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Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill

100 years ago today, on 4 November 1918, Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill, 4th Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade, wrote his name in the history books so he is our keen individual who inspires and surprises.

Here is his account of the events of that day. Quote.

The time was approximately midday 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. End of quote.

Who was Leslie Averill? Quote.

Leslie Cecil Lloyd Averill was born in the vicarage of St Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, on 25 March 1897 […] Leslie began his education at William Wilson’s private school for boys in Cranmer Square in 1904, before entering Christ’s College as a day boy in 1908. […] He studied languages and Classics, and a good mark in Greek in the matriculation exam qualified him for the medical preliminary. […]

Averill began his medical intermediate at Auckland University College in 1916 [and, that year, volunteered for the First World War] […] He left New Zealand on 8 February 1918 with the 34th Reinforcements and was posted as second lieutenant in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Brocton camp. […]

Averill was awarded the Military Cross for exceptional gallantry and fine leadership during the assault on Bapaume in August 1918. […] However, the exploit for which he is best remembered is the capture of Le Quesnoy on 4 November. The Allies could not shell the old walled town because thousands of French civilians were sheltering within it. The New Zealanders found a lightly defended section of the 60-foot wall, and Averill was the first to enter the town from a scaling ladder. As the New Zealanders poured in the Germans surrendered, and Averill helped round up over 700 prisoners.

The war ended the following week and he went on leave to England. […]

Leslie Averill had entered general practice in Christchurch by early 1926, with a particular interest in obstetrics and gynaecology. Horrified by the low standards and high death rates of the city’s many small nursing homes, he was instrumental in seeking Department of Health inspections, which resulted in several closures. In 1926 he was appointed to the first executive of St George’s Hospital, the new Anglican private hospital in Papanui, which opened in 1928. He held this position for the next 42 years, becoming chairman and licensee in 1941. Largely thanks to his energy and foresight, St George’s grew to become one of the South Island’s leading surgical hospitals. In 1929 he was appointed medical superintendent of St Helens Hospital, a post he filled with conspicuous success until 1962. That year the hospital moved to new buildings in Colombo Street. It was renamed Christchurch Women’s Hospital in 1968. Averill’s name appears on the foundation stone beside the main entrance. […]

Elected a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1942, Averill became a chairman of its New Zealand council in 1951. He was president of the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association the same year. […] In 1956 he became president of the Christchurch Blood Transfusion Service and vice president of the Hospital Boards’ Association of New Zealand, and held both offices for nearly 20 years.

Averill was appointed a CMG in 1961 for outstanding services to medicine and the community, and in 1968 the town of Le Quesnoy appointed him Citoyen d’honneur. In 1960 he was founding president of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, and from 1965 to 1974 he was a member of the Hospitals Advisory Council. He retired from general practice at the age of 70, and later began writing the history of St George’s Hospital. In 1973 the government of France appointed him a chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, and on a visit to Le Quesnoy in 1977 a new school and a street were named after him. In addition to two years as chairman of the Christchurch Clinical School council, he was involved in the Outward Bound Trust of New Zealand and was a member of the Lepers’ Trust Board. He died in Christchurch on 4 June 1981. […] End of quote.


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WH is a pale, stale, male who does not believe all the doom and gloom climate nonsense so enjoys generating CO2 that the plants need to grow by driving his MG.

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