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Category: Western Front

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The NZ Rifle Brigade at Le Quesnoy. 4th/5th November 1918

On the 4th November 1918,  Le Quesnoy was a little town with 5000 French people  still living there. Sited at 15 Kms south east of Valenciennes , west of the Momrmal Forest and less than 25 Kms from the Belgian border and the famous town of Mons.  

Le Quesnoy, France. September 1918. German Army soldiers outside the Headquarters of the German Army Commandant.

The Germans had turned the town  into a fortress using the Vauban ( Vauban was the military architect of Louis the XIV) style fortifications of moats and 60 feet high ramparts. Trenches, machine gun posts, artillery field guns and mortar positions were installed all  around the walls and along the top of the ramparts.

The New Zealand Division was given the task to take the town. In the process to limit civilian casualties it was planned to keep the Germans on the ramparts busy with light weapons fire and to surround the town from North and South then to meet on the eastern side, and so to force the enemy to surrender.

On the 5th November 1918, the attack was launched. It was not easy fighting . Many German machine gunners fought till the end, many sniper nests had to be mopped up. But the assault advanced well according the plan. By mid day both flank movements were able to meet at Herbignies village, sited just 1 mile east from Le Quesnoy. About 500 Germans had been taken prisoners but the German defenders in Le Quesnoy did not want to give up.

So it became obvious that the small town had to be assaulted. Recce patrols gave information that the German positions were cleverly organised nearby the moat and causeways of outer positions. Ramparts were also high.

Fortunately and after several attempts , the Kiwis got nearer the outer ramparts. 2nd Lieut Francis Evans 4th NZRB leading a strong patrol took a German machine gun position near the outer moat. Some of the Germans were seen running to the moat and calling his men . 

Under the cover of the maze of moat , mist and smoke the Kiwi officer followed the enemies and reached the foot of the outer ramparts where Germans were unable to shoot him. But the smoke  started to clear . Evans and his men became easy targets. Evans was killed… and the survivors simply pinned down by enemy  fire and hand grenades.

In the way to spare lives, the New Zealanders  sent German prisoners in the city  with message to propose the surrender . Germans refused again. Le Quesnoy was still a hard nut to crack.

The 4th NZ Rifle Brigade commanding officer , Lieut Col Barrowclough decided to launch a new assault . German inner defences became the target of British artillery fire and smoke barrage. With great bravery and determination the Kiwis went over the top and  reached the high inner walls .Then  here was a  blocked up bridge across the moat from which with  scaling ladders the top could be reached. With 2 or 3 ladders the Kiwis climbed up the ramparts and swarmed up. Barrowclough was among the assaulters. Most of the German soldiers surrendered.

Officially the first New Zealanders to enter the Town were  Lt H.C. KERR and 2nd Lt A.C. Averill . Casualties were over 200 for the Kiwis and about 250 Germans had been killed.. 700 others Germans had been taken prisoners ( some documents are saying 1000) and  5 artillery field guns, 11 trench mortars, 45 machine guns as well.

Today in Le Quesnoy there are two streets bearing the names of New Zealand. On the ramparts beside the site of the assault the NZ memorial depicts soldiers climbing these walls just 7 days before the Armistice was signed.

Lt Francis Evans is today Resting in Peace with many of those who died at Le Quesnoy at Romeries British cemetery. 

  • For a Froggy like me he is for me a true example of the bravery and the achievement of the Kiwis in the Great War . He came from New Zealand to fight for freeing us and to die in 1918 on  XVIIth  century  ramparts.

Yves Fohlen 26 June 2003


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces