Saturday, 26 May 2007

Recommended: Flanders 1917

The story of Flanders, 1917
“Shoulder to shoulder with the Australians, the men of the New Zealand Division began their attack in gales and driving rain, faced with a morass of mud, uncut barbed wire up to 13 metres deep, an erratic and ineffectual artillery barrage to protect them and withering machine-gun fire. Slowed by the weather and struggling through thick mud, they died in their hundreds. In four hours on the morning of October 12, 1917, New Zealand suffered a casualty toll of 60% of those who took part - 3,296 men of whom 1,190 were killed. It took two and a half days to clear the New Zealand wounded from the battlefield.”

The website has been created to tell the story of Messines and Passchendaele; their histories and their people; of the New Zealanders, the soldiers, the four New Zealand VCs in Flanders; and of the projects and commemorative events that will begin at Messines on Thursday June 7 - the day, 90 years ago, that the New Zealand Division captured the town. The site has been compiled by Steven Reynaert, of the Messines Council, Freddy Declerck, of the Passchendaele organising committee, and Martin O'Connor, a New Zealander who lives in Belgium.

“The battles of Messines and Passchendaele are among the most iconic events in New Zealand history. Less well known today than Gallipoli, they were, however, just as devastating if not more so. Flanders 1917 touched virtually every family the length and breadth of the land. It left a legacy that exists to this day. “Messines was a great victory - a rarity on the Western Front. It came at no small cost. In the three days historians assign to the battle, New Zealand alone, with a total population of just over one million, sustained 3,660 casualties, 700 of those killed. Many of those casualties occurred not in the attack itself, which was fast and successful, but from shell fire the following day.

“Four months later, just the other side of Ypres, there was another costly success - this time in the Battle of Broodseinde, part of the Third Battle of Ypres and the build-up to what is now known as Passchendaele. Eight days later, the First Battle of Passchendaele became the country's most tragic day. It remains so.”

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