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Charles honours NZ troops killed at Somme

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 15/09/2016 Tom Pugh

The Prince of Wales has spoken of his hope for a "future free from intolerance and conflict" as he paid tribute to New Zealand's troops killed and injured in the Battle of the Somme during a ceremony in France marking the 100th anniversary of the conflict.

Charles told how he had gathered with others to remember with "pride and humility" the sacrifices of New Zealand's soldiers who fought with "boundless courage and tenacity" during the bloody battle.

Charles, who is Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army, spoke during a commemorative service at Caterpillar Valley Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Longueval.

He said: "Standing in this peaceful scene today it is hard to imagine that a century ago this was an infernal, blasted wasteland, which my predecessor as Prince of Wales, my great-uncle Edward, described as 'the nearest approach to hell imaginable'."

Dressed for the first time publicly in New Zealand Army Field Marshal uniform, he joined figures in laying a wreath.

And in his address, Charles added: "My hope is today we can re-dedicate ourselves to a future free from intolerance and conflict. We do this in honour of the memory of those who fought and died here so long ago."

Charles spoke of the sacrifice of Pakeha and Maori soldiers in the battle, and told how New Zealand suffered a casualty rate of nearly 60 per cent.

Afterwards, Charles spoke to flag bearers, members of the public and the New Zealand defence force's Maori cultural group.

A poppy drop was made from two replica First World War planes following a two-minute silence to remember the loss of lives during the bloody 141-day offensive.

Charles spoke to young people from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands who are in France learning about their countries' involvement in the battle.

Charles was appointed Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army in August last year. He was presented with a warrant recognising the appointment in Wellington during a visit last year.

The Battle of the Somme, which started on July 1 1916, took a brutal toll on New Zealand's 15,000-strong division in what was the country's first major engagement on the Western Front.

During the offensive, which involved the use of poison gas shells and relentless artillery fire, 2000 of the New Zealand Division died and nearly 6000 men were wounded.

In September and October alone, more than 1500 men from the New Zealand Division were killed. Some 1200 have no known grave and their names are inscribed on the memorial in Longueval.

Thursday marked 100 years since the New Zealand infantry "went over the top". Some 6000 New Zealanders saw action that day a century ago, about 600 were killed and around 1200 were wounded or missing.

Later, Charles laid another wreath - at the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial, near Caterpillar Valley cemetery, which marks the spot which the New Zealand Division gained as their original objective in the first Battle of the Somme.

The royal met youngsters and relatives of New Zealand troops killed in the Battle of the Somme, including 82-year-old Shirley Wilton, whose two great-uncles, Hugh and Sidney Wilton, died exactly 100 years ago.

Ms Wilton said: "One was number 234 and the other was 235. They were killed together in the first hour of the battle 100 years ago today. It has been a beautiful day."

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