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.