Passchendaele – New Zealand’s darkest day

On October 12th 1917, 842 New Zealand soldiers were killed at Passchendaele, Belgium, and others died in the following days. October 12th 1917 is known as New Zealand’s darkest day; more New Zealanders died that day than on any other day before or since.

This was during the First World War in Europe. The soldiers were killed by German machine guns and snipers.

The winter weather had started already and the battle field was muddy with barbed wire making it impossible to move. The ground was covered with shell holes which were full of pools of water. That day the rain was especially heavy. There were no trees to provide cover. The New Zealand soldiers had been in their trenches before being told to climb over the top and advance. It became impossible. Many men died in the mud; their bodies were never recovered. The cemetery where the soldiers are now buried in Belgium has the bodies of about 500 unnamed men from both sides.

If you live in Christchurch you may see 842 white crosses this week beside the river bank. Maybe other parts of New Zealand have the same. This is a reminder of 100 years ago on Thursday. The population of New Zealand at that time was just over 1 million people so the deaths of 842 men on that day had a huge effect on everybody. So many families lost a son.

Vocabulary

• snipers – skilled soldiers shooting individual enemy soldiers from a hiding place
• barbed wire – strong wire with sharp points along the wire which can tear skin; it’s used on farms in NZ
• shells – large bombs filled with explosives which made huge holes in the ground
• trenches – men dug long ditches in the ground where they stayed until it was safer to leave
• recovered – found and taken back to their side






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