The Story

The Story

  1. 77 Days - World War I
  2. 135 Heroes - The Human Cost
  3. The Letter

Photographs

  1. Walls of Le Quesnoy
  2. New Zealand flag presented to Le Quesnoy
  3. Divisional commanders entering Le Quesnoy, France, after its capture
  4. New Zealand 4.5 howitzers and soldiers
  5. New Zealand military transport moving along a road in Le Quesnoy, France
  6. Three New Zealand soldiers using a trench mortar in Le Quesnoy, France
  7. Crowd around a New Zealand regimental band playing in Le Quesnoy, the day after its capture

Photography

  1. Walls of Le Quesnoy
  2. New Zealand flag presented to Le Quesnoy
  3. Divisional commanders entering Le Quesnoy, France, after its capture
  4. New Zealand 4.5 howitzers and soldiers
  5. New Zealand military transport moving along a road in Le Quesnoy, France
  6. Three New Zealand soldiers using a trench mortar in Le Quesnoy, France
  7. Crowd around a New Zealand regimental band playing in Le Quesnoy, the day after its capture

During World War 1, 70,000 New Zealanders served in Europe and on the Western Front. The majority of those served with the New Zealand Division. By 1918, this Division was one of the most formidable fighting divisions of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. As the only colonial division in the British Third Army, it led to the ‘March to Victory’.

77 Days - World War I

Over 77 days from Hebuterne, the New Zealanders led the way for 49 of the 56 hard fought miles to Le Quesnoy. The New Zealand Division was well aware that a significant number of people lived in Le Quesnoy under German occupation. To ensure the least amount of damage to the town and potential loss of residents’ lives, our soldiers utilised their kiwi ingenuity and fired 300 flaming oil drums onto the ramparts of the west walls to create smoke and obscure the Germans’ response. They then placed long ladders against the fortified walls surrounding Le Quesnoy; this enabled them to access the 17th century town and take the Germans as prisoners without the loss of anymcivilian lives.

135 Heroes - The Human Cost

The New Zealand Memorial Museum Trust – Le Quesnoy research indicates that 135 New Zealanders were killed that day. Many of our young men, some only in their twenties, had survived the sacrifice of the Division from the Somme to Passchendaele, only to be killed just seven days before the end of World War 1. New Zealand’s overall World War 1 cost in human terms was enormous for a country whose population only just exceeded one million. During 32 months of service in France and Belgium, the New Zealand Division was to incur in the region of 48,000 casualties. Over 13,000 men are buried in France and Belgium. Reg Herd was one of the lucky ones to make it home after the end of the War. On the 9th of July 1919 he arrived in Collingwood, proposed to Nellie and they then became engaged.

The Letter

Reg Hird, a courageous soldier, who scaled one of the ladders, recalls the brutal and complex attack in one of his many letters written to his sweetheart Nellie Dean from Collingwood:

At 5.30am every man was at his post and the barrage opened and it was a barrage! Just one mighty crash, I never heard anything like it before. The ground shock and trembled and the bursting shells lit the ground up. It was like Hell let loose. Volunteers were called for men to place long ladders against the wall for the storming party to get over. Well I volunteered for one and had a good mate. The smoke screen was intensified and we slipped down into the moat and got almost to the foot of the wall when he spotted us and opened out on us from the top of the wall with machine guns and rifles and not more than 40 feet from our heads. How on earth he did not kill the pair of us I don’t know. He tore the ground up at our feet but we placed the ladder and took off for our lives...

It was lucky for us that he had to shoot down at us and not straight at us, else napoo! We got behind an angle in the wall and dashed back into the thick screen and got back safely and after a severe fight we had won the inner rampart and were faced by another moat and the walls of the citadel. It was just about 12 o’clock now and we had a bit of a spell for a while but by 4 o’clock we had got a footing on the walls of the citadel and after a sharp fight had captured the whole garrison of 2000 men one of the greatest feats yet done by the New Zealand troops. We marched up to the city square and it was a splendid reception that we got from the civilian population. There were over 1000 of them and they swarmed out of the tunnels and cellars where they had been hiding while the fighting was on. They cheered and feted and even kissed us. Little boys and girls hung onto our hands and it was impossible to march along. Young and old put their arms around our necks and it got quite embarrassing but poor souls they had been harshly treated.

Photographs

70,000 New Zealanders served in Europe and on the Western Front (WWI) and 13,000 New Zealand soldiers are buried in France and Belgium (WWI).

Walls of Le Quesnoy
Walls of Le Quesnoy

Walls of Le Quesnoy, scaled by New Zealand troops when taking the town from German forces.Photograph taken cirrca late November 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders.

New Zealand flag presented to Le Quesnoy
New Zealand flag presented to Le Quesnoy

New Zealand flag presented to the town of Le Quesnoy on the town Hall which was partly destroyed by bombing.Photograph taken Henry Armytage Sanders.
cirrca late November 1918

Divisional commanders entering Le Quesnoy, France, after its capture
Divisional commanders entering Le Quesnoy, France, after its capture

Divisional commanders on horseback, entering Le Quesnoy, France, in the early morning, after its capture. The building on the left is the city hall which was destroyed by bombing.Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders.
5th of November, 1918.

New Zealand 4.5 howitzers and soldiers, Le Quesnoy, France
New Zealand 4.5 howitzers and soldiers

The loader (with one sleeve rolled up) has been identified as A C Hall by one researcher, and as Hamish Howard by a second researcher. The second researcher has also identified the layer (man smoking a pipe) as Geoffrey Challies.Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders
Le Quesnoy, France, 29 October 1918.

New Zealand military transport moving along a road in Le Quesnoy, France
New Zealand military transport moving along a road in Le Quesnoy, France

Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders.
30 October 1918

Three New Zealand soldiers using a trench mortar in Le Quesnoy, France, during World War I
Three New Zealand soldiers using a trench mortar in Le Quesnoy, France, during World War I

One of the soldiers is sponging out between the rounds.Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders.
October 1918

Crowd around a New Zealand regimental band playing in Le Quesnoy, the day after its capture
Crowd around a New Zealand regimental band playing in Le Quesnoy, the day after its capture

A crowd, with umbrellas, stand around a New Zealand regimental band playing in Le Quesnoy, the day after its capture.Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders.
5th of November 1918