Friday, 9 October 2009

New Zealand’s blackest day to be remembered

It was the worst military disaster in New Zealand’s history. Within a single day’s battle on 12 October 1917, more than 2700 New Zealanders died, were wounded or declared missing.

The number of Kiwi deaths that morning – more than 850 – was greater than the combined toll of the eruption of Mt Tarawera, Hawkes Bay earthquake, Tangiwai rail disaster, sinking of the Wahine, and Erebus plane crash.

Ninety-two years later, on Monday 12 October 2009, a commemorative ceremony will be held to remember those lost in the Battle of Passchendaele and the rest of the Western Front.

The ceremony, hosted by North Shore City Council, will take place from 7pm at the historic Fort Takapuna in Devonport.

It will include involvement by dignitaries, the Band of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery, the 3rd Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) and Northland Battalion Group of the New Zealand Army, along with members of the public and local school students.

Five thousand crosses have been erected on the former parade ground at Fort Takapuna in remembrance of the New Zealand lives lost in Belgium - and the fort itself is currently home to the exhibition Passchendaele: ‘The Belgians Have Not Forgotten’, now open daily until 15 November.

His Worship the Mayor of North Shore City, Andrew Williams says the battles on the Western Front of World War One were a terrible tragedy for New Zealand.

“We were a country of only a million people, so the loss of life in these battles had a devastating effect on our society and it cut to the heart of the New Zealanders who fought there.

“It’s an honour for North Shore City to be able to offer an opportunity, through the exhibition, commemoration ceremony and other events, for people to reflect on this period of our history and consider the great sacrifice of our soldiers.”

The commemoration ceremony will be held at sunset to reflect the ‘Last Post’ ceremony which takes place every night by the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. The ‘Last Post’ ceremony has been performed daily by Belgian buglers since the 1920s to express the gratitude of the Belgian people towards those who died during World War One, for their freedom and independence.

At Fort Takapuna, the Band of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery will perform, and the sunset remembrance ceremony will feature the Regimental Colour of the 3rd Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) and Northland Battalion Group.

The Takapuna Grammar School girls’ choir will perform a fitting tribute, with a song entitled “Poppies and Pohutukawa”.

Following this, wreaths will be laid by Mayor of North Shore City, Andrew Williams, His Excellency Patrick Renault, Ambassador of Belgium, invited guests and members of the public.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Powell, Commanding Officer of the 3rd Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly's Own) and Northland Battalion Group, says he is delighted to be involved in commemorations.

“The Auckland Regiment was awarded the Battle Honour “Passchendaele’’ and the battle is therefore of great significance to those of us who serve now and have done so in the past.

“As direct descendants of the regiment that fought at the battle of Broodseinde, it’s important to us that we can be involved in this event,” he says.

The Battle of Broodseinde took place on 4 October 1917, eight days before the disastrous events of 12 October, and helped to open the way for New Zealand soldiers to Passchendaele.

Members of the public are invited to attend the ceremony and are welcome to bring tributes to place on the white crosses.

The exhibition, Passchendaele: ‘The Belgians Have Not Forgotten’, will remain open to the public until 6.45pm on Monday, to allow those wishing to visit the exhibition prior to the commemoration ceremony to do so.

Those wanting to find out more about Passchendaele commemorations can visit


Passchendaele Commemoration Ceremony
Date: Monday 12 October 2009
Time: Ceremony starts at 7pm. The exhibition will remain open to the public until 6.45pm that day.
Location: Fort Takapuna, 170 Vauxhall Road, Devonport

Passchendaele: ‘The Belgians Have Not Forgotten’ Exhibition
October 4 – November 15, Open 10am – 4pm daily. Fort Takapuna, 170 Vauxhall Road, Devonport.

A moving exhibition by the Passchendaele Memorial Museum, featuring photographs, movies, music, information and artefacts from battles fought 92 years ago. The exhibition follows the journey of New Zealand soldiers from Gallipoli through Flanders to Passchendaele and highlights the memories which live on in Belgium today. The exhibition has been presented in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Featherston and Waiouru, before finishing its tour of New Zealand in North Shore City.

His Worship the Mayor of North Shore City, Andrew Williams, phone: 09 486 8687, email:

Olivia Starrenburg, North Shore City Council Communications Advisor, phone: 09 486 8600 ext 8749 or 027 241 3165, email:

Iain MacKenzie, Honorary Consul of Belgium (2001-2009), phone: 09 575 6202 or 027 495 5226, email:

Lieutenant Jeremy Seed, New Zealand Defence Force, 021-0233-2663

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