Welcome to Measuring the ANZACs
Welcome to Measuring the ANZACs, a new Zooniverse project. The ANZACs were the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I. Despite being a long way from the theater of war both Australia and New Zealand sent significant numbers of troops to fight in World War I. From a population of just over one million, New Zealand sent 104,000 men and women to Europe, and Australia sent 375,000 from a population of 4.5 million. Casualty rates among ANZAC soldiers were high, with more than half of the soldiers dead or wounded, leaving an enduring impact on these men and their compatriots.
Under the ANZAC moniker troops from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) and Australian Imperial Force (AIF) fought under a unified command in Gallipoli (1915) and then on the Western front from 1916 to 1918. The name ANZAC soon came to stand more broadly for any Australian or New Zealand soldier in World War I. Today ANZAC still refers to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers from World War I, and to the ongoing relationship and shared history of the two countries. ANZAC also refers to a biscuit (cookie), which you could make to fortify yourself for your expedition into Measuring the ANZACs.
Our goal in Measuring the ANZACs is to recover the story of all those who served, from their lives before the war, through their wartime service, and what happened to them afterwards. We want to know more about who enlisted in the war, how healthy they were, what happened to them in service, and how their experiences affected them afterwards. Putting together thousands of stories of early life experiences, wartime service, and post-war life will help us understand New Zealand’s changing society in the twentieth century, and broader international understanding of changes in health, wellbeing and aging.
The story of the Dibble brothers from Auckland (New Zealand) illustrates some of the questions we will explore using data from Measuring the ANZACs. Victor Thomas Dibble, along with brothers Ralph Ambrose and Jesse Cyril enlisted together in the NZEF in 1916. Victor and Ralph were both bankers, while Jesse was a farmer. Their serial numbers were sequential, 26571, 26572, and 26573. Portions of their service files are mistakenly interleaved with each other. All three served in France in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.
Jesse’s service was marked with both distinction (receiving a Croix de Guerre from the Belgian government) and disciplinary issues including overstaying and drunkenness. Ralph’s service was more ordinary than his brothers, staying in service until the end of the war. In 1917 he was evacuated to England for treatment of a lacerated hand suffered when trying to open a bottle by banging it against a bank. Letters in his file show that despite the incident being his own fault he was not disciplined and given base duty while he recuperated. Victor meanwhile was injured in action by a shell, and had his left leg amputated. He recuperated in England at Oatlands Park, and returned to New Zealand in February 1919. All three had survived the war unlike 18,166 of their compatriots.
Victor married in 1927, and his rehabilitation training helped him gain a job as the Secretary to the Manawatu Racing Club in Palmerston North three years later. But in 1932 Victor’s body was discovered on the grounds of the race course. He had shot himself. More than a decade after the war ended it still enacted its toll on New Zealand’s soldiers. Jesse Dibble served in World War II and lived to be 81, while Ralph returned to his job in the National Bank and lived to age 93. The story of these brothers who grew up together, enlisted together, fought together, and came home together encapsulates many of our goals in Measuring the ANZACs.
We are excited to be working with you towards our goal of creating a complete set of data on the 120,000 New Zealanders who served in the South African War and World War I. Working together we think we can do this by November 2018, 100 years after the end of the war. Along the way we’ll learn a tremendous amount about the men and women who served.
Measuring the ANZACs is already a big collaboration, and we’re excited to bring you into the research team. The project would not be possible without the efforts of Archives New Zealand in the past decade to organize and digitize millions of pages of records from the 140,000 personnel files of South African War and World War I service members. With a complete set of transcribed records for individual personnel it will be easier for you to find out about the history of the people who served, a process that at the moment requires knowing a name or serial number. With more information it will be possible to find people or groups in different ways to trace the history of your family’s involvement in the war.
Measuring the ANZACs is also the basis of academic research about New Zealand’s economy and demography in the past. The international research team began collecting information about New Zealand soldiers to study changes in the height and weight of New Zealanders over time. Height and weight are some of the best information we have to explore the health and material well being of people in the past. By collecting information on thousands of people we can see how height and weight varied, for example, by what jobs people were doing, where and when they were born, and what ethnicity they were. The differences in height and weight allow us to determine which groups in the population were doing better or worse in their material and physical conditions of life. By tracing some of the soldiers to the end of their life we have been able to examine why life expectancy improved in the twentieth century, and the impact of height and weight on how long people lived.
To date the research team have collected the records of 23,000 men from the South African War and World War I. By expanding the amount of information six-fold the researchers will be able to examine more precisely what influenced people’s health, height and weight. Did people in certain cities do better or worse? Were major events like recessions and strikes bad for people’s health?
Throughout the project we will release data from Measuring the ANZACs for your research. Many people will be able to find out what happened to relatives who fought and to see them in the context of their friends, community and the New Zealand population. Historians will be able to examine a wide array of new questions including social networks among the troops, inter-marriage between Māori and Pākehā, and the experience of nurses in the military, and much more besides.
Welcome to Measuring the ANZACs, we look forward to the research and discovery ahead of us together.