Major Graham Hickman is Director of Music of the NZDF band performing in Belgium for Passchendaele centenary commemorations.
10 October 2017
When Major Graham Hickman, DSD, performs at the Battle of Passchendaele commemorative service on 12 October he will be performing for his ancestor Private Leslie Peter McRae, who was killed in action at Passchendaele in 1917.
Major Hickman is the Director of Music for New Zealand national commemorations in Belgium, including the Sunset Ceremony, which will tell the story of Passchendaele through music, song and poetry.
“The music will take people back to 1917, when the New Zealand Division surged towards Bellevue Spur, and we will musically recreate the barrage of bullets and shells that ended the war for so many,’ he said.’
“We’re going to take people on a musical journey, so they can connect with the tragic loss that occurred at an emotional level.’’
The Battle of Passchendaele is New Zealand’s worst military catastrophe – nearly 960 men were killed on 12 October, 1917, or died over the following three months from the wounds they sustained on that day and there were a further 1700 casualties.
The New Zealand Defence Force is responsible for national commemorations in Belgium to remember the service and sacrifice of those affected by the Battle of Passchendaele 100 years ago.
The musical arrangements for the centenary events have been months in the planning and Major Hickman said it had been a journey of love.
“My great-grandfather’s brother was killed in action at Passchendaele,” he said. “He was shot on Christmas Day, 1917.
“He was serving with the Otago Infantry Regiment at the time. The padre saw him go down. However, his body couldn’t be retrieved. His name is on the Memorial to the Missing at Buttes New British Cemetery where we’ll be performing.
“It’ll be an emotional journey for me because we’re performing our Sunset Ceremony tribute right in the Memorial to the Missing, where the names of 378 New Zealand men who lost their lives are commemorated.’’
There are 2108 Commonwealth servicemen – 1677 are unidentified – buried or commemorated at the Buttes New British Cemetery, which is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Major Hickman comes from a musical family, who were all members of the Feilding Municipal Brass Band growing up. Two brothers are also professional musicians – one is in the New Zealand Army Band and the other is the artistic director of the Strike percussion ensemble.
Major Hickman enlisted in the New Zealand Army Band in 1985 and was appointed the band’s Director of Music in 2010. He plays the cornet and flugel horn, and is a talented and accomplished conductor of a wide variety of ensembles, including brass bands, orchestras, jazz bands, choirs and concert bands.
Music has taken him all over the world.
“I feel very privileged to be representing New Zealand on this sad occasion,” he said. “I really do believe it’s important that we never forget the sacrifices our ancestors made.”
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.