Born in Dunedin, he fought at Gallipoli for the Foreign Legion.

James Waddell is one of New Zealand's most decorated military heroes - but few have heard much about him.

His name is never listed among our great veterans, his battle stories are not part of our Great War legends. But James Waddell is one of the bravest Kiwi soldiers in our military history.

He served in the Boer War and at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He was honoured for his courage and valour over and over again and he was a celebrated leader, described as demonstrating "authority over the troops he commands with brilliance but with firmness".

So why have most Kiwis never heard of James Waddell? The reason he has not featured among the ranks of our high-profile soldiers (think Charles Upham, Willie Apiata, Cyril Bassett) is because he never enlisted for New Zealand.

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Born in Dunedin to a Scottish father and English mother, Waddell signed up with the British Army and later the elite French Foreign Legion.

Described by the French as "an exemplary figure in the history of France ... and New Zealand", Waddell should be more celebrated in his homeland.

And Australian military historian Alan Gray hopes a new biography will help promote Waddell to his rightful place in the annals of New Zealand's most treasured servicemen.

Gray initially started researching for a presentation he was putting together for the Australian Foreign Legionnaires Association. As he dug deeper into Waddell's history, uncovering a lot of unpublished information, he realised how important the World War I soldier was to New Zealand and wanted to highlight his service.

"Given the centenary of the Anzac landing, I believe it is important that New Zealand be made aware that on the other side of the Gallipoli Peninsula there was a nuggety New Zealander fighting under the colours and uniform of another nation which formed an integral part of the expeditionary force," Gray told the Herald.

"In his own way he did extraordinary things not only on the peninsula but throughout the war. His performance in the battles he was in throughout World War I is the stuff of legend and encapsulates what I believe makes up the New Zealand character and spirit.

"By rights, given his position as a battalion commander throughout the war, the fact that he survived at all is a miracle.

"A comment made by the immediate past French Ambassador to New Zealand that 'James Waddell had angel wings on both his shoulders' is pretty close to the mark."

French ambassador Francis Etienne lays a wreath at the family memorial to Lieutenant Colonel James Waddell in Levin's Tiro Tiro Rd Cemetery.
French ambassador Francis Etienne lays a wreath at the family memorial to Lieutenant Colonel James Waddell in Levin's Tiro Tiro Rd Cemetery.

Gray, a former assistant secretary of the Australian Department of Defence, has produced a 13-page article about Waddell - a precursor to the biography.

He has worked with a number of people in New Zealand to gather information about Waddell and said they should be applauded for their work in trying to keep the late veteran's memory alive.

"Dave Johnston in Wellington has been incredibly active in telling James' story, David Scoullar and Lyn Fletcher have both written about James in the past," Gray said.

"The fact that his story 'has been lost' all these years is a tragedy at several levels. For James himself, for his families and relatives, and also for New Zealand.

"There is much more to be told about James' story."

Gray has been researching Waddell now for four years. He has the blessing of the family, who support the book. He hopes to have it ready for publication in 2016.

"But if it takes longer, then it will take longer. At the end of the day it is important to me that we get the story right and that New Zealand and indeed France get to appreciate who James Waddell was.

"I hope that when New Zealand pauses on April 25 ... you also take a moment to remember this extraordinary New Zealander."

Tributes to a brave officer

The following extracts are from an address to the Australian French Legionnaires Association by military historian and James Waddell biographer Alan Gray.

A French Foreign Legion performance report from 1909:

"Very good officer, very vigorous, Lieutenant Waddell is driven with the desire to do well and to satisfy its leaders. Demonstrates authority over the troops he commands with brilliance but with firmness."

He was awarded his first Croix de Guerre after a battle at Gallipoli in June 1915.

"The Battalion ... commanded by Captain Waddell since it landed in Gallipoli has always shown in all the battles great qualities of bravery, calm and solidity."

On July 12, 1915, Waddell hit by shrapnel and then by a bullet to his left shoulder. Despite the injuries, Waddell remained in command throughout the night and only agreed to be evacuated the following morning once he was satisfied the position was secure. A month later he was awarded his second Croix.

"Waddell personally directed the attack of his battalion against the enemy's position, which was extremely strong and which he carried by storm."

Waddell was promoted to Commandeur of the Legion of Honour in 1917. Extract from the Official Gazette:

" Superior officer: energetic and brave; most brilliant conduct at the Dardanelles and at the Battle of the Somme."

In September 1917, Waddell was awarded a Croix for his actions at Cumieres.

"Commander Waddell led his battalion forward in magnificent style to attack the enemy's positions, reaching the final objective one hour in advance of the set time, going beyond our own artillery curtain of fire, capturing four guns and many prisoners."

James Waddell

•Born in Dunedin on October 11, 1873. Attended Otago Boys' High School and Canterbury University.

•Entered British Army in 1895. During Boer War, married Frenchwoman Blanche Prudhomme. That earned him an appointment as an officer in the French Foreign Legion. Served at Gallipoli and the Western Front.

•Awarded the Croix de Guerre medal seven times. First awarded in July 1915 for Gallipoli service. Promoted to Commandeur of the Legion of Honour. Served in Tunisia until his retirement in 1926.

•Died at Levin in 1954, aged 81.

French honours won in tough foreign unit

What is the French Foreign Legion?

Established in 1831, the legion was created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. Commanded by French officers and also open to French citizens. Initially established to protect and expand the French empire during the 19th century. Also known as La Legion or The Legion. Mottos include: The Legion is our Fatherland, Honour and Fidelity, March or Die.

What is the Croix de Guerre?
It means the Cross of War. A French military decoration awarded to individuals "who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with enemy forces". James Waddell received the honour seven times. It was awarded mostly during WWI and WWII.

Read the original article by Alan Gray here