Dr Ian McGibbon ONZM
The two main sites associated with the Passchendaele (now known as Passendale) attacks are the New Zealand memorial at s’Gravenstafel and the memorial to the missing at Tyne Cot Cemetery. The former is one of four battlefield memorials on the Western Front built by the New Zealand government in the 1920s. The memorial to the missing contains the names of 1,179 men who were killed in the Passchendaele fighting and who have no known grave.
The New Zealanders lost about 500 men during the bitter winter in the Polderhoek area. Most of them have no known grave, and they are commemorated on another memorial to missing in the Buttes New British Cemetery, which lies in Polygon Wood, the scene of much bitter fighting in 1917. There are 383 names on this memorial. In the cemetery 167 New Zealanders are buried, most of them unidentified. Another 57 are buried in nearby Polygon Wood Cemetery. More than a hundred New Zealanders killed in this fighting are also buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery near Ypres (Ieper).
There is one other major site of New Zealand interest in Belgium — at Messines (Mesen). On 7 June 1917 the New Zealand Division took part in a successful attack that pushed the Germans off the Messines ridge. This carefully prepared assault was a preliminary to the major offensive being planned in the Ypres salient, which would lead to the fighting at Passchendaele mentioned above. There is another New Zealand battlefield memorial at Messines, which was taken by the New Zealanders during the attack and a memorial to the missing. The latter records the names of 840 men lost in the fighting around Messines with no known grave. Among them was All Black G.M.V. Sellars.
The Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres
Ypres (now known as leper) is one of the old towns of Flanders and, eight centuries ago, it was the greatest of them. It decayed through changes in trade and industry, through political troubles, through many sieges and some captures. By 1914 it was one of the smaller towns of the Belgian Province of West Flanders, joined by canals and railways to the French border and the sea. It stood in flat, intensely cultivated, country; but to the south-west was a low range of hills running from Kemmel westward to Godewaersvelde and rising again at Cassel, and to the north and east were the gradual ascents afterwards known to the British troops as the Pilckem Ridge, the Passchendaele Ridge and the Menin Road Ridge. It was described in 1905 as a dead or phantom town, a cemetery, deserted by industry and trade, but carefully guarding the great buildings erected in its prosperity.
There were two main gateways: the Lille Gate which retained its flanking towers and the gate towards Menin which was only a passage between two ends of wall.
Today at the Menin Gate there stands a Hall of Memory, 36.5 metres long and 20 metres wide, covered in by a coffered half-elliptical arch in a single span. At either end is an archway 9 metres wide and 14.5 metres high, with flat arches on either side of it 3.5 metres wide and nearly 7 metres high. In the centre of the sides are broad staircases, leading up to the ramparts and to loggias running the whole length of the building. The names of over 54,000 officers and men are engraved in Portland stone panels fixed to the inner walls of the Hall, up the sides of the staircases, and inside the loggias. The Memorial, built of reinforced concrete faced with Euville stone and red brick, was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and unveiled by Field Marshal Plumer in 1927.
The only New Zealanders included were killed while serving with British or Australian forces. Because the New Zealand Government wanted the nation's dead to be commemorated near wghere they fell, New Zealand missing are listed on separate New Zealand memorials tot he missing at Tyne Cot, Polygon Wood and Messines.
It is situated on the eastern side of the town, on the road to Menin (Menen) and Courtrai (Kortrijk) and each night at 8 pm the traffic is stopped while members of the local Fire Brigade sound the Last Post in the roadway under the Memorial's arches. This ceremony has been carried out every night since 1927, except when the town was under German occupation from 1940 to 1944.
The Tyne Cot Memorial
The Tyne Cot Memorial forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is situated between Passchendaele and Zonnebeke. The name “Tyne Cottages” or “Tyne Cotts” was given by the Northumberland Fusiliers to a group of German blockhouses, or pill-boxes, situated near the level crossing on the Passchendaele-Broodseinde road. Three of these blockhouses still stand in the cemetery; the largest, which was captured on 4 October 1917 by the 3rd Australian Division, was chosen as the site for the Cross of Sacrifice by King George V during his pilgrimage to the cemeteries of the Western Front in Belgium and France in 1922.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery is now the resting-place of nearly 12,000 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces, the largest number of burials of any Commonwealth cemetery of either world war. It first came into being in October 1917 when one of the captured pill-boxes was used as an Advanced Dressing Station, resulting in some 350 burials between then and the endof March 1918.
The cemetery was much enlarged after the Armistice by the concentration of over 11,500 graves from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck and from a few small burial grounds. The dates of death cover the four years from October' 1914 to September 1918 inclusive.Unnamed graves in the cemetery number nearly 8,400, or seventy percent of the total, and the names of the unidentified soldiers who lie in them are inscribed on the Menin Gate and on the panels of the Memorial which stands to the rear of thecemetery.
The site of the Memorial is on high ground on the western slopes of the Passchendaele Ridge, from which the whole country to the English Channel lies open. It is in the middle of an agricultural district, with widely scattered farms and small villages.It represents the most desperate offensive fighting of the British and Dominion forces in Belgium, as Ypres represents their most stubborn resistance, and it stands close to the farthest point in Belgium reached by Commonwealth arms in the First World War until the final advance to victory.
The Memorial, designed by Herbert Baker and with sculpture by F. V. Blundstone, is a semicircular flint wall 4.25 metres high and over 150 metres long, faced with panels of Portland stone on which are carved nearly 35,000 names of those who have no known grave.
There are three apses and two rotundas: the central apse forms the New Zealand Memorial and bears the names of nearly 1,200 officers and men who gave their lives in the Battle of Broodseinde and in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in October 1917.
Dr Ian McGibbon ONZM is General Editor War History at the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, and author of New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials of the Western Front.