Keeley Grevatt, a Youth Ambassador with the NZDF contingent to the Battle of Passchendaele centenary commemoration, spends some quiet time with her relative Joseph Caffery at the Grevillers Military Cemetery at Pas de Calais in France. Private Joseph Caffery died in northern France on 28 March, 1918.
9 October 2017
Being selected as one of the 14 Youth Ambassadors travelling with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) contingent to the Battle of Passchendaele centenary commemorations is one of the highlights of Keeley Grevatt’s life.
Since being selected Grevatt, 19, of Central Hawke’s Bay, has been researching the battle and has been struck by just how little New Zealanders know about the worst disaster in our military history.
And she has a theory on that.
“People my age mostly learn about military history from movies,” she said. “Most of us wouldn’t know about the D-Day landings without Saving Private Ryan or how the British were evacuated from France without Dunkirk.
“So why aren’t Benedict Cumberbatch or Harry Styles or Daniel Craig telling the story of Passchendaele and the 500,000 dead and wounded from all sides in this dreadful battle?
“There are blockbuster war movies on the Second World War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan but barely anything on the First World War and the horror, the mud and the slaughter at Passchendaele. That’s wrong and this is a story that needs to be told.”
From a large family in the small farming area of Takapau in Central Hawke’s Bay, Grevatt was always aware she had a number of family members who served overseas in the First World War. But it was only recently, during her research, that she discovered they fought at Gallipoli and in France and Belgium.
Being with the NZDF contingent has given her the opportunity to visit the cemeteries in France where her relatives fought and died but are still remembered.
“The body of one of them was never found and that’s really upsetting,” she said. “All I found was his name on a wall. But I was able to spend some time at the headstone of another and that was special. Being the first member of my family to visit them has been a privilege.”
The thing that particularly touched her was the way the military cemeteries are being maintained.
“Kudos to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which, 100 years later, is still looking after the resting places of our soldiers. As a family member I couldn’t be prouder.”
Last year Grevatt had the opportunity to complete a Limited Service Volunteer (LSV) course run by the NZDF. The six-week motivational and personal development programme, combined with her selection on the NZDF Passchendaele centenary contingent, has made her consider a career in the army.
But all that’s in the future. Now, in the absence of Hollywood, she and the other Youth Ambassadors are working on a campaign to tell the stories of Passchendaele to the youth of New Zealand via social media.
“One hundred years ago, Passchendaele affected the lives of every single New Zealander,” she said. “Just being here, in this place, is certainly affecting us – I know it’s affected me – and we want to be able to share these thoughts and our emotions with others at home.”
The Youth Ambassadors have their own Facebook and Instagram pages set up, as they chart their journey through the First World War battlefields in West Flanders.
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.