New Zealand's 'darkest day' commemorated in Belgium

11 October 2017 4:02 PM

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Exactly 100 years ago, New Zealand suffered its greatest loss of life in a single day, as about 960 soldiers were killed or mortally wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium.

On Wednesday, in Ypres, close to where the bloody battle raged, preparations are under way to mark the centenary of the battle.

During World War I, 10 per cent of New Zealand's total population, about 100,000 people and half of the country's working men, travelled to fight in His Majesty's Forces.

Two-thirds would become casualties. One in five would never return home.

The sacrifice paid by New Zealand soldiers, along with Australian, British and other Commonwealth forces, is not readily forgotten in the small Belgium town, which sits on the Flanders border with France.

Every day at the Menin Gate in Ypres, the Last Post is played at precisely 8pm.

The bugle has sounded continuously since 1928, except for a brief period of Nazi occupation in the 1940s.

In 1917, the Menin Gate would have been the last sight of civilisation for the young Kiwi soldiers before they entered battlefields known for their mud, blood and death.

On Wednesday evening local time, commemorations to mark New Zealand's darkest day at Menin Gate will begin, with a projection on to the restored structure and a waka ceremony.

Dave Dobbyn will later perform at the gates as part of an extended version of the daily Last Post ceremony.

On Thursday, the Belgian National Service will commemorate New Zealand's participation in the Battle of Passchendaele at the nearby Tyne Cot Cemetery, the resting place of more than 500 New Zealanders.

Other commemoration events include the opening of a New Zealand Memorial Poppy Garden, a tree planting in Polygon Wood, the site of another bloody 1917 battle, and a sunset service at the Buttes New British Cemetery.

NZ Defence boss Lieutenant General Tim Keating is among those in Belgium to attend the events.


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