In early October, a group of ten students from three New Zealand secondary schools embarked on a journey to Europe to attend the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres, Belgium. The students travelled through France, Belgium and the Netherlands to learn more about battles where pivotal Allied victories were won, and to pay homage at the final resting places of Commonwealth soldiers. The ten students, travelling as guests of the Ministry of Education, were honoured to attend the official ceremonies commemorating New Zealand’s ‘darkest day’ at Tyne Cot Cemetery on 12th October.
The culmination of many years of planning, the competition and the tour were made possible through the partnership of the Passchendaele Society, the Fields of Remembrance Trust, the New Zealand Ministry of Education, and Student Horizons. The ten students from Rotorua Girls’ High School, St Paul’s Collegiate School and St Margaret’s College, Christchurch were winners of a nationwide competition designed to promote awareness of the service and sacrifice of New Zealanders during World War I. Entries needed to use digital technology in an innovative way to produce a curriculum resource on the Battle of Passchendaele.
Student Horizons is proud to have been a part of this unforgettable tour and look forward to providing a similar pilgrimage experience for New Zealand students in the coming years. The below excerpts explain the journey…
The Passchendaele Society was set up in New Zealand to “ensure that future generations were aware of the courage and sacrifice of New Zealanders in the Passchendaele Offensive on the Western Front during the First World War.” The 12th of October 1917 has been described as New Zealand’s ‘darkest day’ when 846 young New Zealanders tragically lost their lives in the first four hours of the Battle of Passchendaele.
Founded six years ago, the Passchendaele Society was established with the goal to send young New Zealanders to Passchendaele for the centennial commemorations of the Battle of Passchendaele in 2017. In the early stages, the Society had zero funding for a project of this scale, only a determination that it would happen. Jamie Wansey, Managing Director of Student Horizons, served as the Director of Younger Generation on the Passchendaele Society Board and kickstarted the project by providing the initial seed funding through Student Horizons. This enabled the Passchendaele Society to raise additional funding, however they were still short of the total funding required. The Fields of Remembrance Trust, together with their sponsors, came to the rescue and made the tour financially possible.
In a joint venture with the Ministry of Education, the Fields of Remembrance Trust installed approximately 100,000 white crosses in 2,546 schools throughout New Zealand to remember the 18,200 New Zealanders who lost their lives in the First World War. The Ministry supported the Passchendaele Society’s proposal to establish a competition to find ten young students to represent New Zealand at the centennial commemorations. A competition was devised where 16, 17 and 18-year-old students were asked to produce a curriculum resource on the Battle of Passchendaele for younger students delivered through the innovative use of digital technologies.
Three winning entries were selected by the judges and included:
The group’s whirlwind 7-day itinerary included:
The following are excerpts from a tour report written by student competition winner, Dylan Woodhouse (St Paul’s Collegiate School)…
“Over the course of the trip, we were fortunate to visit France, Belgium and the Netherlands. During our time on the Western Front we were overwhelmed by how many cemeteries we saw. This highlighted for us how close we were to the history we had learned so much about. In New Zealand, one might count sheep or cows on the roadsides, in Belgium one counts pillboxes and graveyards. The sheer number of fallen soldiers drove home the cost of the Great War in a way that statistics and history books never could…”
“The 12th of October marked New Zealand’s darkest day with the single greatest loss of life in our military history. On that day, at Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest British Empire graveyard in the world, the primary commemorations occurred. We were treated to the insights of Prince William, Princess Astrid of Belgium and the leader of the NZ Army Lt. General Peter Kelly on the Battle of Passchendaele. Following this, we were actively involved in the inauguration of NZ’s memorial garden in Zonnebeke which was attended by politicians like the Speaker of the house and military officials like Willie Apiata. Following the ceremony, the memorial garden in Zonnebeke was officially a little slice of New Zealand and promises to be a landmark for Kiwis visiting the region…”
“We are immensely grateful for the opportunity we had to be immersed in the history of the Great War and to see the places where that history is wrought into the landscape. Truly, every inch of Belgian soil is inscribed with a wealth of stories, of tragedy and humanity. It was both our pleasure and obligation to uncover them. Such a senseless loss of life should never happen again and if we are willing to collectively learn the lesson our fallen soldiers teach us, it never will…”
“Thank you to you Jamie, and that of your team for putting together such a wonderful itinerary for the winners of this competition. What you managed to pack into our 10-day adventure was truly amazing. It might have seemed full on at the time but what Student Horizons organised meant the young people had the very best opportunity to see as much as possible in the time allowed us. I’ve just returned back to work and looking at the fabulous photos you took brings all the memories flooding back. Thanks again – I will never forget this experience!”
“I was honoured to accompany the ten winners of the Passchendaele competition on their incredible tour to Europe. Attending the Centennial Commemorations of the Battle of Passchendaele was truly an experience that we, as a group, will never forget. Led in tune by a NZ Maori forces band, in the wooded area of the Passchendaele Garden in darkness, cold and fog, you could almost feel and hear the men from NZ who fought there in 1917.
Throughout our travels in Europe, the students were sterling ambassadors of their communities—it was evident that they were invested in learning about the events which took place in Belgium one hundred years ago, at the height of World War I. I believe it is so important that New Zealand students visit the battlefields in Belgium and take time to remember the NZ forces lost there. History truly does come alive in the pastures of Ypres.”