First published on 12 October 2007 (Heather Roy’s Diary)
Today is the 100th Anniversary of the first battle of Passchendaele. It is New Zealand’s worst day at war – 845 New Zealanders killed in the mud and barbed wire which we now associate with this battle. It is fitting today that we take a few minutes to reflect on this tragedy and remember the sacrifices our forebears made for our freedoms.
While archiving some of my previous writings recently I came across this article from 10 years ago:
Lest We Forget – The First Battle of Passchendaele (October 12 1917)
This morning I attended a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
Passchendale began the war as a small village in western Flanders, near Belgium’s border with France; by the end of the battle it had been reduced to dust, such was the intensity of the shelling. The village was unfortunate to end up on the front, at a strategically important point. The offensive was aimed at reaching the coast and capturing German submarine bases but, in the depressingly familiar pattern of World War I, a small advance was made after enduring high casualties.
Passchendaele introduced a new enemy to the legion of things from which a soldier can die – this time, mud was an enemy. Although no doubt an irritant to soldiers since time immemorial, at Passchendaele mud became a killer in its own right. The farmland around the town was re-claimed swamp and required a system of dykes and pumps to remain viable farming land.
With these dykes and pumps blown asunder by the first artillery bombardment, the allied advance became literally bogged down and ammunition had to be brought up by mule. Wooden planks were laid over the mud to enable movement, but if a man in full kit stumbled into the mud he was hard put to get out again.
Today we owe it to those who fought for our freedom to continue to fight against tyranny, but often the fight does not need a war – in the ‘war’ against terror we must be careful not to become authoritarians like those we oppose. We must remain better than the Islamic fundamentalists, or we concede them at least one victory.