Learn­ing wartime his­tory


LONS­DALE, Doreen (Joy).

Just a week be­fore the end of World War I in Novem­ber 1918, the New Zealand Divi­sion cap­tured the French town of Le Ques­noy. It was the New Zealan­ders’ last ma­jor ac­tion in the war.

Le Ques­noy was an old fortress town oc­cu­py­ing a strate­gic po­si­tion in north­east­ern France. It had been in Ger­man hands since 1914, and there were sev­eral thou­sand Ger­man troops still in the town when it was cap­tured.

The walls of Le Ques­noy could have been quickly re­duced by heavy ar­tillery, but there was no plan to mount such an as­sault on the town. In­stead, sev­eral bat­tal­ions of the Third New Zealand (Ri­fle) Brigade were given the task of cap­tur­ing the forces in the town.

This set the stage for one of the New Zealand Divi­sion’s most spec­tac­u­lar ex­ploits of the war. When a sec­tion of the 4th Bat­tal­ion reached the in­ner walls about mid­day on Novem­ber 4, they had al­ready scaled the com­plex net­work of outer ram­parts with lad­ders, supplied by the sap­pers or en­gi­neers. But due to the height of the in­ner wall, the ri­fle­men could only po­si­tion a lad­der on a nar­row ledge atop a sluice gate. Led by Lieu­tenant Les­lie Aver­ill, the bat­tal­ion’s in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, a small group of men quickly climbed up the wall. After ex­chang­ing shots with flee­ing Ger­mans, the New Zealan­ders en­tered the town. The gar­ri­son quickly sur­ren­dered.

Woodville has a con­nec­tion with this bat­tle as a num­ber of sol­diers, in­clud­ing Ralph Mount­fort’s dad, were in­volved in the as­sault. Ralph’s dad said it was a scary prospect to climb the lad­der know­ing the Ger­mans were wait­ing to shoot them but when he reached the top the Ger­mans were al­ready re­treat­ing. No lo­cal vil­lagers were killed and dam­age to the town was min­i­mal.

The me­dieval-like as­sault on Le Ques­noy cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the towns­peo­ple, who were over­joyed at their re­lease from a four-year bondage. Ever since, the town has main­tained a strong affin­ity with New Zealand, nam­ing its streets after New Zealan­ders and giv­ing Ralph and his son Alan a huge wel­come when they vis­ited in 2001.

Woodville and Districts RSA de­cided the pre­sen­ta­tion of a book writ­ten for chil­dren about the bat­tle to Papatawa, Kumeroa and Woodville schools would be an ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion to com­mem­o­rate the feat 100 years ago.

In con­junc­tion with the Sec­ond Work­shop Com­pany from Lin­ton Mil­i­tary Camp two copies per school were pre­sented on Fri­day Novem­ber 2.

Papatawa Prin­ci­pal Wynita Katene said the whole visit was won­der­ful and the book will be par­tic­u­larly good to en­cour­age boys to read. She said hav­ing the army with three ve­hi­cles present, helped kids make the con­nec­tion with events of the past.

Woodville and Dis­trict RSA has also erected no­tices at Ferry Re­serve to ex­plain the plant­ing of 140 rata trees in 2016 by Woodville School stu­dents, each one com­mem­o­rat­ing a fallen sol­dier from Woodville and en­vi­rons dur­ing World War I.

Ian Daily Pres­i­dent of Woodville and Districts RSA tells the Papatawa chil­dren about the bat­tle of Le Ques­noy while Sergeant Garry Wil­son holds one of the books.

The Papatawa chil­dren get fa­mil­iar with the M1089 Re­cov­ery Ve­hi­cle.

Lu­cas Caske holds a copy of the book do­nated to Papatawa School by the Woodville RSA.

Ralph Mount­fort stands by the sign erected to ex­plain the sig­nif­i­cance of 140 rata trees planted at Ferry Re­serve (marked by named white stakes.)

The sign re­cently erected at Ferry Re­serve.

The Papatawa chil­dren try out the Pinz Gauer recce wagon.

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