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Webmatters : New Zealanders on the Somme: 2016 Commemorations


New Zealand Commemorations

15th September 2016

It was a fairly chilly morning as we started arriving at Longueval for the dawn service which would commence New Zealand’s commemorations of its Division’s participation in the Battle of the Somme 1916.

Candles had been lit marking the route from the village centre, out and up the hill, towards the New Zealand Memorial which could be seen, floodlit up on the heights.

It never fails to impress me at these events as to how many come “from the uttermost ends of the Earth”, to pay homage to their ancestors. We were a just a few hundred at dawn but the numbers increased to nearly a thousand as the day progressed.

The weather was supposed hold until early afternoon and as we listened to New Zealand’s Ambassador to France, His Excellency Dr James Kember, and the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, recall the horror and cost of the battles we were greeted by a clear dawn and an impressive sun climbing into the sky.

M Jany Fournier, Maire of Longueval made an announcement that the road leading up to the monument would henceforth be named : Chemin de la Nouvelle-Zélande — the New Zealand Road, and invited us to walk down the newly re-baptised road to the village hall where coffee and croissants awaited us.

New Zealand Battlefield Memorial

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Dawn had brought a sunny morning and as our numbers grew we were screened through security and taken out to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery and the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing. Most of us had a good hour to wait on the Official Party and we were entertained by Pipe Major Yves Holbec of the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band.

Accompanied by members of the New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group, the Official Party was led by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee representing the New Zealand Government and Jean-Marc Todeschini, the French Republic Secretary of State for Veterans’ Affairs.

The Prince of Wales wore a New Zealand Army ceremonial uniform, including a lemon squeezer hat, in recognition of his honorary title of Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army.

One of the memorable moments of the ceremony was the arrival overhead of two replica Great War aircraft which proceeded to drop paper poppies on the surrounding fields where New Zealand soldiers had fought during the war.

That evening, having managed to avoid the rain and storms forecast for the day, we got a wee bit damp as the day’s ceremonies concluded with a Sunset Ceremony at the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial.

The Battle of the Somme was New Zealand’s first big engagement on the Western Front. It took a huge toll on the 15,000 members of the New Zealand Division who were involved. The Division sustained 8,000 casualties and 2,111 soldiers were killed in the battle from 1st July -18th November 1916.

New Zealand Memorial to the Missing

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