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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.


Some photos from the dawn ceremony

New Zealand Battlefield Memorial

The first few arrivals around the floodlit memorial The first glimpses of daylight revealed a good sized gathering so early in the morning New Zealand's statement delivered by James Kember, New Zealand's Ambassador to France One of the soldiers of the Honour Guard New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group Arrival of the Regimental Colour Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating RSA National Vice President Bob Hill Jean-Marc Todeschini and Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee The sun coming up over the horizon M Jany Fournier, Maire de Longueval A little higher in the sky Dawn Yves Holbec leads the gathering back to the village

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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.


Some photos from the morning ceremony

New Zealand Memorial to the Missing

After security checks we were coached directly to the site Yves Holbec SBPB helped while away the time Time to reflect on the cost of the battles Posing for the tourists Today also marked the first ever use of tanks - Members of the RTR Enjoying the sunshine before the work New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group I certainly wasn't going to stand in his way HIs Excellencer Doctor James Kember The Regimental Colours Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee Paying close attention New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group M Jean-Marc Todeschini, Secrétaire d’État chargé des Anciens Combattants et de la Mémoire His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales The flag and memorial to the missing We were joined by two aircraft The Prince in his new Field Marshal's uniform

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