win their battles. Everything they needed from food and clothing to ammunition and reinforcements came by sea.
New Zealand’s naval contribution to World War One took many forms. Our single national unit was the cruiser HMS Philomel; however, New Zealanders became involved in almost every aspect of the naval war. Some were already Royal Naval Reserves, while others joined the Royal Navy as individual recruits, serving in all types of vessels. A number of men also joined the Royal Naval Air Service. A few women joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service when that service was formed in 1917. The Union Steam Ship Company’s vessel Wahine was commissioned by the Admiralty and used as a despatch vessel at Gallipoli, before working as a minelayer in the North Sea.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s New Zealand did not have naval forces of her own. Naval defence in the South Pacific was provided by the Royal Navy under an Australasian naval agreement between New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain signed in 1887
New Zealanders were involved in virtually every aspect of the war at sea between 1914 and 1918, and indeed some even served in the Allied intervention against the Bolsheviks in Russia during 1919. They were at sea with the Grand Fleet, in the Air with the Royal Naval Air Service, beneath the waves in submarines and as Chaplains and Wrens.