At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
18,500 New Zealanders were killed during the Great War. Those 18,500 deaths were from 100 thousand New Zealanders who served from a population of a little over one million. So, one in ten New Zealanders served in World War I, and 18.5% of those died. Some 5,000 died fighting in Belgium (almost twice the death toll recorded at Gallipoli) and 13,000 others were wounded.
In four hours time on one day alone, October 12, 1917, New Zealand forces suffered 2700 casualties, including 845 fatalities, trying to capture the Bellevue Heights on the outskirts of Passchendaele. They were slaughtered and had to be withdrawn. It took two days to clear the battlefield of bodies.
The year before last, the Passchendaele exhibition came to the Anzac Hall in our small town. Called Passchendaele: the Belgians Have Not Forgotten, the exhibition featured photographs, images and artefacts highlighting the memories that those in Flanders still cherish today of the New Zealanders that fought and died half a world away from their homeland. It featured photographs by award winning British photographer, Michael St. Maur Sheil, sculptures by Belgian artist Rik Ryon made from driving bands of shells, and relics from the battlefields themselves. One of the locals produced contemporary newspapers, with the battlefield news. The whole exhibition was incredibly moving.
Passchendaele Museum Curator, Franky Bostyn says the people of Flanders and, more widely, the people of Belgium have never forgotten the New Zealand sacrifice. “In 1917 your country left an important part of its history here in Flanders, not only the events, but also the men, the men are all here, a part of our land. 90 years later we have what we have now – one of the most prosperous areas in Europe, rebuilt and with great economics – and it is thanks to these men who came here, voluntarily to fight for freedom. Our gratitude to them will last forever.”
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.