Monday, 27 March 2017

Parliamentary Delegation from New Zealand visit to Belgium

On 24/03/2017 we've got the visit of a parliamentary delegation from New Zealand.
MP Annette KING, MP Melissa LEE and MP Tracey MARTIN have been in Brussels for meetings with the European Union. They had a half a day off and they decided to come to the battlefields to honour their Forebears who have been here 100 years ago.
They had the company of the New Zealand Ambassador to Belgium, H.E. Gregory Andrew and the Defence Attaché RNZN Captain Shaun Fogarty MNZM. A Belgian MP of the European Parliament, MP Tom Vandenkendelaere came to Passchendaele to pay his respect for the New Zealand victims.
the Memorial for the Missing New Zealanders

MP Tracey Martin has four relatives who fought on the Western Front. Arnold Wells is on the Memorial in Messines, Samuel King was badly wounded in Polygon Wood end November 1917 (after being gassed in July and a gunshot wound in August) and died exactly one year later at home, Ralph Ansol died in October 1918 in the battle of Lesdain and is buried in Naves communal cemetery extension and in the same place his brother Frederick was wounded.

They visited Tyne Cot, ‘s Graventafel and Belle Vue Spur in Passchendaele.

at the Old Cheese Factory

 In Messines they visited Messines Ridge Cemetery and the Memorials, also the Memorial for the New Zealand Soldier on the Market place (known as Sgt Kiwi)).
MP Lee cleaning Sgt Kiwi

the delegation in Messines hosted by the Mayor, Sandy Evrard, MNZM and the local guide Steven Reynaert, MNZM

 A special visit was planned to St. Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery where 11 New Zealand Soldiers are buried who have been killed on 24/03/1917, exactly 100 years ago. 

Extract from the Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

At 4 o'clock on the morning of March 24th the enemy opened a terrific bombardment over the left of the sector occupied by the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment, the full force of his fire being directed over the locality extending from Spring Walk to the Wulverghem-Wytschaete Road and beyond, across Slush Gap and into the neighbouring Division's sector. The bombardment opened with heavy minenwerfer fire, followed by high explosive shell and shrapnel. The S.O.S. call was immediately sent to the 1st Field Battery by the officer on trench duty. Shortly afterwards the wire to the 15th Howitzer Battery and the direct wire to the Artillery Brigade were cut by the heavy shelling. Our artillery retaliation, however, was prompt in reply to the first call, and being on the correct sector gave immediate support to our infantry. About five minutes after the opening of the bombardment numbers of Germans moving in two lines in single file and estimated in strength at about 80, were observed advancing across No Man's Land. Our Lewis guns at once opened fire on them, and it appeared as if the attack might be beaten off. The enemy, however, succeeded in entering our front line between Durham Road and Northumberland Avenue, and penetrated to a depth of about 100 yards. They were finally driven out by our Lewis gunners and bombers, who displayed great gallantry under a most intense bombardment. Between 5 and 5.10 a.m. the bombardment slackened off and a few minutes later ceased. Our casualties were 12 killed, 21 wounded, and one missing, believed buried. Three members of the Lewis gun crew of the left post were killed and one wounded, and the remaining man stuck to his post to the last.

red spot on battlefield map shows place of the cemetery

visiting the individual graves

Paying respect

a wreath for all the victims

After this visit it was time to go to Ieper/Ypres for the Last Post ceremony under the Menin Gate. 
the delegation hosted by former chairman LPA Guy Gruwez, MNZM

MP Lee read the Ode

after the wreath laying

with the buglers under the Menin Gate

After the ceremony they returned to Brussels.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Reburial Unknown Soldier 07/03/2017

Today was the reburial of an unknown New Zealand soldier on Perth Cemetery (China Wall).

The NZ Division came in the Polygon Wood sector on 4 Nov 1917 and would stay there until the end of February 1918. Most of the time they were working at the defensive systems (trenches, duckboards, cabling, wiring,…). 

There was one major attack on Polderhoek Chateau (3 December 1917). 
the red line is approx. the Wulvestraat. the red dot is Polderhoek Chateau. the orange dotted line is the front line before the attack, the green dotted line is the front line after the attack on 3 December.

The black line shows he frontline, part of the Wulvestraat was a track in WWI (towards the Tower)

Sometimes there were also raids, most of the time during night time. The NZ Division lost about 3,000 men during this winter in this area. Our victim who is buried as an unknown NZ Soldier has been found in the Wulvestraat (Zonnebeke) some 5 years ago, not so far away from a place called the Tower and near Veldhoek. Probably he has been shelled together with the Lancashire Fusilier and the unknown soldier. There was a logistic dump near Veldhoek and only a few tracks that could be used in this wilderness to move towards the frontline.  

There are about 378 names on the Memorial for the Missing New Zealanders in Polygon Wood (at Buttes New British Cemetery). The soldier who is buried today is amongst them.

It was a very moving ceremony, led by Reverend Chris Kellock QCVS RAChD (Chaplain Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) today and it was attended by many young people, veterans, volunteers from the Passchendaele Society and the New Zealand Pilgrimage Trust, locals and flag bearers from different patriotic organisations.
the headstone for the three Soldiers

The New Zealand Ambassador to Belgium was here together with Brigadier Evan Williams, Head of the New Zealand Defence Staff in London and Royal NZ Navy Captain Shaun Fogarty Military Attaché to Belgium and France.
Alderperson Sabine Vanderhaeghe was representing Zonnebeke and Alderman Jef Verschoore Ieper/Ypres.
May they Rest in Peace
We will remember them.

Ka Maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou 

School kids from the local school of Zillebeke came with 5 classes!
The buglers with Major Graham Hickman RNZIR and two members of the Royal Reg. of Fusiliers

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