Lance Corporal Raynor Martin and Leading Aircraftman Jacob Randall played music together as teenagers and are now performing together at the Passchendaele centenary commemorations in Belgium.
9 October 2017
When Lance Corporal Raynor Martin plays the music Passchendaele at the centenary of the battle on 12 October, it will take on new meaning.
Lance Corporal Martin, who is based in Christchurch but grew up in Taranaki, plays the cornet in the New Zealand Army Band and will perform the music Passchendaele, composed by Sergeant Major Dwayne Bloomfield, at the Sunset Ceremony in Belgium to honour those affected by the battle.
It is only in recent days, while on his way to Belgium for the New Zealand commemorations, that Lance Corporal Martin learned his great-grandfather fought in the Battle of Passchendaele and survived. The battle, on 12 October 1917, is New Zealand’s darkest day in battle – nearly 960 men were killed outright or died of wounds sustained that day.
“My great-grandfather was Albert Edward Lewis,” Lance Corporal Martin said. “His service records show that he was part of 11 Company 1st Battalion Wellington Regiment. On 28 September, 1917, he was with the infantrymen attached to Number 3 Field Company and was there until the New Zealand Division withdrew from Passchendaele on 23 October.
“The job of the field engineers was to create roads and build trenches as the lines moved forward. I’ve been told he would have had to work with bullets being fired at him, and there would have been unexploded shells everywhere.
“It would have been a terrible experience. My Nan says he got gassed. She says he never spoke much about the war, and I think I can understand now why he wouldn’t have.’’
Albert Lewis went to Passchendaele after serving in Gallipoli. He landed in Gallipoli on 25 April, 1915, and a few months later, on 30 July, was admitted to a hospital ship. He re-joined the battalion in Egypt and in April 1916 went to fight in France.
“As someone who is also in the military, I feel quite proud reading through his records,” Lance Corporal Martin said. “The New Zealand Army Band toured the music Passchendaele with the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2015. After learning that my great grandfather was there, it’s taken Passchendaele from a story to something a lot bigger – it’s got more meaning for me now. He was lucky to be alive.’’
The Sunset Ceremony on 12 October will be held at Buttes New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood, where 2108 Commonwealth servicemen are buried or commemorated.
“There was a big push on Polygon Wood and he would definitely have been there for that,’’ Lance Corporal Martin said.
The Battle of Passchendaele centenary has also provided an opportunity for Lance Corporal Martin to reunite with an old school mate from New Plymouth Boys’ High School, Leading Aircraftman Jacob Randall, who is a musician in the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band.
The two played in bands together when they were teenagers, making it to the Rock Quest finals in 2005 in a ska band, Eight Orange Orchard. They also played in the Devon Hotel New Plymouth Brass Band.
Music is in Lance Corporal Martin’s family. His father plays tuba in the New Zealand Army Band as a Reserve musician, and his parents conduct the junior and senior New Plymouth brass bands.
Leading Aircraftman Randall, who has been in the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band for about three years, said the commemorations prompted him to ask if he had family links to the battle.
He married recently and said his wife Joanna had a great-grandfather who was an ambulance driver at Passchendaele and was one of the lucky ones who made it back.
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.