Many historians agree Passchendaele has become a byword for the abhorrence of the Great War.

There can be little doubt.

In terms of lives lost (about 850), the failed attack on Belgium's Bellevue Spur on October 12, 1917, is thought to be the greatest disaster in New Zealand's war history.

Thick, endless mud and a failed pre-emptive artillery barrage exposed the Kiwis to raking German machinegun fire.


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The "Battle of Mud" sparked endless stories of loss and courage.

Not least of these was the heart-wrenching story of Dannevirke matriarch Ellen Knight.

In a script that reads similarly to Saving Private Ryan, her three sons George, Herbert and Douglas were killed in different facets of the war. The letters exchanged were tear-jerkers of the highest order.

One letter from her son Douglas, which arrived long after news of his death, was never opened.

Prince Charles recently quoted his great-grandfather George V who uttered the following when he saw the graves near Ypres in 1922: "I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war".

Eloquent as that is, it seems the fallen have little clout in some modern-day circles.

Today, on the 100th anniversary of the bloodiest battle of World War I, we're witnessing frightening brinkmanship play out between two nuclear-capable leaders.

Sadly then, poet Dylan Thomas was perhaps mistaken when he penned, "And death shall have no dominion".