Kiwi unknown soldier reburied in Belgium

LESLEY BELLEW IN MESEN
Last updated 08:29 26/02/2013
REBURIED UNDER A SILVER FERN: Lt Gen Rhys Jones lays a wreath during the reburial service at Messines Ridge British Cemetery.
Fairfax NZ

REBURIED UNDER A SILVER FERN: Lt Gen Rhys Jones lays a wreath during the reburial service at Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

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The battlefields of Mesen fell silent almost a century ago but another New Zealand soldier's sacrifice was remembered overnight (NZ time) in Belgium.

An icy wind blew as a chilling reminder of World War I at Messines Ridge British Cemetery in Mesen, West Flanders, at the reburial of the unnamed soldier.

The coffin, which had been draped with the New Zealand flag and a soldier's hat during the service, was gently lowered into the snow-covered ground as a guard of honour, from Ypres Barracks, fired three volleys.

The Last Post and Reveille sounded across the mist-shrouded valley, followed by the New Zealand national anthem, sung by Kiwi soprano Carleen Ebbs.

It is thought the soldier was killed on June 7, 1917, during the New Zealand Division's capture of the German-held town.

The Rev Brian Llewellyn, of St George's Church, Ypres, led the service as more than 200 people, including New Zealand's Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, and New Zealand's Ambassador to Belgium, Paula Wilson, came to pay their respects.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Beale, of the New Zealand' Defence Force read the Ode of Remembrance and two New Zealand exchange students, Hannah Stilborn and Megan Crow, read the poem The Ridge, by Malcolm Ross.

Although the soldier is unnamed, a metal shoulder badge NZR (New Zealand Rifles), a belt buckle and gas iodine capsules were found close to his remains.

The soldier was discovered during excavations of a pipeline in Mesen in April 2012.

He was reburied in the south corner of the cemetery, next to the grave of another unidentified New Zealand soldier whose remains were uncovered in 2011 and for whom a similar reburial ceremony was held in February last year.

More than 700 NZ soldiers lost their lives in the battle for Messines. A forensic examination confirmed the soldier was aged between 20 and 25 years and 170cm in height. However, this information was not enough to provide a certain name.

His headstone will read, under a silver fern insignia, "A Soldier of the Great War known unto God".

In Mesen the local community has dedicated itself to preserving the memory of the New Zealand soldiers who fought in the area.

Many streets and monuments have New Zealand names - Featherstonplen is the main square. New Zealand soldiers at the time had said the countryside around Mesen reminded them of Featherston in Wairarapa, where many of them had trained.

Jones said: "Our soldiers came from the utmost ends of the earth to fight in the Great War. The effects of this significant event still show today.

"There is a special bond between New Zealand and the people of Belgium. I thank you for remembering our soldiers.

Wilson said: "It was an honour to represent New Zealand today but on a personal level, my grandfather was one of those 100,000 New Zealand soldiers who fought here.

"This adds an extra level of emotion. He did return but would never talk about the war."

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