'Incredibly grateful to the Kiwi soldiers who gave their lives' -1 NEWS reporter on Belgium honouring WWI heroes

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"Belgium is grateful" – the words spoken by the Princess Astride – the Princess of Belgium, followed by a poignant pause, surmising the heartfelt thanks from her country to ours.

Source: 1 NEWS

That's one thing that has really stood out to me from being at the commemorations here in Passchendaele, is just how incredibly grateful the people here are to the Kiwi soldiers who gave their lives for their freedom.

As the Duke of Cambridge Prince William so aptly put "there was nothing ordinary about their service or sacrifice".

He spoke passionately about the devastating impact the military offensive had on New Zealand.
Source: 1 NEWS

In fact, the sacrifice was immense. 960 Kiwis were killed or mortally wounded in a single day -October 12 1917. All told, the Battle of Passchendaele stole nearly 2000 young Kiwi lives.

For such a small nation – it was a massive toll.

On October 12, 1917, 960 Kiwi soldiers were killed at Passchendaele, Belgium, in the greatest single-day loss of life for NZ in modern history.
Source: 1 NEWS

Forty two per cent of men of military age signed up to serve in the Great War. One in 5 of them didn't come home, those who did return were scarred for life either internally or externally.

A price not lost on those here in Belgium.

One man who grew up in Passchendaele told me he still to this day cannot comprehend why men would come from the uttermost ends of the earth to fight in a war and protect a people they've never met.

His eyes well up. Several generations later, he expresses real emotion has he says "we cannot show our gratitude enough – it's enormous" going on to explain "if all these boys from around the world did not come here to fight for our freedom, we probably would've been Germans now, and that is not something we wanted, we wanted to keep our identity as Belgium people".

The pair spoke briefly at the resting place of 512 Kiwis who lost their lives in the battle.
Source: 1 NEWS

He has a point – the men gave their today so they could have a tomorrow. As such, the Kiwis are held in such high regard here.

Ironically the locals know far more about our history at Passchendaele than most Kiwis do.

The graves and memorial walls are kept in immaculate condition. Not a blade of grass out of place, not an unwanted mark on a headstone. The respect to our fallen is inspiring.

What once was a muddy hell, a killing field, is now beautiful rolling farmland – something those that lie beneath the mud would be heartened to see.

When farmers come across remains, or war remnants, efforts are made to repatriate them with where the soldier came from – and a new headstone is put in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery simply saying 'A Soldier of the Great War'.

Passchendaele is a place now littered with cemeteries, each one is respected. It's become a place dedicated to Remembrance, and a name which has become a byword for the horror of the Great War.

A place that sees its duty to remember those who fought for its freedom.

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