Rugby Team Plays For The Fallen
Te Ope Kaatua O Aotearoa
8 October 2007
RUGBY TEAM PLAYS FOR THE FALLEN
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Veteran Alex Reedy of Ruatoria greets London New Zealand rugby player Bill McMahon of Wainuiomata at a commemorative rugby match held in Passchendaele.
The All Blacks may have lost to the French yesterday morning but in Belgium last night (NZT) ex-pat rugby team London New Zealand beat an invitation French team from the Rugby Olympique Club 34-nil.
The commemorative game, held at Passchendale Rugby Club, marked the fact that 13 former All Blacks lost their lives during World War One. This number includes former All Black captain Dave Gallaher who died during the Battle of Broodseinde on October 4 1917.
Prior to the game the London New Zealand team visited the New Zealand Memorial at Messines and each player chose a name of one of the New Zealand soldiers buried there to play for.
The game attracted a large local crowd including a delegation of New Zealand veterans who have travelled to Belgium to attend a number of ceremonies to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
After the devastating loss in the morning the veterans enjoyed watching a fast paced game and were introduced to each of the players.
While in Belgium the veterans have a programme of activities which included attending a number of ceremonies on October 4, battlefield tours and visits to significant New Zealand gravesites.
New Zealand Defence Force personnel will take part in two further ceremonies on October 12 to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele – the most tragic day in New Zealand’s military history; in just two hours more than 2800 men were killed, wounded or listed as missing in action.
The ceremonies are expected to attract a large number of New Zealand rugby supporters who are in Europe for the Rugby World Cup.
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The name Passchendaele is synonymous with images of sinking mud, shell holes filled with water, and vast expanse of barren wasteland.
The Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele, was one of the major battles of World War I, fought by British, ANZAC and Canadian soldiers against the German Army in 1917. The aim of the battle was to break through the German defences and capture Passchendaele Ridge then drive north to the Belgian coast and capture the German submarine bases there. After three months of fierce fighting the town was finally taken by the Canadian forces, but the allies suffered almost half a million casualties, and the Germans almost a quarter of a million.
Allied soldiers who lost their lives at Passchendaele are commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing and at the Tyne Cot and neighbouring Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries. Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world with nearly 12,000 graves, including 519 New Zealanders, 322 of them unidentified.