13 Oct 2017

Dobbyn moved to tears

5:03 pm on 13 October 2017

Singer Dave Dobbyn was moved to tears as he joined soldiers and royalty on Belgium's battlefields overnight to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele.

Dave Dobbyn performs at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper, Belgium

Dave Dobbyn performs at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Belgium. Photo: NZ Defence Force

843 New Zealanders died and more than 1700 were wounded in just the first few hours of 12 October 1917, as allied troops tried and failed to take the village of Passchendaele.

The battle, which was also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, eventually claimed the lives of nearly 2000 New Zealand soldiers.

Dobbyn said singing Welcome Home at sunset in both English and Te Reo at the Buttes New British Cemetery was profoundly moving.

"I had to close my eyes, I couldn't open them because all I could see is 54,000 names on the walls of the Menin Gate - otherwise there would have been too many tears.

"But, I got through my song and did my duty," he said.

A garden now decorates the battlefield.

Each man mown down by German troops is represented by 843 brass discs, while a concrete tower pockmarked with bullet-like holes tells the tale of the 17000 wounded.

With 100,000 men sent away to war and tens of thousands of those killed or injured, every New Zealand family would have suffered, Mr Dobbyn said.

"You can't help but be deeply affected by it."

It is very much part of our roots, he said.

"I'm a pacifist but that doesn't make a damn bit of difference when you consider history."

Belgium had not forgotten New Zealand's sacrifice, which was still this country's worst loss of life in a single day, he said.

"There's so much love for us New Zealanders from the Beligan people."

"Every night at 8 o'clock - they've done it 30,600 times - they play the last post in the Menin Gate and they remember New Zealanders."

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating, who was also at the ceremony, said Gallipoli often overshadowed Passchendaele in the country's collective memory.

Gallipoli was the terrible coming of age for the nation, he said, but all battles played a significant role.

"It didn't get any better after Gallipoli."

The lessons of Passchendaele still resonate today, he said.

"Row upon row, upon row, cross upon cross, upon cross, names on the walls of those who never recovered - war is not the answer."

If it comes to fighting, New Zealand will fight for what is just and right, he said.

Earlier in the day Prince William, representing Queen Elizabeth, and Belgium's Princess Astrid joined several thousand people at the Tyne Cot cemetery, where they laid wreaths and unveiled a new plaque.

New Zealand war veteran and Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata also attended the ceremony.

New Zealand soldiers at the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

New Zealand soldiers at the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. Photo: Foto Kurt

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