Commemorating the centenary of events of the First World War and the sacrifices of men and women throughout New Zealand has fostered a renewed sense of national identity and pride in our history. The number of people seeking information about relatives who served in the Armed Forces during this conflict has shown a dramatic increase, as has the demand for replicas of the medals these people earned and the numbers of people visiting battlefields throughout Europe.
The New Zealand Government designated six major First World War battles as having ‘National Significance’ to New Zealand thus warranting special commemorative services and high level diplomatic and political attendance. The final one of these commemorations was on the 4th of November 2018 – the Liberation of Le Quesnoy in Northern France by soldiers of the New Zealand Division.
This commemoration has special significance for Cambridge.
Lt Averill leads the assault at Le Quesnoy.
Memorial window, St Andrews Church, Cambridge.
The medieval walled town of Le Quesnoy was occupied by the German Army in the first week of World War I. The town was liberated by the New Zealand Division on the 4th of November 2018 in what has been described as a ‘text book’ infantry battle as they surrounded the town and forced the surrender of the garrison. The New Zealanders refused to bombard the ancient walls of the town and suffered over 450 casualties with over 130 soldiers (including one who had landed at Gallipoli) being killed in the battle but without the loss of a single French inhabitant or significant damage to the walls and ramparts which date from 1685.
Many of these men had survived the sacrifice of the Division from the Somme to Passchendaele, only to be cut down within seven days of the 11 November Armistice.
This sacrifice has led to an enduring admiration (almost reverence) for New Zealanders in the town. Streets and school classrooms are named after New Zealand provinces, there are frequent student exchanges, a designated New Zealand liaison office in Le Quesnoy, and long-term friendships and visits between individuals. In a speech during his visit to Cambridge in February 2017, the Mayor of Le Quesnoy was passionate in declaring that his town will ‘never, never, ever forget the bravery, determination, and sacrifice of the New Zealand soldiers in freeing his town’.
Cambridge Armistice, November 2016
Armistice Service 2017.
The assault on the inner most wall of the town was led by Lieutenant Leslie Averill who led a small group of Kiwi soldiers up a ladder to secure an entry into the town. A commemorative stained-glass window depicting the scaling of the walls at Le Quesnoy was installed in St Andrews Church Cambridge in 1923 as the Vicar of the time (Rev Mortimer-Jones) was a Padre with the New Zealand Division in Northern France. The ashes of Lieutenant-Colonel ‘Curly’ Blyth, one of the last survivors of the New Zealand Division’s attack on that day are buried in the rose garden at St Andrews. A visit to St Andrews is recommended in French tourist guides to New Zealand.
The inextricable link between the two towns was formalized as a Sister City relationship in 1999 and is symbolized in Cambridge by an Armistice Service on Rememberance Sunday each year. The Armistice Service is the largest in New Zealand outside of Wellington and Auckland and is attended by national and local political leaders, diplomatic representatives from eight countries, as well as senior serving and retired military personnel from the New Zealand Armed Forces.
As noted above, the centenary of the liberation of Le Quesnoy was designated as ‘an event of National Significance to New Zealand’. In mid-2016, the Le Quesnoy Sister City Committee invited the Cambridge Brass Band to attend the commemorative events being planned for November 2018. This invitation was accepted and the band played at a number of engagements in Le Quesnoy as well as having an enjoyable time.
Cambridge Brass Band in front of the New Zealand War Memorial Museum.
The Old Gendarmerie, Le Quesnoy.
The development of a New Zealand Memorial Museum in Northern France to Commemorate the New Zealanders who served in Europe in two World Wars has been a long-term concept. It was announced during the Mayor of Le Quesnoy’s visit to Cambridge in February 2017 that the French Government had made an appropriate building (the old Gendarmerie and former mayor's residence), in Le Quesnoy available to New Zealand for conversion into this Museum.
The fundraising campaign for the Memorial Museum was formally launched in St Andrews Church, Cambridge on 14 July 2017. The Cambridge Brass Band featured significantly in this event.
The museum was opened during a ceremony on the 4th of November 2018 with the band present providing the music. It is a work in progress, a lot of work remains to be done. On the site there is additional accomodation that is tobe developed into self catering appartments for visiting new Zealanders. Further into the future there are plans to extend the museum with a new build seperate building.
The Cambridge Brass Band is one of the oldest community bands in New Zealand having been formed in 1877. The Band is an integral element of the ceremonial and cultural life of Cambridge and has an average playing strength of 31 musicians currently ranging from 7 to 84 years of age.
In 2016 the Band Committee established an Auxiliary (‘Learners and Returners’) Band when a number of younger players sought to join the Cambridge Brass Band but were not proficient or confident enough to play with the Senior Band. Three Senior Band members volunteered to run an ‘Auxiliary Band’ under the leadership of our Principal Cornet player, Rob Hocking.
At the Auxiliary Band’s first practice in February 2016, there were seven novice players (all under 15 years of age) supported by three parents who also play in the Senior Band. Over the past 12 months, the Auxiliary Band has grown to have 15 regular players under 15 years of age as well as two ‘returners’ – a total of 20 players together with four supporting / tutorial players from the Senior Band.
During December 2016, the Auxiliary Band presented fifteen concerts at resthomes and retirement villages around the Cambridge and Putaruru areas. Many of these young players also played at the Christmas Parades in Cambridge and Putaruru, and at the Cambridge Christmas Festival.
In February 2017, the Auxiliary Band played a pre-lunch concert for a delegation of visitors from Le Quesnoy which was held at the Don Rowlands Centre at Lake Karapiro. The young players delighted their audience who responded with cries of ‘formidable’ and ‘tres magnifique'.
In November 2018 both bands travelled to France for the Le Quesnoy Centenial Liberation Commemorations. The Auxiliary Band played at two resthomes and a school. The Senior Band played at the opening of the New Zealand War Memorial Museum and both bands at a the 'Music from the Uttermost Ends of the Earth' concert in Le Quesnoy. The soldiers of the New Zealand Division who liberated Le Quesnoy were commonly refered to as coming from the 'uttermost ends of the earth', which is also enscribed on the New Zealand Division Memorial on Messines Ridge.
A number of myths have been circulating about the final and successful assault on the inner defensive wall at Le Quesnoy during the town's liberation on the fourth of November 1918. This is an attempt to set the record straight based on a number of contemporary sources.
The orders for the attack by the New Zealand Division on the 4th of November explicitly state that Le Quesnoy was not to be attacked but encircled under the cover of smoke. It was after achieving their objectives that the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade set about "mopping up" the town.
The german garrison failed to cooperate by surrendering even after repeated attempts to get their surrender including a request dropped by an aircraft. Different battalions then started to force approaches from different directions through the outer fortifications of the town. There were several ladders and floats at this stage to deal with any flooded moats and the walls.
The stained glass window in St Andrews Church with its multiple ladders may be more accurate than many give credit.
The successful scaling of the inner wall was planned and executed by the 4th Battalion of the Third New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. It required the clearing of two bastions, one each side of the wall to be scaled by bombarding them with motar fire, rifle grenades and raking them with machine guns. The wall ramparts were also similarly cleared. By this stage there was only one serviceable ladder. This and a number of men had to be placed at the base of the wall without arising too much suspicion.
Having got the men in position two riflemen placed the ladder's footings on a narrow ledge/sluice gate structure and raised it. Before the top of the ladder touched the wall 2nd Lt Leslie Averill is reported as being half way up it. Averill on dismounting the ladder did encounter opposition. Close behind him was 2nd Lt H W Kerr and other men from the battalion. Next on the ladder was the officer in charge of the 4th Battalion, Major Barrowclough, and two signallers with their equipment. At 4:15pm it was reported that they were in the town and about fifteen minutes later men from another battalion stormed through the Valenciennes Gate.
The German commander that evening surrendered to an officer from the 4th Battalion.
The New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade by 1916 was made up of four battalions. Unlike other brigades in the NZ Division, the battalions were not provincial battalions and so were simply numbered 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The 1st NZ Infantry Brigade by contrast consisted of the 1st Auckland, 1st Canterbury, 1st Otago and the 1st Wellington battalions. There is nothing in the records to support the supposition that Cambridge men led the liberation of Le Quesnoy. Averill was a Cantabrian, Kerr appears to have been from Woodville, Barrowclough was from Palmerston North and Herbert Hart the officer in charge of the New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade was from the Wairarapa.
There was at least one soldier from Cambridge who participated in the action that day. He was Clive Mortimer Jones who enlisted while vicar of St Andrews Anglican Church and returned to be its vicar on his discharge.
The name missing from this account is another Cantabrian Lawrence Maurice Blyth. 'Curly' by this time was a young 2nd lieutenant commanding C company in the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and so took part in the battle but was not part of the party that scaled the inner wall.
If anyone feels that myths around the liberation of Le Quesnoy are recent inventions on page 593 of "The New Zealand Division, Volume 2" by H Stewart there is a foot note:
"Local legends have already grown round the circumstances of the capture of Le Quesnoy. In Sept. 1919 an elderly quidnune pointed out with assurance the tree which Averill's party had cut down against the rampart to effect ascent."
The New Zealand Division's last significant battle of the First World War was very well planned and executed resulting in minimal casualties and damage to the old fortified town of Le Quesnoy. There were no civilian casualties in the town. All the objectives were achieved. This must rate as one of the most successful actions in New Zealand military history.
J R Lummus
"The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade". Lieut.-Col. S. Austin. Published by L. T. Watkins Ltd., 1924, Wellington.
"Official History of New Zealand's Effort in The Great War. Volume 2 France. The New Zealand Division 1916 -1919. A Popular History Based on Official Records". Colonel H Stewart CMG DSO MC. Published by Whitcombe and Tombs, 1921.
Copyright J R Lummus, 2018
The relationship between Cambridge and Le Quesnoy has it origins in the small fortified french town's liberation one week before the end of the First World War by the New Zealand Division. The orders for the attack on the German defences for the 4th of November stated that Le Quesnoy was not to be attacked but encircled. It was after achieving their objectives that the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade liberated the town.
The final inner wall of the towns defences presented quite a challenge. With the only remaining ladder the 4th Battalion managed to get troops over the wall and open one of the town gates. Troops flooded in and the town was liberated after more than four years of occupation.
The first soldier on the inner wall was a young Cantabrian 2nd Lt Leslie Averill who as a battalion intelligence officer had a part in finding the scaleable part of the wall. He was later to have a distinguish medical career.
The New Zealand Division's last significant battle of the First World War was well planned and executed resulting in minimal casulties and damage to the old fortified town of Le Quesnoy. There was no artillery bombardment of the town and no civilian casualties in it. All the objectives were achieved. It left a lasting impression on the people of Le Quesnoy for the soldiers who came from the "ends of the earth". ANZAC day is commemorated in the town each year, streets and a school were named in their liberators' honour.
World War One memorial window.
St Andrews Anglican Church, Cambridge.
There was at least one soldier from Cambridge who participated in the action that day. He was an army chaplain, Clive Mortimer Jones, who enlisted while the vicar of St Andrews Anglican Church in Cambridge and returned to be its vicar on his discharge. He was a prolific letter writer who wrote regularly to his old parish while serving in the army. His letters were widely circulated in Cambridge which at that time had a population of scarcely 1500.
In the 1920's, the now Mortimer-Jones successfully proposed the installation of a set of three commemorative stain glass windows in St Andrews Church, one of which commemorates Le Quesnoy's liberation. The windows were unveiled on the same day as the dedication of a plague in Le Quesnoy to the town's liberation by the New Zealanders. The Waikato was still part of the Auckland Diocese and the vicar was a supporter of Cambridge becoming a seat of a new Waikato/Taranaki Diocese. At the time the Bishop of Wiapu was none other than the young 2nd Lt Averill's father Alfred Averill. The family connection was further enhanced when another of the bishop's sons, Walter, on his ordination became curate at St Andrews. Alfred Averill became Archbishop of New Zealand in 1925 and despite Cambridge's best endeavours the Waikato seat of the new diocese went to Hamilton's Parish Church of St Peter in 1926. Mortimer-Jones left Cambridge for Hastings in 1927, was vicar at several other North Island towns and in his late seventies retired to Cambridge before dying in 1965.
In the 1990s there was a renewed interest in the relationship between Cambridge and Le Quesnoy resulting in them becoming sister cities in 1999. Amongst the proponents was the then vicar of St Andrews Church and one of the few surviving soldiers from the New Zealand Division's attack on the 4th of November 1918. Lawrence 'Curly' Maurice Blyth was another Cantabrian who lied about his age to join the army while a farm hand at Waipukurau. By the battle to liberate Le Quesnoy he had been commissioned as a lieutenant and was that day in charge of a company of soldiers. He was later to attain the rank of Lt Colonel in the home army during the Second World War. He died at the age of 105 and his ashes are buried at St Andrews Church in Cambridge.
The relationship has grown with regular exchanges and visits between the peoples of the two towns. Each Rememberance Sunday (the closest Sunday to Armistice day the 11th of November), Cambridge holds its own Armistice Service. Le Quesnoy has a welcoming visitor centre for New Zealanders and continues its tradition of holding ANZAC services started after the First World War. On the centennial anniversay of the town's liberation a New Zealand War Memorial Museum was openned in Le Quesnoy dedicated to all New Zealanders who have fought in Europe.
J R Lummus
Copyright J R Lummus, 2018