A nervous but excited Alice Foulds, Passchendaele Akeroa Hurricane Bristow and Ruben Ross took their places alongside members of the official party in the World War I Hall of Memories at Auckland War Memorial Museum on Friday to honour their ancestors and all who fought at the Battle of Passchendaele.
The three students were the winners of Suburban Newspapers' Passchendaele commemorative competition (East & Bays Courier, October 10). They were asked to attend the event and place poppies to remember the fallen.
Alice, 13, says she was surprised to be chosen.
"I couldn't believe it. I felt really honoured because it's a special occasion. It's not as well recognised as Anzac Day but it should be."
Her great-grandfather David George Fullerton fought at the battle. He was seriously injured but survived against the odds, although he was left with a lasting momento.
Alice writes: "When the doctors were removing shrapnel from David's body, there was one piece, in David's head, that they couldn't get out. It remained there for the rest of his life."
Passchendaele, 11, carries the same name as the battle his great-great-uncle Private John Balero died fighting in.
He writes: "My grandfather and I are named Passchendaele so that he will always be remembered."
Passchendaele's aunt Lulu Bristow-Brown accompanied him and says: "For Passchendaele growing up with such a big name, it was difficult for him to understand how important it was. Today I think he has a greater understanding of the significance of the event."
Young Passchendaele's poppy was sprayed with his late mother's perfume. She died last year.
Ten-year-old Ruben Ross had three great-great uncles who died in World War I. One of the brothers, John Crockett was killed in action in Ypres, Belgium, in 1917.
In his essay Ruben writes: "When my great-grandmother saw the photos of her grandson Bruce, my Dad, and my Mum Eveline visiting John's grave for the first time in 1997, she cried. She could still remember the day he left."
Ruben says the commemoration was very important because a lot of New Zealanders had to go to war and the battle was the deadliest day in our military history.
The 95th anniversary commemoration honoured the 2700 casualties of the battle which took place on the Western Front on October 12, 1917.
The students were in the company of military, council and government representatives as well as the public.
Massey University professor of War Studies Glyn Harper says it is a battle which should never have gone ahead.
"War is the destroyer of families and the Battle of Passchendaele destroyed more families than any other action in our military history."
Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer's great uncle was killed at the Battle of Messines leading up to the Battle of Passchendaele.
"I think it goes to show just how close the connection still is. The fact that even someone relatively young like me can have a great uncle that was killed in Belgium demonstrates that the wounds are still there."
Former Labour leader Phil Goff was asked to lay a wreath. He says the day should be about remembering the sacrifices people made without glorifying their deaths.
"I lost two great uncles in the war. They made an enormous sacrifice for our country. Gallipoli was a tragedy but Passchendaele was even worse. For all New Zealanders it's a day to remember," he says.
Three other winners of the competition, Jessica Malloy, Joseph Malloy and Sam Malloy, were unable to attend.
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