Memorial today for 2000 Kiwis killed at World War I's Battle of Somme

By Kieran Campbell, in France

Prince Charles will speak at a service at the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery which commemorates more than 1200 Kiwi soldiers whose graves are not known.  Photo / Kieran Campbell
Prince Charles will speak at a service at the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery which commemorates more than 1200 Kiwi soldiers whose graves are not known. Photo / Kieran Campbell

A thin bitumen road runs the 1400 metres from the small French town of Longueval to the memorial remembering more than 2000 men "from the uttermost ends of the earth" who died here.

More than 2000 New Zealanders.

The road runs near what were the Switch and Great trenches, channels in the earth used by those New Zealanders on September 15, 1916, to move across No Man's Land where the memorial now stands.

Crops ready for harvest separate Longueval from the town of Flers about 2km away.
When Kiwi troops triumphantly recaptured Flers from the Germans 100 years ago the landscape was one of carnage, a ghastly graveyard of thousands of unburied Allies and enemies, killed in a battle that had begun two months earlier.

Those stories will be fresh in the minds of the upwards of 600 people expected to visit the area today.

As the sun rises over the Somme, they will walk that thin bitumen road, retracing the steps marched by thousands of New Zealand troops as they entered what was then the deadliest battle in the country's history. They will face the scene where, a century earlier, Kiwi soldiers grappled with their fate.

"Last night a couple of us walked to the top of the hill from where we could see the flashes and got our eyes opened a little I can tell you," Private Erle Crawford wrote in a letter home to his family before the battle.

"It is absolutely impossible to have any idea of what it is like until you have seen and heard it."

The dawn march from Longueval will be led in song by the New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group.

Dozens of locals, who have immense regard for Kiwi troops, are expected to join those who have journeyed to France for the centenary.

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The dawn service will be followed by two other ceremonies, one attended by Prince Charles. The Prince of Wales will speak at the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, which commemorates more than 1200 men of the New Zealand Division who died at the Somme and whose graves are not known.

As the sun sets over the rolling hills slowly reclaimed by farmers over the last 100 years, many will return to the New Zealand memorial.

A piece of music to represent the sounds of a day in battle has been composed specifically for the ceremony and will be performed for the public for the first time.

The fields have been reclaimed, memorials and cemeteries the only visual reminders of the scarcely imaginable slaughter that went on here. But those who stand today on the ground where thousands of New Zealand men bravely fought and fell will ensure, as so many of the memorials remind us, that "their name liveth forevermore".

- NZ Herald

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