People often give Sue Haxton a confused look when she says her father was a World War I soldier.

"People don't expect sons and daughters of World War I soldiers to be 67. It's pretty unusual," she says.

And Sue, who lives in Waihi Beach, looks younger than her 67 years as well.

Sue is proud of her father Wilfred Thomas and what he helped accomplish for the people of Le Quesnoy, France at the close of the first war.


He was among the Kiwi soldiers who liberated the occupied, fortified town in the last New Zealand battle on November 4, 1918 — a week before Armistice Day.

"They stole some big ladders, lit barrels of oil to create a smokescreen, clambered up the ladders and forced the Germans to surrender," Sue says.

Le Quesnoy had been under German control for the entire war. The residents were grateful, and still are to this day.

The town marks the role New Zealand played in its history every year. There are streets named after New Zealand places and a school named after a Kiwi soldier.

"The French people they do not forget," Sue says.

Sue had visited the town in 2006 on the 88th anniversary of the battle with son Gerald Ellmers. The locals knew to expect them.

"I had been emailing the information office, and I needed to explain not to expect an 80 year old. I think the locals were quite intrigued when I turned out to be a 54-year-old woman."

Sue was asked to lay a wreath during the commemoration. They were the only New Zealanders in attendance and felt like dignitaries.

Wilfred was born in 1896 and brought up in the Wairarapa.

He was drafted in 1917 and joined A Company 4th New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

The 21-year-old fought in the Battle of Passchendaele and in the Somme.

Miraculously, he survived. The company then moved on to Le Quesnoy. Wilfred was a private soldier but also a signalman running telephone wires.

The battle of Le Quesnoy was a great victory for the Kiwi soldiers — but many Kiwis had lost their lives there.

Their plan went down in history as victorious and crafty.

After the war Wilfred returned home and moved to Hawke's Bay.

He married and had a family. When that marriage broke up, Wilfred married Olive and they had four children.

Sue had always cut her elderly father — who died age 85 — some slack.

Apart from what he had been through at war, Wilfred also had a brother who served but died soon after the war from his injuries and sickness. Two of his sisters were killed in the Napier earthquakes.

Wilfred was 55 when Sue was born.

"I didn't know him before the war," Sue says.

"I can't imagine anyone coming back from what they witnessed and seeing what they saw to come back as the same person."

Her father wasn't the run-of-the-mill father, she says.

He was an artist and a thinker who was at times distant.

But he was a good, caring man and Sue was close to him.

He always marched during Anzac services but declined to join the RSA.

Anzac Day is always poignant for Sue. She attended the Waihī Beach service as well as Whangamatā.

"Dad always wanted me to go to Le Quesnoy. Now I know why.

"The town is incredibly beautiful and thanks partly to the New Zealand soldiers, it is still intact."