NZDF vocalist prepares for emotional commemoration at Passchendaele Centenary

Able Musician Rebecca Nelson at the grave of her great, great-uncle Private Tom Nelson, who was killed in action in January 1918. New Zealand Army Band bugler Lance Corporal Raynor Martin played the Last Post in his memory.

Able Musician Rebecca Nelson has performed at a number of events marking important milestones in New Zealand’s First World War contribution, but the Passchendaele centenary commemoration will be the one that will leave the most lasting impact on her.

Able Musician Nelson, a Reservist in the Royal New Zealand Navy based in Auckland, sang at the 99th and 100th Gallipoli commemorations in 2014 and 2015 and at the Battle of the Somme centenary in 2016, and every one of those has been a career highlight.

However, Passchendaele will be different.

“This time it’s personal,” she said. “This time my performance will not only be dedicated to the thousands of Kiwi soldiers who fought at this most terrible of battles, but will also be for my great, great-uncle, Tom Nelson, who fought and died not far from here.”

Private Nelson was from Cave, in South Canterbury, and was with the Second Battalion Canterbury Regiment 12th Company when he arrived in Belgium in October 1917. New Zealand troops had withdrawn from Passchendaele by then, but just down the road the Canterbury Regiment encountered fierce fighting at Polygon Wood. It was here that Private Nelson was killed in action on January 10, 1918, aged 26. He is buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in West Flanders.

“Each time I perform at a military commemoration I give thanks that I’ve been given this unique privilege of honouring the bravery, hardship and sacrifice shown by the 100,000 New Zealanders who served overseas during the First World War,” Able Musician Nelson said.

“At Passchendaele I’ll also be honouring my great, great-uncle and this will make it an incredibly emotional experience for me.

“I’ve just had the opportunity to visit his headstone for the first time and that was a very special moment. New Zealand Army Band bugler Lance Corporal Raynor Martin played the Last Post and I know Tom would have appreciated that.”

Originally from Christchurch but now living on Auckland’s North Shore, Able Musician Nelson combines her Navy role with her professional singing career. Her recent album, Pohutukawa and Poppies, is a collection of Second World War songs that drew high praise from one of the iconic singers of that time, Dame Vera Lynn.

But now she’s concentrating on delivering a performance for all those affected by the Battle of Passchendaele.

“The thousands of New Zealand soldiers lying in Belgium and French soil deserve nothing less,” she said.

The New Zealand National Commemorative Service for the Battle of Passchendaele centenary is at Tyne Cot Cemetery at11am on 12 October. On the same day, a sunset ceremony is held at Buttes New British Cemetery at 7.15pm.

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