The Town New Zealand Saved

France - Scott #837 (1957)
France – Scott #837 (1957)

On those days that I choose a random stamp to feature when an event anniversary doesn’t match up with something in my collection, I never know in advance what will catch my eye. One of my few firm criteria for “random stamp days” is that an issue from the United States is NOT featured as the nation is aptly covered with commemorations (although, in time, I might ease that guideline as well). Another requirement is that I must be able to find non-philatelic images to illustrate the article as well as easily-obtainable information on the subject matter. An attractive stamp is usually a bonus, particularly if there’s an interesting story to be told. Luckily, Scott #837 issued by France in 1957, satisfies on all points picturing the ramparts and town hall (hôtel de ville) of a picturesque French community dating to medieval times and that has been called “the town New Zealand saved”.

Le Quesnoy is a commune and small town in the east of the Nord department of northern France, accordingly its historic province is French Hainaut. It had a keynote industry in shoemaking before the late 1940s, followed by a chemical factory and dairy, giving way to its weekly market, tourism, local commuting to elsewhere such as Valenciennes and local shops. Le Quesnoy’s inhabitants are known as Quercitains

The town of Le Quesnoy has somehow missed much of the Industrial Revolution. Unlike the neighboring towns of Valenciennes or Maubeuge, iron or steel works did not take hold. The lack of wealth underground and of a major transportation route partly explains this. The authorities however took note of this weakness and proposed the Ecaillon canal from Sambre to Scheldt; considered but abandoned because of low water yield in the forest of Mormal.

A major local craft firmly maintained until 1945 when a hundred shoemakers were still identifiable. Shoemakers worked at home for a local company (now Désiré Tanis) in rue du Petit Valenciennes in a kind of cottage industry. A glassmaking factory installed near the railway track to the site of the former Intermarché collapsed after World War I. In the Bellevue district, the remains of a factory attest to the presence of a former pottery factory.

The post war boom or ‘trentes glorieuses’ saw develop an industrial outskirts of town: chemical company (Cofradec) and food (Laiterie des 4 Cantons) inaugurated by Charles de Gaulle in 1959.

Today, economic activity is mainly based on tourism and local shops. The town with its ramparts, its castle ponds and its history (including the Revolutionary Armed bivouac and the New Zealanders Monument on the border of Valenciennes) are major attractions. The Quesnoy is home to many small traders and a trading area of more than respectable size for a town of less than 5,000 people.

The closure of industrial enterprises (Cofradec, Duarte, dairy products) and services (transport) remains problematic even though there have been some new sources of work such as with the Emig company.

Aerial view of Le Quesnoy, France, taken on August 28, 2010.
Aerial view of Le Quesnoy, France, taken on August 28, 2010.

Le Quesnoy is first attested in forms accompanied by the Latinized name of its alleged founder, called Haymon or Aymond: Haymon Quercitum; (from the Latin ‘quercus‘ / ‘oak’, a Latin term never imposed in Gaul. Appearing as Caisnetum in romanized charters to try to match the Picard language of the 11th to 14th century and as Haismont-Caisnoit; The Kaisnoit; The Caisnoy; Caisnoit; and Quesnoyt in property titles of the same period (surveys of Hainaut of Cambrai, and Condé). Quenoy is the Picard equivalent of existing alternate French chênaie.

While not yet a town at the time of Julius Caesar, the region was occupied by the Nerviens. In 1933, Roman pottery was discovered near the Fauroeuix gate of the town. Under the Merovingian and Carolingian, we find no evidence of a major population center in the vicinity. However, the historian Jacques de Guise, claims that at that time the town was founded by a brave knight named Aymond, who lived around the year 800. This Aymond was Count of Faumars (Famars) and Ardennes, also by his loyalty to the king, he and all four sons tended the deep wood, where they made a fortress and a place called Carcetus, Le Quesnoy. The legendary story of the epic by Renaud of Montauban the horse Bayard and the four Aymond sons” is still known today from the Ardennes forest to the forest of Orleans.

Despite this assertion, the historian Valenciennes d’Oultreman said he could be a character named Aymon: governor of Ponthieu. Furthermore, the historian Jules Duvivier names an ancient Count of Hainaut: indeed, in the 8th century, portions of territories around the present town belonged to the Leudes, fellows of the Frankish kings to whom they were granted. In the 9th century, the region was occupied by the Vikings who settled there along rivers. Around the year 842 at the time of King Charles the Bald, they were blocked at Valenciennes, as the river became too narrow for their boats. Later, the land at Le Queroy became a freehold belonging to the Episcopal mass at Cambrai and by the name ofNoflus, latinized from Novem fluctibus. Finally, in 1148, the freehold was sold by the Bishop of Cambrai, Nicolas de Chièvres to Count Baldwin IV of Hainaut.

In the mid-twelfth century, Count of Hainaut Baldwin IV the builder surrounded the town of Le Quesnoy with ditches and ramparts and in 1150 built the castle which became an important the center of the fortifications of the town (now the Centre Cernay and the fire station). This castle had a tower which together with the rest made up a fortress. Alice of Namur, wife of Baldwin IV endowed the castle with a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The castle had a park called Bois du Gard in which were encountered deer, fallow deer and wild game. The park extended to the southeast (to Beaudignies and bordered a mill near wetlands known as “the Pond du Gard”. Desiring to populate his new fortified town, the Count enacted a charter in 1161 granting privileges to many people.

With the passing years and battles, the town was burnt, then found itself ruled by the House of Bavière, thus no longer under French rule for 300 years. By 1466, Le Quesnoy was the seat of a district led by a Provost in the County of Hainaut comprising the following settlements (simply called “villes“): Amfroipret, Batiches, Beaudignies, Beaurain, Berlaimont, Bermerain, Bousies, Briastre, Bry, Busegnies, Caudry, la Chapelle, Croix-Caluyau, Englefontaine, Escarmain, Eth, Fontaine-au-Bois, Forest(-en-Cambresis), Frasnoy, Ghissignies, Gommegnies, Harbegnies (Herbignies : a hamlet situated by the gate of the forest de Mormal), Haveluy, Haussy, Hecq, Jenlain, Le Quesnoy, Louvignies-Quesnoy, Malmaison, Maresches, Marbaix, Maroilles, Molaing, Neuville, Noyelles-sur-Sambre, Orsinval, Poix(-du-Nord), Potelle, Preux-au-Bois, Preux-au-Sart, Raucourt, Robersart, Romeries, Ruesnes, Salesches, St.-Martin, St.-Python, Sassegnies, Sepmeries, Solesmes, Sommaing, Taisnières-en-Thiérache, Vendegies-au-Bois, Vendegies-sur-Ecaillon, Vertain, Villereau, Villers-Pol, Wagnonville (hamlet), Wargnies-le-Grand, and Wargnies-le-Petit.

Le Quesnoy, France
Le Quesnoy, France

In 1477, Charles the Bold died at the Battle of Nancy. Louis XI of France soon entered Hainaut with 7000 men at arms and a powerful artillery. He attacked Le Quesnoy on May 23, 1477, but was repelled. He returned some time later and succeeded after intense bombardment (nearly 900 balls thrown) to take the town, leaving his archers to rush through the open breach, but torrential rain halted the fighting. The town surrendered the next day and paid 900 gold crowns to prevent looting: the King of France had lost 500 men at arms in the venture. The same year the young duchess Mary of Burgundy married Maximilian of Austria, head of the house of Habsburg, and in 1478 his troops drove the French out of the county of Hainaut. The Lord of Danmartin, given custody of the town in 1477 by Louis XI, found himself in a hurry to get away.

The town and province of Quesnoy were also given in dowry to Margaret of York, the third wife of Charles the Bold of Burgundy upon marriage in Damme, Flanders, in 1468. She was also the sister of Kings Edward IV and Richard III of England.

The town was returned to French rule on 6 September 1654, after the conquest of Viscount Turenne. King Louis XIV then decided to modernise the fortifications and appointed Vauban, a military engineer, to direct the work. From 1668 to 1673, this future Marshal carried out one of his first experiences as a builder by restoring the wall and giving it its definitive look, which can be still be seen today.

Ramparts of Le Quesnoy, France
Ramparts of Le Quesnoy, France

During the troubled post-French-Revolution period, and following the September 1792 covenant declaring war against England, Holland and Spain, the town was under siege from 1793 to 1794. Two thirds of the town was destroyed during this time. At the end of Congress of Vienna in 1815, it was decided that the city was to be occupied by Russian troops for three years. Relations between Quercitains and Russians are friendly to the point that many marriages are between Russian officers and the local ladies.

In 1870 the complete destruction of the fortifications, which were considered superfluous, was raised, a project that was luckily abandoned.

During World War I, the Germans, who had violated the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, conquered the town on August 23, 1914, with no great difficulty. The mayor of the town, Achille Carlier, was condemned for hiding wounded French and British on the arrival of German troops. Carlier was tried and defended by a German lawyer in Brussels. Le Quesnoy was occupied by Germans for four years.

By mid-1918, the German Army had been fought to a standstill after its Spring Offensive and the Allies had sought to take the initiative. Accordingly, the Hundred Days Offensive began on August 8, with an attack on Amiens which marked the beginning of a series of advances by the Allies that ultimately ended the war. By late October, the New Zealand Division, commanded by Major General Andrew Russell, along with part of the British Third Army, had advanced to the west of the town of Le Quesnoy.

The Battle of the Sambre, which was planned to begin on November 4, was the next phase of the Allied advance. The battle was to consist of a series of engagements mounted by the British First, Third and Fourth Armies across a 30-mile (48 km) front, extending from Oisy to Valenciennes, that were conceptualized to cut off the German line of retreat from the French Army front. IV Corps, with the New Zealand Division and the 37th Division, was to surround Le Quesnoy and its garrison of over 1,500 soldiers. The 37th Division was on the southern flank of the New Zealand Division while to its north, 62nd Division, of VI Corps, moved south to shorten the New Zealand front. The New Zealand Division was to extend the front line to and around Le Quesnoy and into the Mormal Forest.

Positioned on high ground between the Ecaillon and Rhonelle Rivers, Le Quesnoy guarded a natural approach across plains to the north-east and had fortress walls with ramparts designed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, a 17th-century military engineer. A moat surrounded the town and was in fact two distinct ditches, with 20–30-foot (6.1–9.1 m) high fortifications, effectively an outer rampart, separating them.[9] The town could be entered by three roads, guarded by gates. Le Quesnoy had a population of 5,000 and had been in German hands since August 1914. The Germans also held the Cambrai railway line to the west of Le Quesnoy, and had a strong presence in the area around the intersection of the Valenciennes–Cambrai railway lines, immediately to the north-west of the town.

On 3 November, the New Zealand Division section of the front line was around 2,500 yards (2,300 m) in length, running southwards from a level crossing on the Valenciennes railway line. It was 400 yards (370 m) from the Cambrai railway, with the ramparts of Le Quesnoy a further 400 yards (370 m) to the east. The front line was manned by the four battalions of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Herbert Hart.

Ramparts of Le Quesnoy
Ramparts of Le Quesnoy

The ramparts of Le Quesnoy clearly made a frontal attack undesirable and artillery could not be used on the town, due to the presence of the civilian population. Instead, it was intended that under the cover of a smokescreen, the town be enveloped from the north and south, thereby encircling it. Two New Zealand brigades were to be involved; Hart’s Rifle Brigade was tasked with the capture of the town, while the 1st Infantry Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Charles Melvill, was to push into the Mormal Forest. The division’s flanks were held by the 62nd Division and the 37th Division, on the left and right respectively and these formations were to make corresponding movements forward.

The capture of Le Quesnoy was to be achieved through a series of advances, covered by artillery, by the battalions of the Rifle Brigade with some of the battalions of 1st Infantry Brigade in support. Beginning from the brigade’s existing positions, the first advance was to involve the 1st, 2nd and 4th Rifle Battalions moving forward to a line defining an arc to the west of Le Quesnoy, including the railway line, which was designated the “Blue Line”. Then the 1st Battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade would push north-east around the town, while the 3rd Rifle Battalion went to the south-east. The advance westwards would culminate in the establishment of a new front line, designated the “Green Line” to the east of Le Quesnoy, which would be manned by the battalions of 1st Brigade. Once the “Green Line” had been formed, the Rifle Brigade was to move into the town, while the battalions of 1st Brigade were to advance further to the west up to the Mormal Forest.

The covering artillery barrage commenced at 5:30 am and three battalions of the Rifle Brigade moved off towards its first objective, the railway line, which established a continuous front west of Le Quesnoy. This was captured by 7:29 am. A reserve company moved to the railway line to hold it, while the attacking battalions moved forward. A platoon of the reserve company had to deal with 150 Germans, who were retreating from the advance of the flanking 37th Division. Despite the advantage of numbers, the Germans quickly surrendered. By 10:00 am, the battalions of the Rifle Brigade had surrounded Le Quesnoy and established a new front line 1-mile (1.6 km) to the east of the town. The 1st Infantry Brigade moved off to the Mormal Forest, leaving the Rifle Brigade to complete its planned move into the town. The 1,500 strong German garrison, despite being surrounded, did not make any indications of surrender.

The 2nd Rifle Battalion probed from the north, while the 3rd Rifle Battalion did the same from the south-east, driving for the Landrecies road which led to one of the entry points into Le Quesnoy. German troops held a bridge on the road in force and were able to keep the New Zealanders at bay in this area. In the north, a small party reached the outer rampart dividing the moat along their stretch of the front. Gunfire from the main ramparts soon drove them off but Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Jardine, commanding the 2nd Rifle Battalion, coordinated the movements of his companies, which gradually moved forward. By 4:00 pm mortar fire was able to be brought to bear on the main ramparts and this silenced the German machine-guns.

n the meantime, the 4th Rifle Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harold Barrowclough and positioned a distance from the west wall of the ramparts, had carried out scouting expeditions to explore the defenses. Gradually, the German posts around the fortifications fell to the attacking platoons of the battalion. As on the northern side of the town, machine-gun fire from the ramparts prevented any further advance. One party reached the outer rampart but became pinned down by gunfire for several hours. By midday, the situation had settled into a temporary stalemate. In the afternoon, some German prisoners of war were sent into the town with an invitation to surrender but this approach was rebuffed, as had been a similar attempt earlier that morning.

A painting depicting the scaling of the walls of Le Quesnoy by Second Lieutenant Averill, executed in 1920 by George Edmund Butler, who was an official artist of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
A painting depicting the scaling of the walls of Le Quesnoy by Second Lieutenant Averill, executed in 1920 by George Edmund Butler, who was an official artist of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill, the intelligence officer for 4th Rifle Battalion, continued to investigate the defenses. He was able to locate a route to a section of the ramparts that appeared unmanned and was not under fire from the defenders. He was ordered by Barrowclough to force an approach. With the benefit of covering mortar fire, Averill and a platoon of the battalion reserve company managed to cross the moat and found themselves at the inner ramparts. With the aid of a 30-foot (9.1 m) ladder supplied by the Divisional Engineers, Averill was able to ascend to the top of the ramparts, closely followed by the platoon commander. With his revolver, Averill fired at two Germans manning a guard post, forcing them to cover, and the rest of the platoon joined him. With an entrance through the defenses secured, Barrowclough and the rest of the battalion used the ladder and entered the town shortly afterwards.[16] At the same time, a party from 2nd Rifle Battalion, seized the gate guarding the road into Le Quesnoy from Valenciennes and began entering the town from the north; subsequently, the Germans quickly surrendered.

Over 2,000 Germans were taken prisoner by the division, of whom 711 surrendered in Le Quesnoy. German casualties in the town were 43 killed and 251 men wounded and many more German troops were killed during the advance of the brigade to the ramparts. Four 8-inch howitzers, forty-two 4.2-inch guns and 26 field guns were captured by the 1st New Zealand Brigade. The New Zealand Division operation on 4 November was its most successful day on the Western Front. Of the 122 New Zealanders who died during the capture of Le Quesnoy, the Rifle Brigade sustained the most losses, with 43 killed (with an additional 250 men wounded). Other units of the New Zealand Division involved in the battle lost 79 men killed and about 125 wounded.

An advance into the Mormal Forest was continued the next day by the 2nd Infantry Brigade but the capture of Le Quesnoy was the last major engagement of the war for the New Zealand Division. The New Zealanders began withdrawing to the rear area at midnight on November 5. A few days after the capture of the town, the mayor of Le Quesnoy presented the Rifle Brigade commander, Herbert Hart, with the French flag that was raised over the town on the day it was captured from the Germans.

The New Zealanders’ action in November 1918 was recorded by New Zealand in four memorials, which vouch for the excellence of preparation which remains in the memories of the New Zealand Artillery, for the courage of the soldiers recognized by numerous military citations (over 50 recorded in the London Gazette) and the preservation of the city.

The New Zealand monument commemorating the liberation of Le Quesnoy. Photo taken on March 21, 2007.
The New Zealand monument commemorating the liberation of Le Quesnoy. Photo taken on March 21, 2007.

On November 10, 1918, the President Raymond Poincaré visited the town in ceremonies that included a well-attended military parade. On July 15, 1923, a monument was inaugurated commemorating the liberation of Le Quesnoy by the New Zealand Division. Mayor Daniel Vincent welcomed Marshal Joffre, Lord Milner (a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles) and Sir James Allen, the representative of New Zealand to the dedication ceremonies. The monument is set into the rampart wall, near where Averill scaled them.

The town retains links to New Zealand, with some streets named for prominent New Zealanders, including Averill. Since 1999, it has been twinned with Cambridge.

During the Battle of France in World War II, Generalleutnant Max von Hartlieb-Walsporn ordered his 5th Panzer Division to invade Le Quesnoy on May 18, 1940. The town was defended by a small force which included a battalion of Moroccan Tirailleurs. The result was a four-day siege which kept von Hartlieb-Walsporn’s force in place at a time when other German armored formations were making rapid progress. Von Hartlieb-Walsporn eventually took Le Quesnoy, but was relieved of his command soon after.

Scott #837 is the bicolored version of a stamp issued a month-and-a-half previously. The earlier stamp is listed as Scott #831, an 8-franc slate green stamp issued on June 1, 1957. However, a change in postal rates n July 1 necessitated a new stamp. Printed in dark blue green and sepia on unwatermarked paper, the version featured today was released on July 19, 1957, denominated 15 francs and comb perforated 13. There were 63,000,000 copies printed of the single color variety but 224,000,000 issued of the 15-franc stamp. Scott #831 was withdrawn from sale on September 14, 1957, while Scott #837 was valid for postage until January 1, 1959.

The Fauroeulx gate. part of the fortifications created by Vauban in the seventeenth century, was the only gate in the ramparts of Le Quesnoy not destroyed during World War II.
The Fauroeulx gate. part of the fortifications created by Vauban in the seventeenth century, was the only gate in the ramparts of Le Quesnoy not destroyed during World War II.

The belfry of the town hall, as seen on the stamps, was destroyed in 1794, 1918 and 1940. The first tower was built in 1583. It now houses a belfry of 48 bells. Directly adjacent to the belfry, the town hall built in 1700, offers a fine example of classical building. The grand staircase in the lobby is a classified architectural work.

The coat of arms of Le Quesnoy are blazoned silver with a large oak tree between two smaller ones on a green base. In 1918, the municipality wanted to add a grateful New Zealand Silver Fern to the crest but the rules of heraldry prevented the plan.

Flag of France

Coat of arms of Le Quesnoy, France

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