The recent worldwide publicity surrounding the end of World War 1, on 11th November 1918, reminded me of an experience that came my way in connection with Le Quesnoy, a ramparted little French town, liberated by New Zealand troops, a week before, on 4th November.
In September 1990 I visited Le Quesnoy, as a member of a group of 19 World War 2 Veterans, following two weeks in Folkestone in Kent, where we had celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
We crossed the Channel to France and spent two weeks visiting battlefields of World Wars 1 and 2, then to Paris, Compiegne, where the Armistice was signed in a railway carriage and on to Le Quesnoy.
We were warmly greeted by the Mayor and other dignitaries and invited to lunch. It was a most enjoyable occasion.
They never forget their liberation by New Zealand troops and hold a remembrance ceremony each year.
In the low concrete parapet wall of the moat, which surrounds the town, these words are inscribed, ‘THEY CAME FROM THE UTTERMOST ENDS OF THE EARTH’.
Shortly after my return to New Plymouth I was chatting with friends and mentioned my visit to Le Quesnoy. One of them told me there was a chap in one of our Rest Homes who was a member of the New Zealand liberating force. I said I would go and see him but was told I was too late, he was in a coma.
Next day, I decided to try anyway and went to see the owner of the Rest Home whom I knew well. She told me much the same thing then said we could go and see.
When we arrived at his bedside he was sitting up with four pillows. He had pink cheeks and lovely blue eyes. She put her arm round his shoulders and said, “I’ve brought you a visitor”.
After I told him all about my visit to Le Quesnoy he smiled and said, “I’ve got something to tell my family now”.
He passed away soon afterwards in his 94th year.