The Battle of Passchendaele: New Zealand Remembers its Worst Day in Military History

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele will be commemorated with events throughout the country and in Belgium from late-September through to the 12th of October – the day 846 New Zealand soldiers lost their lives; known as our darkest day.

Passchendaele Society President, Iain MacKenzie says the Battle of Passchendaele is of immense significance to all New Zealanders.

“One hundred years ago, our men fought, died and witnessed unspeakable horror some 18,500 kilometres away from their homeland. They fought alongside our Allies for the freedom which we take so much for granted today.

“The 12th of October 2017 marks 100 years since the worst day in New Zealand military history, when more soldiers died during the attack on Bellevue Spur, Flanders in Belgium than on any other day before or since.

“It was a day which has greatly influenced our sense of national identity and the development of our nation.

“We can look back on those dark days with respect for the fallen, and we can also look forward, with commitment to sustaining the peace that these men fought and died for.

“There are a great number of activities happening in regions and cities throughout New Zealand and indeed the world, to remember the Battle of Passchendaele and the courage and bravery of those who fought on the Western Front during World War One. I encourage everyone to join in.”

Nga Pua Mahara: the Petals of Remembrance – the New Zealand Passchendaele Centennial Memorial and Garden commemorates more than 5,000 New Zealanders who died fighting in Flanders during the Great War of 1914-1918. Situated at Zonnebeke in Belgium, right where the bloodiest battle took place, New Zealand’s Memorial and Garden will be completed by late-September.

Passchendaele Society director, Greg Hall, returns from Europe on 28 September and is one of the first to view the completed garden at Zonnebeke. Mr Hall is available for interview.

Designed in New Zealand by Boffa Miskell landscape architect, Cathy Challinor, and despatched in five shipping containers in March of this year, the shape of the 15m diameter garden resembles a poppy. It is one of a series of memorial gardens from countries invited to participate in this centennial project,
the others being the United Kingdom, Australia, USA, Canada, Belgium and Germany.

New Zealand’s garden comprises several elements; reminders of the fallen soldiers’ homeland and comforting familiarity for visiting citizens. Vertical red planks have been installed to define the petal edges. New Zealand flax and native iris plants wrap round the garden. The mix of North and South Island stone that makes up the circular garden’s paving is inlayed with 846 scattered bronze discs, one for each of the soldiers killed in the first few hours of battle on the 12th of October and a concrete ‘memory column’ pierced by 2700 pinholes, which create shards of light, to represent the wounded and dead and missing at day’s end. There is a series of New Zealand native birds, constructed in steel by Kiwi designer Phil Walters.  Words in the garden are engraved in black Timaru basalt and inlaid in bronze.

Belgian Memorial in Wellington. At 3.00pm on Thursday 12 October 2017, The Belgian National Memorial at Pukeahu Park in Wellington will be unveiled. The Memorial acknowledges the close ties between the two countries, forged during the First World War. The Belgian memorial was designed by Belgian artists Niko Van Stichel and Lut Vandebos. The sculpture combines the symbolism of the laurel wreath, traditionally used as a symbol of victory, and the memorial wreath, traditionally used to pay tribute to those who have died in battle. The underlying message is that there are no winners in war – losses are endured by both sides.

New Zealand Secondary School Students Heading to Belgium.

At 6.30pm on Friday, 6 October, ten secondary school students will gather at Szimpla Restaurant, 2 Leonard Isitt Drive, Auckland Airport for briefing before flying to Europe the next day, where they will represent New Zealand, taking part in centennial events including at Tyne Cot Cemetery and New Zealand’s Memorial and Garden at Zonnebeke.

The students:  Rotorua Girls’ High School’s Alyssa Mae Pineda, Kayla Kautai, Mairaatea Mohi, Atawhai Ngatai and Keighley Jones; St Margaret’s College, Christchurch’s Alexandra Lay and Dylan Woodhouse, Tony Wu, Lucy Tustin and Conor Horrigan from St Paul’s Collegiate in Hamilton, won a competition to produce Passchendaele digital curriculum resources, a Passchendaele Society initiative supported by Fields of Remembrance Trust and organised by the Ministry of Education.

Thursday 12 October, New Zealand’s Darkest Day.

In front of the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Cenotaph, 2,412 personalised white crosses will be installed, commemorating the New Zealanders who lost their lives in the entire Passchendaele Offensive period from 31st July to 8th November 1917. At 10am on 12 October, there will be a ceremony to remember the fallen at this site.

Following this, at 11am there will be a Battle of Passchendaele 100th Anniversary Commemoration Service in the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s WWI Hall of Memories. Patron of the New Zealand War Graves Trust, Sir Don McKinnon and Major General Timothy Gall, Commander of Joint Forces, NZ Defence Force will speak at this event.  Floral tributes will be laid by representatives of the Government, Opposition, Auckland Council, Consular Corps, RSAs, Military and the Public. Music will be provided by Auckland Choral, and the Royal New Zealand Navy Band.

Children of Passchendaele Veterans

Arthur Young. As the 1st Infantry Brigade made its way toward Ypres in Belgium, 2nd Lieutenant Edgar Young marched at the head of his platoon. The Taranaki solicitor was 31 when he went to war. He was badly wounded during the Passchendaele offensive but survived and returned to New Zealand where he married and had four boys. One of them, Arthur Young was head boy and dux of King’s College in Auckland. He followed his father into the legal profession and later co-founded national law firm Chapman Tripp Sheffield Young. Now 81, Arthur Young still goes in to work every day.

Charles Rushbrook. Private Walter Rushbrook of 2nd NZ Field Ambulance was a stretcher bearer during the fateful Battle of Passchendaele. He survived and resumed teaching when the war over. Charles Rushbrook, who is 69 and lives in Christchurch, was Walter’s son through his second marriage.

Arthur Young and Charles Rushbrook are available for interview.


Key dates:

29 September  Early opportunity to run stories on The New Zealand Passchendaele Centennial Memorial and Garden in Zonnebeke, Belgium.

Photos, video of the garden can be supplied.

3 October        6.30pm. Auckland War Memorial Museum. Remembering Passchendaele – Symposium. FREE event with New Zealand author and scholar, Steven Loveridge and Belgian WWI historian Charlotte Deschamps.

6 October,       6.30pm. Students to Passchendaele briefing. Media interviews, photo and filming opportunities of the 10 NZ students travelling to Passchendaele

12 October      Official Passchendaele commemorative ceremonies in Auckland and Wellington.

15 October2.30pm. Bruce Mason Centre. ‘Passchendaele Remembered.’ Grand Massed Bands Concert, featuring the Band of the Royal NZ Navy, The NZ Police Auckland Choir, Auckland Police Pipe Band, The Band of the Royal Regiment of the NZ Artillery, The Band of the Royal NZ Air Force, Base Auckland.

To find out more about Passchendaele Centennial events, for interviews with Passchendaele Society President Iain MacKenzie, Arthur Young, Charles Rashbrook or other participants, for filming or photography at events, please contact: Penny Hartill, hPR, 021 721 424,

Editor’s Notes

Passchendaele Society   

The Passchendaele Society exists to increase community awareness, so that future generations are aware of the courage and sacrifice of New Zealanders at Passchendaele and the Western Front during the First World War, which greatly influenced our sense of national identity and the development of our nation.