Background

New Zealand, as a member of the British Empire, was committed to be involved in the First World War (or Great War) when King George V declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914.

Under the 1909 Defence Act a reorganisation of the New Zealand volunteer military system had been undertaken by Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener and Major-General Sir Alexander Godley.  This saw the creation of the New Zealand Territorial Army based on compulsory training.

Seventeen regiments of infantry were created, each named to reflect the province that they came from.  The 7th Wellington West Coast Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hughes of Wanganui, served the Wanganui to Kapiti Coast region, while to the North, the 11th Taranaki Rifles Regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Malone.

On the declaration of war four infantry battalions, based on the four military districts of Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago, were recruited from the 25,000 man Territorial Force.  Each battalion consisted of four companies of 227 men from each of the district’s Territorial units.

In the case of the Wellington Battalion, there was a company from 7th Wellington West Coast, 9th Hawke’s Bay, 11th Taranaki and 17th Ruahine Regiments.  At the start of the war each company was allowed to retain their regional identity by wearing their distinctive regimental badges.  The Wellington West Coast Company wore the regiment’s rampant lion badge with the motto Acer in Armis (Strong in Arms).

Major William Henry Cunningham was given command of the 7th Wellington West Coast Company.  Cunningham was a Wanganui solicitor with the firm Corry and Cunningham.  He had served in the Wanganui Highland Rifles and with the Wanganui Rifles.  He was elected as their captain in 1909 and promoted to field rank in 1914.

It was Major Cunningham who wrote the Wellington West Coast Company diary.  He started writing the diary in January 1915 from notes he had taken from August 1914, when the first section of men from Wellington West Coast Company left Wanganui on Thursday 14th August to go into camp at Awapuni Racecourse in Palmerston North.

The diary was written in a carbon copy manifold order book.  The original pages were retained in the book and a carbon copy torn out and posted back to Wanganui.  The original pages are thin, tissue-like paper that can only be read using a sheet of blank paper behind the page.

After the war many of the records of the Wellington West Coast Company were gathered together by a group of local historians and ex-members of the Wellington West Coast Regiment.  One of these men was Cecil Lawrence Lovegrove.  He served in Wellington West Coast Company as a signaller attached to the Headquarters staff and left Wanganui in August 1914, going on to fight in Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium.

On his retirement from the Wellington West Coast Regiment Lovegrove became a member of the Wanganui and District Military Historical Association, and set about collecting the records and writing the history of the regiment.  On his death in 1972 he bequeathed his collection of military records and manuscript histories to the Wanganui District Library.

Today the Lovegrove Papers are in the archive collection of the Alexander Heritage and Research Library, the family and New Zealand history research centre of Wanganui District Library.

The archive collections are available to view on request by contacting the Heritage Services team at ww1@wanganuilibrary.com or ph (06) 349 1000.  The Alexander Heritage & Research Library is open Monday to Friday, 1 pm to 5 pm.

The following links provide more information on Wanganui and New Zealand’s part in the First World War: