On November 4, 1918, the last major military action of the New Zealand Division during World War I, and one of its most famous victories (and little known) was about to take place when it took the French town of Le Quesnoy.
Le Quesnoy is a medieval town in Northern France, and the Germans had held the town since 1914.
Guarding the town was an outer 60 foot rampart wall and past this was two moats and an inner wall.
Using ladders supplied by engineers, the walls were scaled, and moats negotiated. First up the wall was Second-Lieutenant L C L Averill.
When the New Zealanders entered the town, the Germans had surrendered within a short time. The only resistance was from men who still had their commanding officer with them. More than 1000 German prisoners were taken, and no civilian lives lost.
After the liberation, New Zealanders pushed through further with Lindsay Mackersey (1897-1977) of Hastings writing in his diary after the war:
"Now our advance was very rapid and the Hun (Germans) was falling back quickly all along the front.
"After an advance you would see guns on the battlefield with chalk marks indicating which unit took them. Much of this material was later sent out to New Zealand and has been placed throughout the country."
New Zealand war correspondents called the victory "most heroic", "an extraordinary spectacle", "one of the most outstanding single feats of the war".
Hawke's Bay men were among those that fought at Les Quesnoy, with those being killed including Private James Henry Morrison, the second son of Mr and Mrs James Morrison of Hastings, who was killed in the battle. J J Hunter, A Percy, L H Clarke, and Sergeant C W Taylor also were killed.
One of those men killed at Les Quesnoy, 21-year-old Private John Joseph Hunter, was in the 26th reinforcements, Wellington Infantry Regiment, B company.
John had enlisted at age 19, voluntarily at a time when men were not keen to go to war and were conscripted. He was a hairdresser in Hastings and worked for Mr H Horne, and was a member of the Hastings Band.
His death left a widow, and a young daughter.
Seven days after his death, the war would end on November 11, 1918.
These are the memorial notices placed by his family:
Hunter – In affectionate remembrance of John J Hunter, 27th Reinforcements, Killed in Action, 4th November 1918, aged 21 years.
"How his life was shed, we know not,
What his last word, looks or thought.
Only that he did his duty,
Died as bravely as he fought.
Sleep on dear Jack, in that far off grave,
In a grave we may never see;
But as long as life and memory last ;
We will remember thee."
Inserted by his loving father, G J Hunter.
Hunter – In loving memory of my dear husband, J J Hunter, who was Killed in Action on November 4th, 1918.
Inserted by his loving wife, Florrie Hunter.
Hunter – In loving memory of my dear Daddy, killed in France, 4th November, 1918.
Inserted by his little daughter, Emma Hunter.
- I am taking pre-orders for my Historic Hawke's Bay book due out in late November, which is a collection of my best HB Today articles from 2016-2018, with additional photos and story material.
The book has 160 pages with 26 in colour. Cheque to Michael Fowler Publishing of $59.90 to PO Box 8947, Havelock North, or email below for bank details. Includes free delivery in Hawke's Bay. Please state if you want it signed. It will not be available in bookshops.
- Michael Fowler FCA (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.