12 October 2012

The bleakest day in New Zealand's history

Today is the 95th anniversary of the first day of the Passchendaele offensive on the Western Front. It's also the 95th anniversary of the death of Eric Claude Tucker, my grandfather's uncle. I visited Tyne Cot cemetery with friends in 2007, which is where Eric's name is memorialised, along with hundreds of other New Zealanders and allied soldiers who died nearby in the murderous machinegun-ridden Belgian meadows. A couple of years later I researched Eric's war history, and discovered that he didn't have an easy time in the Army, having chafed until the strict military discipline and being punished for various absences without leave and insubordination. Four days after returning from leave in England he died, aged only 27, on 12 October 1917, somewhere near Passchendaele - one of the more than 2700 New Zealand casualties on that single day. The country had a population of only around a million at the time. Though it is little remembered today, 12 October 1917 must surely be the bleakest day in New Zealand's recorded history.

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