The year 1917 was a frustrating and demoralising year for the Western powers fighting in France and Belgium. The lowest point for the New Zealand battalions came in October around the village of Passchendaele, near the city of Ypres. 

On the 12th of October, 1917, a failed attack on Bellevue Spur, part of the Passchendaele Ridge, set the scene for the death toll to come. 

Although 843 New Zealanders officially lost their lives that day, it is believed to be closer to 1,000, with 1,500 wounded. Since then, the 12th of October has become known as New Zealand's 'Darkest Day'. Passchaendaele has had a lasting impact on many New Zealanders, becoming a byword for the horror of the Great War.

Many of the soldiers who died that day are remembered on community memorials throughout New Zealand. Online Cenotaph, the nation's online war memorial, records the service and sacrifice of New Zealanders who died at Passchendaele.

Through the website, many families and researchers preserve the memories of loved ones by sharing stories, memories, medals, portraits and poems, as well as donating items to the Museum's collections. 

Contributions to Online Cenotaph have helped to record the sacrifices made at Passchendaele, and highlight the deep scars the battle left on many communities and families. 

Over a century after this tragic battle - we remember three soldiers who died on that day. 


Image: N.Z. Reinforcements on the way up to the line. Road near Kansas Farm. No known copyright restrictions. 

Banner image: Aerial photograph showing Passchendaele before and after the allied offensive in 1917

A hardworking military man: Rifleman Geoffrey Crawcour Wilson

An English-born farmer from Rotokohu, 21 year old Rifleman Wilson volunteered for service in 1915. He served in the New Zealand Army for a period of 2 years and 138 days.

Serving with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade during the Egyptian Campaign of 1915-1916, he was wounded twice in 1916 and subsequently hospitalised in France.  

In late 1916, Rifleman Wilson’s battalion moved to the Western Front, for the last phase of the Battle of the Somme, and the Battle of Messines before eventually moving to Passchendaele.

The 3rd Battle of Ypres had begun in July 1917, and by the time the New Zealand battalions were engaged at Passchendaele in early October initial successes had faded with heavy rain and artillery fire turning the battlefield into a quagmire. 

On the morning of the 12th October, the 2nd Battalion advanced across open ground towards Bellevue Spur on the Passchendaele Ridge, which unknown to them had been fortified with German concrete pillboxes armed with machine guns. Many soldiers, including Wilson, were killed as they pressed on against heavy opposition.

Following Wilson’s death, his family in England were presented with his 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, in addition to the 'death penny' given to each bereaved family. 

This single tag was returned to his family, along with his 16th Waikato collar badge engraved with the motto: “Ka Whawhai, Tonu, Ake Ake”. 

ID tag, 24/327 Rifleman Geoffrey Crawcour Wilson 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade, WW1. CC BY Auckland Museum

Rifleman Wilson is buried at Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium.     

Portrait of Rifleman 24/327 Geoffrey Crawcour Wilson in uniform. No known copyright restrictions.

More information ›

Lieutenant Colonel George Augustus King: A brave and diligent soldier

Cantabrian George Augustus King enlisted with 1st (North Canterbury) Mounted Rifles in 1910 aged 25. At the outbreak of war in August 1914 he joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as an officer in the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Rapid promotion to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel saw him become the first commanding officer of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion in March 1916, which was in Gallipoli preparing for a move to the Western Front.

Seen to be a brave and efficient commander, Lieutenant Colonel King was presented with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO):

"Gallipoli April - August 1915. Steady good work for past 3 months. Very valuable." 

- London Gazette, 3 June 1916, p5570, WA 22/5/10. 

Once confirmed as Lieutenant Colonel he was appointed to command the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment in France in August 1917, where he too saw service at the Somme and Messines.

The 1st Canterbury Infantry Regiment was in the rear during the battle when it came under artillery fire killing Lieutenant Colonel King. King was one of 126 men of the battalion killed during the battle. It later emerged that he had been accidentally killed by British gunners. His body was recovered by men of the Pioneer Battalion, his former regiment. He was given a funeral at Ypres. 

Funeral of Lieutenant Colonel George Augustus King 11/680 Ypres, 17/10/1917. Although the image has no known copyright restrictions, we ask that you treat it with respect. Please contact us to seek permission to reproduce this image.

Lieutenant Colonel King was recognised for his bravery and gallantry with a posthumous bar to his DSO in January 1918. Earlier in his service he had been Mentioned in Despatches five times and awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

"For distinguished service in the field (France and Flanders)

Lieutenant Colonel George Augustus King is remembered at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, World War One Hall of Memories, dedicated to fallen soldiers. 

Further information, including photographs of Lieutenant Colonel King, can be found on Online Cenotaph. 

Lieutenant Colonel George Augustus King 11/680 (left), pictured with Corporal Guy Powles 11/272 (right), from Powles, C.G. (1922). No known copyright restrictions. More information ›

Lieutenant Hugh Alexander Forrest: A determined and courageous leader 

Born in 1893 in Wellington but moving to Auckland at an early age due to his father’s career as a postmaster, Hugh Forrest (known as Alex) showed an early desire for military service. He undertook territorial service with the Junior Cadets from the age of 14, before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and placed in charge of the 54th Company (North Auckland) Senior Cadets in 1912. 

“He had always taken a keen interest in military matters, and was in the College Rifles till he transferred to the Takapuna Senior Cadets as Lieutenant – in-Charge” 

-Obituary for H. A. Forrest. Auckland Grammar School chronicle. 1917, v.5, n.2. p.16.

In 1915, he moved to the 18th Company (Auckland) Senior Cadets based in the suburb of Ponsonby, closer to his family home and his university classes. Upon completing a law degree in May 1916, Forrest left a promising career as a solicitor in July to enlist with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Following promotion to lieutenant in charge of J Company 22nd Reinforcements, he embarked on the SS Navua at Wellington on the 15th of February, 1917 arriving in England on 26th April. In June he was appointed a platoon commander within ‘B’ Company, 2nd Battalion the 3rd New Zealand Rifles Brigade on the front line in France. 

Lieutenant Forrest was killed, aged 24, during the attack on Bellevue Spur. His body was recovered, and later buried in the New Irish Farm Cemetery, in Ypres.

Forest is mentioned on many memorials throughout Devonport, as well as the College Rifles Rugby Club, and the Auckland War Memorial Museum World War One Hall of Memories. 

Obituary for H. A. Forrest. Auckland Grammar School chronicle. 1917, v.5, n.2. p.16. Image has no known copyright restrictions.

In October 1919 White Hill, in the Auckland suburb of Takapuna, was renamed Forrest Hill Road in his memory. 

Further information, including photographs of Lieutenant Hugh Alexander Forrest, can be found on Online Cenotaph. 


Portrait of H. A. Forrest. Auckland Grammar School chronicle. 1917, v.5, n.2. Image has no known copyright restrictions.  More information ›

Discover your connection

To view more stories, discover your own connection or lay a poppy, visit Online Cenotaph

You can also visit the Pou Maumahara Gallery, our physical space for Online Cenotaph. Our friendly staff and volunteers are here to help you 7 days a week, located up on level 2 of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. 

Help us improve Online Cenotaph 

To find more information about your whānau who fought in WWI, you can begin searching straight away and leave your own contributions. You can also place a poppy, or a leave a note to creating a lasting memory. 


Image: A horse/mule stuck in a bog in a mud-churned field. There is a soldier standing beside the hole and more standing on the far right waiting for the horse to climb out. No known copyright restrictions. 


Harper, Glyn (2000). Massacre at Passchendaele: The New Zealand story. Auckland, New Zealand: HarperCollins. 

W. David McIntyre. 'King, George Augustus', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 October 2018) 


Cite this article: Coombe, Sophie. 'Faces of Passchendaele', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 12/10/2018.