There will be few dry eyes when three generations of a Bay family take part in the 100th-anniversary service in Belgium of the battle to capture the village of Passchendaele.

"All of our family and those privileged to attend will have a heart-wrenching day with few dry eyes," retired Pongakawa farmer Marcus Wilkins told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday.

Speaking from Belgium the day before New Zealand commemorated the darkest day its post-1840 history, he said the day would begin with a service at Tyne Cot.

It would be followed at 3pm by the opening of the New Zealand Memorial Poppy Garden and then a special tree planting to commemorate everyone who died, including the family's three great uncles. Two were killed in earlier stages of the battle that ran from July to November, 1917.


The emotional climax of the day would be the New Zealand Sunset Ceremony at the Buttes New British Cemetery.

The pilgrimage by 10 members of the Wilkins family and extended family was especially significant to Mr Wilkins whose father survived the failed attack on October 12 which left 845 New Zealand soldiers lying dead or mortally wounded between the lines, and a further 1855 wounded.

Mr Wilkins father, also called Marcus, survived the war to return to his farm but never fully recovered from the combined effects of being gassed and the appalling conditions of trench warfare.

Before he died aged 68, he passed down stories to his son who in turn told his son, Tauranga lawyer Marcus Wilkins.

Mr Wilkins Snr said they planned to spend the day before the commemorations seeing the mayor before attending The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate memorial to the missing. The Last Post played by buglers was the traditional salute to the fallen who died in the Ypres salient during World War I.

Good news to arrive while Mr Wilkins and wife Jan were doing a bit of sightseeing in Russia and Denmark before arriving in Belgium was that grandsons James and Ryan of Te Puke had won gold in one event and bronze in another at the World White Water Rafting Championships in Japan. They were members of the New Zealand under-23 crew.

Another family member Donna Wilkins joined them for the commemorations in Belgium after bike touring in Japan.

Of special significance to the family would be visiting the sites where the names of relatives were inscribed on panels. They were William Henry Dillon Bell, Charles Sciascia and Cyril Donald Beckett.