Around 5000 New Zealand Railways (NZR) permanent employees would serve overseas during the war, almost 40% of the 1914 workforce; several thousand of NZR’s casual workers are also known to have joined up. In 1919 the Department reported that a total of 7529 permanent and casual employees had been released for war service.
The price was high: NZR’s death toll of 450 employees was the heaviest loss suffered by any New Zealand employer. The majority of those who served overseas did so as infantrymen – 85% of those who died were in infantry regiments – but significant numbers were distributed throughout the NZEF. Twenty-four NZR staff died serving in the Engineers Corps, sixteen in the artillery, thirteen as machine-gunners, nine as mounted riflemen, eight in the medical services, three with the (Maori) Pioneer Battalion, two in the Cyclist Corps and one in the New Zealand companies of the Imperial Camel Corps.
Two specialist New Zealand railway units served overseas. The first was swiftly assembled in August 1914 to take part in the occupation of German Samoa. A second specialist unit was formed in January 1917, when the British War Office requested that New Zealand provide a Light Railway Operating Company (LROC) to serve in Flanders, Belgium. This was to be a non-divisional unit of 272 officers and other ranks, with its members recruited from men of the NZEF who were temporarily unfit for front-line duty due to illness or injury; a number of them were former NZR or Public Works Department (PWD) employees.
Cap and collar badges.