Driver Danny Greene and Rick van Barneveld, of KiwiRail, at the rededication of 'Passchendaele' on Anzac Day ©Steam Incorporated

New Zealand locomotive 'Passchendaele' returns to active service for First World War Centenary

Posted on on 20 May 2014
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A steam locomotive named 'Passchendaele' in memory of New Zealand Railways staff who died in the First World War has been restored in time for the Centenary.

After almost 20 years of work, the engine was rededicated at a ceremony on 25th April 2014, Anzac Day. The aim is to have it back in mainline running condition for commemorative events by the end of June.

The project has been carried out by staff and volunteers at Steam Incorporated, a charity dedicated to locomotive restoration.

Locomotive Ab608 was built in Christchurch during the Great War. It's carried the name 'Passchendaele' since 1925 when the New Zealand Government agreed to a proposal to dedicate an engine to railway staff killed in the conflict.

More than 5,000 New Zealand railwaymen served overseas between 1914 and 1918, over a third of the total workforce. 447 never returned.

While 'Anzac' and 'Somme' were among the names suggested, the Minister of Railways, Gordon Coates, decided Ab608 should be called 'Passchendaele,' after the battlefield where the most New Zealanders died in a single day. 

October 12th 1917 became known as New Zealand's blackest day. Its forces suffered 3,700 casualties - included almost 900 dead - while making one of the many Allied attempts to capture the village of Passchendaele, near Ypres in Belgium.

Locomotive Ab608 was retired by New Zealand Railways in 1967 after more than 50 years' service. Its honours included hauling the royal train during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) in 1927.

The engine's nameplates were temporarily removed during the Second World War.

After withdrawal from service, 'Passchendaele' was donated to the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society, and later leased to Steam Incorporated in 1993 for restoration at its Paekakariki works, near Wellington.

Major repairs and renovations had to be carried out on the boiler, frames and wheels.

The engine is now undergoing mainline trials in preparation for its return to active duty on heritage excursion trains.

Sources: Steam Incorporated & New Zealand Government

Images: ©Steam Incorporated

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News