His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at the ceremony to mark the centenary of the New Zealand Division’s involvement in the Battle of the Somme.
16 September 2016
New Zealanders gathered near the village of Longueval, in northern France, to honour the soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force who fought, and fell, in the Battle of the Somme of 1916.
More than 800 people, many of whom had travelled “from the uttermost ends of the Earth”, joined a New Zealand Defence Force ceremonial contingent to mark the centenary of the New Zealand Division’s involvement in the battle.
The commemorations began at dawn, the same time as the order to “go over the top” rang out 100 years ago. As the sun rose slowly over the mist-covered fields surrounding the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial, the New Zealand Ambassador to France, His Excellency Dr James Kember, and the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, delivered readings describing the horror and the hope of World War I soldiers thrown into industrialised warfare for the first time.
Following the service, the 200 attendees walked down the road leading from the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial to Longueval, now named Chemin de la Nouvelle-Zélande - the New Zealand Road - by the Mayor of Longueval, Jany Fournier.
The National Commemorative Service at the Caterpillar Valley Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery was attended by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee representing the New Zealand Government, Jean-Marc Todeschini, the French Republic Secretary of State for Veterans’ Affairs, and more than 600 attendees.
The Prince of Wales wore New Zealand Army ceremonial uniform, including a lemon squeezer hat, in recognition of his honorary title of Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army.
After Able Musician Rebecca Nelson and Warrant Officer Jack Rudolph sang Poppies and Pohutukawa, two vintage World War I aircraft flew around the cemetery, dropping paper poppies on the fields where New Zealand soldiers marched during the war.
The commemoration of New Zealand’s involvement in the Battle of the Somme concluded with a Sunset Ceremony at the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial.
The Battle of the Somme was New Zealand’s first big engagement on the Western Front. It took a huge toll on the 15,000 members of the New Zealand Division who were involved. The Division sustained 8,000 casualties and 2,111 soldiers were killed in the battle from 1 July -18 November 1916.