New Zealand's 'forgotten' WW1 battle remembered

Today marks 100 years since New Zealand soldiers joined the bloody battle of the Somme in France during the First World War.

While the battle has been commemorated with a major ceremony at the battle-site in a few hours, many Kiwi soldiers died in France before the Somme, in an almost forgotten battle, where their remains can still be found.

Around 18,000 Kiwi soldiers lived for five months in 1916 in Armentieres, a small city in Northern France.

Fresh from the disaster of Gallipoli, the New Zealanders manned the trenches to the East of Armentieres, the most dangerous of which was an exposed position called the Mushroom.

And on the 8th of July, the 1st Canterbury Battalion holding the Mushroom trench faced disaster.

"It came under concerted German shell fire, probably thousands of heavy explosive shell fire came down on the Canterbury positions, completely wiped out their trenches, their positions, and there was dirt and timber everywhere," says military historian Andrew Macdonald

"A fair number of soldiers were trapped under the debris, perhaps suffocated, or perhaps they were killed outright."

A century later, and the bombardment the battalion faced that day can still be clearly seen.

"I was just having a look around here in the last couple of minutes, I've found three old 303 bullets, this cap of a German trench mortar, two other German caps of artillery shells here, and actually three human remains as well," says Newshub reporter Tony Wright.

"We've got a spinal cord bone here and two other bits of human bone, so this place is just covered with these artifacts of war, even a hundred years later."

And this was the result of the bombardment at the mushroom, over a hundred men from the 1st Canterbury Battalion lost their lives, and are buried here at Bonjean Cemetery in Armentieres, among them many Gallipoli veterans.

"If you walk amongst the headstones you can look at the service numbers and you can see that some of these soldiers had been amongst the first to enlist in 1914, landed at Anzac on the 25th of April and perhaps fought in the whole offensive or a small part of it," says Mr Macdonald.

"Then as the New Zealand division was formed after Gallipoli they got allocated to various battalions and came here and fought and some of them of course had very short service on the Western Front."

There are 452 Kiwis buried in the cemetery in Armentieres - that's more than any single cemetery outside of New Zealand.

But that was just the beginning of the slaughter, the Kiwis were soon on their way to the Somme, where another 2000 would soon lose their lives.