New Zealand's National Commemorative Service at Tyne Cot Cemetery on October 12 (Photo courtesy of New Zealand Defence Force)

New Zealand commemorates its 'darkest day' at Passchendaele

Posted on on 13 October 2017
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New Zealanders have gathered in Belgium to pay tribute to their soldiers who fell at the Battle of Passchendaele.

A national service of remembrance was held at Tyne Cot Cemetery on 12 October 2017, the centenary of an attack remembered as the 'darkest day' in New Zealand's post-1840 history.

Within a matter of hours, 843 New Zealand soldiers fell in the assault on Bellevue Spur, part of repeated Allied attempts to capture Passchendaele ridge near Ypres in autumn 1917. Including those wounded or missing, New Zealand troops suffered about 2,700 casualties in this single episode.

The Duke of Cambridge, representing Queen Elizabeth at the Tyne Cot commemorations, reflected on the scale of the tragedy for a country that numbered just over a million people during the First World War.

"Half a world away, news of the losses was felt like a shockwave, " Prince William said.

"Every death here left a shattered family there. Entire communities were robbed of their young people. No part of New Zealand was untouched by loss." 

New Zealand Engineers resting in a large shell hole at Spree Farm, Ypres Salient, 12 October 1917 (Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-012935-G)

New Zealand's commemorations in Belgium also included the opening of a memorial garden at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, the latest in a series of projects contributed by countries involved in the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. 

The day concluded with a sunset ceremony at Buttes New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood.

Speaking during the Flanders events, New Zealand government minister Dr Nick Smith said: "The losses at Passchendaele were so huge that most New Zealand families have a connection to a fallen soldier.

"We owe it to the memory of the thousands of New Zealanders who died under horrendous conditions on the Western Front in places like Passchendaele to value the freedom, liberty and justice they fought for and to constantly strive for peace so as to avoid repeats of such tragic conflicts in future."

New Zealand's commemorations are the latest hosted in Flanders by countries whose forces fought in the Third Battle of Ypres from July-November 1917. They will culminate next month with a Canadian remembrance ceremony on November 10, marking the 100th anniversary of the capture of Passchendaele village and the end of the battle. For more information about all events, see Passchendaele 2017.

Visit WW100 New Zealand for more on New Zealand's First World War Centenary programme.

Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, is cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, CWGC.

Also in Centenary News:

Australia pledges new Menin Gate Lions for Ypres.

UK Centenary service remembers Passchendaele loss & sacrifice.

Sources: WW100 New Zealand; the Royal Family; New Zealand Government

Images courtesy of New Zealand Defence Force (Tyne Cot);  Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-012935-G (archive)

Posted by: CN Editorial Team