Re­flec­tions from Bel­gium


As most read­ers will know, Waimakariri is twinned with Zon­nebeke, a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Bel­gium which in­cludes within its bound­aries the Pass­chen­daele bat­tle­field where over 840 New Zealan­ders died on Oc­to­ber 12 1917 and an­other 100 or so of their wounds later on.

In­cluded in those num­bers were men from this district.

The twin­ning came about with an ap­proach from the Bel­gian side, seek­ing a sim­i­lar ru­ral and small-town district in New Zealand and the agree­ment was signed by then-Mayor Jim Gerard and Deputy Mayor Jo Kane ten years ago.

The re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion, The Bel­gians Have Not For­got­ten, on dis­play at Wi­gram and in Ran­giora was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the re­la­tion­ship, as was the visit of many Waimakariri peo­ple, in­clud­ing a large party from the Ran­giora RSA, to the com­mem­o­ra­tive ser­vices at Pass­chen­daele last month.

In that part of Flan­ders, there are Bri­tish Army ceme­ter­ies all over the place, all metic­u­lously main­tained by the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion.

All of them con­tain the bod­ies from across what was then the Bri­tish Em­pire – in­clud­ing from Bri­tain, Ire­land, Canada, Aus­tralia, New­found­land and, of course, New Zealand.

They are a sober­ing sight.

The var­i­ous cer­e­monies held that week were very pow­er­ful with a strong New Zealand cur­rent run­ning through them (Bri­tain and Aus­tralia have al­ready held their com­mem­o­ra­tions and Canada’s will be later this month).

The nightly last-post cer­e­monies at the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres) had a strong New Zealand flavour, par­tic­u­larly that on the 11 Oc­to­ber, which in­cluded a sound and light show on the nearby ram­parts walls and a waka com­ing out of the dark­ness on the moat.

On 12 Oc­to­ber there were four events, start­ing with the main ser­vice, held in the huge ceme­tery at Tyne Cot.

In some ways, the most mov­ing event was a sun­set ser­vice held in an­other ceme­tery – a mix­ture of pa­rade and mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion con­ducted by our De­fence Forces.

Re­ally special were the ap­pear­ance and pro­fes­sion­al­ism by mem­bers of the three arms of the NZ De­fence Force, the con­stant re­minders of the suf­fer­ing of our coun­try in the 1914-18 Great War, the strong New Zealand flavour in all the events of that week and the hospitality of our Bel­gian friends.

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