Passchendaele: fighting for Belgium

Page 4 – After Passchendaele

Bleak winter

The New Zealand Division’s involvement in the battle of Passchendaele came to an end on 18 October when it was relieved by Canadian troops. The New Zealanders were not done with Belgium, though, and they continued to operate in the Ypres area until February 1918. The waterlogged conditions, bleak winter weather and depressing memories of the Passchendaele fiasco combined to make this a particularly trying experience. Another failed attack, this time at Polderhoek in December 1917, added to the misery.

Polderhoek

This operation had the limited objective of improving the defensive position in the sector. The capture of the dominating Polderhoek Spur would prevent the Germans from threatening the New Zealanders’ trenches to the north. The enemy had numerous strong points in the ruins of Polderhoek Chateau and in nearby pillboxes.

At noon on 3 December men of 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago battalions clambered out of the support trenches opposite the chateau, about 180 metres away. Hopes of surprising the enemy by dispensing with the usual preliminary bombardment were quickly dashed.

The New Zealanders pressed forward against intense machine-gun fire, overcoming a number of enemy strongpoints, but they were eventually forced to go to ground. The line had been pushed forward slightly, but the chateau remained out of reach. About 80 soldiers lost their lives, and hundreds were wounded. The futility of the attack was underscored nine days later, after the New Zealanders had withdrawn from the line, when the Germans regained all the ground they had lost on 3 December. The only consolation was the Victoria Cross awarded to Private H.J. Nicholas for his exemplary conduct during the assault.

The road to Cologne

The New Zealanders would have one further brief association with Belgium. As the troops marched north to take part in the occupation of Germany following the armistice, they passed through Belgian territory. They reached Charleroi on 7 December 1918, and 12 days later they entered Verviers near the German frontier, having passed Namur and Huy. All along the route, Belgians reacted with enthusiasm and hospitality. An especially warm reception was provided by Verviers  in sharp contrast to that the troops received when they crossed the Rhine into Germany next day.

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