Tauranga historian Buddy Mikaere is seeking sponsorship and support from the city council for New Zealand's first permanent European war memorial museum.

Mikaere is a trustee of the New Zealand War Memorial Museum Trust, which is setting up the museum in Le Quesnoy in northern France.

Le Quesnoy, near the Belgium border, was the last town to be liberated by New Zealand troops in World War I.

On November 4, 1918 – a week before Armistice Day – the New Zealand Division captured the town from the Germans.


To this day, Le Quesnoy marks the important role that New Zealand played in its history.

Streets are named after New Zealand towns and a primary school bears the name of a New Zealand soldier.

"They just love Kiwis," Mikaere said.

Yesterday he made a "Tauranga flavoured" presentation to the city council's community and culture committee, and shared stories of two local soldiers who were at Le Quesnoy.

One of them, George Puhi Nicholas, was from Te Puna-based hapū Pirirakau and was a Corporal in the New Zealand Maori Pioneer Battalion.

"He left quite a funny little account about his time in Le Quesnoy," Mikaere said.

"Seven days after they liberated the town, the Germans surrendered and so he talks about jumping around and dancing with all the civilians there."

Mikaere said Nicholas was well known around Tauranga. "I think he was a bit of a gun snooker player at the RSA."


Another local Tauranga soldier at Le Quesnoy was Charles Southey, who was a member of the 1st New Zealand Cyclist Company.

He was awarded a medal "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty" on November 1, 1918.

After returning from the war, Southey was a headmaster at schools in Tauranga and Bay of Plenty.

Southey Field at Tauranga Boys' College is named after him and Mikaere said Southey was also behind the row of trees along the edge of the ground, which were planted in memory of all the Tauranga soldiers who died at war.

Mikaere will visit Le Quesnoy for the opening of the museum on November 4, marking 100 years since the town was liberated.

He said it will be his first time visiting the town and he is really looking forward to it.

"I can't wait.

"I'm just encouraged by the fact that over the last couple of years, we've seen quite a growth in interest in all this stuff and so this is just a continuation of that."

Mikaere said the New Zealand War Memorial Museum Trust, of which former Prime Minister Helen Clark is the patron, would be grateful for any donations from the council.

"We're not looking for huge amounts of money, I'd be happy if they put up the money to help fund the opening day ceremony."

The trust's fundraising committee, which also includes the likes of Sir Don McKinnon and Sir Lockwood Smith, has been travelling around local councils and business communities asking for support and funding for the museum, which needs about $15 million all up.

Mikaere said so far the trust has raised enough money to get started.

Last year it bought a historic residential property in Le Quesnoy for 600,000 euro ($1,004,800), plus taxes and legal fees.

The ornate four-level 19th century home was once the town's mayoral residence and was used by a branch of the Gendamerie or armed forces from 1952.

The trust also bought eight surrounding more modern terraced maisonettes or houses – built around 1952, on a 1ha site – as well as a stand-alone cottage and a garage.

As well as the 600,000 euro, the trust paid an 8000 euro ($14,000) fee because the town had to purchase the property of the state to sell it.

The property was valued at well over $2m but the French Government made a "donation" by selling it for just over $1m.

Mikaere said the historic property will be refurbished and turned into a museum and there will be accommodation for visitors available on the site as well.

He said Le Quesnoy, which is just over two hours' drive from Paris and an hour from Passchendaele, is a small town and there are not many places to stay if you are visiting.

Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said yesterday afternoon that the community and culture committee had not yet discussed the proposition, "but you've got to really consider whether it's the role of the Tauranga council to do that, or if it's more a Government thing".

"I do think that it's something worth doing, but I see it as a Government responsibility.

"That's only my personal view."

But committee chair Terry Molloy said he would be "very, very disappointed" if the council could not support the museum to some degree.

"I would certainly hope it would be more than token. I think we would be very remiss in our recognition of our history and our soldiers that have been overseas and especially with that close connection ... I think we should support it."

Asked if he thought most people on the committee would agree with him, Molloy said: "I'd certainly hope so".