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Remembering . . . Wreath berers arrive at the Kaiapoi Cenotaphy at the start of teh Passchendaele Day service in Kaiapoi. Photo: David Hill

By DAVID HILL

Speaking at a Passchendaele centennial commemoration service at the Kaiapoi Cenotaph last Thursday, Kaiapoi High School history teacher David Hodgson said to understand the conditions at the frontline one only needed to look at Kaiapoi.

The Passchendaele campaign involving New Zealand soldiers was fought between July 31 and November 10, 1917, with October 12 known as this country’s “darkest day”, when 846 New Zealanders were killed in a single day.

“The area around us here in Kaiapoi provides a clue to what did go wrong at Passchendaele in 1917,” Mr Hodgson said.

“In the 19th century at the time of early European settlement this area was known as Kaiapoi Island with lots of water ways and swamp – it was subsequently drained.

“The area of Belgium around Passchendaele is very low lying and floods very easily in wet weather.”

The autumn of 1917 was considered the wettest in decades at Passchendaele and constant shelling had destroyed the drainage.

“Sometimes it would take hours to rescue a soldier who fell off duck boards into the mud and wounded soldiers sheltering in shell craters often drowned,” Mr Hodgson said.

Kaiapoi RSA president Neill Price said he was pleased to be able to involve young people in the service, with the Rangiora 88 Squadron Air Cadets on duty and Kaiapoi High School students leading the singing, performing kapahaka and taking on some of the speaking duties.

There are 39 soldiers from the Waimakariri district known to have been killed during the Passchendaele campaign between July 31 and November 10, including 18 on October 12.

With a large contingent including Waimakariri Mayor David Ayers already in Passchendaele for last week’s centenary commemorations in Belgium as part of the twinning relationship with the Zonnebeke district, several hundred Cantabrians lined up along Raven Quay in Kaiapoi to pay their respects at the Kaiapoi Cenotaph.

“The Belgians have not forgotten and nor will we.”