100 years since NZ troops entered Battle of the Somme

AAP, Newstalk ZB Staff,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Sep 2016, 7:03am
Troops on the Western Front during The Battle of the Somme (Imperial War Museum via Getty Images).

100 years since NZ troops entered Battle of the Somme

AAP, Newstalk ZB Staff,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Sep 2016, 7:03am

It's 100 years since New Zealand troops entered the Battle of the Somme.

LISTEN ABOVE: Kieran Campbell, NZME correspondent, spoke to Rachel Smalley from France

It was the country's first major engagement on the Western Front during World War I and it took a huge toll.

Of the 15,000 members of the New Zealand Division who were involved, more than 2100 were killed in action and 6000 were wounded.

The National Army Museum at Waiouru will host a service to remember the Battle of the Somme at its 'Tears on Greenstone' memorial at 11am.

Museum Curator Windsor Jones said the three-week fight brought about our first Victoria Cross from the Western Front.

"On the first of October Sergeant Donald Forrester Brown was killed from the Otago Battalion and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross."

There'll also be a number of other services around the country to mark the centenary.

One of those will be in Blenheim at the town's War Memorial Clock Tower.

Marlborough RSA President John Forrest said the contribution made by airmen to the battle will also be honoured.

"We are privileged to have three World War I fighters for our fly past at 11am."

Mr Forrest said it's a poignant time for the region.

"We lost 11.5 per cent of our population. There was just over 447 men who lost their lives in World War I from Marlborough alone."

The centenary will be marked in Longueval, France later today and among those present will be Prince Charles, in his honorary role of Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army.

The prince will lay a wreath at the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial and will also meet young people from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands who are in France to learn about their countries' part in the battle.

The government will be represented by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Ambassador to France James Kember.

NZME correspondent Kieran Campbell told Rachel Smalley there's a very sombre mood in Longueval, where the New Zealand troops began their march to the trenches.

He said there'll be a dawn service at the memorial at 6.30am [4.30pm New Zealand time].

"There'll be speeches. There will songs and obviously The Last Post as well."

Mr Campbell said 46 members of the New Zealand Defence Force are there for the commemorations, but it's just as important for locals.

"The people of Longueval and surrounding townships are really enthusiastic and eager to join the centenary commendations they just have such a deep regard."

Aleisha MacGregor from Gisborne, will be performing at the ceremony in Longueval part of the New Zealand Defence Force's Māori Cultural Group.

She's also on a special mission of her own.

Her great great uncle - Second Lieutenant Alexander Ormond - fought and died in the battle.

She was able to find his name among the 72,000 listed on the memorial there and place some Kiwi memorabilia by it.

"Finding him on the Tuesday, Wednesday, it was just really surreal. Couldn't comprehend it."

There'll also be a New Zealand National Service at the Caterpillar Valley War Cemetery.

It was from this cemetery that New Zealand's Unknown Soldier was exhumed and reinterred in the National War Memorial in Wellington in 2004.

The day's last service will be a sunset ceremony at the memorial.