Passchendaele remembered in exhibition

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By DAVID HILL

Waimakariri district’s longstanding link with Passchendaele has led to a special exhibition coming to Canterbury.

The “Belgians Have Not Forgotten” exhibition, which is being curated by the Waimakariri Passchendaele Trust, will run at the Wigram Air Force Museum until August 27 before being hosted in the Waimakariri District Council Chambers from August 31.

The Battle of Passchendaele was fought between July 31 and November 10, 1917, and was the bloodiest of World War 1, with more than 320,000 dead and wounded on the Allied side alone, for a territorial gain of just 8km of ground before the battle finally ended.

Centenary commemorations are now under way around the world.

The exhibition was created by the Memorial Museum Passchendaele, with funding and support from the Federal Government of Belgium and is touring Australia and New Zealand as part of the centenary activities.

Photographs, movies, artwork and artefacts from the battlefields illustrate the war experience.

“Not everyone can get to Belgium so this is an opportunity for the public to get along and learn a bit more about a battle that played a major role in shaping the New Zealand war experience,” Waimakariri Passchendaele Trust spokesperson Dave Adamson says.

“While Gallipoli rightly has a special place in our hearts as our national day and is the story our children learn as their introduction to our military history, more of our soldiers actually died on the western front than in Turkey.

“So it’s important we don’t forget the sacrifice that New Zealanders made in Europe also. The Belgians certainly haven’t.”

As was the case for many other smaller communities around the country, the area now known as Waimakariri did not escape the tragedy of Passchendaele.

The Waimakariri district is represented among the nearly 12,000 soldiers buried at the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, at Tyne Cot in Zonnebeke.

Eight hundred and forty six of those died on one day alone, October 12, 1917, which is believed to be the most killed on a single day in New Zealand military history.

By the end of that day’s failed attack on the Bellevue Spur, 2740 Allied service men had been killed or wounded.

It took two and a half days to clear the battlefield of the dead and injured.

Companies from Rangiora and Kaiapoi were among the Canterbury regiment that participated at Passchendaele, with seven soldiers from those groups known to have lost their lives during the campaign.

The historic Waimakariri linkage with Passchendaele led to the district’s “twinning” with the Zonnebeke district, which includes Passchendaele, in 2007.

Delegations from the two districts have visited each other since the twinning was formalised in 2007 and will do so again before the centenary commemoration of the October 12 battle takes place in Belgium.