New Zealand War Displays: Lower Gallery
The National Army Museum’s Lower Gallery houses permanent displays depicting New Zealand’s participation in conflicts throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific. Find out more about our Kiwi soldiers at war.
- North Africa
- New Zealand Medical Services
- Orders, Decorations and Medals
Once in Egypt, after limited training the troops were sent to Greece to help defend it from the Italians advancing from the north. The Allied intervention forced the Germans to attack Greece in support of their Italian Allies, fatally delaying the German invasion of Russia. The lightly equipped Allied troops were forced back down the peninsula until they were evacuated from the southern beaches and ports by the Royal Navy.
As the men arrived on the ships they were forced to throw everything they carried over the side except their rifles and ammunition. Radios, digging tools and heavy weapons all were dumped before anyone was taken on board.
Many of the weary and ill-equipped troops evacuated from Greece were landed on the Island of Crete to become its Garrison Force. The island was placed under the command of General Bernard Freyberg V.C., the commander of the 2nd New Zealand Division. After two weeks of intense bombing Crete was subjected to the first total airborne invasion in history. The Kiwis bore the brunt of the fighting and after three days of tough fighting Maleme Airfield (the key to Crete) was taken by the Germans. The Allied Force was forced to evacuate the island.
Although the Germans won the battle for Crete, their exhaustive losses amongst the assaulting Paratroopers dissuaded Hitler from ever again launching another major airborne operation against the Allies during the war.
In Egypt, reinforced and retrained, the New Zealanders took part in the fighting in the western deserts as part of the British Eighth Army. This fighting flowed back and forth across the desert five times before General Montgomery built up enough weapons and supplies to finally force the Germans out of North Africa. The New Zealand Division took prominent part in most major actions such as the relief of Tobruk, Minqar Qiam, Defence of the El Alamein Line, the breakout at Alamein, the advance on Tripoli, and the Tunisian Campaign. The New Zealand Division became one of the elite formations and were called upon whenever a difficult task needed to be done.
The New Zealanders joined the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula in 1943. This was a hard action against a determined and skillful enemy who used the difficult terrain and adverse European winter weather to his advantage. The Kiwi troops took part in soul destroying battles such as the Sangro River, Second and Third Cassino. Also they took part in hard fought but exhilarating advances in the Liberation of Rome, the advance to Florence and the Race to Trieste before the war in Europe finally ended.
New Zealand raised another Division to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. There they fought alongside the United States in the Solomon Islands but eventually the Government decided that the country could not afford the numbers of men required to keep two divisions up to strength and so the 3rd Division was disbanded and the men either sent to reinforce the 2nd Division in Italy or were brought home to work in the factories or farms. The National Army Museum display is a scene which represents soldiers from this division climbing down the side of a ship into a landing craft to attack the Solomon Islands.
By the end of the war NZ’s primary role was producing tinned or dried food for the American forces fighting in the Pacific.
The Korean War began in 1950 when the Communist North Korea invaded the South. The United Nations resolved to protect the South and sent a force to fight alongside the South Koreans against the North Koreans and later the Communist Chinese. NZ sent an Artillery Regiment (16 Field Regiment) and supporting units (10 Transport Company and Engineers) to fight alongside other Commonwealth countries in a Commonwealth Brigade and then a Commonwealth Division.
After World War II a number of the Chinese who had fought against the Japanese, decided to fight for their independence from Britain. Britain wanted to give Malaya its independence but not on the terms of the communist rebels. So they fought to subdue the rebels and eventually Malaya gained independence on British terms. Britain requested help from NZ and the government sent an Infantry Battalion and SAS troops to assist the British put down the rebels. This conflict was called the Emergency.
When Malaya joined with Singapore and two states on the island of Borneo, to form Malaysia, Indonesia in an effort to divert attention from internal problems, decided that all of Malaysia belonged to Indonesia. No war was declared but Indonesia launched a low level insurgency to hamper and disrupt the fledgling state. NZ contributed infantry and SAS troops again to fight the Indonesians in what became known as Confrontation. After this fighting ended, NZ stationed an infantry battalion first in Malaysia and later in Singapore. This battalion came home in 1989.
The last war that NZ sent combat troops to fight in is of course Vietnam. Again this was an undeclared war where NZ contributed artillery and infantry to fight alongside Americans and Australians against the communist North Vietnamese and communist South Vietnamese known as Viet Cong. New Zealand’s contribution was firstly medics and engineers, followed by an Artillery battery and finally two companies of infantry. The last troops from NZ were training teams training the South Vietnamese. NZ’s troops were all professional soldiers as opposed to the American draftees and some Australian National Servicemen. They fought the Vietnamese on their own terms in the jungles before being withdrawn in 1972. The war was not popular at home and public pressure played a major role in ending the war.
The story of the New Zealand Medical Services and the part the likes of surgeons, ambulance drivers, orderlies and of course, the nurses, played in past campaigns is often overlooked. With this in mind, the museum will soon open a display that tells the history of such unsung heroes & heroines and the fact that it was due to their unflinching commitment to the task that kept morale high amongst the troops, in spite of often heavy casualties.
Since the Second World War, New Zealand’s Armed Forces, along with the New Zealand Police have contributed to over forty separate operations around the globe, in countries like Cambodia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Somalia.
New Zealand servicemen and women have a well founded reputation for excellence, and a natural ability to treat all races as equals. Their contribution has been as varied as the nations the Army has served in, from infantry, artillery, armour, communications, mechanical and electrical engineering, to catering, transport, medical, de-mining and education.
Post 911, New Zealand’s initial contribution was NZSAS personnel being utilised as a “strike force”. This was followed by the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT).
The New Zealanders have provided security, support to the local authorities and have played a project management role on projects such as providing communities with new amenities, employment and assisting with the distribution of humanitarian aid especially during the harsh winter months.
Victoria Cross (VC): The VC is the British Commonwealth’s highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy and is made of bronze from the poorest quality gunmetal. It is cast in sand, hand chiselled and engraved. Each medal is unique in some respect making no two alike. It is perhaps fitting then, that this award be hung from a plain crimson ribbon commemorating a unique act of heroism.
New Zealand Cross (NZC): The NZC was an award for outstanding acts of gallantry by New Zealand volunteers. The award had become necessary, as it was almost impossible for locally raised troops to be awarded the Empire’s highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. 23 awards of the New Zealand Cross had been made, before the entitlement to the Victoria Cross was changed and New Zealanders became eligible for that award, making it one of the rarest gallantry decorations in the world.
Albert Medal (AM) and George Cross (GC): The AM was to be awarded for daring and heroic actions in saving life at sea. In 1877 it was further expanded to include actions on land. The Medal was then discontinued in 1971. At this time, all living recipients were to exchange their awards for the George Cross, which was now deemed, would supersede the Albert Medal. Randolph Ridling requested that he be permitted to retain his medal as it had great sentimental value and the Queen approved his request. His medal is displayed in this alcove. The GC was an award for civilians ‘only for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger’. Further, the standard for the award was as high as, and its status equal to, the Victoria Cross. It was also to be awarded to members of the services whose acts of gallantry were not in the face of the enemy.
New Zealand Medal Repository
The National Army Museum’s Medal Repository displays both medals donated/gifted to the Museum and examples of many Orders, Decorations and Medals that could be awarded to New Zealanders or those people with a close association with New Zealand.