Visiting Le Quesnoy, France, and its moated fortifications: remembering New Zealander sacrifice in World War One

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Flag of New Zealand
Flag of New Zealand | Source
Ramparts at Le Quesnoy
Ramparts at Le Quesnoy | Source
Fauroeulx Gate, Le Quesnoy
Fauroeulx Gate, Le Quesnoy | Source

Hailing World War One liberators

This well-preserved, fortified town is located in France's Nord department. Le Quesnoy lies not far from the Belgian border. The town's fortifications actually date from various periods of history, some of them being Medieval in origin; the celebrated Vauban, King Louis XIV's military engineer built upon and strengthened earlier ramparts.

The town has been besieged many times in its history.

One of the most noted conflicts in modern times, during which the town's fortifications were scaled and overcome, occurred in World War One, when, in Novermber 1918, troops from New Zealand successfully sought to liberate Le Quesnoy from the occupying Imperial German Army. The walls were breached by soldiers of the New Zealand Division of the British army, and the town secured, though at a cost of the lives of 90 New Zealanders. The assault on the walls of the town was led by Lieutenant Leslie Averill, who had already been decorated with the Military Cross for earlier actions in battle (1). Subsequently, what was known as the Sambre Gap was opened up for the Allied armies to cross the Belgian frontier, with the Armistice following not long afterwards.

Shortly before the Armistice, which ended hostilities, French President Raymond Poincaré visited Le Quesnoy in celebration of the liberation effected by the New Zealander troops. After World War One, a memorial, which may still be seen, was erected in the town in honour of its New Zealander liberators.

Altogether, more than 12 000 New Zealanders perished on the Western Front in World War One.

The town's fortifications, with their moat, is thus very picturesque. but also of great historic importance, not least to New Zealand and to the history of the Commonwealth. The distinguished contribution of Canadian troops in World War One — particularly at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele — may justly be said to have made the case for Canada's subsequent status as an independent Dominion compelling. Similarly, the substantial contribution of New Zealanders in World War One at places such as Le Quesnoy,

In the town, various roads and buildings are named in reference the liberation of Le Quesnoy by New Zealanders; a restaurant was named for ANZAC (2).

Al Le Quesnoy, the belfry of the town hall (French: Hôtel de ville ) is a noted, Classical structure, originally built in the 16th century but destroyed and rebuilt several times since then.

Notes

(1) Lieutenant Leslie Averill (1897-1981) was later appointed an honorary citizen of Le Quesnoy and the French government made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour; he was also a distinguished medical doctor and medical administrator in New Zealand. (Source: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/le-quesnoy/battle-accounts-lt-averill )

(2) Arthur Eperon, Pas de Calais & North-West France , London, Pan Books, Ltd., p. 184

Also worth seeing

Mormal Forest (French: Forêt de Mormal ; distance: 4 kilometres) has many trails for hikers and visitors.

Valenciennes, France (distance: 19 kilometres) has a striking City Hall (French: Hôtel de ville ) and a remarkably tall basilica church.

Roisin, Belgium (distance: 16 kilometres) has a memorial to Emile Verhaeren, Belgium's national poet.

...

How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Le Quesnoy : 198 kilometres). Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Le Quesnoy (distance: 122 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to consult appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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