New Zealand and Le Quesnoy

Page 3 – Visiting Le Quesnoy

New Zealand history in Le Quesnoy

Just 4 kilometres east of Beaudignies in northern France is Le Quesnoy. This town was in German hands for almost all of the First World War, from August 1914 until the New Zealanders liberated it on 4 November 1918.

The town grew around a strategically located 12th-century castle. Interestingly, in light of the events of 1918, the Count of Zealand was one of the castle's residents. The fortifications were periodically improved or extended until late into the 19th century when developments in artillery rendered them obsolete. They were not subsequently destroyed, though the town suffered damage in both world wars; the belfry, for example, was destroyed in 1918, rebuilt, then destroyed again in 1940.

In Le Quesnoy there are many things of general historical interest. A visit to the tourist office's information centre just inside the Porte Faurōulx (Faurōulx Gate) on the town's eastern side is recommended. The office can also advise on accommodation options in the area (see the Office de Tourisme website). Since 1999 Le Quesnoy has been formally twinned with Cambridge in New Zealand.

In 2000 a small exhibition covering the events of November 1918 was opened in Le Quesnoy. Organised by La Maison Quercitaine de Nouvelle-Zélande, it contains documents, photographs and other memorabilia relating to the New Zealand involvement in the fighting in the area. One purpose of La Maison is to welcome visitors from New Zealand.

Leading off from the town square (Place de Général Leclerc), through the Porte du Chateau, is the Avenue des Néo-Zélandais, which leads to the Jardin du Souvenir (Garden of Remembrance). The garden can also be entered through a tunnel in the ramparts from the Boulevard Jeanne d'Arc. Signposts direct visitors to the New Zealand battlefield memorial, near the Bastion du Gard, which is one of the four New Zealand memorials on the Western Front.

The Le Quesnoy Memorial is located on the inner ramparts of the town near where New Zealander Lieutenant Averill scaled the ladder on 4 November 1918. New Zealand sculptor A.R. Fraser produced a model of the memorial, which was used by the French sculptor Félix Desruelles to prepare the actual memorial. This site was suggested by S. Hurst Seager, who designed the other three battlefield memorials.

Right from the outset, the New Zealand authorities envisaged this memorial differing from the obelisk style used elsewhere. It was unveiled at a ceremony on 15 July 1923 attended by Marshal Joffre, Lord Milner and the New Zealand High Commissioner in London, Sir James Allen. Set into the rampart, the memorial can be viewed from a position opposite, across the now empty moat. To its left is the narrow sluice-gate bridge, over which the New Zealanders moved to set up their ladders.

During their tour of France in 2000, the All Blacks visited Le Quesnoy on 5 November, having earlier in the day laid wreaths at the grave of former All Black captain David Gallaher, killed in the Battle of Passchendaele, at Poperinge in Belgium. At Le Quesnoy they were joined by the New Zealand A team, which was also in France. The rugby players and various officials led a parade to the site of the New Zealand battlefield memorial, where wreaths were laid.

The Captain of the 2000 All Blacks, Todd Blackadder, recalls this visit in his recent biography:

'We walked around the town ... [to the memorial] and we laid a wreath there. I was standing next to a Frenchman who had tears streaming down his face. He was moved by the generosity of the New Zealanders all those years ago. It's something you don't understand when you're in New Zealand.'

Phil Gifford, Loyal: the Todd Blackadder story, Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland, 2001

Just to the north of the town is Le Quesnoy Communal Cemetery Extension. It can be reached by leaving the town through the Porte de Valenciennes and proceeding on the rue de Valenciennes until reaching the cemetery on the left. The communal extension is along the side road towards Sepmeries. Most of the 50 New Zealanders buried here lost their lives on 4 November 1918, one week before the armistice. Three were 20-year-olds, and one, Australian-born 2nd Lieutenant Alan Carruthers, had served at Gallipoli.

Other New Zealand connections in Le Quesnoy are the Rue Nouvelle Zélande within the walls and the Rue d'Averill outside them. The latter is named after Lieutenant Leslie Averill, the intelligence officer of the 4th Battalion, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. He was the first up the ladder during the assault on the town on 4 November, and he maintained a close association with the town for the rest of his life. The town's primary school (l'Ecole du Lieutenant Averill) is also named after him.