James MacKenzie is too young to remember the great-grandfather he is named after.
But he knows more than most children about the battle of Passchendaele his ancestor fought in.
"It would have been quite scary for the soldiers because they could have been shot down at any moment," the year 7 Remuera Intermediate student says. "It's important to learn about - just as important as Anzac Day."
James' grandfather Iain MacKenzie couldn't agree more.
The Scotsman emigrated to New Zealand in 1977 and is president of the Passchen daele Society. He has connections to the Belgian Embassy and was the Honorary Consul for Belgium from 2000-2009.
He would like more New Zealanders to understand the importance of the World War I battles that will be commemorated with a 95th anniversary service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum cenotaph.
The battles took place over several months but were forgotten about and overshadowed by the commemoration of Gallipoli on Anzac Day.
Mr MacKenzie says the considerable loss of life at the battle of Passchendaele, which took place in Belgium on the Western Front on October 12, 1917, makes it the blackest day in New Zealand's history.
Around 846 New Zealand soldiers were killed within the first four hours of battle. The total number of casualties, including the dead, wounded and missing was 2700.
Silence fell on November 11, 1918 - Armistice Day. By then more than 12,500 New Zealanders had died on the Western Front out of a total of 18,188 during the entire war.
"By that time New Zealand was war weary
and the government didn't want to encourage the news of a massive defeat. We don't remember because it was too terrible."
Mr MacKenzie's father was a 20-year-old British soldier at Passchendaele and never spoke about his experience.
"I think it's really important New Zealanders know their history."
Massey University professor of war studies Glyn Harper is the author of Massacre at Passchendaele: The New Zealand Story.
"Passchendaele is a crucial part of our heritage," he says.
"Military history is family history and it's part of what makes us New Zealanders."
Dr Harper will address this year's commemorative service.
"Any opportunity to promote an awareness of the battle and its importance to New Zealand is an honour.
"We're generally not good at remembering our military history," he says.
"The Battle of the Somme in 1916 for instance, which is actually our bloodiest battle ever, gets very little attention.
"The battles that strike a chord with New Zealanders in general tend to be what I call heroic failures . . .
"The ones that fall into that category are the battles of Gallipoli, Crete and Monte Cassino," he says.
"With Passchendaele there were no redeeming features at all.
"It was a disaster from start to finish and never should have gone ahead."
Both men believe progress has been made in raising awareness of Passchendaele, particularly the official government acknowledgement in 2007. But more work needs to be done, Mr MacKenzie says.
"The society would like to see October 12 commemorated as a significant day in our history," he says.
"Commemoration isn't just about standing at attention at the cenotaph with rain pouring down your neck," he says.
Suburban Newspapers is running a competition to encourage young people to find out about their ancestors' involvement in the Battle of Passchendaele.
The contest is open to young people up to the age of 16 and requires them to research their chosen soldier via websites such as the Auckland War Memorial Museum cenotaph database, the War Graves Commission and Archway Archives.
Participants then submit 250 words about the soldier along with a photograph, where possible, for publication online. Entries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and close on October 2. Please enter Passchendaele Tribute in the subject line.
Five of the entrants will be chosen to lay a wreath at the October 12 commemorative service.
Go to passchendaelesociety.org to find out more about the Passchendaele Society and read last year's winning essay by Eve Bain.
- Rodney Times
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