E-news #35

Posted on July 18th, 2018

Dear Members,

Our first post-centennial AGM was held on Thursday 22nd March 2018 at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and was one of the best attended. Thank you to our members who were able to make it. A new-look Board was elected to take us into the future. Please see below for more details.

The German Spring Offensive – 100 years ago

But first, we continue our recap of events 100 years ago – at the beginning of 1918, events had seemed to be turning the war in Germany’s favour. The collapse of Russia’s resistance during 1917 and the Russian decision, following the Bolshevik revolution in November, to seek an armistice dramatically altered the strategic situation. The Germans were therefore able to transfer nearly 50 divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.

With its forces greatly bolstered by this influx, the German high command launched a massive offensive with the goal of ending the war before the full might of the United States (which had entered the war in April 1917) could be brought to bear against Germany.

The German spring offensive was called Operation Michael and began on 21 March 1918 with 60 German divisions attacking along an 80km front between St Quentin and Arras. The general intention was to swing north and roll up the British front. It created the biggest crisis of the war for the Allies.

After a recovery period enjoyed in northern France, the New Zealand Division was rushed south to the Somme area again, this time to fill a 7km gap between Hamel and Hébuterne. It began moving south by train on 24 March.

The Allied lines were subjected to a hurricane bombardment by a huge mass of guns brought up in secret. Specially trained storm-troops then advanced as assault divisions, aiming to penetrate the battered defences. The rest less capable ‘trench’ divisions then followed up.

On 26 March two New Zealand composite brigades pushed forward until they clashed with the advancing enemy formations between Auchonvillers and Hamel; next morning another New Zealand composite brigade moved into position between Colincamps and Hébuterne. During the 27th, they repelled a series of German attacks. By this time, Operation Michael, now into its seventh day, was running out of steam as German losses mounted. Their artillery struggled to keep pace with the advancing infantry.

Although the Germans drove the New Zealanders out of La Signy Farm, the assault was easily brought to a halt. The New Zealanders congratulated themselves on saving Amiens, though the objective of the enemy troops facing them had in fact been Doullens, with the aim of getting behind Arras. The New Zealand Division’s 10-day effort had cost some 2400 casualties, including more than 500 dead.

AGM

The AGM commenced with a reflective speech by Iain Mackenzie – you can read it this below. Three founding Board members did not seek re-election – Vice-President Chris Mullane, Commemorations Director Ken Young and President Iain MacKenzie, although he is staying on the Board as the Immediate Past President. The minutes of the AGM will follow in the next day or two.

Bob Davis was elected as President. Bob will also stay on as Honorary Secretary. Lode Notredame was elected as Vice President. Mike Hartley stays on as Honorary Treasurer. Greg Hall, Karen Morris, Major John Liddell, Sandi Notredame are all returning Board members, with the addition of Dylan Woodhouse for the first time, this completes the new Board for 2018/2019. Those that do not know Dylan, he is a Youth Ambassador for the Passchendaele Society and is co-creator of the excellent website educational resource for Year 7 to 10’s called Blood and Mud https://bloodandmud.org/

On conclusion of the AGM, our retiring Vice President Chris Mullane addressed the attendees with a background on our Documentary which has been created by well-known producer Colin MacRae. As Project Director, Chris has contributed an incredible amount of time and energy towards the creation of the New Zealand Memorial & Garden in the Passchendaele Memorial Park in Zonnebeke. The documentary tells the story of our Memorial & Garden from conception through to completion and to the opening on 12 October 2017. We envisage the Memorial & Garden will become a focal point for New Zealanders visiting Passchendaele and a learning tool for teachers & students alike.

The documentary was then shown publicly for the first time to the AGM attendees and was then launched to the Public on our Facebook page and on YouTube. If you would like to have a look please click on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5naiNI_ASN8 or on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Passchendaele-Society-399232890220175/. To date the documentary has been viewed 260 times on YouTube and more than 4,800 times on Facebook!

Past President reflects on a post centennial Passchendaele Society

Since our inauguration in 2011, our main strategy has been to create greater awareness of the role of Passchendaele in the history of New Zealand and the Society has been very successful in doing this. I believe that we need now to establish the key elements in a post centennial strategy. Your views on this are important so please let the incoming Board know what you think so that we can develop together a Passchendaele Society approach.

It is my own strong conviction that a key element in our strategy must be to pass on to subsequent generations the lessons which have been learned from Passchendaele and the war to end all wars. 

When King George V visited Tyne Cot Cemetery in 1922 he said….” I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this multitude of silent witnesses to the devastation of war.”

I have often thought how true this was and how Passchendaele and Tyne Cot Cemetery was a lesson for all mankind on the horrors of war. 

It was extremely disappointing therefore to learn that a very prominent New Zealand businessman who is also the Chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union had a different experience to King George V when he visited Tyne Cot Cemetery and toured the Passchendaele battlefields last year. 

In a published article Brent Impey said: ”I felt a simmering anger at the failure of our education system to teach us our own history in depth. I had what I thought was a good secondary education and completed a degree with a major in political studies which included history. We were taught about the causes and consequences of World War One but next to nothing about what actually happened. I didn’t know what Passchendaele was all about and I want to know why our generation was deprived of this knowledge.” He went on to say that…”I feel anger because I should have been taught the true history of our nation and our educators must do a better job with future generations so that they can better understand New Zealand history. We need to embrace it because it explains so much about who we are and why we have become who we are.”

Now the Passchendaele Society has been working on this issue for some time, but the full effects of our efforts can only be felt through continuous communications with schools and teachers throughout New Zealand. 

We have the support of the Ministry of Education who in a communication as recently as March this year said: ”we wish to take this opportunity to thank you and congratulate you and your organisation for your tireless efforts to promote rich teaching and learning on the Battle of Passchendaele: an event of much historical significance for New Zealanders. The digital resources created by participating students who have been involved were of an exceptional quality. The Ministry has been honoured to work in partnership with your organisation to offer students these rich learning opportunities. For our students to experience learning in line with expectations from the social sciences learning area, and our broader curriculum it is important that there are opportunities to learn from New Zealand contexts such as Passchendaele. We encourage you to engage schools, teachers and students by presenting your experiences and linkages to broader curriculum learning areas in your future work to promote rich teaching and learning of New Zealand history. Thanks once again for your contribution to education in New Zealand.”

So, we have the support of the Ministry of Education to encourage the learnings from Passchendaele through schools, teachers and students. How should we go about this?  If the lessons learned from Passchendaele are to become part of the psyche of future generations of New Zealanders, we have to ask ourselves what were the lessons learned from Passchendaele?  What should we teach in our schools? So, let me just touch on just a couple of examples of how the lessons of the First World War and Passchendaele are relevant to today’s world.

Firstly, we have to answer the question: “Why did Passchendaele become the metaphor for all the horrors of war?”  “What did it teach us about going to war?” “What did it teach us about the importance of living in a world of peace?” Future generations have to learn to answer these questions for themselves. 

When we talk about the history of New Zealand and our development as a democratic nation state an extremely important element of this is the fact that New Zealand did not declare war on Germany in 1914. The British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith declared that Britain was at war with Germany and it was assumed that the colonies of the British Empire would follow them. Which they did. But after the war in 1919 it was Prime Minister Bill Massey who signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of New Zealand. So, we went into the war as a dominion of the British Empire but came out of the war signalling the emergence of New Zealand as a nation state taking her place on the world stage. 

This would allow today’s students for instance to examine the relationship between people, politicians and the military. What happened one hundred years ago is relevant to these discussions. More than 100,000 young New Zealanders from a population of only one million people volunteered to go to war. In the UK two and a half million men volunteered in 1914 and 1915. But these numbers were not enough to replace the casualties of war and conscription had to be introduced in 1916. 

If you want deeper information on this, “Passchendaele: Requiem For Doomed Youth” by Paul Ham, is as its title suggests, a sombre account of what happened to those young volunteers. 

In 1916 there were more than one million casualties in the Battle of the Somme, the most horrendous battle in the history of warfare in the world. Despite the evidence which showed that it was the attacking army which lost more men than the defending forces, Sir Douglas Haig’s plan was to attempt to drive the Germans out of Belgium at Passchendaele in 1917 and this meant conscripting more and more young men to fill “dead men’s shoes”. What did the people think of this? What did the politicians think of this? Well the people showed what they thought by no longer volunteering in their millions to go to war. The British Prime Minister Lloyd George was opposed to the Passchendaele Offensive and the War Cabinet gave their permission to go ahead only on the condition that if it did not succeed, the offensive would cease but that did not happen.

What would happen in New Zealand today if we were confronted with a similar scenario?

Passchendaele was industrialised warfare on a scale never known before. The Royal Artillery fired 33 million shells at the Germans in the Passchendaele Offensive. They pounded the German positions with 4.2 million shells at Passchendaele in the two weeks before the Battle of Passchendaele on 12th October 1917. 

The huge number of casualties at Passchendaele and in the First World War did not just happen, they were planned for. The documented strategy of Sir Douglas Haig was “to kill more Germans then they kill ours” and that was based on the fact that Britain and its colonies had access to a bigger pool of manpower than the Germans. That is what the war of attrition meant. The huge casualty figures were part of the planning. Soldiers were asked to attack and attack again beyond what was humanly possible and despite them having little chance of success or even surviving. 

How would we react today if we were confronted with a similar scenario? 

These are just some of the questions that our education system must face. Teaching pupils about Passchendaele and the First World War does not mean rote learning of dates and casualty figures but why it happened, what were the consequences, how it is relevant today and how does it influence our attitude to life. 

As Paul Hall put it: “romanticising Gallipoli as a nation-forming sacrifice is a denial of what Gallipoli actually was. The useless occupation of a few Turkish beaches achieved nothing other than a flourish of pointless heroics which brought grief into hundreds of thousands of homes”.

Passchendaele took this pointless butchery to a higher level and became the symbol of an avoidable tragedy in a war that destroyed the main part of a generation of young men. 

So, let’s get our history right and use it to benefit today’s and future New Zealanders. 

Another element of looking through the prism of a hundred years is the belief which existed of fighting for “God, King and Country”. Haig’s strong belief that God had chosen him to lead the allies to victory brings the role of religion into the discussion. But the Germans also thought that God was on their side. “Gott Mit Uns”, they said. If God was on both sides, then who was responsible for the killing of sixteen million people in the war to end all wars? If you put it to today’s young people, would they go to war for God, Queen and Country? Are there any circumstances under which they would go to war? 

As Brent Impey said…” I didn’t know what Passchendaele was all about and I want to know why our generation was deprived of this knowledge.”

Let us do everything we can to ensure that the generations of New Zealanders who follow us are not deprived of this knowledge and that they can use it in a relevant way. 

Iain MacKenzie, Past President

Le Quesnoy

Herb Farrant also addressed us at the AGM on the progress made for the commemoration on the grounds of the soon to be New Zealand Memorial Museum in Le Quesnoy in northern France. 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 commemoration 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.

Announcements

Rebecca Nelson has accepted the role as the Passchendaele Society’s vocalist. You can hear her beautiful rendition of the song: Poppies & Pohutukawa at the end of our documentary:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5naiNI_ASN8

Bill Rimmer has accepted the roll to be the Passchendaele Society’s bugler, following the retirement of Doug Rose, who was thanked for his services at the AGM.

Jamie Wansey was made an Honoured Life Member of the Passchendaele Society in recognition of his personal services to the Society and for being a key person in getting 10 Young People to Passchendaele for the Centennial Commemorations last year.

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.

Snippets

Helen Pollock has 2 events coming up:

  • The Jack Lyon Memorial Lecture: ‘Falls the Shadow’ – a reflection through sculpture on the trauma of World War 1 is on April 22 at 5.30pm. Tickets are $30, drinks and finger food are included. Contact the convenor for tickets by email m.linzey@auckland.ac.nz or by post to: Convenor, Jack Lyon Memorial, 28 Summer Street, Stanley Point, Auckland 0624. Falls the Shadow is permanently exhibited as part of the New Zealand Memorial in the Passchendaele Memorial Museum in Zonnebeke, Belgium.
  • ‘A Moving Tribute’ photographic exhibition of the Victory Medal Tour throughout New Zealand and in Arras, Messines 2017 (and at Le Quesnoy for the Centenary from November 2018). The exhibition opens at the Depot Artspace, Clarence Street, Devonport on Monday 23 April at 6.30pm and will be running until Wednesday 9 May at 3pm. Alongside the exhibition will be A Giant Poppy – wall installation by Tony McNeight. The public will be invited to write their own personal message on a ‘poppy’ to build the installation. Tony and Helen worked together to create the Coquelicot de Paix for the Centenary of the Battle of Arras in La Place des Heroes, Arras April last year. To see film of this occasion click: https://vimeo.com/256906739

“Commemorating Passchendaele / Home Front to Front Line” by Robyn Hughes is coming back to Auckland. The opening is on Sunday 15 April at 4pm at the NorthArt, Norman King Square, Ernie Mays Street, Northcote. The art exhibition will be open daily from 10am till 4pm (except Anzac Day) until Thursday 3 May. Board member Greg Hall will be giving a “Floor Talk” with Robyn Hughes about her exhibition and commemoration on Sunday 22 April at 2pm.

The Cambridge Brass Band is going on a WW1 100th Commemoration Tour to Le Quesnoy in France. Cambridge Brass have opened a Givealittle page to fund raise for the 15 junior band members and parents who are going. (Senior Band members and their supporters are all paying their own way.) For further information and itinerary please contact: Doug and Maureen Rose. Email: orereroses@gmail.com

The “Nga Taonga Sound & Vision” provides audio-visual archive for all New Zealanders. They are situated on 84 Taranaki Street in Wellington. Most of the World War 1 films have now been digitised and available on their online catalogue: https://www.ngataonga.org.nz/collections/search?i%5Byear%5D=%5B1913+TO+1920%5D&tab=FILM+AND+VIDEO&i[has_media]=true

The Great War Exhibition ‘So we always remember’ in the Pukeahu National War Memorial in Wellington is focusing on the Women’s War, the exhibition finishes on 19 May, 2018.

We also welcome ‘stories’ of your own ancestors that we can post on our website.