Pass­chen­daele

COM­MEM­O­RAT­ING 95TH AN­NIVER­SARY OF MAS­SACRE OF NZ SOL­DIERS

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By KA­RINA ABADIA

JAMES MacKen­zie is too young to re­mem­ber the great-grand­fa­ther he is named af­ter.

But he knows more than most chil­dren about the bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele his an­ces­tor fought in.

‘‘It would have been quite scary for the sol­diers be­cause they could have been shot down at any mo­ment,’’ the year 7 Re­muera In­ter­me­di­ate stu­dent says. ‘‘It’s im­por­tant to learn about – just as im­por­tant as Anzac Day.’’

James’ grand­fa­ther Iain MacKen­zie couldn’t agree more.

The Scots­man em­i­grated to New Zealand in 1977 and is pres­i­dent of the Pass­chen­daele So­ci­ety. He has con­nec­tions to the Bel­gian Em­bassy and was the hon­orary con­sul for Bel­gium from 2000 till 2009.

He would like more New Zealan­ders to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the World War I bat­tles that will be com­mem­o­rated with a 95th an­niver­sary ser­vice at the Auck­land War Memo­rial Mu­seum ceno­taph.

The bat­tles took place over sev­eral months but were for­got­ten about and over­shad­owed by the com­mem­o­ra­tion of Gal­lipoli on Anzac Day.

Mr MacKen­zie says the con­sid­er­able loss of life at the bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele, which took place in Bel­gium on the Western Front on Oc­to­ber 12, 1917, makes it the black­est day in New Zealand’s his­tory.

Around 846 New Zealand sol­diers were killed within the first four hours of bat­tle. The to­tal num­ber of ca­su­al­ties, in­clud­ing the dead, wounded and miss­ing was 2700.

A cease­fire was agreed on Novem­ber 11, 1918 – Ar­mistice Day. By then, more than 12,500 New Zealan­ders had died on the Western Front out of a to­tal of 18,188 dur­ing the en­tire war.

‘‘By that time New Zealand was war weary and the gov­ern­ment didn’t want to en­cour­age the news of a mas­sive de­feat. We don’t re­mem­ber be­cause it was too ter­ri­ble.’’

Mr MacKen­zie’s fa­ther was a 20-year-old British sol­dier at Pass­chen­daele and never spoke about his ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘But from a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant New Zealan­ders know their his­tory.’’

Massey Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of war stud­ies Glyn Harper is the au­thor of Mas­sacre at Pass­chen­daele: The New Zealand Story.

‘‘Pass­chen­daele is a cru­cial part of our her­itage,’’ he says. ‘‘Mil­i­tary his­tory is fam­ily his­tory and it’s part of what makes us New Zealan­ders.’’

Dr Harper will give the ad­dress at this year’s com­mem­o­ra­tive ser­vice.

‘‘Any op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote an aware­ness of the bat­tle and its im­por­tance to New Zealand is an hon­our.

‘‘We’re gen­er­ally not good at re­mem­ber­ing our mil­i­tary his­tory.

‘‘The Bat­tle of the Somme in 1916 for

in­stance, which is ac­tu­ally our blood­i­est bat­tle ever, gets very lit­tle at­ten­tion.

‘‘The bat­tles that strike a chord with New Zealan­ders in gen­eral tend to be what I call heroic fail­ures, where we al­most suc­ceed but don’t quite make it.

‘‘The ones that fall into that cat­e­gory are the bat­tles of Gal­lipoli, Crete and Monte Cassino.

‘‘With Pass­chen­daele there were no re­deem­ing fea­tures at all.

‘‘It was a dis­as­ter from start to fin­ish and never should have gone ahead.’’

Both men be­lieve progress has been made in rais­ing aware­ness of Pass­chen­daele, par­tic­u­larly the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment ac­knowl­edge­ment in 2007.

Prime Min­is­ter He­len Clark signed the Ypres Agree­ment with the Flem­ish Gov­ern­ment pro­mot­ing their shared his­tory in the world wars of the 20th cen­tury.

But more work needs to be done, Mr MacKen­zie says.

‘‘The so­ci­ety would like to see Oc­to­ber 12 com­mem­o­rated as a sig­nif­i­cant day in our his­tory.’’

Photo: NZPA Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Rest­ing place: Bel­gian sol­diers, be­low, march among the grave­stones at Tyne Cot ceme­tery dur­ing the memo­rial ser­vice on the 90th an­niver­sary of the bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele. Tyne Cot con­tains more New Zealand WWI graves than any other ceme­tery. Fam­ily con­nec­tion: Iain MacKen­zie would like to see more recog­ni­tion of the bloody bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele. He is pic­tured with his grand­son James.

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