WWI trenches where Kiwis fought discovered in Somme

WWI trenches where Kiwis fought discovered in Somme

This week marks the centenary of the bloodiest engagement in New Zealand military history - the battle of the Somme in France in World War One, where 8000 Kiwis were killed or wounded in just 23 days.

New Zealanders also fought other major battles on the Somme in 1918.

It's long been believed that none of the trenches where the New Zealanders fought and died on the Somme have survived, until now.

High above the Newfoundland Memorial Park in northern France you can clearly make out the last remaining network of trenches that exist on the Somme.

There were brutal battles there in 1916, and again in 1918 - and it was thought that only Newfoundland and British troops fought the Germans in these trenches.

But as New Zealand historian Andrew Macdonald has recently discovered, there were plenty of Kiwis as well.

"During my research into the Spring Offensive of 1918, where the NZ Division was one of several brought in to hold the German juggernaut back, I discovered that were actually Kiwis who fought in these trenches in March and April in 1918,"military historian Andrew Macdonald said.

"And not just one or two [Kiwi troops] - at a rough estimate 1500 to 2000, maybe more, over the course of several weeks."

Kiwi soldiers fought desperately there to drive back the advancing Germans, and did so successfully. But it was one of bloodiest battles for them during the war - so are the bodies of long missing New Zealand soldiers here as well?

"There absolutely are," Macdonald said.

"One of the things I discovered is that, like most other battlefields where New Zealanders fought, there are Kiwis who fell in no man's land who were separated and their fate is unknown.

"But there are definitely some who are known to be buried in this park during the war, [and] their bodies are not recovered to this point."

Thousands of people visit the Newfoundland Memorial park each year, but are largely ignorant of the Kiwi connection - so should there be some sort of New Zealand Memorial there?

"Absolutely I think there should be, certainly during the centenary years, the importance of this place," Macdonald said.

"It's one corner of northern France where our soldiers served, where there's infrastructure and where there's trenches where people can walk through.

"And yet I've met so many Kiwis who've passed through this place and have gone back to New Zealand, and when I've spoken to them they've said, 'If only I'd known, I would've taken so much more from my visit there'."

Now Kiwis can trace the steps of their ancestors from the Somme - quite literally - by walking through the very trenches in which they fought.