A documentary marking the most disastrous day in New Zealand’s military history is due to be released October 12th, coinciding with the anniversary of the conflict which remains New Zealand’s bloodiest day.
Appropriately titled Our Bloodiest Day, the 50 minute feature explores the New Zealand sacrifice on October 12, 1917 during the Battle for Passchendaele, where in just two hours more than 2800 men were killed, wounded or listed as missing in action.
Casualties on both sides were so bad an informal ceasefire was granted to allow stretcher-bearers to clear the wounded from the battlefield, a task which took nearly three days.
Producer/Director Lauren McKenzie says October 12, 1917 is a significant date in New Zealand’s history, where more people died in a single day than any other day in our history.
The losses here, more in fact, than the combined total from the eruption of Mt Tarawera, the Hawkes Bay earthquake, Tanigwai rail disaster, sinking of the Wahine and Erebus crash.
“It is well past time the courage, commitment and comradeship exhibited by the soldiers who fought and died that day was more widely acknowledged and understood.”
Filmed during the 90th anniversary of the Battle, the documentary reflects on the differences of experience and memory in the two countries, focusing on the historical value in the terms of today’s generation in developing a better understanding of the events of Passchendaele, how it affected our country, communities and individuals.
“While the voices of the past are now lost to us, we have endeavoured to ensure their memories and experiences are not lost to future generations, by talking with their loved ones and a new generation of Belgians who continue to treasure and honour our commitment to peace on their soil. “
Passchendaele Society Chairman, Freddy DeClerck, helped organise the commemorations, along with members of the society, mostly volunteers and battlefield guides.
“Of the 18,500 New Zealanders killed during the Great War, some 5,000 died fighting in Belgium (almost twice the death toll recorded at Gallipoli) and 13,000 others were wounded.
“That is a very significant loss for New Zealand from the 100,000 who served from a population of a little over one million.
“I think there is no original family that was untouched, and not only at Gallipoli, but also Passchendaele. Passchendaele should be significant in your country also.”
Mr Declerck, who specialises in the New Zealand involvement, was one of those interviewed who was also able to facilitate the filming of people, celebrations, and history for this documentary.
“We here in Zonnebeke revere the sacrifice of so many of your young men on our soil and it is pleasing to at last see a film crew recording that event for new generations.
“This story is very dear to our hearts and we are pleased to support any effort to bring it more into focus for the people of your country.”
The documentary producer has a personal interest in that her great-uncle (while surviving Passchendaele) was one of the men who would later lose his life in Flanders fields.
But Lauren McKenzie says she had not appreciated the enormity of the battle for the Western Front, and the sacrifice of the New Zealanders, until she set foot on Belgian soil.
“Travelling to Europe to film the commemorations provided an opportunity to not only explore the meaning of Passchendaele and New Zealand’s role there, but also to put these events into today’s context, because they form a vital thread in our history to how New Zealand sees itself on the world stage today.”
While Gallipoli remains the key focus for New Zealanders on ANZAC day, she hopes the documentary will give more prominence to the lives lost on the Western Front, and recognition, in particular, to the slaughter at Passchendaele.
“It is a part of our history too few know far too little about. And that needs to change. For it is only when we understand how Passchendaele helped form our identity we can better know and understand ourselves and who we are.”
A ‘preview’ version of the documentary has been screening during the touring exhibition Passchendaele: The Belgians Have Not Forgotten.
The exhibition, which focuses 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, includes features, photographs, images, movies, information and artefacts.
Around 15 thousand people have so far visited it during showings in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Featherston and Waiouru.
Passchendaele: The Belgians Have Not Forgotten ends its New Zealand tour in Auckland on November 15th.