On November 4, 1918, the New Zealand army overtook and reclaimed the French town of Le Quesnoy. During World War I, the Germans occupied Le Quesnoy from 1914 until its liberation– basically, the entire war. Le Quesnoy is a walled, medieval fortress built on high land. Led by Lieutenant Leslie Averill, the New Zealand army set up a ladder on the south side of town, and entered through a sluice gate. After a brutal, bloody battle, the Germans eventually surrendered.
A 14-minute drive from Valenciennes, this town is now dedicated to New Zealand, and many Kiwis passing through Europe make sure to stop here during their trip. Today, the town honors New Zealand’s contribution by naming various streets, monuments, and even a school being after famous Kiwi landmarks, places, and soldiers. Additionally, every year, the New Zealand ambassador to France performs a memorial service dedicated to fallen Kiwi soldiers in Le Quesnoy during the First World War.
In France, Armistice, or Veteran’s Day, is a jour férié, or a bank holiday. In order to take advantage of our time off as well as to honor the soldiers, a few of decided to attend the military ceremony at Le Quesnoy. We arrived early and walked the Remembrance Trail (Les Chemins de Mémoire) on our own, and then again with the ceremony (led by a local band, school, and of course, Veterans).
Le Quesnoy– Photo taken by Anne
The New Zealand Memorial along the Remembrance Trail
Many attendees at Le Quesnoy military ceremony also pinned a Remembrance Poppy onto their jackets, which symbolizes the commemoration of soldiers who have died in war. The trend was influenced from the WWI poem In Flanders Fields. Although initially adopted to salute American soldiers killed in World War I, it is now a more common practice in the UK and Canada. In fact, poppies are commonly worn on clothing for the few weeks leading up to Armistice Day. Poppy wreaths are commonly laid at war memorials, and the Tower of London is completely decorated in them.
Have you ever been to a military ceremony in France?