Road to Passchendaele

OLocomotive steams into NZ’s war history

By Anthony Dreaver

A hoarse whistle and a plume of steam signalled her approach. From the signal-box, piper Ross Wilson struck up ‘The Road to Passchendaele’ and into

view hissed a locomotive, shining black as a sergeant-major’s boots.O

It was a great Anzac Day for Paekakariki. One of Steam Incorporated’s proudest achievements is to have brought Ab 608 (‘Passchendaele’) to mainline working.



OBuilt in 1915,it was given an official name  in 1923 to commemorate over 400 NZ railwaymen who died in World War I.

By the time it was retired to Ferrymead at Christchurch in 1967 it had travelled more than 2,000,000 kilometres.

In 1993, Steam Incorporated took over its rebuilding. But both the tender and the boiler were almost ruyined by the ravages of time and rust.

The task has involved the whole team and a number of engineering firms, but members give special credit to Alister MacIver as project manager and Wayne Mason for his work on the boiler.

The loco’s story

After the invited guests had been welcomed by Club President Peter Norman, the locomotive’s story was told by Rick van Barneveld, General Manager mInfrastructure and Engineering for Kiwirail.

Colonel Nicholas Gillard, commnader of Linton Military Camp, explained the symbolism of Passchendaele, which he has visited several times.O The insignificant rise, which was surrounded on three sides by German positions, is a byword for the horrors of the Western Front.

In October 1917, the Allies occupied a salient, surrounded on three sides by German positions, and the top brass wanted a breakthrough.

On 4 October the New Zealand Division advanced 100 yards, took 1000 prisoners and lost 320 New Zealanders.

Eight days later, after torrential rain, they were ordered to take Bellevue Spur. It was a disaster, even the guns sinking into the mud.

There were 3700 casualties including 845 dead. Nothing was achieved.

And so at Paekakariki Station, some 97 years later, a plaque on ‘Passchendaele’ has been unveiled, and the veteran, with Steam Inc¹s main workhorse loco, has been shown off for the cameras of an enthusiastic crowd.

It’s a fitting commemoration for all the courageous railwaymen-soldiers from Aotearoa who lost their lives in the horrendous conditions of the First World War..