The main purpose of this year’s three day trip in October was to visit the small town of Le Quesnoy which was liberated by the New Zealanders on 4th November 1918, just days before the end of WW1.
Twenty-nine members and friends travelled by coach to Dover, then took the ferry to Calais with a short stop at Dunkirk to walk on the iconic beach that saw so much fighting in 1940. Some of the group also visited the new WW2 museum.
The following day we drove to Le Quesnoy where we were met by the President and members of Le Quesnoy-Nouvelle Zelande Association. Our first stop was the Commonwealth Graveyard and War Memorial just outside the town where we were given a short talk about how the New Zealanders came to Le Quesnoy, which is a fortified town with medieval ramparts. The Germans held the town for much of WW1 but the New Zealanders’ placed a ladder up against the wall, almost 40 feet high, and scaled it to take back the town from the Germans. 122 men died during this battle with a further 13 dying later of their wounds. A wreath was laid at the Memorial in front of the exact spot.
After lunch, we went to see the magnificant building which has been purchased by a Memorial Trust based in NZ which will become a Memorial Museum dedicated to those New Zealanders who served in Europe during the two wars. Later we were received by the Mayor of Le Quesnoy in the Town Hall who spoke movingly about the town’s gratitude to the New Zealanders and how excited she was about the museum project. It was evident that there is a close bond between Le Quesnoy and NZ by the number of NZ street names and the fact that the school is named after the first man who scaled the wall, Leslie Averill.
On Sunday we visited Arras to have a guided tour of the amazing Wellington Tunnels which are a network of underground chalk quarries which in 1916, were linked together by the NZ Tunnelling Company to get closer to enemy lines. It is said that 24,000 men hid in these tunnels for 8 days, emerging a few feet from the German positions in 1917. After a very successful and interesting trip we returned from Lille to London on Monday evening.