WW1 Remuera at Passchendaele 12 October 2017
Remuera men who died on October 12th 1917 at Passchendaele are William Henry Williams, Hugh Forrest, Edgar Boucher and John Irving. Harold Buddle survived but was badly injured in the head and shoulders. He was operated on by Harold Gillies who a pioneer in modern plastic surgery in England and New Zealand.
Ever since 1917, Passchendaele has been a byword for the horror of the Great War. In terms of lives lost in a single day, the failed attack on Bellevue Spur on 12 October was probably the greatest disaster in New Zealand’s history. Eight days earlier, 320 New Zealanders died during the capture of Gravenstafel Spur, one of two spurs on the ridge above Passchendaele in Flanders, Belgium. Although this attack was successful, it had a tragic aftermath. The British High Command mistakenly concluded that the number of German casualties meant enemy resistance was faltering and resolved to make another push immediately. An attack on 9 October by British and Australian troops was to open the way for II ANZAC Corps to capture Passchendaele on the 12th. The plan failed. Without proper preparation and in the face of strong German resistance, the 9 October attack collapsed with heavy casualties. The New Zealanders nevertheless began their advance at 5.25 a.m. on the 12th. The preliminary artillery barrage had been largely ineffective because thick mud made it almost impossible to bring heavy guns forward, or to stabilise those that were in position.
Exposed to raking German machine-gun fire from both the front and the flank, and unable to get through uncut barbed wire, the New Zealanders were pinned down in shell craters. Orders for another push at 3 p.m. were postponed and then cancelled. The troops eventually fell back to positions close to their start line. For badly wounded soldiers lying in the mud, the aftermath of the battle was a private hell; many died before rescuers could reach them. The toll was horrendous: 842 New Zealand soldiers were either dead or lying mortally wounded between the lines.
Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery on the Western Front. It contains more New Zealand First World War graves than any other cemetery. Tyne Cot occupies part of the strategic high ground from which the Germans looked down across the Allied forces and is a historic site from the Battle of Passchendaele. Within its flint walls are the graves of almost 12,000 casualties from the First World War, 8300 of them unidentified. The entire rear of the cemetery is occupied by a curved Memorial to the Missing, commemorating a further 35,000 soldiers who have no known graves. In total the cemetery covers an area of 34,941 square metres. There are 520 graves of New Zealanders, 322 unidentified. The New Zealand Apse in the memorial commemorates 1176 New Zealanders who have no known grave. In addition, there is another New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in the immediate vicinity – at Buttes, Polygon Wood, close to Zonnebeke. A third is at Messines.
The New Zealand names on the Tyne Cot Memorial and other New Zealand memorials to the missing are the result of a New Zealand government decision at the time to honour the country’s dead close to the point where they fell. While Messines is the New Zealand focus on Anzac Day in Belgium, Tyne Cot is the Australian focus.