Prince Charles pays tribute to thousands of New Zealanders killed in World War I

Britain's Prince Charles and other dignitaries honoured thousands of soldiers from New Zealand and other Pacific islands killed 100 years ago in World War I, in emotional ceremonies Thursday at the site of the devastating Battle of the Somme.

About half of the 15,000 New Zealand forces who fought in the battle, one of history's bloodiest, were killed or wounded. Most have no known grave, and their names are inscribed on a memorial in the French town of Longueval.

“My hope is that today we can rededicate ourselves to a future free of intolerance and conflict. We do this in honor of the memory of those who fought and died here, so long ago," the Prince of Wales said in a speech at the Caterpillar Valley Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Longueval.

“We shall remember them.” 

The prince — wearing the uniform of a field marshal in the New Zealand army, a rank he was given last year — laid a wreath at the New Zealand Battlefield Memorial. It was part of a day of commemorations in the Somme region, whose forests and plains became battlefields for months.

The New Zealand infantry entered action on Sept. 15, 1916, exactly 100 years ago, in the country's first major engagement on the Western Front. Hundreds were killed, including islanders building communications trenches under artillery fire.

More than 1 million people were killed, wounded or went missing in the Battle of the Somme as British and French troops faced off against German opposition from July 1 to Nov. 18, 1916, trading poison gas shells and relentless artillery bombardments.

British, French and German officials have held multiple commemorations this year marking the centenary of the battle and stressing efforts at European unity in recent decades to avoid future wars.