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Bringing the Battle of Passchendaele to NZ

For immediate release: Thursday 19 November, 2008

Bringing the Battle of Passchendaele to New Zealand

An exhibition marking New Zealand’s involvement in one of the most devastating conflicts of the First World War is to tour the country next year.

The exhibition called “Passchendaele 1917 - they came from the utmost ends of the earth”, is being developed and built by the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 and the Belgian Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History.

It will focus on how memories of the New Zealanders efforts during the Battle of Passchendaele, more than 90 years ago, continue to occupy a place in the Belgian consciousness.

Museum Curator, Franky Bostyn says “New Zealand has always been very important to us because as you know they came “from the uttermost ends of the earth” (as is inscribed on the New Zealand memorial at Gravenstafel) to fight for us.

“Today we have one of the most prosperous areas in Europe, thanks to those men who came here in 1917 – many of whom are still here. They are a part of our land, a part of our common history, and I think it is our common duty to remember them.”

Eighteen thousand New Zealanders lost their lives during the assault on the Ypres-Zonnebeke-Passchendaele line. That’s more casualties per head of population than any other Commonwealth country who sent men to fight in West Flanders.

More than 2700 New Zealanders were killed or wounded in just four hours on one day of the conflict – which still rates as the worst military disaster in our history.

While Franky Bostyn says “from a tactical point of view Passchenaele 1917 is a failure, in the long term, from a strategic point of view, Passchendaele helped in the winning of the war. It was the turning point in history.”

New Zealanders played a key role in Passchendaele, but he says the battle appears to be largely overshadowed here by Gallipoli.

“While this is understandable, for many reasons, the Somme, Messines and Passchendaele also had a devastating effect on the social fabric of your very small nation. And these battles and the sacrifices and courage made by ‘your boys’ also deserve to be remembered and recognised.”

The touring exhibition follows the signing of a shared memories arrangement on 4 October 2007 by the governments of New Zealand and Belgium to stimulate commemoration on both sides of the world to strengthen the bonds between our two countries.

Franky Bostyn and Freddy Declerk, President of the Passchendaele 1917 Society, will be in New Zealand from 20 November to 4 December to scope out the museums and galleries that have expressed an interest in hosting the exhibition, including Te Papa and the Waiouru Army Museum.

The exhibition will be launched at Our City in Christchurch in April 2009.


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