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Monday, February 6

Unknown NZ Soldier Laid to Rest

A ceremony to rebury the remains of a New Zealand soldier was held at Messines Ridge British Cemetery near Ieper, Belgium on Friday 3 February.

The ceremony was attended by the Minister of Defence, Dr Jonathan Coleman, the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, the Secretary of Defence, John McKinnon, the New Zealand Ambassador (Belgium), Vangelis Vitalis, and the Head of Defence Staff, New Zealand High Commission Brigadier Antony (Lofty) Hayward.

The Mayor of Mesen, Sandy Evrard, and representatives from Belgian military, Flemish Foreign Affairs, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Royal British Legion also attended the ceremony.

"The service was a poignant time to reflect on service and sacrifice. After lying in a foreign field for 95 years he is now with his mates buried with the honour and dignity befitting a soldier that fought for our country,” said Dr Coleman.

The remains of the soldier were discovered in July last year alongside a NZ Rifle Brigade hat badge, associated personal material and the remains of a uniform. After analysis they were officially accepted as the remains of a New Zealand soldier, although his identity is unknown.

Messines was the scene of very intense fighting by New Zealand Division (including the New Zealand Rifle Brigade) over the period 7-14 June 1917. During this battle around 700 New Zealand soldiers were killed in action in one day alone.

Within the cemetery stands the Messines Ridge New Zealand Memorial which commemorates over 800 soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force who died in or near Messines in 1917 and 1918 and who have no known grave. The majority of these soldiers are listed as New Zealand Rifle Brigade personnel.

The Defence Minister, Dr Coleman, has been in Europe meeting with United Kingdom Defence officials before attending the ISAF Defence Ministers meeting at NATO headquarters.

It also allowed the Minister to attend the reburial a short distance away in Flanders