First World War & military vocabulary


An operational unit composed of two or more Army Corps and supporting units, often numbering several hundred thousand men.

Army Corps
An operational unit composed of two or more divisions and supporting units, numbering 30-40,000 men.

Lodging for a soldier in a civilian or non-military building.

A defensive structure built above ground, generally involving earth, sandbags and wood.

Usually built underground, a bunker is a fortified defensive position built to protect soldiers against artillery and other enemy projectiles.

Communication trench
A trench line that was used to transport men, food and equipment to the front or support trenches.

Numbering over 18,000 men, in 1916 the New Zealand Division consisted of 3 infantry brigades, 4 field artillery brigades, a mounted rifles regiment and numerous smaller engineer, signals, medical, labour, logistic, trench mortar and machine gun units. Supporting the Division in a non-combat role was a large administrative and support structure composed of medical, training and administrative units.

A small establishment that sells alcoholic beverages and sometimes food. Estaminets were popular in France and Belgium among soldiers.

Field Artillery Batteries and Brigades
New Zealand Field artillery batteries consisted of either six 18-pounder field guns or six 4.5-inch howitzers. A field artillery brigade consisted of 3 batteries of 18-pounders and 1 battery of 4.5-inch howitzers. By 1916 four such field artillery brigades were included in the New Zealand Division, in addition to 1 heavy, 3 medium and 3 light trench mortar batteries.

Infantry Battalion
Infantry battalions were commanded by a lieutenant colonel and were composed of 4 companies. At full strength a battalion numbered over a thousand men, but would usually go into action with less than 800. After severe fighting battalion strengths could fall dramatically to as few as 300 or 400 men. Medical, signalling and logistics troops were also contained within a battalion.

Infantry Brigade
New Zealand Infantry brigades were composed of 4 infantry battalions and at full strength numbered over 4,000 men, commanded by a brigadier-general. Whereas British infantry brigades were reduced to only three battalions in 1918, New Zealand infantry brigades retained their 4-battalion strength throughout the war, making the New Zealand Division one of the strongest in the British and Commonwealth armies.

Infantry Company
Infantry companies were commanded by Majors or Captains and consisted of a small headquarters and 4 platoons, totalling about 227 men at full strength. 4 companies formed a battalion.

Infantry Sections and Platoons
The smallest tactical unit within an infantry battalion, the infantry section consisted of 12 men led by a non-commissioned officer. At the beginning of the war almost all infantry sections were composed exclusively of riflemen, but by 1918 they also contained specialised bombing and light-machine-gun personnel. 4 Sections were normally required to form an Infantry platoon commanded by a junior officer.

Lee-Enfield rifle
The Lee-Enfield rifle was an accurate and reliable bolt-action rifle that fired a .303 cartridge. It was designed and manufactured in England and was standard issue for British and Commonwealth soldiers during the First World War.

Mills bomb
Named after William Mills, an English hand grenade designer, the Mills bomb, with its grooved, cast-iron design and distinctive ‘pineapple’ appearance, became the standard grenade used by the British Army and some of its allies during the First World War. 

Mounted Rifles Regiment
Composed of 3 squadrons, each of 4 troops of 38 NCOs and troopers, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Regiments  initially numbered 550 men each trained in scouting and reconnaissance roles and as mobile reserves that would ride to the battle but go into action on foot. Only one regiment, the Otago Mounted Rifles, accompanied the newly formed New Zealand Division to the Western front and was soon reduced to a single squadron.

The unoccupied area of land between enemy trenches and positions. 

Nursery sector
An area on the front-line that was considered relatively quiet and ideal for new troops to train and to get accustomed to modern warfare.

A concrete structure, housing soldiers and machine guns, with loopholes for firing out of, used to defend an area. The name derives from the often hexagonal shape of medicinal pills sold at the time.

Potato masher grenade
Named by the British because of its distinctive shape, the potato masher grenade, or Model 24 Stielhandgranate, was a German grenade used in both the First and Second World War.
With its stick handle, the Model 24 could be thrown further than the Mills bomb grenade, but was not generally as effective at killing and considered to be a ‘concussion grenade’, as opposed to the deadlier fragmentation blast given by allied grenades such as the Mills bomb.

Sometimes also called a trench-raid, a raid was a surprise attack by infantry, often at night, with the purpose of gathering intelligence and destabilising the enemy. A raid often involved small groups of men and was sometimes coordinated with artillery barrages.

An area of land, or landform, that projects out from its surroundings. In military terms, a salient was a position or series of positions that penetrated into enemy lines and was thus vulnerable to attack from several sides.

Stokes mortar
Introduced in 1915, the Stokes trench mortar was the first portable mortar, quickly proving to be a reliable weapon, capable of firing rounds directly into trenches from a high angle.
The Stokes trench mortar consisted of a steel firing tube, bipod, and baseplate.

Trench fever
Trench fever was passed from soldier to soldier by body lice and was also known as ‘five day fever’. Symptoms included high fever, headaches and sore legs. Although the fever quickly passed, it often took several weeks or a month for soldiers to recover, with many relapsing after they returned to the trenches.

Trench foot
Caused by prolonged exposure to cold water, trench foot was an injury to the feet and legs that caused swelling, extreme pain, and discomfort. In some cases of trench foot, gangrene could set in, leading to amputation and occasionally death. One solution for trench foot was to apply generous amounts of whale oil to bare feet before putting on socks and boots.