Leslie Averill remembers the Le Quesnoy attack
Leslie Cecil Lloyd Averill was born on 25 March 1897. He volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1916 and left New Zealand with the 34th Reinforcements two years later. He was posted as a second lieutenant in the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade at Brocton camp. Averill was awarded a Military Cross for exceptional gallantry and fine leadership during the assault on Bapaume in August 1918. The exploit for which he is best remembered took place during the liberation of Le Quesnoy on 4 November 1918, which he describes below.
After the war Averill qualified as a doctor of medicine and began a successful medical practice in Christchurch. In later life he achieved prominence as a medical administrator, and in 1961 he was appointed a CMG for outstanding services to medicine and the community. In 1968 the town of Le Quesnoy appointed him Citoyen d'honneur, and in 1973 the government of France appointed him a chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. He died in Christchurch on 4 June 1981.
The time was approximately midday [on 4 November 1918] and we still had not gained entrance into Le Quesnoy. We were, however, making progress and the German fire-power from the walls had lessened. There were two outlying bastions ... Fortunately the possibility of wall climbing had been foreseen and a ladder had been provided by the engineers ... The CO was anxious that these bastions should be explored and so, with 5–6 men, I put the ladder against the wall, we climbed it and drew up the ladder behind us ... We took the ladder down on the third and sloping grassy side of this first bastion only to find a similar fortification straight ahead of us. The wall climbing of this second bastion had to be repeated and from the top of this outlying rampart I could see that we could now approach the main and final wall of this well-fortified town ... The 30-foot ladder was too short to reach from the bottom of the moat to the top of the final wall but there was one place where the ladder could be placed to reach the top. This was on a narrow stone bridge, about a foot wide, which spanned the moat and was connected with a sluice-gate ... After crossing this bridge and sluice-gate a narrow ledge ran for some 10 yards beside the wall to an arched opening, giving entrance to the town, but which – needless to say – had been completely blocked by the enemy to deny us access through the wall. It was only on this narrow wall above the sluice-gate that the ladder could reach the top.
After a council of war with his battalion commander, Averill returned to the spot with an assault party. The official history later recorded how Averill and another lieutenant worked their way back to the sluice-gate.
The whole place was ominously still but for the gurgle of water in the moat below them ... Quietly they raised the ladder against the wall. It reached the top of the bricks with a foot to spare, resting against a 2-foot-high grassy bank which crowned the rampart ... Two of the riflemen steadied the ladder on its insecure perch and Averill started to mount it, telling the others that he would shout down to them from the top if all was quiet ... Averill quickly reached the top of the brickwork and stepped over the coping onto the grassy bank. Crouching behind it, he peered over. It was one of the most dramatic moments in the Division's history.
Averill recalled that the Germans soon:
threw up the sponge ... After being under the heel of the Hun for four years, the delight of the people of Le Quesnoy on being free again knew no bounds. That their liberators had come from the other side of the world to help them in their hour of need impressed them very greatly and this battle, in which 90 of the NZ Division gave their lives, was a sacrifice which will never be forgotten.