100 Dunedin men died in a day



The Scottish regimental colours will fly above an exhibition highlighting “the worst day in New Zealand history” at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum on Anzac Day.

Museum curator Sean Brosnahan has mounted the exhibition in time for Anzac Day, marking the centenary of the ill-fated battle of Passchendaele, the third battle of Ypres, in Flanders, in October 1917.

“We like to change over the exhibition in time for Anzac Day, and there is a lot to look at in 1917, particularly around the fighting in Flanders,” Mr Brosnahan said.

Toitu will open its doors early on Anzac Day to welcome those attending the Dawn Service at the cenotaph in Queens Gardens for a warming cup of tea and the opportunity to look around the museum.

The exhibition follows the experiences of New Zealand troops, including the third Otago battalion, who were heavily involved in the fighting in Flanders in mid to late 1917.

It contains treasured personal possessions of Dunedin men and tells their stories.

“A focus of the display is on machine guns and their use, in particular by the Germans, and the resulting slaughter of Allied troops,” Mr Brosnahan said.

The involvement of the New Zealand Division and the 1st Otago Battalion started well with the successful attack on Messines on June 7, 1917.

On October 4, the New Zealanders joined the attack on Passchendaele, taking Gravenstafel Spur despite heavy casualties.Allied Command pressed on.

In the rain and mud, the New Zealand 2nd and 3rd Brigades (including two of the three Otago battalions) attacked Bellevue Spur on October 12, 1917.

The 6400 attacking men were pitted against the German 6th Jaeger Regiment, with about 2000 men and 72 machine guns.

More than 100 Dunedin men died in the attack. They were among 845 New Zealanders killed, and about 1850 wounded, in just four hours.

It was the worst day in New Zealand history in terms of lives lost.