16 Sep 2016

Battle of the Somme anniversary concludes with sunset service

1:29 pm on 16 September 2016

A long day of commemorating New Zealand's involvement in the Battle of the Somme came to an end with a sunset service near the village of Longueval in Northern France.

The New Zealand Defence contingent for the commemoration took part in the sunset ceremony next to the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial.

Commemorating New Zealand's involvement in the Battle of the Somme. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

About 200 people gathered in the fading light and in wet conditions as the New Zealand Defence contingent for the commemoration took part in the sunset ceremony next to the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial.

The memorial was unveiled in October 1922, six years after the battle.

The highlight of the ceremony was a musical performance featuring three drummers and three buglers.

Especially written for this evening at the Somme, it depicted A Day in Battle.

The day started with a dawn service at the New Zealand Memorial and came full circle returning there to end the day.

The New Zealand Defence contingent for the commemoration took part next to the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial. 2016

The New Zealand Defence contingent for the commemoration took part next to the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Earlier the National Service of Commemoration took place at the Caterpillar War Grave Cemetery. It is here that the majority of those who died in the battle are either buried or commemorated.

For me the high point of the day would have to have been the dawn service. As the sun started to rise, a heavy mist lay across the area - reminiscent of the actual day 100-years ago. As we stood there I tried to think what would have been going through the minds of the men of the New Zealand Division.

It was their first day at the Somme and just after 6 in the morning they made their first attack over the top.

The fear of the unknown must have been incredible and for many of them, about half of the division of 15,000, it would end in death or injury, all within the space of just 23 days.

The horror and devastation of the battle and sheer waste of human life is hard for us to fathom but it was real and it took a huge toll on New Zealand society for generations to come.

Lest we forget.

Commemorating New Zealand's involvement in the Battle of the Somme. 2016

Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

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