Anzac Day: A tour to the Western Front is a journey of memory and reflection

But that doesn’t stop us honouring the veterans and fallen Anzacs who fought for our safety. In tribute to them, this story tells of a journey last year to the Western Front, and the modern Kiwi connections keeping the Anzac memory alive.

In a dark, still Belgian museum, a forest of imploring arms stretches towards the ceiling. A backdrop of ghostly trees stripped bare by conflict plays out on a wall behind the anguished limbs.

It is an unsettling and powerful display to encounter. And though the sculpture, which sits in a shallow pool, occupies a cool room in a foreign land, it is intimately connected with New Zealand.

The ceramic work, Falls the Shadow, was created by Auckland artist Helen Pollock. She mixed Coromandel clay for the 18 arms with mud from Flanders, where hundreds of young New Zealand soldiers spent the last night of their lives before the Battle of Passchendaele in World War I.

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Pollock’s artwork is part of the permanent collection at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele, which is temporarily closed due to Covid-19, but has online resources dedicated to its collections. The small but striking museum is in a chateau at Zonnebeke, where the Western Front divided Allied forces from the German Army.

On October 12, 1917, the New Zealand Division launched an attack to take the village of Passchendaele, just a few kilometres from Zonnebeke. They had to cross a flooded valley where German troops were protected in concrete pillboxes, covered by machinegun fire and dug in behind coils of barbed wire.

In four bloody hours, the New Zealanders were cut to ribbons, suffering 2700 casualties, including 846 dead.

The story of the immense suffering of that awful day is told at the museum, wrapped in memory and contemplation. Outside the chateau, a recreated trench gives a sense of the cramped conditions where soldiers spent wary hours. Inside, one display releases odours reminiscent of gas which tore at the lungs of the troops. Uniforms worn by attacking armies feature along with letters, documents and fading photographs. Above all, the visitor is encouraged to reflect.

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