Remembering Nelson’s darkest day
Remembering Nelson’s blackest day, October 12, 1917
The Nelson and Tasman men killed or mortally wounded on October 12, 1917 – the day on which New Zealand lost more lives than on any other single day during World War I, will be remembered at Founders Heritage Park this weekend.
Thirty-two men from across the former Nelson Province died and a further nine were mortally wounded, dying over the next few days and into early November of the injuries sustained during the First Battle of Passchendaele in Flanders, Belgium.
Nelson’s dead were part of what has been described as New Zealand’s greatest disaster and the blackest day in the country’s post-1840 history. Around 950 Kiwi soldiers died or were mortally wounded that day. Of that number 845 men were listed as dying in action on 12 October, with the remaining subsequently dying of their wounds. A further 1750 were injured.
To mark the centennial of the Battle of Passchendaele this week, the Nelson Historical Society is hosting a display and education session at the Memorial Gardens at Founders on Saturday between 10am-3pm.
Historical Society member and WWI researcher Peter Millward says the toll of 950 dead is larger than the combined death tolls of national disasters such as Tangiwai, Erebus, Wahine, and the Napier and Christchurch earthquakes. It also supersedes that of Anzac Day, 25 April 1915, when ANZAC troops landed on the beach Gallipoli and met defensive fire from Turkish troops. By the end of that day more than 100 New Zealand soldiers were dead, and others lay mortally wounded.
Saturday’s display will include details about the Passchendaele offensive, a montage of photos of many of the local men killed on 12 October 1917, and brief biographies. People will be invited to identify their WWI ancestor service people on the region’s Wall of Honour, which lists more than 3000 names of locals who served in various capacities during the war.
A Golden Bay family will have particular prominence. The Newloves lost three sons at Passchendaele, one during the first offensive on October 4 and two on October 12.
Mr Millward will also give help to people wanting to know how to research their WWI soldier ancestors using resources such as the Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph, New Zealand military records, and genealogical websites.
He, along with Mike Carnahan, has spent several years researching the military records of hundreds of people in order to determine their eligibility to be included in the Nelson-Tasman Wall of Honour. In doing so, they have also discovered up to 100 men whose names are either not listed on a war memorial appropriate to where they or their families lived, or are absent from any local war memorial at all.
‘‘We hope to be able to rectify this in time for the centennial of the end of World War I, Armistice Day, next year on 11 November,’’ he said.
Soldiers manhandle a field gun through the mud at Passchendaele.