90th anniversary of Battle of Passchendaele
Often known as the “Third Battle of Ypres”, the offensive undoubtedly determined and shaped the outcome of the war in 1918 but not without significant casualties which had repercussions for not just Britain’s and Germany’s brave soldiers but for the whole of the Commonwealth.
The events at Passchendaele also coincide with those of the 80th anniversary of the Last Post ceremony under the Menin Gate in Ypres and the 90th anniversary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, both of which have been instrumental in ensuring that the remembrance and significance of the Great War continues to this day.
On 12 July 2007, the official remembrance ceremony at the largest Commonwealth burial ground in Europe takes place at Tyne Cot cemetery. Over 180,000 visitors come annually from all over the world and this is when the new visitor centre will be inaugurated also. A total of 11,908 soldiers are buried at this site. Later that day, the 80th anniversary of the inauguration of the Menin Gate in Ypres is celebrated. The bodies of over 95,000 soldiers were never found in the region and the memorial serves to salute those who went missing after 15 Aug 1917. The names of 55,000 allied soldiers without graves are etched on the stones of the Menin Gate and its unique Last Post ceremony held daily in Ypres at 8pm is known worldwide as an icon for commemoration of the Great War.
A unique remembrance programme has been planned by the Front municipalities of Zonnebeke, Heuvelland, Messines and Ypres in homage to the anniversary proceedings. Five themed weekends have been timed to coincide with the various offensives that took place between June and November 1917. All the events are planned to take place as close as possible to match the sites of each battle. As well as British casualties, Commonwealth soldiers were also heavily involved in the offensive and tributes to the Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians are tied in with the themed weekends. A total of seven exhibitions are also being set up with six in Zonnebeke commencing on 13 July 2007, each linked along a marked circuit via the Westhoek cycle network. A further exhibition will show in Messines from the 8 June 2007 for three months and then move to Wytschaete until the 19th November 2007.
The prologue to the battle was spawned by the explosion of 19 deep mines under the ridge near Messines-Wytschaete on the 7th June 1917. What followed was a shelling offensive which should have lasted not more than 3 weeks. In fact, the Battle of Passchendaele went on for three months and finally ended on 10th November 1917. Its significance in the Great War was that it marked the initial withdrawal of the German defence lines. In just 100 days, amidst squalid and atrocious conditions, over 500,000 were killed, wounded or went missing. The Battle of “Passion – Dale “(as it was often called) was one of the bloodiest massacres of the Great War and its story serves to remind us of the senseless violence, pain and loss of life suffered by the brave soldiers, all of whom fought in the name of their country.
Now, 90 years later the landscape has changed and the horrific battlefields have been replaced with scenic farmland and fields occasionally dotted by the odd cemetery. Crater shells from detonated mines guise themselves as ponds or small ditches. Despite just a handful of survivors from the Great War still surviving, the memory of their long departed compatriots is still honoured.
For more information about the events taking place, see passchendaele.be and greatwar.be.