Million visitor surprise at Passchendaele

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By DAVID HILL

A Waimakariri District Council employee got an unexpected surprise when she paid tribute to the fallen soldiers at Passchendaele recently.

Adrienne Smith paid a visit to the Memorial Museum of Passchendaele in Zonnebeke, Belgium, at the beginning of this month with her husband and got an unexpected surprise when she learned she was the one millionth visitor since the museum opened in 2004.

Mrs Smith joined in 99th anniversary Passchendaele commemorations at the Kaiapoi Club on Wednesday, October 12, organised by the Kaiapoi RSA.

Waimakariri Mayor David Ayers noted the irony of a rainy day to mark the Passchendaele anniversary, which forced the commemorations indoors instead of the planned service at the Kaiapoi Cenotaph.

“We are inside today because it is raining, but this is nothing compared to what was experienced at Passchendaele.

“I have been to Passchendaele and today you see a fairly low ridge, a village and fields.

“The soldiers had to climb a small rise to a spur which was a sea of mud.”

Mr Ayers said the Battle of Passchendaele was one part of an Allies campaign which lasted from June 1917 to February 1918. Just 8km of territory was gained and the New Zealand Division lost more than 5000 soldiers and suffered around 18,000 casualties in all.

It had been decided that British and Australian troops would attack the German lines on October 9, 1917, to create an opening for the New Zealanders to take Passchendaele on October 12.

However, in rapidly deteriorating and muddy conditions, the British and Australian troops were unable to make much headway.

With their allies bogged down in mud, the New Zealanders were exposed to heavy German machine gun fire and were soon pinned down in shell craters in front of barbed wire.

The New Zealanders had expected to be supported by a barrage of shells in front of them to take out the enemy. However, the preparations were not completed and the artillery was not in place because of the mud.

Instead, because of the mud the heavy bombardment was hitting our own soldiers.

Orders came for another push at 3pm, but the British high command saw sense and the orders were cancelled, allowing the New Zealanders to eventually fall back to positions close to their start line.

Passchendaele Day, October 12, 1917, is known as New Zealand’s darkest day when 850 Kiwi soldiers lost their lives in a single day.