The Kiwis’ Last Action – Liberating Le Quesnoy
On 4 November 1918 the New Zealand Rifle Brigade was camped outside the walled medieval French town of Le Quesnoy, which was occupied by the Germans and had been for several years. The town had a moat and very high walls which were hundreds of years old. New Zealand artillery couldn’t be used to bomb the Germans into submission, because about 5,000 French civilians were still living in the occupied town.
The Germans refused to surrender and a party from the 4th Battalion was detailed to try and work out how to scale the 13-metre-high inner brick wall.
Intelligence Officer, Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill – a medical student from Christchurch – used a long, fairly rickety ladder and led a small party of men up the wall. He courageously chased off two German guards with his revolver, which allowed more New Zealanders to then follow him and take the town – without a single civilian casualty.
In 1958, Leslie Averill recorded a talk for radio, describing how he got into the town. (Notice that in this excerpt, in a classic piece of Kiwi understatement, he manages to completely avoid saying that he was the first man up the wall.)
Entertaining the troops, “The Kiwis” concert party
The campaigns of the Western Front saw men serving in frontline combat positions in the trenches usually for a few days to a week at a time. In between, units were rotated back to ‘reserve’ positions several kilometres away from the Front, where boredom was yet another enemy to contend with.
In an attempt to keep the troops entertained, concert parties were formed by the men, with names such as “The Pierrots”, “The Tuis” and “The Kiwis.”
Bill McKeon, who served in the Wellington Infantry and had been in a concert party himself, had fond memories of “The Kiwis” and the high-quality shows they put on at Nieppe, near Armentieres in 1917, which he recalled in a radio interview with Neville Webber.