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Commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele

Issue date: 
Thursday, 12 October 2017
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

Kei aku rangatira, e pae nei i tenei ra, tena koutou.

Nau mai, ki te pae o Maumahara.

Haria mai o tatau tini aitua, tae atu hoki ki a Lewis Moeau, kia mihia e tatau.

Hoatu e nga mate, waiho mai, ma te hunga ora, koutou e mihi.


[Greetings to all gathered here today.

Welcome to this place of Remembrance. 

We gather the memories of those we have lost, including here most recently, Lewis Moeau.

So farewell to all our departed, and let us the living that remain pay our tribute.]

I acknowledge HE Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps; Hon David Bennett, Minister of Veterans Affairs; HE Mr Marc Mullie, Belgian Ambassador; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Major General Peter Kelly, Chief of Army; Colonel Bruno Malvaux, Representing Belgian Chief of Defence; Paul James, Chief Executive, Ministry of Culture and Heritage; Rear Admiral David Ledson (Rtd), Chair, National War Memorial Advisory Council; and Rear Admiral Jack Steer (Rtd), Chief Executive, RNZRSA.

Today we gather to remember our ‘darkest day’ in our military history, 100 years ago.

Of all the battles on the Western Front, it is Passchendaele that New Zealanders most associate with the horror of the Great War.

Private Leonard Hart of the 2nd Battalion, Otago Regiment, described the scene that confronted him on his approach to the battlefield.

"You can have no idea of the utter desolation caused by modern shell fire…not a blade of grass, or tree, here and there a heap of bricks marking where a village or farmhouse had once stood…"

Two New Zealand infantry brigades, the Rifle Brigade and the 2nd Brigade, were involved in the attempt to capture Passchendaele.

Their appalling experiences are seared into our collective memory: of mud so deep it was hard to move, of uncut barbed wire that trapped men ahead of their objective, and artillery support that was inadequate or landed on its own troops.

The misplaced confidence of the British high command after the victory at Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October, along with bad weather and poor planning, conspired to ensure defeat.

The enemy forces were forewarned, well-prepared, and protected in concrete pillboxes – and at the battle’s end, 843 New Zealanders lay dead and dying in a sea of mud.

This was to be the highest death toll on a single day for New Zealand forces overseas. In the following three months, the death toll grew higher as 114 more men succumbed to their wounds.

Generations of New Zealanders have lived with the impact of that loss – of marriages that never happened, of promising careers cut short, of deep grief that stunted the lives of those left behind.

The terrible loss suffered by the Newlove family of Tākaka is hard to imagine. Of four brothers who went to war, three were killed at Passchendaele – Charles, Edwin, and Leslie, who had married just a month before he set off.

Their bodies are thought to be among the 322 unidentified New Zealanders killed around Passchendaele who were buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

Although the Canadian troops that relieved II Anzac Corps finally occupied the ruins of Passchendaele village, the capture had ceased to represent any significant strategic gains.

Outraged by the needless carnage, artillery commander Napier Johnston wrote in his diary:

"My opinion is that the senior generals who direct these operations are not conversant with the conditions, mud, cold, rain, no shelter… All our attacks recently lack preparation and the whole history of the war is that when thorough preparation is not made we fail."

New Zealand service personnel in Passchendaele, as on the Somme and at Gallipoli, earned respect for their courage and determination.

At the time, New Zealanders at home were moved by the suffering of the people of Belgium, and women formed working bees to make clothing and fill parcels with goods such as food and woollens. Children gave their pocket money to the Belgian Relief Fund.

Overall New Zealanders raised 805,000 pounds to help those affected by the War – the equivalent of $100 million today.

Yesterday His Excellency Mr Marc Mullie, Belgium’s Ambassador to New Zealand, held a ceremony at Andersons Bay cemetery in Dunedin, to commemorate the contribution of a number of the 33 women in New Zealand who received the Queen Elisabeth medal for their efforts in providing aid for Belgian soldiers and civilians.

We are grateful to the Belgian Government for their support of the project to restore and mark the graves of the Queen Elisabeth Medal recipients in New Zealand.

Our shared commitment to commemoration will soon be given tangible form with the unveiling of the Belgian memorial here in Pukeahu.

Our international memorials remind us that friendship lasts longer than conflict, and remembrance transcends national boundaries.

This tranquil park could not be further from the ravaged battlefields on which our forebears at Passchendaele served, suffered and fell.

By gathering here, we give them the honour they are due, and uphold the values for which they gave their all.

Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou – we will remember them.



Last updated: 
Tuesday, 17 October 2017

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