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Prince William joins New Zealanders to mark our darkest day of World War I (Video)

New Zealand's only living Victoria Cross recipient, Willie Apiata, greets Prince William with a hongi at the New Zealand Memorial Wall to the Missing.

Prince William has praised the resilience and strength of character shown by the New Zealanders who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele, saying the world continues to admire those qualities in the country today.

On Thursday night (NZ Time), the prince spoke at commemorations in Belgium to mark 100 years since the darkest day of World War I for the New Zealand Division, when about 960 soldiers were killed or mortally wounded.

"All too often the newsreels speak of 'ordinary' men and women. There was nothing ordinary about their service or their sacrifice," the Duke of Cambridge said of the New Zealand soldiers during his address at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

Prince William speaks at the New Zealand national commemoration for the Battle of Passchendaele, at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

"Half a world away, news of the losses was felt like a shockwave. Every death here left a shattered family there. Entire communities were robbed of their young people. No part of New Zealand was untouched by loss."

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Prince William lays a wreath at the New Zealand Memorial Wall to the Missing.

New Zealand's heavy losses on October 12, 1917 were the result of an attempt to take a German position at Bellevue Spur. The soldiers who died on that day, and those who died from their wounds in the following days, accounted for 6 per cent of the country's total casualties during WWI.


Having visited New Zealand in 2014, the British royal said he was struck by the impact the battle still had on the country.

He and his wife, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, laid wreaths at war memorials in Blenheim and Cambridge during their trip.

Prince William stands among those gathered to mark 100 years since the Battle of Passchendaele.

"In battle and back home, New Zealanders demonstrated great resilience and strength of character, qualities we still admire in New Zealand today," Prince William said.

"The fight in these fields was of a magnitude and ferocity that is difficult for us, today, to fully comprehend.

"But while we may never truly understand, we can remember. 

Prince William, with Princess Astrid of Belgium at the New Zealand Memorial Wall to the Missing.

"The memory of those who fell here at Passchendaele has been kept alive for a century by New Zealand families."

Prince William, who also laid a wreath at the New Zealand Memorial Wall to the Missing and unveiled a plinth to mark the occasion, had earlier arrived to a traditional welcome from the Defence Force's Māori cultural group.

Representing the Queen, he was joined by Belgium's Princess Astrid on his second visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery this year, having visited with Prince Charles for a Commonwealth ceremony just 10 weeks ago.

Four generations of Prince William's family have visited Tyne Cot Cemetery.

He also shared a hongi with Willie Apiata, New Zealand's only living Victoria Cross recipient and even used a Māori phrase in closing his address.

"In 1922, my great-great grandfather, George V, visited the newly created Tyne Cot Cemetery," he said.

"Since then, four more generations of my own family have been drawn repeatedly to this place to honour those who fought and those who died.

Prince William, Princess Astrid of Belgium and guests attend the New Zealand commemoration for the Battle of Passchendaele at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

"Today, together, let us pause and do the same.

"Kia mau mahara tonu tātou ki a rātou. We will remember them."

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 commemorated at the site.