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Auckland Navy Officer Has Special Connection to Passchendae

11 October 2017

Auckland Navy Officer Has Special Connection to Passchendaele

Warrant Officer Te Kani Te Wiata is leading the Māori Cultural Group performing at New Zealand commemorations for the Battle of Passchendaele centenary in Belgium.

Royal New Zealand Navy Warrant Officer Te Kani Te Wiata has a special connection to the First World War Battle of Passchendaele.

Warrant Officer Te Wiata is leading the New Zealand Defence Force Māori Cultural Group, who will perform at New Zealand commemorations in Belgium to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

His great-grandfather, Rifleman William Robert Friar, was one of the casualties of New Zealand’s darkest day, 12 October, 1917.

Warrant Officer Te Kani Te Wiata’s relative Autini Kaipara is buried at Prowse Point Cemetery, in Belgium.

The Battle of Passchendaele remains New Zealand’s worst catastrophe in military history, with 843 men recorded as dying on that day. Another 114 lost their lives in the next three months from the wounds they sustained on 12 October. William Friar was one of those. He died on Monday, 5 November, 1917, and lies buried in France in the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.

“He was probably transported to three different triage stations before he was taken to hospital in France,” Warrant Officer Te Wiata said. “Because of the conditions, it took the stretcher bearers a while to get there. He was moved to a hospital in Boulogne and it was at that hospital that he died of complications from his wounds.’’

Warrant Officer Te Wiata, who is from Ngaruawahia and now lives in Kaukapakapa, north of Auckland, has other connections to Passchendaele. He discovered last year that his great-grandfather and his wife Angela’s grandfather were together on the battlefields.

That information came from Freddy Declerck, a former Belgian naval officer who has helped many New Zealanders learn about relatives buried in Flanders fields.

“Both my great-grandfather and my wife’s grandfather were with the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. Freddy explained that there would only have been about 200 men in the brigade, so they most likely knew each other,” Warrant Officer Te Wiata said.

Both men were wounded on 12 October during the New Zealand Division’s attack on Bellevue Spur.

“My wife’s grandfather made it back. He brought home a sign from Bellevue Spur.’’

The Field Service record for Rifleman William Robert Friar notes the cause of death as “Died from wounds received in action’’.

Last year, Angela’s family was honoured to receive the Queen Elisabeth Medal from Belgium, in recognition of the compassion shown by Mary Ann Wick, who grew and sold produce at her home in Takapuna, Auckland, and sent the proceeds to Belgium to help wounded soldiers.

There are other family connections to the First World War. A cousin’s great-grandfather was Autini Kaipara, a second lieutenant in the NZ Pioneer Battalion, who was killed in action on the Western Front on 4 August, 1917, aged 30. Second Lieutenant Kaipara was one of New Zealand’s leading rugby second five-eighths. He is buried at Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium.

The events of that day will be firmly in his mind as he performs with the Māori Cultural Group.

“I’ll be thinking about what they experienced doing their duty that day and will remember the sacrifices of all those who served.’’

The New Zealand National Commemorative Service for the Battle of Passchendaele centenary is at Tyne Cot Cemetery at 11am on 12 October. On the same day, the Sunset Ceremony will be held at Buttes New British Cemetery at 7.15pm.


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