Horror of Passchendaele graphically portrayed

Last updated 00:00 03/10/2007

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The horror of Passchendaele is graphically portrayed on a new website that explores the impact on New Zealanders of one of the World War 1's most tragic battles.

This Thursday marks the beginning of week-long commemorations in Belgium of the Battle of Passchendaele.

The battle began with a successful assault on a spur on October 4 1917 that nevertheless cost the lives of more than 320 New Zealanders.

It ended in a devastating defeat on the October 12.

In just two hours 845 men were either dead or mortally wounded, of more than 2700 New Zealand casualties.

Historians at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage have written and designed an extensive section on www.nzhistory.net.nz featuring archival film, photos, stories and oral histories on what is regarded as New Zealand's worst military disaster.

The ministry's chief historian, Dr Bronwyn Dalley, said the impact of the battle on New Zealand reached far beyond the individuals involved.

"One in four New Zealand men aged between 20 and 45 died in the Great War, the majority in France and Belgium. Our work revealed how the tragic events had left deep scars on communities, families, workplaces and schools," she said.

The ministry's research team found a stark illustration of this among the archives at Wellington College. A small school by today's standard, it lost 222 old boys and the headmaster wrote letters of condolence to each of their families.

"Some of the men who showed the most endurance were the stretcher-bearers. At Passchendaele four of them would carry a stretcher three miles to safety taking about four hours. The website has some very moving first-hand accounts of their ordeal.

"We are very grateful to all the individuals and organisations who allowed us to delve into their archives or shared personal family stories. Because of their generosity we have been able to tell a social history that contributes to our understanding of how we have developed as a people," said Dr Dalley.

The website also contains additional resources and activities for schools, especially in relation to the NCEA 2 History curriculum.

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