Somme 100 - Sunset ceremony at New Zealand battlefield to remember Kiwi troops

By Kieran Campbell

After a week of scorching temperatures, a light rain has brought a chill across northern France as a small crowd gathers for the final official ceremony to commemorate 100 years of the Battle of the Somme.

An intimate sunset ceremony is taking place at the New Zealand battlefield memorial just outside the town of Longueval, the same area that hosted a dawn service earlier.

It was here that thousands of New Zealand troops fought for weeks, at times in pounding rain that flooded trenches with freezing water and turned fields into quagmires.

The crowd gathered has heard the sporadic beats of a single base drum depicting a heart slowly taking its last beats in a sobering sunset ceremony to mark the centenary of the battle.

Musicians of the New Zealand Defence Force performed the piece of music, A Day In Battle, that began with calm before troops marched onto the Western Front on this day 100 years ago.

Bugle calls directed the movement of troops before a whistle sounded and snare drums erupted to depict the gunfire from all angles.

The action intensified with a cacophony of sound as the battle reached its climax before guns fell silent and the smoke lifted, revealing casualties on both sides.

After a mourning hymn the drummers beat a retreat to summon back the soldiers.

A bugler sounded sunset followed by beating drums faded into the distance, the surviving troops marching home, heads low and exhausted.

Defence chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating said the ceremony brought an end to a long day "across a landscape pervaded by memories".

"Our day has been quiet, orderly and contemplative, so unlike the hell endured here by my countrymen 100 years ago.

"We will soon return to our comfortable homes or hotels and a good night's sleep. The exhausted New Zealanders who had survived the battle ... craved with a desperation that few if any of us assembled here have ever experienced, to sleep, to rest.

"After the New Zealanders were withdrawn from the Somme, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig sent a message to New Zealand that the New Zealand division has fought with the very greatest gallantry in the Somme battle for 23 consecutive days, carrying out with complete success every task set and always doing more than what was asked of them. The division has won universal confidence and admiration. No praise can be too high for such troops.

"Such words may have been of some comfort to the survivors and the families of those who had given their all in the Somme. But no words can properly address the burden of memory that the men who left here carried with them for the rest of their lives."

- NZ Herald

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