On this page we will bring you stories about the famous Battle of Le Quesnoy in November 1918
The Vicar's Letter
by Clive Mortimer-Jones
Clive Mortimer-Jones was the former-Vicar of St Andrews Church, Cambridge, New Zealand but he had joined the NZEF and was with the New Zealand Division in France. He regularly sent letters home to Cambridge to be passed on to members of his congregation. The letters were printed regulalry in the parish's magazine, which have survived thanks to the Cambridge Historical Society and Cambridge Museum. This particular letter relates his experiences of the battle at Le Quesnoy.
Beauvois[en Cambreis], France
Monday, November 25th, 1918
My Dear Friends,
I must tell you something about the last "stunt". The best and greatest of victories which the "Digger" Division of New Zealand ever took part in. We waited a week in Solesmes expecting every day to get orders. We now know that this attack was daily postponed owing to the great distance and difficulty of getting the necessary ammunition and rations up to the front line. The delayed action mines were continually blowing up the railway line - so the motor lorries had to travel very long distances over roads which had been blown to pieces at most of the junctions. Everyone had to work night and day - drivers, engineers and A.S.C. We werevery comfortable at Solesmes, in good billets whose French owners did all they could to show their gratitiude to their liberators. We hear some horrible stories of their sufferings which convinced us from first-hand knowledge of the brutality of the Huns to civilians and prisoners.
The Rifle Brigade was holding the line this side of Le Quesnoy and the enemy was still putting up a good fight in a well defended position.
On Sunday, November 3rd, we began our march, starting at 4.30 p.m., and left our happy home with a cheery farewell from the french. The Bishop of Nelson and Canon Burton, who had been with us several weeks, were among those who gave us a cheer. They followed a few days later. Our march in the dark was not pleasant, it was raining hard; the roads were congested; deviations had to be made round bridges and places where the road had been blown up; limbers and lorries got stuck in the mud; sometimes we had to wait for half an hour; often we halted a dozen times in the hour. But at last at 9.30 p.m. we reached an orchard, a few kilometres this side of Le Quesnoy, where we bivouached for the night. The cookers had started earlier and were waiting for us with a hot meal, after which we tried to get some sleep, but it turned cold and in spite of the boys being very tired we could not sleep for long. They had only marched about five miles but it had taken five hours during which we had not taken our packs off once.
On Monday at 5.30 a.m. we got up and had some breakfast; we paraded at 6 a.m. and then left for the "assembly point" a couple of miles away. But our wonderful barrage had commenced at 5.30 a.m. and by this time the "Bosche" was putting a lot of stuff back. Our Headquarters cook, who was only a few years from me was first to get hit. I picked him up and got the "Doc". He was only slightly hurt in the leg. We went through a wood and a swamp in extended order. It was just beginning to get light and it's a little less unpleasant when one can seewhere the shells are falling.
Unfortunately the sunken road which was our "jumping off point" was evidently the Hun barrage line and the shelling there was intense. It was marvellous that our casualties were so light. The intelligence officer was hit; our temporary aid-post (a newly made shell hole which we quickly enlarged) was kept busy. We had to get the cases away as quickly as possible as the whole of that paddock was being heavily shelled.
Once I was sent head over heels and more then once got covered in mud. The ground was fortunately soft and the splinters were, therefore, not flying so far, otherwise our casualties would have been trebled. One of the most wonderful things and new to me was the smoke screen. We could by this time (8 a.m.) only see a few yards. The object of this was to hide us from the enemy garrison in Le Quesnoy only a mile away. Our plan was to go northward of the fortress and so surround the place. Before we left this spot we lost our adjutant. he was about 20 yards from me at the time talking to the Colonel with a map when a shell landed at their feet. The C.O. had a marvellous escape, being blown five or six yards but being unhurt. the adjutant was badly hit in the head and never regained consciousness. I helped to carry him the few yards to the R.A.P., but he died after a quarter of an hour. The loss of the adjutant and the I.O. was a serious handicap so early in the attack.
At 10 a.m. we had taken our first objective (the blue line marked on the map) and now the sun was shining and the worst was over. We had got right behind the enemy guns, the Huns were hiding in the villages ready to shout "kammerad" and by the afternoon though without food, everyone was enjoying the day's sport. There was plenty of sniping, prisoners were coming back in crowds, and souvenirs were plentiful. By six p.m. the front line was four or five miles ahead, if known at all.
A curiuous feature of the battle was that the fortress of Le Quesnoy though surrounded was still holding out. We had gone 'through' the Rifle Brigade which was still behind this obstinate stronghold with its ancient double octagonal high walls and by this time the 2nd Brigade had gone through us and were well into the Foret de Mormal. Yet up to mid-day I saw shells in front which were evidently fired from a gun inside Le Quesnoy, and in the afternoon it was still dangerous to get within range of the citadel from which the enemy was continually sniping - bullets seemed to whizz overhead from the most unexpected quarters. At one time I found myself in front of one of our outposts which faced the town, although the front line at the time was over a mile in the other direction.
It was amusing to see how all the guns, small and large, and machine guns were pointing in the opposite direction to the way we advanced - the Hun evidently expected the main attack from the south. Our captured were worthy of our success. This battalion accounted for 36 large and small guns, very many machine guns and nearly 1000 prisoners. The 4th Corps captured 6500 prisoners, of which 2500 were taken by the New Zealanders. That night we slept soundly at villages and in the forest four miles beyond the captured fortress and were relieved next day.
On Wednesday we had a regimental funeral in the Le Quesnoy military cemetery attended by the Brigadier and about 200 officers and men. We buried the C.O. and Adjutant and two company officers, and 12 men of the 2nd Battalion, and our own Adjutant and 8 men of the 1st Battalion. On Sunday, after a church parade in a field near one of the captured villages, we marched back to Solesmes. The President of the Fench Republic visited Le Quesnoy that day. The New Zealand Division had presented two of the captured enemy guns to the Mayor and the new Zealand flag which was flying over the Town Hall. The New Zealand fern leaf is to be added to the town's coat of arms.
On armistice day we got the news from our Brigadier early and amid great rejoicing marched back to our old home at Beauvois[-en-Cambrais] and Fountaine[-au-Pire] where the three Brigades rested until the march to Germany began.
I have already exceeded the usual length of my letters. It is the last about the battles and warfare. Already one's thoughts turn to home and the longing of all for New Zealand becomes more intense. The splendid record of the New Zealand Division has been crowned with the greatest success in its final victory. Its fame which was always great, has now been made incomparably greater. General Russell has received the congratulations of army and corps commanders and of Sir Douglas Haig.
I have left no room for anything oarochial or personal.
With very best wishes to you all,
N.B. - This account refers, of course, to only one Battalion. I do not know the details of the other New Zealand Regiments.
As The Newspapers Saw It
Thanks to the National Library of New Zealand's brilliant Papers Past facility, we can see what the newspapers of the day were reporting in New Zealand about the Battle of Le Quesnoy at the time. They include official reports, first hand accounts and obituaries of New Zealand soldiers who were killed: (Click the Links - some you have to scroll down the column to the Le Quesnoy related story).
• BRITISH CAPTURE LE QUESNOY. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14754, 6 November 1918, Page 3
• BRITISH AND FRENCH FRONTS. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14754, 6 November 1918, Page 3
• CAPTURE OF LE QUESNOY. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14755, 7 November 1918, Page 5
• THE BRITISH ADVANCE. Grey River Argus , 7 November 1918, Page 3
• STORMING OF LE QUESNOY. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14756, 8 November 1918, Page 5
• EXPECTING THE ATTACK. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14756, 8 November 1918, Page 5
• A COMPLETE VICTORY. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14756, 8 November 1918, Page 5
• TAKING OF LE QUESNOY. Grey River Argus , 8 November 1918, Page 3
• LIBERATION OF LE QUESNOY Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14758, 11 November 1918, Page 3
• PRIVATE CHARLES AFFLECK. Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle, Volume XIV, Issue 703, 12 November 1918, Page 3
• DEATHLESS NEW ZEALAND DIVISION. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14762, 15 November 1918, Page 5
• OUR SOLDIERS Grey River Argus , 16 November 1918, Page 3
• NEW ZEALANDERS' GREAT FEAT. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14766, 20 November 1918, Page 4
• NEW ZEALANDERS HONORED Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14768, 22 November 1918, Page 5
• CAPTURE OF LE QUESNOY. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14769, 23 November 1918, Page 7
• EXCHANGE OF FLAGS. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14770, 25 November 1918, Page 5
• FALL OF QUENSOY. Grey River Argus , 26 November 1918, Page 3
• LAST DAYS OF THE FIGHTING. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14773, 28 November 1918, Page 5
Note: Battle expert Herb Farrant writes, "As to the Maori Pioneer Soldier being first into town, that story has been round for some time but is untrue in that he was almost certainly within the outer ramparts below the Faouralle Gates (South Entry access) but not inside the actual inner town walls proper. However depending on your definition of town boundaries all part of our history?"
• ASTOUNDING VICTORY. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14785, 12 December 1918, Page 3
• THE NEW ZEALANDERS. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14786, 13 December 1918, Page 5
• THE LAST BATTLE. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 14808, 11 January 1919, Page 9
• Lance Corporal Gardner MM Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 14812, 16 January 1919, Page 3
• DR HARDIE NEIL'S RETURN Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 14815, 20 January 1919, Page 3
• Death of C.F.R. Hills Poverty Bay Herald. THURSDAY, JAN. 30, 1919.
• Death of Rifleman E G Johnson Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 14829, 5 February 1919, Page 2
• NEW ZEALAND DIVISION. Awards for Heroism Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 14832, 8 February 1919, Page 9
• LATE MAJOR J. M. RICHMOND. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 14837, 14 February 1919, Page 5
• Memoriums for Hills and Johnston - Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 15057, 4 November 1919, Page 2
• WAR MEMORIALS. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLI, Issue 9428, 27 January 1921, Page 7
• BATTLE MEMORIALS. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLI, Issue 9479, 30 March 1921, Page 6
• LE QUESNOY'S GRATITUDE. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLI, Issue 9522, 26 May 1921, Page 5
• FRENCH CEREMONY. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLII, Issue 9571, 3 August 1921, Page 5
• WAR ZONE REVISITED Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLII, Issue 9622, 4 October 1921, Page 9
And from the Newspapers Overseas:
• New York Times - 6 November 1918