Today’s commemorations have provided an opportunity to pause and remember the service and sacrifice of our forebears in the Battle of Passchendaele.
It is a fitting day to also welcome a new memorial that honours the shared histories of New Zealand and Belgium.
For many New Zealanders, when our contribution to the First World War is mentioned, their first thought is of Gallipoli.
In fact it was on the Western Front that New Zealand made its most significant contribution to the First World War – and suffered most of its casualties.
It was a new kind of war – large-scale, industrialised, and driven by lethal technologies – and over 12,000 New Zealanders lost their lives in Western Front battles.
We are grateful to the people in small communities of West Flanders who care for the graves of New Zealand servicemen, and we appreciate the warm welcome that they extend to visiting New Zealanders, particularly as Belgium itself suffered such terrible losses – 40,000 military deaths and many more civilian deaths as a result of the German occupation.
Our friendship with Belgium – forged in the adversity of war – has grown and strengthened in the years since.
It is reflected in our positive trade and diplomatic relationship and our shared commitment to peace, human rights and democracy.
It is reflected in the twin-town relationships between Mesen and Featherston, and between Zonnebeke and the Waimakariri District.
And it is reflected in the Shared Memory Arrangements through which we honour our commitment to preserve our shared war history.
Today we further honour our bond with the unveiling of the Laurel-Memorial Wreath, in its permanent home here at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park.
Welcome to the artists Niko Van Stichel and Lut Vandebos who have conveyed the grief and loss suffered by all sides in war – and proffer a message of hope, peace and tolerance for future generations.
We thank the Government and people of Belgium for this cherished addition to our memorial park.
Pukeahu National War Memorial Park was created by the New Zealand Government as a legacy project to mark the centenary of the First World War. It is a place of serenity and welcome to all people, from every nation.
In the years ahead, as generations come and go, this memorial will remain as an enduring testament to a strong friendship between New Zealand and Belgium – first forged on Flanders Fields.
Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou – we will remember them.