The Duke of Cambridge was in Belgium today to attend the centenary commemoration marking the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele for the New Zealand people, and was joined by Belgium’s Princess Astrid.
The second-in-line to the throne attended the ceremony on behalf of his grandmother, The Queen, who is gradually scaling down her royal duties, as seen in yesterday’s announcement that she would not lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday.
During the Battle of Passchendaele, which was fought between July and November 1917, New Zealand lost 843 men, with over 100 more dying of their wounds at a later date. Indeed, the fighting around Ypres and Messines Ridge on 12th October 1917 marked the darkest day in New Zealand’s military history since 1840. The New Zealand forces fought for three years on the Western Front, with 1917 producing the most casualties and losses, largely due to the Battle of Passchendaele.
Today’s ceremony was held in Tyne Cot Cemetery in Flanders, which is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; there are 198 New Zealanders buried there. Prince William was accompanied by Belgium’s Princess Astrid and representatives of the New Zealand Parliament and government. Princess Anne’s husband, Sir Tim Laurence, was also present in his role as Vice Chairman of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; he also laid a wreath.
Members of New Zealand’s Maori community were also in attendance at the ceremony; The Duke of Cambridge exchanged the traditional Maori greeting of the hongi (rubbing noses). Members of the New Zealand Defence Force’s Maori Cultural group offered a traditional prayer, karakia, and call to gathering (karanga) to mark the beginning of the commemorative service.
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) 12 October 2017
Prince William made a speech on behalf of The Queen, praising the “great resilience and strength of character” shown by New Zealanders both during the battle and in modern society.
“Each new visit here brings a deeper appreciation of what unfolded in this place,” the Duke said. “Of how the armed forces of different nations stood together to defend values we still share today.
“All too often the newsreels speak of “ordinary” men and women. There was nothing ordinary about their service or their sacrifice.”
He also ended with the traditional sentiment “We shall remember them”, as well as the phrase in Maori: “Kia mau mahara tonu tātou ki a rātou.”
The Belgian Princess also spoke, thanking New Zealanders for their sacrifice when her country was destroyed by war.
The Duke was joined by Princess Astrid to unveil a memorial to the New Zealanders who fought during the Battle of Passchendaele. William also laid a wreath at the Cemetery’s New Zealand Wall to the Missing; the Wall commemorates the 1,200 New Zealanders who lost their lives after the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Broodsiende Ridge.
After the ceremony, William then met with youth ambassadors from New Zealand in the Tyne Cot Visitor Centre. The Prince seemed very at ease, chatting animatedly with the young people, as well as members of the New Zealand military, before he met Dr Ian McGibbon, a historian who gave a brief talk of the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres.