Seeing the Sights in Paris
A party of young women show a group of smartly dressed British, Australian, American and New Zealand soldiers the sights of Paris. Insignia on the women’s clothing suggests they are from the Red Cross. In this excerpt, the group walk along a concourse toward the Eiffel Tower. A pan around the party of sightseers shows a smiling, cheerful group. Later on, the group is in front of the Hôtel de Ville, before all climbing into a truck.
When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, there were 56,000 New Zealanders overseas or at sea. Demobilisation was a carefully planned manoeuvre with most troops and nurses returning home during 1919 – though the last New Zealanders did not return home until 1921. Troops were anxious to leave and so, to counter rising tension as soldiers waited to hear when they could go home, activities such as the Inter-Allied Games and sightseeing parties were designed to keep the men occupied.
All Hostilities Will Cease
Shortly after 8 am on 11 November 1918, army telegraphist George Thomas was one of the first New Zealanders to learn that after four long years, the war was at an end.
An Armistice with Germany had been signed at 5.20 am that morning. Thomas took down the telegraph message, sent in Morse code, at his New Zealand Division signal station in northern France. He wrote it out in pencil, and when he was interviewed for radio some 50 years later in the 1960s, proudly showed the interviewer the original pencil and message form, which he had kept.
The Kiwis’ Last Action – Liberating Le Quesnoy
On 4 November 1918 the New Zealand Rifle Brigade was camped outside the walled medieval French town of Le Quesnoy, which was occupied by the Germans and had been for several years. The town had a moat and very high walls which were hundreds of years old. New Zealand artillery couldn’t be used to bomb the Germans into submission, because about 5,000 French civilians were still living in the occupied town.
The Germans refused to surrender and a party from the 4th Battalion was detailed to try and work out how to scale the 13-metre-high inner brick wall.
Intelligence Officer, Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill – a medical student from Christchurch – used a long, fairly rickety ladder and led a small party of men up the wall. He courageously chased off two German guards with his revolver, which allowed more New Zealanders to then follow him and take the town – without a single civilian casualty.
In 1958, Leslie Averill recorded a talk for radio, describing how he got into the town. (Notice that in this excerpt, in a classic piece of Kiwi understatement, he manages to completely avoid saying that he was the first man up the wall.)
Entertaining the troops, “The Kiwis” concert party
The campaigns of the Western Front saw men serving in frontline combat positions in the trenches usually for a few days to a week at a time. In between, units were rotated back to ‘reserve’ positions several kilometres away from the Front, where boredom was yet another enemy to contend with.
In an attempt to keep the troops entertained, concert parties were formed by the men, with names such as “The Pierrots”, “The Tuis” and “The Kiwis.”
Bill McKeon, who served in the Wellington Infantry and had been in a concert party himself, had fond memories of “The Kiwis” and the high-quality shows they put on at Nieppe, near Armentieres in 1917, which he recalled in a radio interview with Neville Webber.
The rush to enlist
Leonard Leary was a law student at Victoria College (now Victoria University) when war was declared in August 1914. Fiercely patriotic, he was among the men who rushed to sign up to fight at the earliest opportunity. In this extract from a 1982 radio documentary, Leary recalls the heady days when war broke out. He headed down to the Wellington wharves with a group of fellow pro-Empire students to express his support for the war effort, and to enlist in the NZEF.
"War is lunacy": The burial armistice
On 24 May 1915, both sides on Gallipoli agreed to a temporary armistice (ceasefire) to bury the dead, who were literally piling up between the trenches. This event was perhaps not as friendly as the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 in France, but nevertheless the men were thankful for a chance to bury the decomposing bodies. Here, three New Zealand veterans of Gallipoli, Walter Cobb, Mr Fraser and Mr Davidson, recall their experience of the armistice. Their accounts differ in their reporting of fraternisation (making friends) with the enemy Turks. This may be due to their different ranks (Cobb was a sergeant) or to the attitudes of their commanders.