Thursday, 24 December 2009

Monday, 16 November 2009


The Last Day of the Exhibition at Fort Takapuna on Sunday 15 November 2009 was one of the best attended days and brought the total number of visitors to almost 10, 000.

On the morning of Monday 16 November 2009 at 4.45 am they had a dawn ceremony to lift the sacred tapu put on the 5.000 white crosses and remove them from the Field of Remembrance.

A group of about 100 assembled in the pre-dawn darkness as Master of Ceremonies Chris Mullane ONZIM MBE welcome everyone and gave a special welcome to Jo Kane Chairperson of the Waimakariri Zonnebeke Trust, Gerard Uytterheagen First Secretary at the Embassy of Belgium in Canberra and his wife Bernadette Lambert and Laetitia Petersen Honorary Consul of Belgium in Auckland.

His Worship Mayor Andrew Williams spoke of the honour which the North Shore City Council and its people had felt in hosting such an historic event. Iain MacKenzie addressed his remarks to the enormous role played by the 5,000 white crosses in symbolising the 5,000 New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives fighting for freedom in Belgium more than 90 years ago. The President of the Peace Foundation of New Zealand spoke of the role of striving for peace in the world and the children of Vauxhall School confirmed this message as they released 50 white doves who soared into the air, circled the crosses three times and flew off into freedom.

The Last Post was sounded as the Belgian and New Zealand flags were lowered and then with the playing of rouse were again raised.Kamatua Heta Tobin lifted the tapu and then Lone Piper John Graham played a lament as the crosses were removed from the Field of Remembrance and the sun rose again to highlight a most moving closing ceremony

Text of the Farewell Message to the 5,000 white crosses

In Flemish there is an expression which goes along the lines of …” is een tijd van komen een a tijd van gaan.. “………there is a time for coming and a time for going !

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses , row on row

In the field of remembrance at Fort Takapuna ,through a great deal of hard work from many individuals and groups these 5,000 white crosses and 5,000 red poppies came to this place 44 days ago. They became an incredibly intense emotional symbol and a recognisable reminder of the 5,000 New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives fighting for freedom in Belgium more than 90 years ago.

They were a visual New Zealand response to the message which arrived with the exhibition reminding us that the Belgians had not forgotten the immense sacrifice made by New Zealanders on the Western Front and at Passchendaele.

And as the time has come for the exhibition to go so too has the time come for these 5,000 spiritual symbols to go.

It is fitting however that before they go we take a moment to reflect on what they meant to us……………… They meant of course different things to different people and many of them became personalised by descendants who took the opportunity to tell the story behind their particular cross. Perhaps however it was when we put all those individual crosses together and when we looked at what it meant and saw the totality of it all that the enormity of New Zealand’s sacrifice ninety two years ago, really hit home to many of us.

The exhibition itself helped us to understand the circumstances surrounding this enormous tragedy. It didn’t take away the pain but in some way it did help to ease the pain when we were able to talk about what did happen on the other side of the world all those years ago. I am sure the crosses were listening and took satisfaction from our conversations and that they will leave this field of remembrance knowing that their deeds, their actions, their anquish and their sacrifice is better understood now than it was when they arrived here.

…” is een tijd van komen…en een tijd van gaan’’ The time has come for you to go…..Thank you for coming.. It has been for us all a most memorable visit. You reminded us of who we are . You reminded us of our history and you reminded us to value the freedom that we enjoy. A freedom enjoyed through your sacrifice.

Some of you will be carried from this field by families who will take you home. Others will be carried with honour and with respect to the starting point of another journey to other parts of New Zealand where you again will receive the great honour and great respect that you truly deserve.

Time to say goodbye. Con te Partiro
Goede Reis en Bon Voyage

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Jo Kane is back to New Zealand

Jo Kane, Chairperson of the Waimakariri-Zonnebeke Trust is back in her country since around midnight local New Zealand time.
Thanks to Maria Van der Meiren, Chairperson of the Municipal Council, we've got some pictures from the visit of Jo with Maria and her husband and Sabine (Alderperson of Zonnebeke) and her husband on a visit in the house and workshop of the artist Rik Ryon in Proven (near Poperinge).

Jo is now in Auckland again to pack the exhibition who is ending tomorrow our time and today New Zealand time. Volunteers in Auckland and Fort Takapuna will help her and also the people of Waiouru Army Museum and the New Zealand Army.
The Belgians are again very grateful to New Zealand. New Zealand allowed us to come with our exhibition to show you the battlefields of Flanders where we live and where we still commemorate your boys who were giving the ultimate sacrifice , today 92 years ago. We hope that it could be a start for New Zealand too, to not forget what their country has done for peace, democracy and freedom in the world.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Chairperson Waimakariri-Zonnebeke Trust in Passchendaele

Jo Kane, chairperson of the Waimakariri-Zonnebeke Trust is in Passchendaele since Friday 6 November to commemorate Armistice Day in Flanders together with her friends from the Passchendaele Society 1917. She stays until 12 November and will be hosted by the council members of Zonnebeke. Martin O' Connor, also Honorary Member since 2007 and New Zealander living in Belgium did a five hours trip to be with us. He's leaving Belgium for a trip back home next week and will help Jo to pack the exhibition in Fort Takapuna, North Shore City, Auckland.

On this picture, from left to right: Alderman Franky Bryon and Mayor Dirk Cardoen from Zonnebeke, chairperson Jo Kane, chairman Passchendaele Society 1917 Freddy Declerck, curator Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 Franky Bostyn, Michael St Maur Sheil and Rik Ryon, the two artists who made the exhibition "the Belgians have not Forgotten" possible.

Jo Kane has been appointed Honorary Member of the Passchendaele Society 1917 for the tremendous work she did for the exhibition in New Zealand. Without her help and that of the Waimakariri-Zonnebeke Trust this exhibition was obviously not possible.

On today there are only six honorary members, 2 New Zealanders, 1 British, 1 Scottish, 1 Australian and 1 Belgium. Roger Verbeke, the only Belgium Honorary Member was also appointed yesterday because he resigned as a full committee member and he was one of the founders of the Passchendaele Society 1917 Trust in 2004. Roger is an authority on World War I and is very famous for his knowledge in Flanders and abroad.

Photography by Peter Roets.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Exhibition in Takapuna

Includes the entrance to the Fort and the exhibition, some shots of the exhibition inside the fort and the wreaths laid during the Commemoration Ceremony

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Passchendaele Commemoration Service 12/10/2009

Iain MacKenzie
Honorary Consul of Belgium (2001-2009) reporting:

On a beautiful and sunny spring evening a memorable and touching Commemoration Ceremony was held at Fort Takapuna at 7 pm on Monday 12th October 2009

The Band of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery entertained the large crowd of over one thousand people who had gathered outside the Fort in sight of the 5,000 white crosses erected in memory of the 5,000 New Zealand Soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country fighting for freedom in Flanders.

Master of Ceremonies Bob Davis introduced His Worship the Mayor of North Shore City Andrew Williams who spoke of the enormous sacrifice made by New Zealanders in Flanders and the relevance of holding the ceremony at Fort Takapuna where the Auckland Regiment and the Pioneer Maori Battalion had trained before leaving New Zealand for Flanders.

His Excellency the Ambassador of Belgium Patrick Renault responded by assuring New Zealanders of the gratitude of the people of Belgium even after 92 years had elapsed and promised that Belgium would continue to look after the graves of New Zealanders as they had done in the past. The Ambassador pointed out that although it was sunset in New Zealand it was sunrise in Belgium when 92 years to the minute the New Zealand Division was given the order to attack Belle Vue Ridge in what was to become the biggest disaster in New Zealand's history.

The Takapuna Grammar School Girls Choir then gave a beautiful rendition of " In Flanders Fields" which was written by the Canadian Lieutenant Colonel Dr John MacRae to music written and conducted by Robyn Goodge.

There followed a wonderful ceremonial presentation which was passed onto the New Zealand Army by the British Army and was a shortened version of the time - honoured Beating Retreat Ceremony which dates back to 1554 when the drums were beaten on the battlefield to tell the troops to retire to the rear whilst sentries were set up for the night. From 1788 the lowering of the flag became a tradition in the Army and now every evening in Military Camps throughout New Zealand a bugle sounds the retreat as the flag is lowered. This Sunset ceremony involved the parading and mounting of the guard, musical troop ,and the playing of music as the New Zealand ensign and the Belgian ensign were lowered.

The ceremony began with the marching on of the guard of the Battalion descended from the three battalions who fought at Passchendaele under the command of Lieutenant William Wright RNZIR and led by the Band of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery to the famous march of the time " Invercargill ". The Guard took up position and conducted a formal dressing prior to the marching on of the Regimental Colour, which bears the battle honour Passchendaele. The large crowd then stood for the arrival of the Regimental Colours.

Major Terry O'Neill then inspected the guard. Historically this inspection is a ceremonial one which is carried out by looking into the eye of each soldier to see if they are fit and able to carry out their duties. If the day's fighting had fared badly the soldiers may well have been exhausted or wounded. If the fighting had been successful the soldiers may well have over-indulged in the issue of rum and not be fit for duty.

After the inspection of the guard the crowd stood for the National Anthems of Belgium and New Zealand followed by the Ode, which was recited by Theo Thomas of Papakura Returned Servicemen’s Association a veteran of World War 2 whose father fought in the first world war.

As the sun set the Belgian and New Zealand Ensigns were lowered and the Band played " Sunset " composed by Captain Arthur Green, Director of Music, Her Majesty's Royal Marines in 1932. Arthur Greens son John was part of the audience and confessed later to having been absolutely moved by this performance.

As the Regimental Colour marched off it was followed by a silence which was broken by Lone Piper John Graham playing the lament " Flowers of the Forest " and leading the Mayor , the Ambassador, the invited guests and the public to the 5,000 crosses where wreaths were laid as the Band played " The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended, The Darkness Falls At Thy Behest."

A reception for invited Guests followed the laying of wreaths in the Fort Takapuna Officers Mess.