Friday, 7 October 2016

Waimakariri Pilgrim in Passchendaele with a mission!

The headstone of Mark Thompson

Mark William Thompson was the Great-uncle of Simon Marham who is Manager Strategy & Engagement in the Waimakariri District Council. Waimakariri is twinning with Zonnebeke/¨Passchendaele. The family was not aware of what happens to Mark Thompson, they did not know if he was commemorated or if he had a grave. Mark Thompson died on 5 October 1917, no 99 years and 2 days ago. He was in the second wave of the 4th of October attack on 's Graventafel during the Battle of Broodseinde, part of the Battle of Passchendaele. On his right hand side was 2nd Auckland with Dave Gallaher. When they had reached the Blue Line around 09.20 am, the attack was a huge success.

Simon Markham at the NZ Soldier in Mesen
They were ordered to do a new attack in the afternoon against Adler Farm. Adler Farm was heavy defended by German machine guns and it was impossible to take that position. New Zealand suffered some casualties and Mark was missing. The day after, on October the 5th, he was reported as killed in action.

the place where his body has been found in 1919/1920
In 1919-1920 his body has been found near the place of the attack, exhumed, positively identified from a field grave and reburied on Tyne Cot Cemetery. The family was not aware of that and nobody came from the Uttermost Ends of the Earth to pay his respect until today.
Simon told me that he has known his great-aunt very well and she was 101 when she died. She always spoke about her older brother who was killed in Passchendaele and she was asking him to come and find out what happens.
In the MMP1917, proud to be a Kiwi
Simon, paying his respect to his Great-uncle
Simon was here today, between a conference in the USA and a meeting in the UK for a couple of days in Brussels. It was a huge privilege to help him and the family with the research and to show him around today, from Messines to Passchendaele. It was alos an emotional day, especially for him but I have to acknowledge that it was also an emotional day for me too. I have passed hundreds, maybe thousand times his grave and never knew what happens with this Kiwi who got for the first time a visit from his family in New Zealand.

A heavy emotional moment, the first time in 99 years, a family member is touching the headstone

Saturday, 1 October 2016

millionth visitor to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917


 Adrienne Smith from Waimakariri was visiting this region for the first time in her life together with her husband Laurence Smith.
Her brother in law is living in Waterloo with his family and was happy to bring them from Waterloo to the Passchendaele region as a guest of the New Zealand Pilgrimage Trust.
It was a nice surprise for here to see that she was the 1,000,000 st visitor since the opening of the museum in 2004. The Flemish Minister President was there to welcome her together with the council of Zonnebeke. Of course it's very special to be a guest of honour this day but it is even more special that she is from Waimakariri, the twin town of Zonnebeke.

inside the dugout
the certificate

The visit to the dugout, together with the Minister President was of course a highlight today. Not many people could say they have been in a real dugout. After the visit to the dugout and a small reception in the MMP1917 the Smith family was visiting the Museum, doing a battlefield tour in the trail of the New Zealanders in Passchendaele, having a Passchendaele Cheese lunch in St Jef (the Old Cheese Factory) and continued on the Nga Tapuwae trail to explore the deeds of their forebears. 's Graventafel, Belle Vue Spur, Passchendaele church, the Visitor Centre , Tyne Cot Cemetery and Polygon Wood have been visited today. The day was closed with the Last Post Ceremony under the Menin Gate.
end of the visit to the dugout

In the New Zealand display in the MMP1917

Platoon Experience and a special service by Australian Cadets on Tyne Cot was also on the menu today

Adrienne paying her respect with a white cross for Sgt Smith from Canterbury NZ on Polygon Wood Cemetery.

You can read the press release from the MMP1917 here:

The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 and the municipality of Zonnebeke drained the 'Zonnebeke Church Dugout' on September 26th. The draining is part of large-scale scientific research on the possibility to temporarily open this unique underground site for the general public in 2017. The research was done in collaboration with the Flemish Government, the Flanders Heritage Agency and Archeo7. Because of his expertise in the field of underground structures, also amateur archaeologist Johan Vandewalle took part in this research. On October 1st, Minister-President of Flanders Geert Bourgeois and the 1,000,000th visitor got a guided tour of this authentic dugout.
A rare but extremely well preserved dugout
The investigation into the opening of the dugout is part of the vision of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 as an open museum to establish a link between historical facts and the architectural heritage as a military-strategic witness of the First World War. The underground complex is one of the best preserved dugouts in the region because the Allies built the dugout beneath the foundations of the pre-war church. The structure lies about 5 meters underground and consists of a main gallery of nearly 29 meters long, side corridors, five rooms and two access stairs.
In addition to investigating the possible opening, the dugout was also inventoried in 3D. Also research into the origin of the wood used was done.
1,000,000th visitor gets unique gift
On October 1st, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 welcomed its 1,000,000th visitor. In addition to a certificate and gift basket, Adrienne Smith from Waimakariri, New Zealand was offered a special experience. Together with Minister-President of Flanders Geert Bourgeois, she was given a tour by the museum curator in the dugout.
Once in a lifetime experience
Further research must now determine whether the museum can also offer the general public this unique experience between July 31st and November 11th, 2017. During this period, the museum expects a lot of (inter)national visitors on the occasion of "100 years Battle of Passchendaele”. After that period the dugout would again be closed.
"The temporary opening of the dugout would fit perfectly within our mission to focus on the experience of the visitor. By visiting this unique dugout our visitors could experience how, a century ago,  the soldiers lived like moles underground "said Steven Vandenbussche, Director of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.

“The 1917 Battle of Passchendaele was one of the most cruel episodes of the Great War. In only one hundred days, half a million victims were sacrificed for scarcely 8 kilometres of ground.  It is therefore no surprise that, next year, Flanders’ centenary commemoration will focus on this historic event. We expect many tourists from the Commonwealth countries in this commemorative year, since the impact of the Battle of Passchendaele is still felt by our generation. The research into how the Zonnebeke Church Dugout can be opened up to the public is a fitting complement to the umbrella project “The Legacy of Passchendaele”, which revolves around experience, while focussing on landscape, archaeological relics as well as above ground sites. The dugout is indeed rare and one of the region’s best preserved dugouts with plenty of authentic features and artefacts” said Geert Bourgeois, Minister-President of the Government of Flanders.

see also:
(c) pictures Willy Roets