New Zealand Embassy & Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium

New Zealand / Belgium : WWI

New Zealand has a warm relationship with Belgium, and in particular with West Flanders, based in large part on the historic bonds that were established during New Zealand’s involvement in World War One. There are numerous cemeteries and memorials across the region commemorating the thousands of New Zealanders who died in Belgium during both World Wars.

The battles in Messines and Passchendaele were important events in New Zealand’s history, and, while less well known than Gallipoli, resulted in an even greater number of casualties. Despite being a rare success on the Western Front, the Battle of Messines which began on 7 June 1917, saw 3,660 New Zealand casualties, including 700 fatalities, over three days. In October, fighting in the Passchendaele area proved even more costly. During the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October (as part of the wider ‘Third Battle of Ypres’) the New Zealand Division met its objective, but at a price. Worse was to come on 12 October in the only failure on a large scale by the New Zealand Division. Inadequately supported and under heavy fire, in the most appalling conditions, the Division suffered 2,700 casualties in a few hours of whom 845 were to die. It remains the worst disaster in New Zealand history. Casualties on both sides were so bad that an informal ceasefire (relating only to stretcher bearers) was reached to allow wounded to be cleared from the battlefield.

Overall, there are over 4,600 New Zealanders buried in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Belgium, many of these in unmarked graves. For those men whose graves are unknown, their names are recorded on a series of memorials near to where they fell. There are New Zealand Memorials to the Missing at Messines Ridge Cemetery, Buttes New British Cemetery, and Tyne Cot Cemetery. An additional small number of New Zealanders who enlisted with British, Australian or other forces are recorded on the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres), which records the names of 54,896 men killed in the surrounding area up until 16 August 1917. The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing lists the names of a further 35,000 soldiers who were killed after this date. In addition, the New Zealand Memorials in Messines and at ‘s Graventafel remain important focal points for remembering the efforts and sacrifice of these men.

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