Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



The Territorial Force

The principal features of the new system were the replacement of the Defence Council by a Commandant and an establishment of 30,000 men, to be recruited compulsorily. A heavy training programme was undertaken and British instructors arrived to create the new army. In 1910 Major-General Sir Alexander Godley became General Officer Commanding. To meet the need for staff officers and instructors the New Zealand Staff Corps and the New Zealand Permanent Staff were formed in 1911. The new Staff Corps was filled initially by commissioning ex-Regular and Volunteer officers, and arrangements were made for training up to 10 cadets annually at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. General Headquarters was expanded, and a Dominion section of the Imperial General Staff was formed for the purpose of keeping New Zealand abreast of developments overseas, for preparing war establishments and plans for mobilisation, and, generally, for giving effect to Imperial cooperation in defence matters.

The nature of the regular elements was also determined. Officers and non-commissioned officers assumed responsibility for instruction, unit administration, and the manning of camps; and all regimental officers and non-commissioned officers for the Territorials were selected from the ranks, trained, and given control of their own units. As a result of increased staff, instructional courses were instituted for Territorial officers, and these in turn, resulted in an increase of efficiency. On the outbreak of war in 1914 New Zealand offered Britain an expeditionary force. The Territorial Force was not mobilised, but territorial distinctions were preserved and each military district contributed troops. By the terms of the Defence Act, only volunteers could serve overseas, and men offered in sufficient numbers to fill the “Main Body” of 8,427 men and to supply reinforcements for the next two years. During the war the territorial system continued to function.

After the war, efforts were directed from defence to resettlement problems Compulsory military training was suspended until 1921 when it was resumed on a modified scale. Defence expenditure was cut and cadets ceased to attend Duntroon. In 1921 the Signal Corps was detached from the New Zealand Engineers and, in the following year, the Permanent Army Service Corps was formed. This consisted of “other ranks” only, and drew its officers from the Staff Corps. By 1925 more funds were available and annual Territorial camps were again held. The force now comprised 21,000 men, and steps were taken to strengthen the Staff Corps and Permanent Staff whose ranks had been reduced after the war. This revival was brief, for in 1930 the Government decided to suspend the compulsory clause of the Defence Act. Territorial service became voluntary and strength dropped from 16,990 to 3,655. The Regular Force was reduced, the Army Pay Corps disbanded, and many personnel from the Army Ordnance Corps were transferred to the civilian staff. The Territorial Force was set at 10,000, as compared with 16,000 under compulsory military training. After 1932 strength slowly built up to 7,000 men, although attendances at camps and parades remained poor. Progressive training was impossible and low numbers prevented officers from obtaining experience of handling large bodies of troops. These factors all militated against efficiency. With the return of more prosperous tunes recruitment for the Permanent Staff recommenced and, in 1934, after a lapse of 12 years, senior officers again attended overseas courses.

In 1937–38, a Council of Defence was formed to coordinate the activities of the three services and to advise the Government on defence policy. An Army Board, consisting of the Minister, three military members, and the Army Secretary (formerly the Under-Secretary for Defence) was charged with the control and administration of the Army. The “General Officer Commanding” was replaced by the “Chief of the General Staff”, and the three military “Commands” (Northern, Central, and Southern) became “Districts”. The Territorial Force was reorganised in order to make establishments consistent with the number of men volunteering, and emphasis was placed on training leaders to enable rapid expansion to meet any emergency. Army schools were opened, training methods and facilities were improved, and artillery and infantry units began to be mechanised. By 1939 the Regular and Territorial Forces' strengths had risen to 593 and 10,364 respectively, but, with war imminent, the Government authorised the latter to be increased to 16,000 men. On the outbreak of war Cabinet promised all possible support to Britain and, on 6 September 1939, authorised the mobilisation of a 6,000–strong volunteer “Special Force” for service overseas. Recruits for this—the First Echelon—entered camp in November. This First Echelon, (approximately one-third of a division) became the nucleus of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force which left New Zealand on 6 January 1940, being followed by the Second Echelon on 2 May, and by the Third on 27 August. Fifty-five Regular Force officers and 207 other ranks were posted for duty with the Expeditionary Force.

The Territorial Force was kept intact within New Zealand and by the end of 1940 numbered 15,449 men. Other measures for home defence included manning coastal and anti-aircraft batteries, garrisoning ports, coast watching, and maintaining a mobile striking force in each military district. Construction of military camps and other installations proceeded rapidly. A camp was established at Papakura, and Trentham and Burnham camps were extended. Waiouru, formerly a part-time Territorials' camp, was improved to the extent that, in January 1941, troops were able to move in.

When New Zealand declared war on Japan in December 1941 a brigade stationed in Fiji was strengthened and became the nucleus of the Third New Zealand Division. Home-defence measures were intensified and the Territorials were mobilised for war. The Home Guard, originally a civilian organisation, became an integral part of the military forces on 30 July 1941, and the National Military Reserve, formerly a Territorial Reserve, were also incorporated and mobilised. In October 1942 the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps was constituted part of the New Zealand Defence Forces, and members later served in the Middle East, Pacific, and on hospital ships. By mid-1943 successes against the Japanese made it possible to reduce home-defence forces, and by the end of the year the Home Guard was placed on the Reserve. Until the end of the war the Army's role in New Zealand was confined to training troops for service overseas and guarding and supplying war materials for use in France, Germany, Italy, and Burma.

After the war the Expeditionary Forces and home services were progressively demobilised and the Army was reorganised on a peacetime basis. The Regular and Territorial Forces were integrated to form one New Zealand Army—a term first used officially in the Army Act of 1950, which superseded the Defence Act of 1909. Integration meant that, henceforth, members both of Regular and of Territorial Forces were posted to the same corps, and that the New Zealand Staff Corps, the New Zealand Permanent Staff, and the New Zealand Permanent Army Service Corps were disbanded. At this time a Corps of Infantry was formed.

In February 1948, prior to the reintroduction of compulsory military training, the Government authorised the Regular Force to be expanded to 3,747, but by 1949 only 2,568 men had enlisted. Provision was made to enlist youths 16 and 18 years of age as Regular Force cadets at a Regular Force Cadet School now at Waiouru. This school was established to give special training in military, academic, and trade subjects in order to supply the Army's future requirements for instructors and skilled tradesmen. In 1958, when the Government decided that compulsory military training was no longer flexible enough for New Zealand's defence commitments in South-East Asia, Cabinet decided that the New Zealand Army should consist of a static Regular Force of 2,500, an operational Regular Brigade Group (including an armoured regiment) with an establishment of approximately 5,600 men available for immediate service, and a volunteer Territorial Force of 7,000 men.