Ceremony at Talbot House Poperinge
New Zealand recognised the outstanding contribution of four Belgians in June 2015, making them Honorary Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit for their services to New Zealand-Belgium relations and war commemorations. On 29 October the four will be formally invested in the presence of the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John Key, at a ceremony at Talbot House, Poperinge.
The four invested – Mr Freddy Declerck, Mr Sandy Evrard, Mr Benoit Mottrie and Mr Steven Reynaert – have played an integral part in promoting the remembrance of the Allied forces, and New Zealand in particular, in Belgium during the Great War.
Their focus on New Zealand’s involvement in Belgium has included chairing memorial museums and societies dedicated to New Zealand’s involvement on the battlefields of Flanders, maintaining twin town relationships with Kiwi towns, developing heritage trails and being involved in annual and daily commemorations. These men have brought knowledge and passion to their roles, which has now been officially recognised.
New Zealand lost nearly 5,000 men in Belgium, the majority during the battles of Messines and Passchendaele. The dedication shown by Mr Freddy Declerck, Mr Sandy Evrard, Mr Benoit Mottrie and Mr Steven Reynaert to remember the sacrifice of these men and many others is enormously appreciated by New Zealand and New Zealanders.
The recognition of these four men also represents a recognition of the broader communities in which they work. There are many selfless individuals who have worked tirelessly to remember the sacrifice and suffering of New Zealand, Belgium and others for the past 100 years. As a result of these communities, New Zealand and Belgium enjoy a close bond and strong friendship. It is these communities and these individuals New Zealand wishes to honour on 29 October with the visit of the Prime Minister and the presentation of the four honorary MNZMs.
Who are our new Honorary Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit
Since 2004, Mr Freddy Declerck has been Chairman of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, and was President of the Passchendaele Society of Belgium until 2015. He is an acknowledged expert on the New Zealand Division’s involvement on the battlefields of Flanders and has escorted a number of New Zealand dignitaries through the Museum. He has also assisted New Zealanders in locating family members buried in Flanders Fields. He brought a touring exhibition of World War One memorabilia entitled ‘The Belgians Have Not Forgotten’ to New Zealand in 2009. He played a major role in the twinning of the Zonnebeke Municipality in Belgium with the Waimakariri District Council in 2007. Mr Declerck was made a Life Member of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association.
Mr Sandy Evrard, who is the mayor of Messines, has been instrumental in continuing Messines’ twin town relationship with Featherston, in the Wairarapa. He has supported the erection of a number of memorials honouring New Zealand and its soldiers, most recently in 2014 a life-size bronze statue of a New Zealand solider in the town square, and has led a major redevelopment of the town’s museum to highlight New Zealand’s role in the battle, and hosts the annual official New Zealand delegation for ANZAC Day in Messines. Mr Evrard also supported two reburial ceremonies for New Zealand soldiers found during excavations of Messines in 2012 and 2013.
Mr Benoit Mottrie is Chairman of the Last Post Association in Ieper (Ypres), which organises the nightly sounding of the Last Post at the Menin Gate memorial. Attended by a nightly audience of up to several thousand people, Mr Mottrie oversees the buglers and ushers, coordinates performances by visiting bands or choirs, and arranges attendance by VIP and military representatives. He also acts as master of ceremonies for major commemorative events such as Anzac Day and Armistice Day and was involved with reburial ceremonies in 2012 and 2013 for New Zealand soldiers killed in the battle of Messines.
Mr Steven Reynaert, a council historian and youth and cultural affairs coordinator of Messines, was the principal driver of a guided walk through Messines called ‘In the Footsteps of the New Zealanders’, which now also offers a free mobile app, and has provided significant support to the development of the New Zealand government’s western front heritage trail project. He led a redevelopment of the town’s museum, designing the internal content to focus on New Zealand’s role in the battle and highlighting the modern day connection between Messines and New Zealand. He also supports the annual Anzac Day ceremony in Messines and other major New Zealand commemorative ceremonies.
The four received the New Zealand Order of Merit at Talbot House (Gasthuisstraat 43, 8970) on Thursday 29 October 2015.
Prior to the ceremony, New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John Key, laid a wreath at the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cot Cemetery.