Newsletter #28

Posted on May 17th, 2017


The 2017 AGM was held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on Thursday 30th March and was well attended. Immediately following the AGM there was a presentation on the progress with our NZ Memorial & Garden at Zonnebeke (see separate story below). Board members were voted in, namely Iain McKenzie as President again (but with the announcement that this will be his final year); Chris Mullane Vice President; Mike Hartley Hon Treasurer; Bob Davis Hon Secretary; and together with Board Members  Ken Young, Greg Hall, Lode Notredame, John Liddell,  and new Board Member Karen Morris.

The Passchendaele Society will be well represented by the Board at various locations around the country during the upcoming ANZAC Day commemorations. We will also have members Andre Baker and Colin & Maryanne Mann at the ANZAC Day commemoration at Messines, Belgium!

Nga Pua Mahara – New Zealand Memorial & Garden

The New Zealand Memorial & Garden has been granted a Maori name – Nga Pua Mahara (which means Petals of Remembrance). It 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 to 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 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 Loading of the Containers ceremony & blessing took place on March 14th. The farewell ceremony was very well attended and I must say it was very moving indeed. All the New Zealand-sourced items for the Memorial & Garden (bronze discs, basalt pavers, etc) departed in 5 containers sealed with ribbons in the colours of New Zealand and/or Belgium. You can follow the progress of the containers as they cross to the other side of the world on our website

Also included in the shipment 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. As the 5,000 soldiers that still lie in Flanders Fields can never return to home soil, the soil will be taken to Flanders. “Provide me with a handful of soil from my homeland so I may feel the warmth of my ancestors and weep”.

The onsite preparation works will shortly commence in Belgium, once the ground has had a chance to begin to thaw. The New Zealand Memorial & Garden will be in the Memorial Park next door to the Passchendaele Museum, in the grounds of the Zonnebeke Chateau. Please note the opening time and date has still to be finalised….it will either be October 11th in the afternoon before guests attend the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, or, on October 12th between the 11am National commemoration and the Polygon Wood tree planting ceremony.

As so many New Zealanders are unable to make the journey themselves to Belgium now or even in the future, the story of the Memorial & Garden from start to finish is being made into a documentary. It is envisaged that this documentary will be shown in schools, museums and libraries across New Zealand for many years to come, 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 will be available to the general public free of charge from the Society’s website, the WW100 website and other official sites.

Unfortunately Lotteries has declined our application for funding of this new significant project, so we are having to fundraise elsewhere. We are in the process of refreshing the Passchendaele Society’s Give-a-little page and promoting it to the wider public, but in the meantime here is the link, please feel free to forward to your friends and family who may be interested in contributing to such a worthy cause. All future donations received will go towards the cost of making and editing this documentary.

Young People to Passchendaele tour

The preliminary planning for the Passchendaele Society’s newest initiative is beginning to take shape, namely the project to send Young People to Passchendaele. The project involves sending ten youths (one from each Education region in New Zealand) as chosen by the Ministry of Education; one tour leader from Student Horizons (as organisers of this tour); and one Ministry/school chaperone on a 10-day tour to Europe (5 nights in Passchendaele, 2 nights in Amsterdam). The Passchendaele Competition will be organised and rolled out to schools across New Zealand by the Ministry of Education in May or early June, with the winners announced in July. We wish to take the opportunity of thanking the following for their contributions and support towards this significant project: ANZ Bank, Student Horizons and the Fields of Remembrance Trust. However, with unforeseen additional costs (such as the Min. Ed chaperone and the driver’s accommodation costs in Europe) there is a current shortfall of $6-8,000 on the budget, so another sponsor is being sought. Please let the PS Secretary know if you have someone in mind that could be approached for funding.

Also, the Hon. David Bennet recently announced this year’s Veteran’s Affairs multimedia competition with the intention of “encouraging young people to learn more about New Zealand’s First World War history and also to reflect on how we remember the sacrifice that took place in the fields of Belgium 100 years ago”. As in past years the winning Year 13 student will receive $2000 education contribution, but in addition this year’s winner and runner-up will travel to Belgium to attend the Battle of Passchendaele centenary commemoration as part of the New Zealand Defence Force Youth Ambassador programme. Hence the dates of this year’s competition have been brought forward so the winners can be found earlier than in previous years. This year also sees a special year 12 speech writing category, to mark the centenary. The winner will represent New Zealand youth and will read their winning entry at the national commemorative ceremony at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington.

Victory Medal

Victory Medal, by Passchendaele Society member and New Zealand sculptor Helen Pollock, has arrived in France in time for the centenary of the Battle of Arras events, and commemorating the New Zealand Tunnelling Company in Arras in 1917. Following a tour to 5 provincial Museums in NZ and like the young New Zealand soldiers of WW1, Victory Medal has crossed the sea and countryside of France to the battlefield town of Arras.

The installation in Arras has been joined by large poppies designed by fellow New Zealander Tony McNeight. The signed poppies have been laid around the sculpture, thus coming together as the Coquelicot de Paix. The exhibition was unveiled April 9th in the Place des Heroes, Arras, by President Hollande and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada.

Important Dates

The Passchendaele Society commemorates all those that lost their lives on the Western Front.

The majority of our New Zealand boys over-wintered in the Armentieres sector, just south of the Belgian border. The battalions settled down to regular reliefs of eight days in the line and eight days in billets in the village of Sailly. Luckily the Sailly Sector (France) was a relatively quiet sector of the frontline. The spring period of April-May 1917 was utilised mostly preparing for the Battle of Messines just across the border in Belgium. While the New Zealanders defended the area, hard-working tunnellers were digging and preparing 25 massive mines under the German-lines, digging from the French side towards the Messines Ridge. Some of the mines were laid and prepared months in advance, but every day the lines had to be checked and the explosives kept dry. One mine was discovered by the Germans so they mounted a counter-mining attack. Another mine was abandoned due to a tunnel collapse; and 4 under the Ploegsteert Wood were not detonated in June as they were no longer under the German frontline – one of those exploded after being struck by lightning in 1955!

Meanwhile, Allied plans in 1917 aimed to keep the pressure on the enemy with a series of offensives on the Western Front. The first was in April at Arras, when the Canadians captured the Vimy Ridge. In this operation, New Zealand tunnellers provided valuable support, expanding tunnel systems under Arras and opening up shafts to facilitate the attack. The tunnels can still be visited today.

Details for a commemoration at the New Zealand Memorial at ‘sGravenstafel on October 4th 2017 are still being worked on by the New Zealand Embassy in Belgium and the New Zealand Defence Force in Wellington. ‘sGravenstafel is a crossroad marking the successfully achieved objective for the New Zealanders on October 4th 1917 in our push for the Passchendaele Ridge. Stay abreast of developments via the WW100 website

The New Zealand Embassy in Belgium is also 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. Also the Menin Gate Ceremony on October 11th will be focused on New Zealand. You are advised to be there by 7.30pm.

Also, visitors to Flanders will be interested to know that the Memorial Museum Passchendaele will open to the public for a limited period only for the unique opportunity to visit an original WW1 dugout. Online reservations are necessary to visit this exceptional underground heritage, as numbers are strictly limited for safety reasons. If you combine a visit to their nearby museum, then you can add a visit to the dugout for only €2.50. The underground complex is one of the best preserved dugouts in the region because the Allies built the dugout beneath the foundations of the former church. After 10 November 2017, the Zonnebeke Church Dugout will be permanently closed. Tickets and/or guided tours can be purchased via their website, tickets to the dugout will come online from May 1st.

This website is an excellent source to stay abreast of any developments in Zonnebeke/Passchendaele Also the is a great source of information.


It is with great enthusiasm that I mention the launch of a new novel called Good Sons by Passchendaele Society Director Greg Hall. The novel tells the story of a young man and his friends from Oamaru caught up in the agony of World War One. I have yet to finish it but struggle each time I pick it up to put the book back down in order to do some work! Glyn Harper called it “A compelling story”. The story is told by Frank Wilson, he and his friends were ‘good sons’. He draws you back 100 years to their time spent as innocent youths, to the training camps and then to the battlefields and horror of war…..the transition from boyhood to men is beautifully described in minute detail by Greg Hall.

The Myriad Faces of War: 1917 and its legacy symposium will be held at Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington from April 25 to 28. The event is jointly organised by WHAM (War History Heritage Art and Memory) Research Network; Massey University; Auckland War Memorial Museum; the University of Auckland and Ministry for Culture and Heritage. More information is on their website

The 100-strong Auckland Choral Concert ‘In Flanders Fields – Passchendaele 100’ concert will be held at St Mathew-in-the-City Sunday 28th May at 5pm, I believe tickets are still available via or telephone 0800 111 999 ($45, concessions available.  A further concession is available to Passchendaele Society members –  please mention Code Choral17 when booking).

Dominique Cooreman will be hosting two talks on April 12th about her book La Basse-Ville 1917, New Zealand Voices from Flanders Fields. The first is at 12 noon in the Auckland Library on Lorne Street. The second is at 6.00pm at Takapuna Library. Dominique was a well respected solicitor and judge in Belgium but had a calling to follow the steps of a NZ soldier and write a book, so named after the village La Basse-Ville in Belgium where New Zealanders fought and died in July & August 1917.  The village has now disappeared into history but Dominique wanted to keep the New Zealanders’ memories alive.

The Herald story about the commemorative stamps & coin release 1917 The Darkest Hour was rather well written, here it is if you missed it Ten stamps are available as part of this issue which captures many of the events from 1917 abroad and at home, from the story of Ellen Knight and her tragic loss, to the role of women back home in New Zealand.

Our Bloodiest Day is a documentary originally created as a part of the ‘Belgians Have Not Forgotten’ exhibition of 2009. The documentary details the events leading up to October 12th 1917 and explores Passchendaele’s contemporary relevance and legacy.  It was shot around the 90th commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele and includes input from a number of historians. The Programme Director at Maori TV has informed us that it is scheduled to air at 8.05am Anzac morning.

The Onward Project seeks contributions of photos of soldiers that went off to war, never to return. No text is required, just photograph, name and number. Three volumes have been published already. It is very moving and impressive to look at the faces of all those courageous young men and women who served in WW1. They are currently preparing to publish Volume IV and you can contribute via the website . I think it such a wonderful idea that all these young folk can be preserved together forever.

Deanna Lavoie is a New Zealand-Canadian artist and is looking for a new home for her 6ft x 5ft World War One commemorative piece. This poignant painting has had a phenomenal response from viewers in person and through social media, nationally and internationally so I thought you would be interested in seeing it yourselves

WW100 will launch their Commemorating Passchendaele-Celebrating Compassion campaign on 21 July 2017 and it will carry on through to October 2017. Their desire is for communities and associations to plan their own events and projects around this theme. It is about remembering that New Zealand’s relationship with Belgium was not only forged on the battlefield but also through humanitarian efforts; remembering the support that New Zealand gave to Belgian refugees and Belgium’s grateful recognition of this support. This theme is inspired by the 33 New Zealand women who received the Queen Elisabeth Medal for outstanding services to Belgian refugees and the military.

Passchendaele Society member Gavin Marriott organised the very successful Scottish Military Tattoo on Stage over the Waitangi weekend in Christchurch. Included was a commemoration ceremony for Passchendaele with the Honorary Consul of Belgium as the guest of honour. Gavin is available as an independent speaker at commemorative events in the South Island.

I have mentioned it before but it is worth another mention here – the excellent The Belgians Have Not Forgotten exhibition is returning to New Zealand and will visit consecutively Hamilton (14th April – 28th May at the Waikato Museum, 1 Grantham Street); Auckland (June/July at the Navy League, 19 Tamaki Drive, Orakei); Wellington (July/August at the National War Memorial, Taranaki Street); Christchurch (August/September at the Air Force Museum, 45 Harvard Ave, Wigram); and at 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 events throughout the whole of 2017 on that website

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