Commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Mines began on Wednesday morning in Messines with a tribute to the New Zealand soldiers in the presence of numerous Belgian and foreign personalities. The Battle of the Mines of 1917 was one of the key moments of the First World War. This important British offensive marked the beginning of the end of the conflict. Twenty-four mines had been placed in tunnels dug under the German lines. Nineteen of them exploded simultaneously on June 7, 1917 at 4:10 am, “zero hour” for the British, provoking a major earthquake. Historically, only the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 caused a greater shock wave. The offensive killed many German soldiers.
Six commemorative ceremonies are on the agenda of this memorable day in the Westhoek region.
The tribute to the New Zealand soldiers began at 8:00 am with the Belgian and New Zealand national anthems. Gregory Andrews, Ambassador of New Zealand in Belgium and Patsy Reddy, Governor General of New Zealand, then called for all efforts to be made to avoid such conflicts in the future.
Messines became a place of pilgrimage for the New Zealanders, where 3,700 of them died. Ten percent of the New Zealand population of the time was indeed sent to fight in Europe and many New Zealanders never returned. Three young people – a German, a Belgian and a New Zealander – then read testimonies of soldiers who fought in Messines.
A ceremony in memory of the Australian soldiers was scheduled to begin at 11:00 in Ploegsteert. The highlight of the commemorations will take place on Wednesday afternoon during a tribute to the British and Irish soldiers in the presence of Prince William at the Peace Park in Messines and then at the Wytschaete Cemetery in Wijtschaete.