THE Duke of Cambridge and Princess Astrid of Belgium have joined the families of First World War New Zealand servicemen to commemorate the sacrifices of Kiwi soldiers who fought and died at Passchendaele.
William, representing the Queen, walked with Astrid past hundreds of headstones in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery where thousands of Allied servicemen are remembered or buried.
They were the final guests to arrive for the service at Tyne Cot cemetery, near the town of Ypres in Flanders, held to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
October 12 1917 is known as the darkest day of the war for the New Zealand Division, when more than 840 Kiwis were killed – part of a huge toll of dead and injured both sides suffered that summer.
The Duke and Princess were greeted by the Maori cultural group of the New Zealand Defence Force, whose spiritual calls and chants rang out across the white headstones, before they were led to their seats.
More than 840 Kiwis were killed fighting in the battle
William also shared the traditional Maori greeting – a hongi – with Willie Apiata, the first and so far only recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand
Tyne Cot cemetery is the largest Commonwealth burial ground in the world, with more than 11,000 servicemen buried there and tens of thousands more Allied fighters, whose remains have never been found, commemorated at the site.
William attends the national commemoration service during which he will give an address on behalf of the Queen and lay a wreath at the New Zealand Memorial Wall to the Missing.
Prince William will give an address on behalf of the Queen
After the service he will take part in the unveiling of a Centenary Plinth to mark the occasion.
Later at the Tyne Cot visitor centre, he will meet New Zealand youth ambassadors and historian Ian McGibbon, who will provide a military overview of Passchendaele.
The visit will end with a lunch reception and among the guests will be Willie Apiata, the only recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, and members of the 90-strong New Zealand Defence Force Contingent in Belgium for the commemoration.