Thursday, 11 November 2010

With flags flying at half mast, KiwiRail staff laid poppies on a new memorial to the railway men who died in World War I.

The memorial at KiwiRail's mechanical workshops in Lower Hutt was unveiled in conjunction with an Armistice Day memorial service, held at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the time and date the war ended.

More than 7500 railway workers served in World War I, more than half the entire workforce. Of those, 444 were killed.

The memorial features a train wheel and a plaque, which is a replica of those that were placed on an Ab-class locomotive in 1925, naming it Passchendaele after the war's deadliest battle for Kiwis, in honour of servicemen who worked for the railway.

The original plaques were removed from the train during World War II and are on display in Christchurch and Dunedin railway stations.

KiwiRail director Bryan Jackson said the memorial was a way to honour the Kiwi soldiers who served their country, and the railwaymen among them.

"When you consider the loss of life and impact of the battle, this single contribution doesn't seem anywhere enough recognition for the loss of life ... it goes some way to marking the event and in particular railway's involvement, and helping to remember the sacrifice made by those who fought."

Belgian exchange student Manoelle Godin, 18, was at the service, and read the Ode of Remembrance in Flemish and English.

Passchendaele is in Belgium, where Armistice Day is a public holiday, and Manoelle said she was proud to take part in yesterday's service. She accompanied former railway worker Eileen Smeaton in laying a wreath on the memorial.

Mrs Smeaton, 95, who worked as a shorthand typist, was thrilled to take part. "It's wonderful that people remember – it feels like they didn't die in vain."

Railways workers were tightknit, she said. She had married a foundry worker, and would tell their two sons they had "railway blood in them".

KiwiRail workshop production manager Phil Hankinson organised the memorial. The replica plaque had been hanging in an office, but was now in the workshop's memorial garden

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