On 5 August 1914 the New Zealand Government declared war on Germany. As the country's largest state agency, its largest employer and effectively its biggest business, New Zealand Railways (NZR) was one the most valuable assets available to the government. As with all nations involved in the four year long conflict, the railways would become a vital tool for the mobilisation, outfitting and dispatch of a military force and for the efficient operation of the wartime economy.
This was not achieved without considerable stress as by 1918 more than 7,500 of NZR's permanent and casual employees had enlisted for military service; equivalent to almost 40% of its total 1914 workforce. While their increasingly short-staffed colleagues kept services running at home they served throughout the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), some putting their skills learned in their railway career to work by manning specialist rail-operating units in Samoa and Belgium.
The cost was high. At least 450 railway workers lost their lives, the greatest loss suffered by any single NZ employer, and one that would be commemorated via a range of distinctive WW1 memorials.