Monday, 30 January 2017

Silent City meets Living City

Different people from different countries will be here around 12 October to remember the sacrifice of the New Zealanders in the First Battle of Passchendaele, but also in the Battle of Broodseinde and even the Winter of 1917-1918 with the Battle of Polderhoek Chateau. New Zealand officials and the community of Zonnebeke wil have commemoration events during this period. If you have the intention to be here in this vicinity around 14 October you're more than welcome to participate this special event. We do expect to have 12,000 people visiting the 12,000 gravestones. on Tyne Cot Cemetery. You can be one of those 12,000. Of course we will not forget the approx 35,000 names on the Wall of the Missing and the names in the New Zealand Apse for the Missing. 
Don't forget to register for this event, you need to be registered and you can come as an individual or as a group. register here:

Friday, 13 January 2017

Prime Minister Bill English visits the Battlefields in Belgium

rainbow over Tyne Cot during the short ceremony

wreath laying Berks Cemetery Extension
On Wednesday 11 January, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Right Honourable Bill English accompanied by his wife, Doctor Mary English, and staff from his office was visiting different significant places in the history of the New Zealanders involved in WWI. Also the Minister for Trade the Honourable Todd McClay was with him.
Ambassador Greg Andrews was with his staff from the Brussels NZ Embassy with the Prime Ministers delegation.

The Prime Minister paid his respect to his forebears at Berks Cemetery Extension in Ploegsteert (Comines-Warneton/Komen-Waasten), the NZ Battlefield Memorial in Messines/Mesen, the Menin Gate in Ieper/Ypres and at the Memorial for the Missing New Zealanders on Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke/Passchendaele.
 LanceCpl Clare was 48 when he died

This visit was not scheduled but because there was a free afternoon in between the different meetings they decided to do as much as possible to follow the trail of the New Zealand Soldiers during WWI in Belgium. In Comines-Warneton the delegation was welcomed by the Mayor Marie-Eve Desbuquoit and François Maekelberg – Président de l'Entente des Associations Patriotiques de Comines-Warneton (local RSA equivalent). 

The PM paid his respect to LanceCpl Clare

In Messines it was Mayor Sandy Evrard MNZM and Mr Steven Reynaert MNZM (Former Cultural Officer in Messines). 

Under the Menin Gate they were met by Mr Benoit Mottrie MNZM, who is the chairman of the last Post Association and Deputy Mayor of Ypres Jef Verschoore. 

On Tyne Cot they were welcomed by Mayor Dirk Sioen and Hon Capt. RNZN Freddy Declerck MNZM (former chairman Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917).
Messines New Zealand Battlefield Memorial
On every spot there was a brief historical account. The Prime Minister and his wife were very attentive and interested. He had at least two, maybe three Great-Uncles who have been here on the Western Front, one of them earned the Military Medal for acts of gallantry in the field in 1918 in France. At least two of them survived. We have to do more extended research to find out in detail what happened with them.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
We think it’s very significant that the Prime Minister came to the Battlefields. It is a great way to start the 2017 commemorative year. 2017 is very important because it’s exactly 100 years the Battle of Passchendaele was fought from 31 July till 10 November 1917. The epilogue to this, the Battle of Messines was in June 1917. At the start of the Battle of Passchendaele, end of July, the New Zealanders have been in Comines-Warneton (La Basseville) on the right hand side flank of the commonwealth forces.

In June 1917 they took Messines and in October, during the 2nd phase of the Battle of Passchendaele they took ‘s Graventafel but in an attempt to take Belle Vue height on 12 October they suffered 2,700 casualties in less than four hours. 846 men died that day. In the winter of 1917-1918 the New Zealanders have been in Polygon Wood in Zonnebeke. They lost 3,000 men during this winter.
the PM with the Belgian MNZM's

handing over of the wreath on behalf of the People of New Zealand

after the wreath laying
under the Menin Gate

with the buglers

2017 will be a commemorative year for many families in New Zealand. Almost every original family has relatives who have been here 100 years ago. In those days they could not come to mourn over the graves of their beloved sons and husbands. All those years, many of those gravestones haven’t got any visitor. We hope that as many New Zealanders as possible will come over to be here for the centennial.
the Memorial for the Missing New Zealanders, Tyne Cot
the PM with Mayor Dirk Sioen from Zonnebeke at Tyne Cot
The key dates for 2017 are; ANZAC day on 25 April, the Battle of Messines on 7 June, the Battle of Passchendaele on 12 October.

There will be other events around those dates, also on 4 October 2017,  but 7 June and 12 October are the official New Zealand commemoration days.

(c) Photography Dominique Bascour - merci Dominique

Thursday, 24 November 2016

In Memoriam - John H Gray

John, lecturing on 23/09/2016 in Zonnebeke-Passchendaele
for MMP1917 guides
It is with deep sadness I let you know that John H Gray passed away suddenly on 22 November.
He was 88 years old.
He was recently visiting the WW1 battlefields in France and Belgium on his own which went well and he greatly enjoyed it.
We have been together a couple of days in the Passchendaele area and he was lecturing about the New Zealand involvement in France and Belgium during WWI for the MMP1917 guides in Zonnebeke.
We have been in contact since, almost every week. last week almost every day. 
John was such a good friend but also a wise and talented man.
He had the special gift that he could explain complex matters in a way everyone could understand.
He learned me and many others a lot about WWI.
Also his books are outstanding and he will live further for many people including myself thru his books. His research about Nicholas VC and his story about the New Zealand involvement at Polderhoek Chateau is a reference used by many other authors and guides.
I feel so privileged and honoured to have known John but also grateful to call him a real Friend.
John H. Gray, CBE (Civ), OBE (Mil), ED, JP is a retired City Manager of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Born in 1928, he volunteered for the Territorial Force of the New Zealand Army as a private soldier in 1949, enlisting in the New Zealand Scottish Regiment RNZAC. Commissioned in 1951, he retired in the rank of Brigadier in 1974.

He was the senior national officer in the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (Kashmir) in 1963-1964, and from 1965 to 1968 commanded the 3rd Battalion, (Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) and Northland), Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

Posts as deputy commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade Group, and of Field Force
Command followed, and finally he was Territorial Force Advisor to the Army General Staff, the most senior post open to an officer of that Force at the time.

He has a long-standing interest in New Zealand military history and has made a detailed study of the role of The New Zealand Division in World War I during battlefield visits since 1997.

John Gray is best known for his book, published in 2010; From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: The New Zealand Division on the Western Front 1916-1918. A History and Guide to its Battlefields. He has also written Quid Non Pro Patria, a monograph on Sergeant H.J. Nicholas, VC, MM and the Great War section of Auckland Infantry .Tales of three campaigns - 12th (Nelson) Company NZEF and The Silent Division & Concerning One Man's War have also been edited by John H Gray.

John is a respected member of the Passchendaele Society, the New Zealand Military Historical Society, the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps Association and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association.
But above all, he was a very good friend and his passing will leave a huge gap in the lives of his family and friends.