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.