A New Zealand trust has bought an historic property in northern France to establish our first permanent European war memorial museum.
On this Armistice Day today, Sir Don McKinnon, patron of the New Zealand War Memorial Museum Trust, announced the residential property in Le Quesnoy had been bought for E600,000 ($1,004,800) plus taxes and legal fees.
On October 11, the trust bought:
• The ornate four-level 19th century home, once the town's mayoral residence, used by a branch of the Gendamerie or armed forces from 1952;
• Eight surrounding more modern terraced maisonettes or houses, built around 1952, on a 10,000sq m or 1ha site;
• One stand-alone cottage;
• A garage.
As well as the E600,000, the trust paid an 8000 euro ($14,000) fee "because the town had to purchase the property off the state to sell it to us", McKinnon said.
The property is valued at well over $2m but the French Government made a "donation" by selling it at the knock-down price of just over $1m.
"The purchase marks a significant and, quite frankly, long overdue step in the creation of a permanent New Zealand war museum in Europe," McKinnon said.
"After all, Australia, South Africa, Canada and India have long since created permanent museums to honour their war dead on the Western Front. Our museum will honour and preserve New Zealanders' remarkable bravery and sacrifice in both world wars and will be a place to go to remember, learn, and reflect."
The property is in the town near the Belgium border, which New Zealand soldiers freed from German occupation in November, 1918. Le Quesnoy is just over two hours' drive from Paris and an hour from Passchendaele.
McKinnon said the house would now be re-purposed into a museum to exhibit interactive and precious historic collections showcasing our military involvement. It would be especially important as a place for young New Zealanders to visit, and try to understand the sacrifice of people their own ages, he said.
Just a week before the end of World War I, in November 1918, the New Zealand Division captured the town in the New Zealanders' last major action of that war. To this day, the town marks the important role that New Zealand played in its history. Streets are named after New Zealand towns, there is a New Zealand memorial and a primary school bears the name of a New Zealand soldier.
The French allow foreigners such as the trust to buy property there.
"There's a different capital gains tax for non-residents, which won't affect us, but otherwise our right to purchase is no different from that of locals. There were some additional steps to discuss how best to legally represent a NZ non-profit trust in France but that was easy to address," McKinnon said.
Phase one will turn the downstairs of the residence into a museum, and refurbish four of the eight maisonettes for self-catering accommodation. To do that, the trust needs to raise money over the next year, ready for the centenary next November.
"Now that the purchase is complete, we're looking at submitting drawings for approval for the upcoming rennovations and conversion," McKinnon said.
Herb Farrant, trust founder and general secretary, asked for support for the project at the New Zealand Property Council conference held in Melbourne in September.
Read more: $1m donation to French NZ military project
Tunnels beneath the mansion were created 300 years ago and these would be used in displays planned there, Farrant said.
The two blocks of maisonettes in a semi-circle near the mayor's house would be used for accommodation, Farrant said. These did not comply with European insulation standards, but about 90 people could be accommodated in these places, he said.
More information is at https://nzwarmemorialmuseum.co.nz