Prince William was in Belgium on Thursday to commemorate the soldiers of Passchendaele.
Joining Princess Astrid of Belgium, the prince met members of the Maori cultural group of the New Zealand Defence Force. He also met with Willie Apiata, the only recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand of which the Duke of Cambridge shared a hongi.
A hongi is a traditional greeting to which noses touch.
The ceremony that took place near Ypres in Flanders at the Tyne Cot cemetery marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. Prince William spoke of the sacrifices the service men and women made calling it “nothing ordinary and calling n that although we can’t comprehend what they went through, “we can remember.”
Addressing those gathered, Prince William said: “All too often the newsreels speak of ‘ordinary’ men and women. There was nothing ordinary about their service or their sacrifice.
“As we have heard, October 12th 1917 was the ‘darkest day’ in the military history of a proud and committed people.
“For New Zealanders, the loss of more than 840 men in just a few hours is seared into the national consciousness. All told, the Battle of Passchendaele would claim close to two thousand lives – a devastating toll for a country with a population of just over a million.
“Half a world away, news of the losses was felt like a shockwave. Every death here left a shattered family there. Entire communities were robbed of their young people. No part of New Zealand was untouched by loss.”
Adding on, the Duke continued: “The fight in these fields was of a magnitude and ferocity that is difficult for us, today, to fully comprehend. But while we may never truly understand, we can remember.”
Prince William and Princess Astrid also unveiled a new memorial to mark the occasion.
Nearly 10% of New Zealand’s population, around 100,000 people, served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force during World War One. With another 2200 Māori and approximately 500 Pacific Islanders serving overseas. The war would claim 18,000 New Zealanders and wounded another 41,000.
To remember those lost, 500 memorials are set up around New Zealand with the names of those who died.
Tyne Cot Cemetery, also referred to as ‘Tyne Cottage’ is the “world’s largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery and the final resting place of almost 12,000 servicemen of the British Empire from the First World War.