One hundred years to the day after Le Quesnoy was liberated by New Zealanders, on November 4, thousands of Kiwis will converge on the charming little town in northern France for a special occasion: The inauguration of the future New Zealand War Memorial Museum in Le Quesnoy, France.

It is a building and site that needs renovating and extending to be fit for purpose, but we have it. It's ours. Finally, New Zealand will have its place on the Western Front to mark our country's efforts in the two world wars. Our place to tell our stories. Our place to call home.

It was a shock to learn ours was the only Commonwealth country among the allies who fought on the Western Front to not have one. That was simply not right, given that our contribution in the two wars was out of proportion to our size and position in the world. Ten per cent of our people went to World War I.

"This (Europe) is the place where the blood of New Zealanders was shed like nothing on earth," says New Zealand Memorial Museum Trust chairman Sir Don McKinnon.

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Why this building, this town, this continent? The New Zealand Memorial Museum Trust has bought the gracious historic former World War I mayor's residence in Le Quesnoy. When the Germans arrived in August 1914 to occupy the town, they took command of all means of food production, ignoring the inhabitants' needs.

Achille Carlier, the mayor, quietly organised bakeries and butcheries to keep the population fed.

Being the conduit between the German authorities and his community was an unenviable position. By failing to report as prisoners the injured or ill soldiers who were hospitalised, he was eventually arrested and deported to Lithuania. But he would return in time to see the New Zealanders liberate his town on November 4, 1918.

And that's why Le Quesnoy is the right place for our museum. New Zealand soldiers scaled a ladder on the walls of this fortified town to gain entry, having chosen not to lob shells over the walls at the Germans, and thus liberated the occupied town without any loss of life to the locals. It's a fact townsfolk have always been grateful for and have never forgotten.

The 142 New Zealanders who lost their lives in the brutal day-long battle are also remembered. The locals commemorate Anzac Day here every April.

Year-round, though, if you mention that you're a Kiwi, you're welcomed with open arms here. New Zealand-centric road signs, a school named after the first man over the wall ... this is a good place to wear the silver fern.

A street sign reflects the bonds with New Zealand. Photo / Julian Simmonds
A street sign reflects the bonds with New Zealand. Photo / Julian Simmonds

The museum site also has a few small, self-catering buildings from its time as a gendarmerie (local police authority) which will be renovated to provide accommodation. You can imagine school groups staying, throwing a rugby ball around on the ample lawn and using it as a base from which to visit all the major memorials.

And why the Western Front? Because it sadly holds the record of being the location of the largest number of deaths (12,500) of our people (World War I) - more than any other period in our history.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after about 30,000 graves of New Zealanders globally who died on active service during World War I and II.

Jude Dobson with architect Veronique Coupet at at the New Zealand War Memorial Museum. Photo / Malcolm Sines
Jude Dobson with architect Veronique Coupet at at the New Zealand War Memorial Museum. Photo / Malcolm Sines

Twelve and a half thousand from World War I, and another 2400 from World War II, are in Europe - almost half of our war dead are here, far from home.

In 1914 no one in Europe really knew who New Zealanders were. World War I changed that. We came of age.

The reputation we enjoy as Kiwis today was forged by these men and we owe it to them to create a place we can hear their stories, see their war, and understand our country's part in it. And that place will be the New Zealand War Memorial Museum in Le Quesnoy, France.

Let's honour what they did to deliver us a fine reputation and a peaceful future.

For more info go to nzwmm.org.nz