Before leaving for Le Quesnoy in France, Anthony Averill, a property consultant at WPS Opus in Tauranga, reflected on the personal connection he has with that town.
Anthony’s grandfather was Leslie Cecil Lloyd Averill, who was awarded a Military Cross for exceptional gallantry and fine leadership during the assault on Bapaume in August 1918.
The exploit for which he is best remembered, though, took place during the liberation of Le Quesnoy in 1918.
“On November 4, 2018, for the first time and 100 years to the day, I will walk in to Le Quesnoy with other proud New Zealanders, including 70 relatives and descendants of my grandfather and families and representatives of other Kiwis who served in Le Quesnoy,” said Anthony, prior to his trip.
“We will be welcomed into this small town in northern France and remember those who came from the ends of the earth and served and gave their lives, 100 years ago.”
The French town has a population of about 5000, and was taken on August 23, 1914 by German troops, with the harsh occupation lasting for four years - almost the entirety of World War One.
The 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade led the assault, with soldiers scaling the medieval walls of the town with ladders.
Anthony’s grandfather, Leslie Averill, led some of the men, reaching the ramparts of the southern sector where the remains of the sluicegate of the town’s mill had created a ramp to the walls.
Anthony returned from his trip a week ago, and reflected once again on what this meant to him personally.
“I guess the thing that stood out for me was how much Le Quesnoy remembers what New Zealanders did in the First World War,” says Anthony.
“You walk down nearly every street in the town and there are NZ flags. The streets have got NZ names.”
His grandfather has a street named after him.
“I had a special conversation with a man who was on the local council, and he was very grateful for what New Zealanders did for their town.
“The memory of that doesn’t appear to have faded in the 100 years since it happened.
“That’s something that should be very special for all New Zealanders to remember.
“The town is bigger than I was expecting. One afternoon I walked around the perimeter and ramparts of the town with members of my family.
“It’s quite an extensive network of walls to get in.
“You get some perspective of what it would have been like for these Kiwis, who were tasked with their liberation. It’s not an easy town to get into.
“Some of the walls are hundreds of years old and the scale of them is quite daunting.
“It’s a really special place.”
Anthony’s grandfather Leslie was the first one up the ladder and over the wall.
“There were various attempts to get up the ladder during the day.
“He was the intelligence officer, so he led the way up and into the town with a group of Kiwis.
“We had just over 70 members of our family gathered for dinner two nights before the commemorations in a village. It was good to meet various members of the family from different parts of the world who I had never met before.
“It’s always been a special place for my family and, of course, my grandfather.
“The connections that many New Zealanders forged that day are long lasting.”
“The other thing to remember is that about 140 New Zealanders died as a result of liberating the town, and the French are so grateful that there were no civilians harmed that day.”
While in the town, Anthony also visited the building that’s been purchased to house a museum for New Zealand.
“It was nice to be able to go and visit that,” says Anthony. “It obviously needs some work doing to it, and that’s what we’re trying to raise some funds for.”
Buddy Mikaere is a trustee of the NZ War Memorial Museum at Le Quesnoy. He also visited the town for the 100 year commemorations.
“There are at least four soldiers that I know of from Tauranga that were at Le Quesnoy, on that day,” says Buddy. “As I go around the country meeting people, I find more people who have family-connected relationships.
“After seven years of planning, the Trust has purchased the historic former mayoral residence and surrounding gardens in Le Quesnoy.
“We are now raising funds to repurpose the mansion into a permanent museum.
“The museum will exhibit interactive and precious historic collections, focusing on New Zealand’s military involvement in Europe and our significant contributions in both World Wars: a way of telling New Zealand soldiers’ stories.
“The task at the moment is to refurbish the outside of the building, clear the bottom floor and tidy up the grounds. It’s been in a bad state of disrepair.
“An integral part of the experience will provide resources to allow research into the location of New Zealand soldiers’ graves in Europe.
“The unveiling of the museum took place on November 4 this year to mark the centenary of the liberation of Le Quesnoy.”
To make donations to the NZWMM Trust, go to: www.nzwmm.org.nz