Why, when the image of the French in the New Zealand Press 1900-1914 was a divided one, did New Zealand enter World War I allied to France? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
From the earliest days of colonisation French designs upon British (and later New
Zealand) interests in the Pacific were poorly defined and non-specific but they were
often cited as a motive for action or reaction as circumstances required. The strategic
placement of French Catholic missions was interpreted as an underhand path to
sovereignty and as a threat to British colonisation. The French were seized upon as a
convenient scapegoat for Governor Fitzroy’s Northern War problem and their
colonial gains in the Pacific conflicted with the Seddon-led Liberal policy of a greater
New Zealand.2 As a result a prejudicial, anti-French attitude developed, dating from
the earliest colonial European contacts. The mainly British colonists and their New
Zealand descendants maintained a latent distrust of the French as a nation. As the
entente cordiale between France and Britain metamorphosed into an alliance in the
early twentieth century, these prejudicial attitudes were suppressed but not forgotten.
I have used the term ‘alliance’ in its everyday sense of a loose agreement or
understanding. Historical (non-legal) scholarship varies on the status of the Anglo-
French entente cordiale. Keiger has argued that the entente was neither an alliance
nor a treaty but simply a settlement of various differences over empires and colonies.
He concluded that the British acted as if there was an alliance while claiming that
there was not; the French ignored British denials and claimed that an alliance existed,
using Anglo-French military consultation as evidence.3 As Germany threatened
France during the Moroccan crisis of 1905 Britain’s warning in support of France,
reinforced by the private assurances various British officials gave, was misread by the
French as evidence of an alliance. As a result not one member of the French Cabinet
present at its meeting on 6 June 1905 doubted Great Britain’s commitment to the
French cause. A later exchange of letters (November 1912) obliged the parties to
consult if there was a mutual threat but freedom of action was still reserved. The
British Government wanted to be able to tell their parliament there was no binding
obligation.4 The British Generals (who despised civilian controls and political
interference) militarized the entente and turned it into an alliance.5 As a result New
Zealand participated in World War I as part of the British Imperial Alliance. This
study investigates and reflects my own curiosity as to how this seemingly unlikely
alliance came about.
1 J.A. Salmond, "New Zealand and the New Hebrides," in The Feel of Truth: Essays in New Zealand
and Pacific History, ed. Peter Munz (Wellington: A.H. and A.W. Reed, 1969), p.119.
2 "French and German Aggression: Importance of South Sea Possessions," Auckland Star, 10 February
3 John Keiger, "How the Entente Cordiale Began," in Cross Channel Currents: 100 Years of the
Entente Cordiale, ed. Richard Mayne, Douglas Johnson, and Robert Tombs (London: Routledge,
4 Christopher Andrew and Paul Vallet, "The German Threat," in Cross Channel Currents: 100 Years of
the Entente Cordiale, ed. Richard Mayne, Douglas Johnson, and Robert Tombs (London: Routledge,
2004), pp.24-25, p.30.
5 Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (New York: Harper
Perennial, 2014). pp.222-223. Robin Neillands, The Old Contemptibles: The British Expeditionary
Force, 1914 (London: John Murray 2008). p.44, pp.56-57. Unofficial ‘conversations’ between
Brigadier-General Wilson, Director of Military Operations, and the French military allowed the
pretence that there was no British commitment.
[From the Preface]