Families remembered at Passchendaele centennial memorial

Pat Frampton at the Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph.
Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Pat Frampton at the Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph.

Remembering the sacrifices of family members and predecessors was front of mind for many at the Passchendaele centennial memorial service on Thursday.

For brothers Fraser and Bill Ronald, this meant memories of their father, Lance Corporal Robert William Ronald.

He was wounded by shrapnel at Passchendaele and returned to hospital in Britain, a welcome respite from the horrors of war.

Ivan Butler, Pat Blair, Normon Willson and Rewi Hagen at the Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph.
Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Ivan Butler, Pat Blair, Normon Willson and Rewi Hagen at the Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph.

"Dad said it was heaven, baths, clean sheets, good food and no lice," Fraser said.

The need for men at the Western Front was pressing and he was soon returned to what he described as the worst job in the British Army, a stretcher bearer at the Somme.

"The worst thing was making an on-the-spot decision about who to leave to die," Fraser said.

Padre (Major) Anthony Harrison at the Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph
Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Padre (Major) Anthony Harrison at the Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph

Both brothers have travelled to Passchendaele to pay respects in person and emphasised the contrast between the mud soaked battlefields with the verdant fields of today.

"Our tour guide took us to the signpost and we looked over the green fields to the village in the distance," Bill said.

John Blomfield attended the ceremony to pay respects to his father and uncles who served.

Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph.
Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Passchendaele commemoration at Invercargill Cenotaph.

His father, Syd Bloomfield, received a gunshot wound in the battle and spent five months in hospital recovering.

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After only a few months back at the front lines, the allies ordered a retreat from their position, with a still-wounded Syd left as part of the thin red line to defend the retreating army.

"The night before the attack, they got word to be prepared to exit at a moments notice," John said.

"The leaders took off but they didn't pass the message to the troops."

Encircled by Panzer divisions, the New Zealand troops fought until they ran out of ammunition before surrendering, in what became the largest amount of New Zealand troops captured during the war.

As a prisoner of war, Syd faced torture and starvation in German prison camps.

"If the Armistice didn't come when it did, he wouldn't have lasted until Christmas," said John.

One uncle was wounded by gas at Passchendaele and on return to New Zealand was unableto work, living on his war pension.

Another uncle contracted influenza and was sent to family in England to recuperate.

"The disease spread to the whole family and their father passed, a casualty far from the front lines," John said.

For Glenda Donaghy, the service was a chance to maintain a connection to her grandfather who died before she was born. 

Abel George Thompson was a miner from Kaitangata who enlisted and served in Gallipoli, Passchendaele and Egypt. 

"He died in early 1930, in his forties. I can only wonder if the war cut his life short," Glenda said.

She emphasised the importance of memorials as a link between living relatives and their ancestors.

"It was a very moving service. The contrast between the beautiful sunny day and what they endured at the time, it is hard to get your head around the conditions the men had to fight in."

 - Stuff

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