One of NZ's blackest days in battle at Passchendaele

Prince William watches Catherine Duchess of Cambridge lays flowers during commemorations of the start of the Allied ...
Reuters

Prince William watches Catherine Duchess of Cambridge lays flowers during commemorations of the start of the Allied offensive "to break the stalemate of trench warfare" at Passchendaele, at Tyne Cot cemetery near Ypres, Belgium.

OPINION: It was the 100th anniversary of the start of an assault that led to one of the blackest days in New Zealand military history on Monday. Wherever you were, you may not have noticed.

You may not have noticed because the passage of time and people has affected how we remember some of the dreadful moments that forged a young New Zealand.

Anzac Day remains the most important, widely-observed day for us to remember those who served and fell in our nation's conflicts.

It is, and ought to be, an almost hallowed time for us to reflect on the sacrifice of our forebears, and on events and values that helped forge our sense of nationhood.

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Anzac Day is observed on the anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. It was officially named such in 1916.

It follows that Gallipoli and Anzac Day are inextricably intertwined. We observe and remember all else when we gather to mark the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

Anzac Day is, at least for the time being, a sacrosanct half-day holiday. It long ago eclipsed Armistice Day as the day on which past sacrifice is marked.

And so we are all, individually, left to consider how we remember the wartime events that further shook, shocked and horrified New Zealand as it came of age.

A century-and-a-day ago, on July 31, a vast Allied offensive was launched to break the stalemate of trench warfare at Passchendaele.

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It was called the Third Battle of Ypres, and the name is followed by the names of many young men on memorial gates and cenotaphs across New Zealand.

The offensive dragged on for months and led to the Battle of Bellevue Spur, where 846 men were killed in the single greatest loss of life on any single day in New Zealand's history.

The hundredth anniversary of that dreadful day is still some way off, and there will doubtless be a chance to remember what happened on the Western Front.

There should be: some 12,500 New Zealanders died on the Western Front, adding to the 2700 who died during the Gallipoli campaign. Many died having survived Gallipoli.

It is a fact of history that 2014-2018 will be peppered with World War One anniversaries and - no matter the gravity - it would be impractical for us all to observe them all.

But observe them we must. Each is worthy of reflection or, better still, worth describing and explaining to the young people who will continue to help us commemorate Anzac Day.

That this is important is illustrated by a 2013 survey that found only 17 per cent of respondents knew more New Zealanders were killed on the Western Front than at Gallipoli.

The passage of time, and the popular focus on reducing history to a handful of easily recalled events, must not further erode our understanding of what happened so long ago.

Lest we forget.

 - Stuff

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