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1987: Soldiers remember Passchendaele

VIDEO : Passchendaele soldiers remember comrades of World War I

Veterans have returned to the scene of the bloodiest battle of World War I to commemorate its 70th anniversary.

The fields of Passchendaele in Belgium claimed the lives of 250,000 troops of the British Commonwealth between July and November 1917.

The battle was the heaviest bombardment of the war and few of its survivors are still alive.

Now in their 90s the men paid their respects at the Commonwealth's largest war cemetery - Tyne Cot - where 11,908 soldiers are buried.

In the evening they joined a formal parade through Ypres to the Menin Gate, which carries inscriptions of the 55,000 Allied soldiers who were never found.

Many of them disappeared into the swamp created by continual shelling and rain on reclaimed bogland.

All Commonwealth troops sent to the trenches at Passchendaele - also known as the Third Battle of Ypres - marched through the Menin Gate.

Traffic is stopped there at 2000 BST (1900 GMT) every day for the local fire department to sound the Last Post.

Battle plans

Once fighting began in earnest, it took the Allied troops 99 days to capture what was left of the village of Passchendaele in south-west Flanders.

When the assault was planned in 1916, the British command expected to reach Passchendaele in two days, before advancing to drive the Germans behind the Rhine as part of the Big Push to end the war.

Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig never went to the Western Front and ignored reports of the appalling conditions there.

When his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Sir Lancelot Kiggell, visited near the end of the campaign he reportedly broke down and said: "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?"

There were nearly half a million losses on both sides. The British gained just five miles (8km) at a cost of around 35 lives per metre.

In Context
World War I was fought from August 1914 to November 1918.

It was the first war that involved militarisation on a global scale, taking advantage of and encouraging advances in communication and weaponry.

A total of 65m soldiers went to battle. Of these 21m were wounded and 10m were killed - including a million missing and presumed dead.

The British Empire lost a total of 950,000 men, while the French, Germans and Russian Empire each lost well over a million.

Witnesses and survivors of WWI hoped it would be the war to end all wars. Remembrance services are held on 11 November to mark the official end of the war.

For many the Battle of Passchendaele symbolised the futility of war and needless slaughter of human life.


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