E-news #34

Posted on April 1st, 2018

The Battle of Passchendaele 100th anniversary has been and gone, however there are still plans on the horizon.

Ypres Salient – early 1918

Continuing our story – the New Zealanders continued to operate in the Ypres area until February 1918. The waterlogged conditions, bleak winter weather and depressing memories of the Passchendaele fiasco combined to make this a particularly trying experience for the survivors. Another failed attack on the Polderhoek Chateau between 3rd and 12th December 1917 only added to their misery.

Apart from the Germans, the New Zealanders’ biggest enemy on the Western Front was the mud. Finding a dry spot to rest or sleep was often a challenge even though pumps were used to remove water from trenches and dugouts. Many troops succumbed to trench foot, a fungal infection caused by immersion in cold water. Rats and lice were soldiers’ constant companions: rats, having gorged on corpses, allegedly grew ‘as big as cats’; lice were the (then unknown) vector of another common wartime ailment, trench fever.

The daily tasks of life and living went on despite the hellish conditions. Individuals spent only a few days a month in a front-line trench. Daily life here was a mixture of routine and boredom – sentry duty, kit and rifle inspections; and work assignments filling sandbags, repairing trenches, pumping out flooded sections and digging latrines. Any free time was usually spent reading or writing letters or diaries, playing cards or trying to snatch a few moments of sleep.

The New Zealand Division had now been in the line for over three months, so was quite ready for its turn in the reserves – the different Battalions were finally relieved between February 21st and 24th. Reinforcements continued to arrive as they headed to Caestre and Houlle in Northern France. The quarters there were good and the weather was fine and everyone was relieved to get away from the Ypres Salient.

The maintenance and improvement of morale was achieved by the encouragement of sport and other recreations. On March 4th the 1st Canterbury Battalion defeated the 2nd Canterbury Battalion at rugby, by 13 points to 6; and the following day the 2nd Canterbury Battalion ran second to the 1st Otago Battalion in a brigade cross-country run of three miles. The same afternoon the 1st Canterbury Battalion won the brigade rugby championship, by defeating the 1st Otago Battalion by 6 points to 3.

Our boys enjoyed their time recovering in Northern France before being called back into service on 24 March 1918 when they were rushed back south to the Somme area again to plug a gap against the German Spring Offensive…..more on that in the next E-News.

Meanwhile the New Zealand Cyclist Battalion remained in Belgium. The Cyclists were never part of the New Zealand Division, they were Corps troops under their own command so are often not mentioned in the history books. Due to the ground conditions in the Salient at the time, there was little opportunity for reconnaissance work, so they spent much of their time labouring and cable laying which was frequently done under fire.

AGM

The all-important post-centennial AGM will be held on Thursday 22nd March 2018 at the Auckland War Memorial Museum at 5pm in the Auditorium (enter via the Atrium). Discussion about the direction and future of the Passchendaele Society will take place, with three current Board members not seeking re-election – President Iain MacKenzie, Vice-President Chris Mullane and Commemorations Director Ken Young. Nominations for Board members are still open, please contact the Secretary for a nomination form. Written nominations for nominees accompanied by the written consent of each nominee need to be received by the Secretary by March 7th. Formal notice will be issued shortly.

The Board are extremely proud to have achieved our Society’s goals for 2017 with huge success, including Raising Awareness of the Battle of Passchendaele; opening the New Zealand Memorial & Garden in Zonnebeke; sending Young People to Passchendaele; and the hugely successful 100th Anniversary Commemoration at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Members were asked to share their opinions in writing for discussion in the February Board meeting, we thank those that took the time to respond.

Future

Having passed the 100th anniversary, it is of course by no means all over for the Passchendaele Society.

There are still plans for the immediate future, including the Armistice Centenary in November 2018; the creation of a more permanent website so that the incredible amount of information and stories we have gathered over the years is retained; continuing the raising of awareness of the Battle of Passchendaele, including greater involvement of younger people; finalising & releasing the New Zealand Passchendaele Memorial & Garden documentary; and a commemorative book of +/-200 photographs capturing the 2017 centennial events in Belgium and New Zealand which will be produced by FoRT (with the help of the Passchendaele Society).

Le Quesnoy

We also have the opening of the New Zealand Memorial Museum in Le Quesnoy to look forward to. The museum will be housed in the historic mayoral mansion and surrounding gardens and will eventually also include accommodation for up to 104 staff and visitors. The opening will take place on 4th November 2018 to mark the centenary of the liberation of Le Quesnoy by New Zealand soldiers. This occasion will be a significant celebration for the town as well as for the NZ government and military.

The museum will exhibit interactive and precious historic collections, focusing on New Zealand’s military involvement in Europe and our significant contributions in both World Wars: – a way of telling New Zealand soldiers’ stories. Photographs from the liberation of Le Quesnoy can be seen here https://nzwarmemorialmuseum.co.nz/story#photos The new venue will act as a focal point for New Zealand visitors to the Western Front.

World War 1 Centenary Memorial update

The project which began a little over two years ago to install a World War 1 Centenary Memorial at the Auckland Domain is gaining momentum. The memorial will acknowledge the loss felt by those that saw loved ones off to war. Design consortium Wraight + Athfield, together with Ross Hemara, continue to work with the Council on Te Takuahi – The Hearth, the design submitted and chosen during a contestable process in 2016. It is anticipated that the memorial could be the perfect place to hold any future Passchendaele commemorations.

The Auckland Council is keeping us informed of progress with the project, including the lodging of resource consent in early 2018 and planning for completion in mid-2019. They reinforced to us that the purpose of Te Takuahi is not to duplicate the commemorative function offered by the many First World War memorials found throughout Auckland (and New Zealand). Instead, it reflects the impact of the war on Auckland and Aucklanders. This aligns strongly with the sentiment of the Peace celebrations that were held across the country in 1919 and will be commemorated in 2019.

The next steps include working on a fundraising programme to complete the funding needed for the project and working on the construction plan. If you would like to donate towards this project or speak to the Council about any aspect of the project or would like to hear more about being a funding partner or patron, please contact Domain.Memorial@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz.

Snippets

Life Member Helen Pollock was appointed as an Officer in the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year. Her sculptures “Falls the Shadow” and “Victory Medal” have been particularly relevant and important to the Passchendaele Society and both are very much symbols of the sacrifice which we were set up to remember. Our congratulations to Helen.

Peter Jackson’s new film has just been released in England, we are very much hoping that it will come to New Zealand! https://www.1418now.org.uk/commissions/new-film-peter-jackson/?utm_content=buffercf436&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebooklff&utm_campaign=buffer

Our website has been updated, you can see the finished New Zealand Memorial & Garden here: www.passchendaelesociety.org/memorial-garden/

We also welcome ‘stories’ of your own ancestors that we can post on our website, the latest additions are stories about Alexander Birss http://passchendaelesociety.org/events/ and Athol Stretton http://passchendaelesociety.org/events/page/2/