At the outbreak of war in 1939, New Zealand formed the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The first of several contingents of troops sent overseas arrived in Egypt in February 1940. They included the 28th (Maori) Battalion, which took part throughout the campaigns in the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean.

After the German invasion of Greece in April 1941, New Zealand troops fought a series of rearguard actions as British-led forces retreated to the south. They were evacuated to Crete, where the Germans began an airborne attack in May. After six days of heavy fighting, most were evacuated back to Egypt, but many remained and were taken prisoner.

New Zealanders fought in North Africa from 1941 to 1943, including the Battle of El Alamein. After moving to Italy in October 1943, they were engaged there almost continuously until the end of the war in 1945 including the fierce Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.

In the Pacific, New Zealand forces provided garrisons for Fiji and Fanning Island and later for Tonga, Norfolk Island and New Caledonia. They carried out operations to capture Lavella, Treasury Island and the Green Islands.

The New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy played an active role throughout the war. The cruiser HMS Achilles fought at the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939. Both Achilles and her sister ship HMS Leander undertook many escort and patrol duties across the Indian Ocean and Pacific, including protecting convoys between the US and South Pacific.

Around 7,000 New Zealanders served in the Royal Navy during the war seeing action from the Arctic to Cape Horn and from Iceland to Japan.

Some 500 New Zealanders were serving in the Royal Air Force in September 1939 and a further 11,000 were attached to the Royal Air Force during the course of the war, serving in every important operation and theatre. Royal New Zealand Air Force squadrons also served in the Pacific war from its outset.

The CWGC commemorates more than 11,900 people who died while serving with New Zealand forces in the Second World War.

Related Cemeteries & Memorials

El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt, is the final resting place of some 7,240 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen including more than 1,100 New Zealand servicemen. At one end of the cemetery stands the Alamein Memorial which commemorates some 11,860 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen, including nearly 860 of New Zealand, who died in the North African campaign and have no known grave.

Phaleron War Cemetery, Greece, is the final resting place of some 2,030 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen including more than 250 New Zealand servicemen. Within the cemetery stands the Athens Memorial which bears the names of some 2,870 Second World War Commonwealth servicemn, including nearly 480 of New Zealand, who have no known grave. On the island of Crete is Suda Bay Cemetery where some 1,500 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen, including nearly 450 of New Zealand, are commemorated.

Bourail New Zealand War Cemetery, New Caledonia, is the final resting place of nearly 250 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen of which the majority, nearly 240 are of New Zealand forces. Within the cemtery is the Bourail Memorial which commemorates nearly 450 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen, including more than 300 of New Zealand who died during the fighting in the South Pacific and have no known grave.