New Zealand's first permanent war memorial museum in Europe is being unveiled in the medieval fortified French town liberated by Kiwi soldiers a century ago in the final week of the First World War.

The New Zealand Memorial Museum Trust bought the former mayor's house inside the old town ramparts of Le Quesnoy (pronounced 'ken wah') for a cut-price NZ$1million last year.

A dedication ceremony for the future museum and visitors centre, which could open by 2022 and would be the first and only permanent commemoration to honour New Zealand's effort on the Western Front across both world wars, will be held on November 4.

It comes exactly 100 years since New Zealand's ingenious Rifle Brigade used ladders to scale the fortress defences, with its moat and soaring brick ramparts, and liberate the town, which had suffered under German occupation for four years, without a single civilian casualty.


The occasion is also being marked with the release of a six-part online video documentary, The Liberation of Le Quesnoy. The series, made by Jude Dobson with funding from NZ On Air, will screen on from Monday.

The population of Le Quesnoy still holds New Zealanders in high-regard today and have vowed to never forget their foreign liberators.

Mayor Marie-Sophie Lesne says her people will never forget the sacrifice made by such a small nation so far from home.

"We will always be very grateful to the men from your country for liberating our town. They rest here with us and our bond is very strong with New Zealand. It will never be forgotten," she said.

Le Quesnoy pays tribute to the Kiwis with schools, parks, and streets named Avenue des Neo-Zelandais, Rue Helene Clark, Place des All Blacks, and Rue du Dr Averill after the Kiwi intelligence officer, 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Cecil Lloyd Averill MC, who was first over the wall.

He was closely followed by Corporal Jim Frederick Edmonds who served with the Auckland regiment.

Edmonds, a 24-year-old veteran of the Battle of the Somme, was killed in action that day alongside 141 New Zealand soldiers before the Germans surrendered. He is buried in Le Quesnoy Extension cemetery and died less than a month after his brother Eddie.

Edmonds' great niece Helen Benton, who visited Le Quesnoy in 2014 and was humbled by the locals' generous hospitality, felt it "extremely important" for a permanent memorial to be based in Europe.


"There are so many New Zealanders buried there [on the Western Front] and so we really need a place to be and for their stories to be told," she said.

"When you think that these young men died just a week from the end of the war, it's just so tragic."

New Zealand is the last of World War I's Commonwealth allies to have a permanent museum dedicated to the war in Europe.

The historic building, which has been the local gendarmerie headquarters since 1952, is earmarked for a $15m development including upgraded accommodation for visitors and a new annex.

It will include a museum that will tell the soldiers' extraordinary stories and exhibit educational and interactive historic collections from both world wars.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark and trust patron says she expects Le Quesnoy and the museum will become a destination for young New Zealanders travelling to Europe.

"We want to make sure those stories of young New Zealanders who travelled to the other side of the world a century ago are passed on to future generations," she said.

Trust chair, ex-Foreign Minister Sir Don McKinnon, said the museum would be a permanent reminder of "the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we hold so precious today".

Trust founder and president of the New Zealand Military Historical Society Herb Farrant said the site held a unique place for all Kiwis.

"It doesn't matter if you have any association at all, if you go to a town and people twig you are a New Zealander and offer you hospitality and friendship for something that is beyond their living memory, you think, 'Something happened here'. It's very special."

The museum project has already received significant support from a number of New Zealand organisations, including Westpac.

But they are also calling on the New Zealand public to help support the initiative and help find the $15m needed, becoming a "Friend of the New Zealand War Memorial Museum" by making a donation at

* The Herald is screening The Liberation of Le Quesnoy, made by documentary maker Jude Dobson with funding from NZ On Air. You can watch now as Jude talks about the series with Amazing Race presenter Phil Keoghan, whose relative took part in the battle, and see the whole six-part series on from Monday.