Re­mem­ber­ing Pass­chen­daele

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IAIN DAVID­SON

October 12, 1917 was New Zealand’s costli­est sin­gle day in com­bat, with 843 lives lost and 2700 ca­su­al­ties.

The ob­jec­tive of the at­tack was a ridge­line near the village of Pass­chen­daele, Bel­gium.

Of the 1300 South­landers who lost their lives in WW1, 105 were killed in ac­tion on that day alone.

In­ces­sant rain had filled shell­holes that rid­dled ‘no mans land’, and the Ger­mans held higher ground on a ridge over­look­ing the bat­tle­field.

A pre­lim­i­nary bar­rage meant to cut the Ger­man barbed wire de­fences, but ar­tillery pieces floun­dered in the mud and shell­fire of­ten fell short. The Al­lied forces went over the top in the early hours and were met by en­emy bul­lets and shells.

Only a few made it through the wire, found their po­si­tion un­ten­able and had to fall back.

Soldiers drowned in wa­ter filled shell­holes and many were cut down by en­emy fire.

South­lander Leonard Hart wit­nessed the car­nage and wrote to his par­ents af­ter the bat­tle ‘‘the torn up con­di­tion of the ground made the mud ten times worse than it would have oth­er­wise been. The only struc­tures which had with­stood the bom­bard­ment in any way at all were the Ger­man ma­chine gun em­place­ments.

‘‘My com­pany went into ac­tion 180 strong and we come out thir­tytwo strong. The wire had been cut in a few places but only suf­fi­cient to al­low a few men through at a time, even then what was left of us made an at­tempt to get through the wire only to be shot down as fast as they ap­peared. Dozens got hung up in the wire and shot down be­fore their sur­viv­ing com­rades.’’

The re­sult was a com­pre­hen­sive and har­row­ing de­feat to the Al­lies, and the New Zealand Divi­sion was one of the hard­est hit.

John David­son was a farmer from Bry­done who en­listed with the 22nd re­in­force­ments New Zealand Ri­fle bri­gade.

He and three of his com­rades formed a stretcher party, and brought in the wounded.

He was hit by shards of steel caused by a shrap­nel shell, but sur­vived and re­turned home.

Amongst his ef­fects were pho­tos of two of his com­rades.

One was John Baird, a farmer’s son from Otapiri, who was posted to the 4th Otago Com­pany 1st Otago Bat­tal­ion.

In the first ma­jor ac­tion of his ser­vice he was killed at Pass­chen­dale, and like so many he has no known grave and is re­mem­bered on the Tyne Cott Me­mo­rial. He was just 22.

The other photo was of Pa­trick Joseph Dug­gan, a labourer from West Plains. He en­listed in with the 22nd re­in­force­ments New Zealand Ri­fle Bri­gade.

On the west­ern front he was shot in the hand and thigh while in ac­tion near the French town of Messines. Af­ter re­cu­per­at­ing in Eng­land he re­turned to the front line and sur­vived the bat­tle at Pass­chen­dale. He was killed in ac­tion in Fe­bru­ary 1918, in the Ypres Salient.

The bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele was a tes­ta­ment to the hope­less fu­til­ity of war. Many South­land fam­i­lies lost sons, un­cles and fa­thers. To­day it is still re­mem­bered by the fam­i­lies of the fore­bears who sur­vived and in mem­ory of those who did not.

Iain David­son is an ama­teur mil­i­tary his­to­rian.

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South­landers, from left, John Baird, John David­son and Pa­trick Dug­gan fought at Pass­chen­daele.

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