1 Nov 2013

Study concludes many WW1 deaths preventable

6:05 am on 1 November 2013

A study into New Zealand military fatalities during the First World War says many of them could have been prevented had there been better planning, healthcare and equipment.

Some 16703 New Zealanders died in the war between July 1914 and November 1918 and it remains the worst single fatal event in this country's history.

The research is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal and is the first in-depth modern study of death and injury in the war.

Wounded New Zealand soldiers are placed in a motorised ambulance in France.

Wounded New Zealand soldiers are placed in an ambulance in France. Photo: ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

The first New Zealand soldier to die was Private William Ham, 22. He died of his wounds while helping defend the Suez Canal in February 1915.

The toll took a steep climb a few months later with the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign but the greatest number of causalities came on the Western Front in the Battles of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele.

On the worst single day at Passchendaele, 845 New Zealanders lost their lives and 2000 were wounded in the space of a few hours.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Nick Wilson, from Otago University, says the risk of dying in the fighting decreased over the four years of the war but the chance of dying of wounds did not.

He says medical services were grossly inadequate and went backwards, particularly in the early stages of the war.

Professor Wilson says while medical care did improve, so too did the type of weapons and the injuries they could inflict.

He says better evacuation of the wounded did help, but the outcome often depended on where they were taken.

Professor Wilson says the study does not take into account men who died after the war from the long-term effects of poisonous gas or from the psychological stresses of war they could not overcome.