A New Zealand woman received five-star treatment after she was the one millionth visitor to a museum which commemorates a World War I conflict which claimed the lives of hundreds of Kiwi soldiers.
Adrienne Smith, from Rangiora north of Christchurch, was given a tour of a new dugout at Passchendaele in Belgium with a senior regional politician, Geert Bourgeois. He is president of the regional Flemish Parliament.
On October 12, 1917, 846 young New Zealand soldiers died on a waterlogged muddy bog called Bellevue Spur. The action in which they lost their lives was the Battle of Passchendaele, and it remains the worst day in New Zealand's military history.
Visiting Belgium with her husband Laurence, Adrienne Smith was shown through the dugout, built by the Allies as war raged on the Western Front. One of few remaining underground shelters, the Passchendaele dugout was carved out of the ground five metres beneath a church at Zonnebeke.
Heritage experts have drained the chamber, which is 29m long, and consists of five small rooms, side corridors and two sets of stairs. It is not open to the public, but the museum is weighing up whether to permit access next year when the 100th anniversary of the conflict is expected to draw thousands of visitors from across the Commonwealth.
New Zealand was not the only country to suffer horrendous casualties. In barely 100 days, as many as 500,000 soldiers were sacrificed for just 8km of boggy Flanders territory. The Germans suffered nearly as many losses as soldiers with the British Expeditionary Force, which included the New Zealand Division.
Smith was given a certificate by the museum and a special gift. She was the one millionth visitor to the museum since it opened in 2004. Her visit was filmed by local television crews, and features on a website dedicated to preserving the memory of Passchendaele, thebelgianshavenotforgotten.blogspot.co.nz.