Anzac - an acronym that's both a noun and an adjective. It describes our pioneering spirit, humble ethos, and get on with it, number eight fencing-wire mentality - born of the reputation of our World War I Anzac troops so far from home, so long ago.

As New Zealand Military Historical Society president Herb Farrant notes, Gallipoli was not the intended destination of the troops when leaving our shores. "When the main body sailed in October 1914, we were designated along with the Australians to go to France - to the Western Front. We became embroiled in it because the Gallipoli campaign had been suggested by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, as a means of a potentially knocking out the Ottoman Empire, and so we were diverted to Egypt."

The British hastily needed three or four divisions for this plan, so they combined one NZ brigade with two Australian ones. This became the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) Division.

By the time the Allies were finally removed from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, New Zealand would have lost more than 2700 men, Australia about 6000 and the British 30,000. This baptism of fire in April 1915 would be the start of a long haul, ending on the Western Front in November 1918.

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As Farrant poignantly says of Gallipoli, "It was a campaign that we universally now acknowledge as the advent of this country's nationhood, but the price of that nationhood was subsequently paid in full on the Western Front."

Jude Dobson with graves of men buried at Romeries Communal Cemetery Extension in France. Photo / Supplied
Jude Dobson with graves of men buried at Romeries Communal Cemetery Extension in France. Photo / Supplied

That "price", if one simply looks at numbers of New Zealand dead on the Western Front, is just on 12,500. Driving through northern France and Belgium, the sheer number of Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries astounds.

There are 959 in this part of the world, with Kiwis in 287 of them. Row upon row of beautifully kept white gravestones. You'll also find our men in a further 49 graveyards that existed pre-war, tucked away with the locals behind little country churches, on the outskirts of towns and on the roads in between.

Bernard Bissau, who lives next door to the little church at Vertigneul, took me to the graveyard that holds 19 of our men.

I looked at the three photos I had of one of these men - his face, his statue in Christchurch, and his burial here. Military Medal and Victoria Cross recipient Sergeant Henry Nicholas was killed in action at Beaudignies on October 23, 1918. This Christchurch carpenter had survived the hell of the Western Front since 1916, to die less than three weeks before war end on November 11, 1918.

Up the road I stopped to pay my respects to Devonport man Private Robert Kennedy, who died on November 4, 1918, at Le Quesnoy. He'd arrived less than a month before. WWI would take both him and his brother, and the remaining sister would go on to have two stillbirths, ending the family line.

The sheer numbers of dead on the Western Front alone is mind-boggling. Pick any battle, any nationality and it's horrific. February 1916 in Verdun saw the French and Germans between them lose a million men. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 the British Army took 20,000 dead amongst 60,000 casualties.

New Zealand soldiers gather around the grave at the funeral of Sergeant Henry James Nicholas, VC, MM, who was killed towards the end of World War I. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
New Zealand soldiers gather around the grave at the funeral of Sergeant Henry James Nicholas, VC, MM, who was killed towards the end of World War I. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

The number of New Zealand casualties in WWI are fewer by virtue of the number of men sent, but per capita the maths is grim. In all, 100,400 New Zealanders served overseas in WWI, about 10 per cent of a population of 1,093,000 (1914 Census). Of those, 58,000 (over 50 per cent) were killed or wounded. A further 9200 served with other Commonwealth countries, so their fate exists within their data.

All up we would lose 18,200 in WWI, plus a further 8600 in 1919 with the great influenza epidemic. With only 250,000 households in the country at that time, the human toll of war touched most families.

As Farrant notes, "If you look at our contribution in WWI, it's out of all proportion to our size and position in the world. We were on the Western Front for 130 weeks, where on average we would incur 96 dead and 270 wounded per week."

WWII saw us again send men to Europe, making the figures for entombing our dead damning, as Farrant explains. "In two world wars we've put 85,000 men through the European theatre of war. And as result of that half of our war dead lie buried in the foreign fields of Europe. It's time I think we completed an obligation to remember and honour those generations".

The obligation Farrant is referring to is the building of the future NZ War Memorial Museum in France. It seems utterly incongruous that every other Commonwealth ally in WWI has a place to call their own on the Western Front, yet we do not. We need our place to tell our stories, to educate the people of today about our place in history. In doing so we provide a special place for Kiwis to visit.

Sergeant Henry Nicholas, who died just before the end of World War I. Photo / VC Collection, Canterbury Museum
Sergeant Henry Nicholas, who died just before the end of World War I. Photo / VC Collection, Canterbury Museum

When you go to Villers Bretonnaux and witness Australians absorbed by the stories of their forebears, you feel short changed. Young and old flock to an amazing museum in a place that was the scene of hand-to-hand fighting on Anzac Day 1918. It is sacred soil to them. It goes further than the events of Villers Bretonnaux - it tells the whole Australian experience.

Likewise, you can see the pride etched on Canadian visitors' faces at Vimy Ridge. This is their home there, as well as Beaumont-Hamel, at the Newfoundland Memorial where Canadian students knowledgeably tell the stories of their countrymen.

So, to our place, our soil, our museum. Kiwis fought in many places on the Western Front, but the very last was Le Quesnoy, a week before war ended, and it is here that our future museum will open. A fortified town, occupied by Germans for the entire war, it was liberated by the NZ Division in a unique manner on November 4, 1918.

Choosing not to fire over the walls to save the locals, they spent a hard day battling through layers of heavily protected walls to eventually scale the highest, innermost one by ladder. With no loss of civilian life, the people of Le Quesnoy were elated and have never forgotten their Kiwi liberators.

Jude Dobson by the inner rampart at Le Quesnoy, liberated by New Zealand soldiers in 1918. Photo / Supplied
Jude Dobson by the inner rampart at Le Quesnoy, liberated by New Zealand soldiers in 1918. Photo / Supplied

Anzac Day here includes a dawn service at a cemetery where many of the 142 who died in this battle lay. Three of these men were on the Samoa Advance in 1914, surviving the entire war to die just a week before it would end.

There's the procession down the Avenue des Néo-Zélandais to the memorial on the wall at the place the New Zealanders scaled it by ladder. The local children perform a haka and sing the NZ national anthem. They're children who were likely educated at L'école maternelle du Docteur Averill, the preschool named after 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Averill, the first NZ soldier up the ladder and over the wall.

Anzac Day commemorates NZ military service globally, throughout time. With regard to WWI, the events of April 25, 1915, in Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, is rightly a strong focus. Lest we forget, however, the other end of WWI - our service and sacrifice on the Western Front.

Watch the whole Liberation of Le Quesnoy video series and read the stories below.

WATCH THE LIBERATION OF LE QUESNOY PART ONE:

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The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: The Battle of Sambre

Read the story: The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: How New Zealand soldiers saved a French town in World War I

WATCH THE LIBERATION OF LE QUESNOY PART TWO:

The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: The New Zealand War Memorial Museum

Read the story: The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: War Memorial Museum marks French connection

WATCH THE LIBERATION OF LE QUESNOY PART THREE:

The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Averill

Read the story: The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Averill

WATCH THE LIBERATION OF LE QUESNOY PART FOUR:

The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: Sergeant Reginald Hird

Read the story: The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: Sergeant Reginald Hird

WATCH THE LIBERATION OF LE QUESNOY PART FIVE:

The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: Chaplain, The Reverend Clive Mortimer Jones

Read the story: The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: Rev Clive Mortimer Jones

WATCH THE LIBERATION OF LE QUESNOY PART SIX:

The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: Lance Corporal Arthur Daw and Private Robert Kennedy

Read the story: The Liberation of Le Quesnoy: Auckland Grammar old boys