The 100th anniversary of the First World War in France has been marked in a formal ceremony in Wellington this morning.

It follows ceremonies in France earlier this week to commemorate 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, New Zealand's first major engagement on the Western Front, and its bloodiest.

The Hall of Memories at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park - where the ceremony was moved because of torrential rain - was packed full as New Zealand and French officials paid tribute to the soldiers killed in the conflict.

Acting Prime Minister Bill English, speaking before an audience of around 250, said the conditions in the trenches on the Western Front "could only be described as mind-shattering" for the soldiers.


Many were already worn down by previous battles, but in Somme they "encountered changes in warfare they could not have imagined, with the introduction of tanks and chemicals", he said.

"We cannot imagine what events and decisions today would lead our generation of parents to send their children to such a terrifying circumstances."

English said New Zealand's history was intertwined with France's, having joined the country in conflict twice in the last century.

"Twice they died together in their hundreds and thousands," he said.

The acting Prime Minister said the centenary was also an opportunity to pay tribute to Pacific Island soldiers.

The Battle of the Somme was the first major military engagement for Cook Island soldiers, who volunteered to join New Zealand in the conflict.

20 Sep, 2016 6:17pm
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French ambassador Florence Jeanblanc-Risler read from a French newspaper article published on May 20, 1916, just after the New Zealand Division arrived at the front.

"They came from the other side of the world to fight by our side," the article said.

"They have few shared interests with us. All in all, they have little to gain whether or not France is crushed by Germany.

"They have little to gain from our victory. They came for France.

"They said it and repeated it loudly, 'For France'."

In all, 18,000 New Zealand troops went into action in the Battle of the Somme.

Nearly 6000 were wounded and 2000 were killed, 600 of them on the first day of battle.

More than half of the dead have no known grave, and are instead recognised in the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, where officials laid poppies after the ceremony.

Rear Admiral David Ledson, the National War memorial chairman, said these huge sacrifices were made to capture just two miles of enemy territory. The battle amounted to a "slow slaughtering process" for the New Zealand Division, he said.

New Zealand soldiers served in France between 1916 and 1918.

A ceremony was held in Longueval, France on Friday to recognise New Zealand's contribution to the conflict.