The centenary of the First World War has not yet begun and already we’re seeing new and interesting forms of commemoration of the conflict.
This past weekend, the exterior of the Auckland Museum was – for the first time – not lit on the evening of Saturday 12 October “as a mark of respect to [New Zealand’s] Passchendaele losses”: during the First Battle of Passchendaele on 12 October 1917, 845 New Zealanders were killed and 2,700 wounded.
(You can see the number of New Zealand deaths on this day of the war in comparison with others in this chart. Also note the nearly 500 New Zealanders killed just eight days earlier, on 4 October, at the Battle of Broodseinde.) As Ian McGibbon puts it in New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials of the Western Front (2001), “The Passchendaele battlefield has special significance for New Zealand. It is here that in 1917 New Zealand suffered the greatest disaster in its history in terms of deaths on a single day.” The observance of the anniversary of these losses, including with commemorative and interpretive events earlier in the day, suggests a specific New Zealand remembrance of Passchendaele even 96 years on. The nature of the observance is significant as well: not special lighting of the museum as in the red of Anzac Day (and many other configurations for civic, national and cultural occasions), but non-lighting. Darkness in remembrance of a dark day.
I wonder if the Auckland Museum will again ‘go dark’ at 11pm on 4 August 2014, as a (previously) candle-lit vigil at Westminster Abbey will. This will be the hundredth anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war coming into effect; the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, apparently remarked of this time, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
My thanks to Phil Johnstone, Head of Communications at the Auckland Museum, for responding to my email about the non-lighting of the museum.
 Ian McGibbon, New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials of the Western Front, Oxford University Press, Auckland, 2001, p. 10.
 McGibbon, New Zealand Battlefields and Memorials of the Western Front, p. 10.