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‘Darkest day’ remembered

Maree McLeod played The Last Post. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN

 

EMILY NORMAN

New Zealand’s “darkest day” in history was not forgotten by the people of Featherston last week as they gathered to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph.

It was 100 years on October 12 since the Battle of Passchendaele, where 843 Kiwis were killed in a quagmire of mud, barbed wire and machine guns.

Of these, two men were from Featherston, Cyril Everton, and Ellis Parr, and one was from Martinborough, Charles Hawke.

Featherston RSA President Mark Bateman led the memorial service. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN
Featherston RSA President Mark Bateman led the memorial service. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN

Featherston RSA President Mark Bateman said the attack later became known as the “battle of the mud”.

“In the previous two months they had the worst rainfall in 30 years and so the place was effectively a quagmire,” he said.

“As they launched their attack, because it was so muddy, the tanks couldn’t get through and couldn’t support them, the heavy artillery that was supposed to support them couldn’t move into place and the shells that did fire were landing in the mud in the German trenches and so were not exploding.

“The New Zealanders that went forward were subjected to this German machine gun fire that just wiped them out.”

Mr Bateman said it was the “worst day of loss” in New Zealand history, starting at 5.45am and lasting all day.

He served in the New Zealand army for eight years and said the feeling of loss for the country after Passchendaele was incomprehensible.

“In Afghanistan, we were there for a number of years, and tragically we lost a number of people over there, but those numbers were less than 10.

“Less than 10 deaths had the nation in uproar demanding that we pull away.

A candle was lit for the three Wairarapa men who died in the Battle of Passchendaele. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN
A candle was lit for the three Wairarapa men who died in the Battle of Passchendaele. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN

“This was 843 in one day, so you can just imagine the feeling of loss in the country as a whole.”

A group of about 40 people gathered for the memorial service at the Cenotaph on Thursday afternoon, and observed a minute’s silence as Featherston’s Maree McLeod played The Last Post.

Malcolm Sutherland played the bagpipes as wreaths were laid, and Wairarapa College student Holly Hancox read Flanders Fields.

Pat Flynn, 93, widow of the late two-term Featherston mayor David Flynn, said her father had fought in the Battle of Passchendaele.

“He didn’t talk much about the war at all, but he told me about all the terrible mud in battles like Passchendaele.

“He said he was lucky to be alive.”

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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