E-news #30

Posted on August 23rd, 2017

La Basse-Ville

After the Battle of Messines the New Zealand Division moved around 5 kilometres south-east to two little villages called La Basse-Ville and Warneton (Waasten is the Flemish name), both villages are on the Belgian side of the border with France. These villages were located only 10 kilometres east of Ploegsteert (known as Plugstreet to our boys), you may be more familiar with that name. The village La Basse-Ville today has now merged with Warneton (Waasten), so no longer exists. The New Zealand Division’s objective was to hold and strengthen the lines protecting the Lys River from June until they were finally relieved from the frontline in August 1917.

On 12th June 1917 the New Zealand Division pushed the German outpost back to La Basse-Ville. The New Zealand soldiers suffered serious casualties during their time there, including two former All Blacks, Reginald Taylor on June 20th and James McNeece on June 21st. Between 27th and 31st July the New Zealanders captured, lost and recaptured La Basse-Ville. The main objective of these attacks (more like small scrimmages) was to create a decoy from the preparations taking place for the Battle of Passchendaele further north.

The most significant battle in La Basse-Ville began on July 31st. This was on the same day that the Passchendaele Offensive started near the village of Pilkem, 20 kilometres due north (this is also known as the Third Battle of Ypres). Lance Corporal Leslie Andrew was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery and leadership that captured two machine guns on July 31st 1917 in La Basse-Ville. He survived the war and went on to become a Brigadier before retiring to his home town of Levin where he died in 1969.

It was also here in La Basse-Ville that the 3rd Brigade lost two Commanders shortly after each other, shot by German snipers. Brigadier General Johnston was killed on August 7th 1917 and two days later his successor Brigadier General Young was seriously wounded. Major-General Russell was standing next to him at the time and was at considerable risk. He later became known as the front-line General, taking too many risks by going to the frontline to check personally on the conditions, where he was wounded several times.

It was said that the Battle of La Basse-Ville claimed many athletes. A few years ago a monument to Sergeant Charles Rangiwawahia Sciascia MM was unveiled. He fought in the Wellington-West Coast Company and was a well-known Horowhenua Maori footballer and a gallant soldier.

Nga Pua Mahara – New Zealand Memorial & Garden

Our Memorial & Garden is nearing completion. As Belgium has had a very dry summer so far and following professional advice, we have decided to delay the planting until September. Any members visiting prior to September will find everything else completed though, minus the plants.

The final version of text for the information panels (to be be installed at the entrance) has been agreed. The text is now being translated into Dutch/Flemish, Te Reo Maori, French & German. At the bottom of the panel depicting the layout plan of the garden there will be a URL link to our website. In due course we will be creating a permanent story about the project on that link including a video documentary. We will also be acknowledging all the organisations, etc. involved in and supporting the project.

The New Zealand Memorial & GardenNga Pua Mahara (which means Petals of Remembrance). is being created in remembrance of the more than 5,000 New Zealanders who were killed or mortally wounded in Flanders, Belgium. Most still lie in the surrounding Flanders Fields, others made it over the border of France only to die at a later date in a Field Dressing Station or hospital and are thus buried in French soil. The ‘darkest day’ in New Zealand’s military history is specifically incorporated in the Memorial & Garden design commemorating the 12th October 1917 attack on Bellevue Spur. The holes penetrating the remembrance column represent the more than 2,700 casualties at the end of the day including wounded, dead and missing. The dead are represented by the 846 bronze discs inset in the paving. The scattering of the discs and the random array of the penetrations symbolize the chaos of war and its impact on the lives of so many. The New Zealand Memorial & Garden will be in the Memorial Park next door to the Passchendaele Museum, in the grounds of the Zonnebeke Chateau.

Also included in the shipment sent from New Zealand was a bucket of freshly dug soil taken from the site of the new Belgian Memorial to be built at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington. This has also been incorporated into the Garden as the 5,000 soldiers that still lie in Flanders Fields can never return to home soil, so the soil has been taken to Flanders. “Provide me with a handful of soil from my homeland so I may feel the warmth of my ancestors and weep”. 

Many New Zealanders are unable to make the journey themselves to Belgium now or even in the future. It is therefore our intention to create a documentary ‘video’ from start to finish to tell the story of the Memorial & Garden. It is with great pleasure that we can announce that generous donations have been received from Westpac and from Boffa Miskell to help fund this project, we are hugely thankful for this! It is our hope that it will be shown in schools, museums and libraries across New Zealand, thus keeping very much alive the memory and history of what went on in Belgium for generations to come. As well as being broadcast nationally the documentary would be available to the general public free of charge from the Society’s website, the WW100 website and other official sites.

The Passchendaele Society is facing huge financial pressures in trying to respond to and be represented at all the centennial commemorations of the Battle of Passchendaele. Our Give-a-little page is where you can donate to this worthy project, here is the link https://givealittle.co.nz/org/passchsoc1

Young People to Passchendaele tour

The Passchendaele Society is proud to be the initiators of the project to send Young People to Passchendaele which has just been launched by the Ministry of Education. The project involves sending ten youths on a 10-day tour to Europe. The Passchendaele Competition has been rolled out to schools across New Zealand by the Ministry of Education, winners will be announced on July 24th. For more information click on: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/battle-passchendaele-competition-launched A farewell function is planned for October 6th. We wish to take the opportunity of thanking the following in particular for their contributions and support towards this significant project: including Students Horizons, Fields of Remembrance Trust and ANZ Bank.

The annual Veterans’ Affairs Battle of Passchendaele multi-media competition was launched in 2011 by Judith Collins as a way of ensuring that New Zealand’s sacrifice on the Western Front was not forgotten, and that New Zealand’s young people continue to be aware of the heroism that took place in the fields of Belgium. This year’s winners have recently been announced – the adjudicators were unable to decide between two worthy entries so they have given a joint first prize to two recipients for the first time! See Amanda Yang’s poem here  http://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11866862 The second winner was Neakiry Kivi who submitted an original piano composition entitled “Scenes from Passchendaele”. As in past years each winner received a $2,000 education contribution and will travel to Belgium to attend the Battle of Passchendaele centenary commemoration as part of the New Zealand Defence Force Youth Ambassador programme, together with the winner and runner-up from 2016.

The Battle of Passchendaele

The Passchendaele Offensive began on July 31st, 1917. The official name of the battle was the Third Battle of Ypres. Most around the world refer to it as the Battle of Passchendaele, however most countries have different dates when referring to the “Battle of Passchendaele”. Here in New Zealand ‘our’ Battle of Passchendaele began for us on October 4th and ended on October 18th when we were finally relieved from the frontline. However what is important to realise about La Basse-Ville (see above story) is that the New Zealand Division was part of the Passchendaele Offensive on the very first day and that it was unknown for a long time. We have the duty to pass this important fact on as much as possible to make awareness of the deeds of NZ-ers during WWI.

In the early morning of the 31st July 2017, there will be a dawn service in Langemark to mark the start of the Battle of Passchendaele. The starting off point was the Pilkem Ridge.

To learn more about the new Zealanders involved in the beginning of the battle refer to: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/western-front-1917

Passchendaele Society member Dominique Cooreman from Belgium (but now living in New Zealand) has done a lot of research on the battle and wrote the book: “La Basse-Ville 1917: New Zealand Voices from Flanders Fields” which is well worth the read. As there is no official commemoration to be held at La Basse-Ville, Dominique will look after New Zealanders visiting this somewhat forgotten place on 31st July where she will organise a lunch and a guided walk. For more information refer to her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=la%20basse-ville1917

Important Dates

The Fields of Remembrance Trust has taken up the initiative in organising with Eden Park in Auckland an event on October 4th to coincide with the 100th anniversary death of Dave Gallaher in the Battle of Broodseinde. Please check out their website for more details http://www.fieldsofremembrance.org.nz/

There will also be a commemoration at the New Zealand Memorial at ‘s Gravenstafel on October 4th 2017. ‘s Gravenstafel is a crossroad marking the successfully achieved objective for the New Zealanders on October 4th 1917 in our push for the Passchendaele Ridge. Karen Morris will represent the Passchendaele Society as our new Board Member and will lay a wreath on behalf of the Passchendaele Society. Stay abreast of developments via the WW100 website: http://www.ww100.govt.nz/battle-of-passchendaele-centenary

The Menin Gate Ceremony on October 11th will be focused on New Zealand. You are advised to be there by 7.30pm latest. All Kiwis will be welcome in Zonnebeke for the special Council meeting in the afternoon of October 11th. They will all then go together to the Menin Gate. It will be a good place to meet and greet for the people coming from the different parts of New Zealand and elsewhere. For more information please contact the Passchendaele Memorial Museum in Zonnebeke: www.passchendaele.be/en

The New Zealand Embassy in Belgium is coordinating the October 12th 2017 events and the final programme will soon be announced. The ceremonies are intended primarily for New Zealanders and will not be ticketed. However, security will be tight so arriving early is advised. I have been told that it will not be possible to self-drive to Tyne Cot Cemetery, instead there will be a complimentary shuttle service put on by the local community departing from the Passchendaele Memorial Museum at Zonnebeke Chateau.

The Wood of Peace project at Polygon Wood will see a tree planted for every serviceman buried at Polygon Wood and Buttes New British Cemeteries. Zonnebeke has reserved some 60-80 trees to be planted by New Zealanders at 4pm on October 12th and will involve VIPs, families and sponsors. Contact Karen Derycke if you would like to become a plant-ee, karen.derycke@passchendaele.be

 This website is an excellent source to stay abreast of any developments in Zonnebeke/Passchendaele http://passchendaele2017.org/ Also the http://thebelgianshavenotforgotten.blogspot.co.nz/ is a great source of information.

Here in Auckland we are of course holding our own annual commemoration on October 12th at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. However as it is the 100th anniversary it will be a much larger event. The ceremony will be indoors in the Hall of Memories, starting at 11.00am. Afterwards all attendees are invited for complimentary light refreshments served in the Events Centre upstairs at the Museum (12.15pm till 1.15pm), special thanks are hereby conveyed to the Auckland Council for providing this for all attendees to enjoy and for their wonderful support in recognising the importance to our citizens of the First World War and the importance of Passchendaele in that context.

Later that evening a Centenary Commemoration Formal Dinner at the Northern Club will be hosted by the Auckland Officers’ Club and the Passchendaele Society. This dinner will be run along the lines of a Formal Mess Dinner.  Passchendaele Society Members are most welcome to attend. Details of timings, cost and guest speakers will be provided closer to the event.

Snippets

A wreath was laid on behalf of the Passchendaele Society on the 7th June 2017 during the New Zealand National Commemoration at Messines Ridge British Cemetery by members MaryAnn & Colin Mann. Our beautiful wreath was chosen to lead the parade into the ceremony. For more details and photos, please visit our website: http://passchendaelesociety.org/news

The exhibition “The Belgians have Not Forgotten” has now moved to Wellington for two months at the National War Memorial, Taranaki Street. Afterwards, the exhibition will move to Christchurch (August/September at the Air Force Museum, 45 Harvard Ave, Wigram, Christchurch) and then to Dunedin (22nd September/November in the Toitu Otago Settlers’ Museum). Click on the following link for more information about the exhibition  –  there are also some other very good links to all manner of useful information about other events in Belgium throughout the whole of 2017 on this website: http://www.passchendaele.be/en/Configuratie/Calender/2017/The_Belgians_have_not_forgotten

You may also be interested to look at this NZ centennial monument which has now been installed at Arras:  http://www.nzherald.co.nz/visual-arts/news/article.cfm?c_id=355&objectid=11883107 and: http://ww100.govt.nz/the-earth-remembers-%E2%80%93-memorial-sculpture-in-arras-france

Victory Medal, by Passchendaele Society member and New Zealand sculptor Helen Pollock, was installed at Messines in time for the Centenary Commemorations for the Battle of Messines. It will remain there until December 2017.

You might be interested in hearing a song recently written and performed by John Boyd from Scotland https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I98lh2AdANY

We also have permission to pass on a poem by Robin McConnell:

Flanders Poppies

Flanders fields enfold our loss

Where Anzac youth still lie

Flagged by poppies in the spring

Beneath a northern sky.

But every April, every year,

Their souls in Flanders roam

To pick those blood red poppies

And bring those poppies home.

Many a child has asked about the significance of the poppies and has been told about their link with Flanders where so many New Zealanders fought, were wounded or died.  This poem arose from the belief of a group of children that perhaps the spirits of the men who rest in Flanders bring the poppies home to New Zealand every year as symbols for remembrance.”