Becoming a Nation

Becoming a nation

An Anzac Day cartoon includes a quotation from pacifist Ormond Burton about the development of a national identity through wartime.

Anzac Day cartoon by Chicane (Mark Winter), 2011.

Anzac Day cartoon by Chicane (Mark Winter), 2011. Alexander Turnbull Library. DCDL-0017608.


This cartoon appeared in the Southland Times on Anzac Day in 2011. The quote, from Ormond Burton’s autobiography, reminds us that the First World War had a significant impact on the identity of New Zealand and New Zealanders. Ormond Burton was a teacher who served in the First World War, including as stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli, and became a vocal pacifist and minister in the Methodist Church in the 1930s. He was arrested for his protests during the Second World War and continued to challenge New Zealand’s role in subsequent conflicts until his death in 1974. 

For many young men and women, going to war was the first time they travelled to other countries and were able to compare themselves to people from other places, especially the British. New Zealanders gained a reputation for bravery, loyalty, determination, and ingenuity. Strong personal and political bonds between the New Zealanders and Australians were forged. 

The landing at Anzac Cove on the 25th of April 1915 by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) began the land phase of the Gallipoli campaign. Navigational errors meant the troops landed two kilometres north of their intended destination in terrain that proved disastrous. Together with other Allied troops, the ANZACs fought for 8 months, in difficult conditions, attempting to win the Gallipoli peninsula from Turkish forces, which resulted in the deaths of 2,779 New Zealanders. 

The Battle of the Somme, in mid-1916, was hoped to be a key breakthrough on the Western Front, forcing Germany to withdraw from the territory they had gained in northern France. While the battle overall was eventually successful in advancing the British and French line, the human toll was enormous. Nearly 6,000 New Zealanders were wounded and 2,000 killed during the Battle of the Somme, almost as many as at Gallipoli. 

In August 1914, before the landing at Anzac Cove, New Zealand was asked to capture German Samoa on behalf of Britain as a “great and urgent Imperial service”.1 This takeover was a significant milestone in New Zealand’s military contribution to the First World War. It was carried out by New Zealand forces, making the most of New Zealand’s geographical and political placement, and demonstrated this country’s part in the British Empire. In contrast, by the end of the war, New Zealand was recognised as an independent nation. It had its own seat at the table to sign the Treaty of Versailles and to help establish the League of Nations. 

Key questions 

What can we observe? 

What do we already know? 

How might people view this quote in different ways? 


Possible discussion questions 

What do you know about the two events mentioned in these words by Ormond Burton? What characteristics made these battles so significant to New Zealand? Why do you think Ormond Burton thought these particular battles helped to build this country’s identity as a nation? 

What does the flower represent? What is the meaning of this flower to New Zealanders? 

Why do you think this quotation was used on Anzac Day? 

What do you think makes a nation? How do you think people from other countries view New Zealand or its people? How did this view change during the First World War? 

How do you think the experiences of going to war could have contributed to the way New Zealanders viewed themselves? 

During this time, how do you think the people at home might have changed their perceptions of what it means to be a New Zealander? 

Why did we need to build a nation? 

What are other events or ideas that you think contributed to the development of this country’s identity as a nation? Why do you think events or conflicts can be part of defining a group of people? 

How would you describe the characteristics of a New Zealander today? How do you think you may have formed those opinions? 


1 “Capture of German Samoa”, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 26-Aug-2014

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