Gisborne man among liberators

One hundred years since the Liberation of Le Quesnoy.

One hundred years since the Liberation of Le Quesnoy.

BOUND FOR FRANCE: Private George How Chow is pictured at Trentham where he trained before being posted to France. The photograph was sent to his sister Annie. The writing in the bottom right corner says ”your affectionate brother George, Trentham, 13-07-17.” Pictures supplied
George in 1968 - three years before his death.
The war was over but George How Chow, like many other Allied soldiers, soon found himself on occupational duties in Germany. He is pictured here in 1919 with Cologne woman Kathi Dicklen. George’s family are not aware of the nature of their relationship and attempts to work with German authorities to find out what happened to her post-1919 have not proved successful — perhaps because of the immense damage the city suffered from Allied bombing in World War 2.
A New Zealand 18 pounder artillery gun in action near Le Quesnoy on October 29, 1918. Picture courtesy of Ministry for Culture and Heritage with permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa. Reference 1/2-013673.

Today marks the centenary of the day New Zealand forces captured the northern French town of Le Quesnoy and ended four years of occupation by the Kaiser’s armies. Gisborne man George How Chow (1895-1971) was one of the men who liberated the 3000 inhabitants. Wynsley Wrigley reports on the battle and the life of George thanks to the effort of researchers working on behalf of his family.

The French town of Le Quesnoy has street names like Rue Neo-Zelandais and Rue All Blacks and a New Zealand museum is being built.

The strong New Zealand flavour is a lasting legacy of that day 100 years ago, today, when four years of German occupation ended with New Zealand soldiers, including Gisborne’s George How Chow, storming the eight-metre high medieval ramparts that circled the town.

The New Zealanders wanting to avoid civilian casualties — 3000 people lived in the town — avoided using artillery fire, and instead, scaled the walls by ladder in single file under heavy fire from German defenders.

A school and a street in Le Quesnoy have since been named after Leslie Averill of 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry (Rifle) Brigade, the first New Zealander to climb the ramparts and to enter the town.

How Chow, a Chinese-New Zealander, was in B Company of the same unit, the first company to get into Le Quesnoy.

About 80 New Zealanders were killed liberating the town, just seven days before World War 1 ended.

Residents, French and New Zealand dignitaries, and descendants of the Kiwi soldiers will commemorate the centenary of the battle tomorrow at 11am (French time).

An Australian-based member of the How Chow family will represent George at the ceremony.

Le Quesnoy residents remain eternally grateful for the events of 1918.

Each Anzac Day they honour those men who “came from the uttermost ends of the earth” according to an inscription on a marble balustrade on the New Zealand gate of honour.

Eng Kung How Chow, known as George, was the son of a Chinese father, also named George, and a English mother Sophia (West) How Chow who married in Gisborne on April 25, 1885.

George Junior, born in 1895, was educated at Central School and Te Karaka District School.

The soldier survived the battle for Le Quesnoy, but his family believed his war time experiences affected him for the rest of his life.

He enlisted on February 8, 1917.

Army records describe him as being aged 21, height 5ft 5½ inches, complexion dark, eyes brown, hair black, with his occupation being farmer.

He was attached to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 19th Reinforcement, in the second draft of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

On July 16, 1917, he boarded the troop carrier HMNZT 88 Athenic at Wellington.

How Chow left England in October and was posted to his battalion where he saw active service as a rifleman including in the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Bapaume where the rifle brigade suffered heavy losses.
Between March and May 1918 he was out of the front line for nearly eight weeks, first with a sprained ankle incurred while watching an army rugby match featuring two teams from B Company and later with influenza.

He served in Cologne after the war on occupational duties before being posted to Sling Camp at Bulford, near Stonehenge.

It was there the New Zealanders, angry, bored and impatient to be shipped home, carved out a 127-metre kiwi on Beacon Hill.

How Chow did not set foot back in New Zealand until on October 2, 1919, when the troop ship Cordoba sailed into Wellington.

The huge kiwi still exists in England today with the British Army maintaining it as a legacy “to old soldiers in the new country from the young soldiers in the old country”.

Little known of How Chow after war

How Chow was not the only Chinese-New Zealander among the 6000 troops at Sling Camp, but his family was a prominent one in Gisborne.

His father, a naturalised New Zealander, owned the Central Bakery in Gladstone Road later known as the Empire Dining Rooms.

The Empire Dining Rooms, located on the site where the Odeon stands today, was damaged in a major fire in 1893.

The dining rooms were rebuilt and sold in 1901 when George (Senior) and Sophia bought the Te Karaka Tavern.

Inter-racial marriages involving Chinese were frowned upon in the larger centres of New Zealand in those times.

But researchers have told George’s descendants that smaller centres were more accepting of Chinese if they were hard working and social.

The family built a house at 1 Kipling Road, Te Karaka, which still stands today, but they moved to China in 1906.

George Senior was supposedly captured by brigands in China and held for ransom of 9,000 NZ pounds.
Unlike the rest of the family, George Senior never returned to New Zealand, and there was speculation he collected the ransom money himself.

Back in New Zealand, Sophia started her own boarding house located across the road from the Gisborne Bowling Club.

When World War 1 broke out in 1914 the family were farming in Opotiki.

Little is known of George Junior after the war. Newspaper reports indicate that he played club rugby in Gisborne for a short period of time. He later worked as a labourer at Puha, and as a farmhand in Waioeka Road, and in Taukau near Pukekohe.

George was engaged to an English woman he met while stationed in England during the war. It is believed they had a child named George Davis.

There was a George Davis who came to New Zealand in search of his father, and while here, changed his surname to How Chow.

An article in the Gisborne Herald on February 19, 1966, shows a photo of George How Chow at the opening of Waipiro Bay Fishing Club’s new ramp. There is a definite likeness, say family members.

The war veteran disappeared after the mid-1930s before the family rediscovered and occasionally visited him in Auckland.

It seems that How Chow went off to live in solitude perhaps because of his war experiences.

He died in Pukekohe in 1971.

Today marks the centenary of the day New Zealand forces captured the northern French town of Le Quesnoy and ended four years of occupation by the Kaiser’s armies. Gisborne man George How Chow (1895-1971) was one of the men who liberated the 3000 inhabitants. Wynsley Wrigley reports on the battle and the life of George thanks to the effort of researchers working on behalf of his family.

The French town of Le Quesnoy has street names like Rue Neo-Zelandais and Rue All Blacks and a New Zealand museum is being built.

The strong New Zealand flavour is a lasting legacy of that day 100 years ago, today, when four years of German occupation ended with New Zealand soldiers, including Gisborne’s George How Chow, storming the eight-metre high medieval ramparts that circled the town.

The New Zealanders wanting to avoid civilian casualties — 3000 people lived in the town — avoided using artillery fire, and instead, scaled the walls by ladder in single file under heavy fire from German defenders.

A school and a street in Le Quesnoy have since been named after Leslie Averill of 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry (Rifle) Brigade, the first New Zealander to climb the ramparts and to enter the town.

How Chow, a Chinese-New Zealander, was in B Company of the same unit, the first company to get into Le Quesnoy.

About 80 New Zealanders were killed liberating the town, just seven days before World War 1 ended.

Residents, French and New Zealand dignitaries, and descendants of the Kiwi soldiers will commemorate the centenary of the battle tomorrow at 11am (French time).

An Australian-based member of the How Chow family will represent George at the ceremony.

Le Quesnoy residents remain eternally grateful for the events of 1918.

Each Anzac Day they honour those men who “came from the uttermost ends of the earth” according to an inscription on a marble balustrade on the New Zealand gate of honour.

Eng Kung How Chow, known as George, was the son of a Chinese father, also named George, and a English mother Sophia (West) How Chow who married in Gisborne on April 25, 1885.

George Junior, born in 1895, was educated at Central School and Te Karaka District School.

The soldier survived the battle for Le Quesnoy, but his family believed his war time experiences affected him for the rest of his life.

He enlisted on February 8, 1917.

Army records describe him as being aged 21, height 5ft 5½ inches, complexion dark, eyes brown, hair black, with his occupation being farmer.

He was attached to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 19th Reinforcement, in the second draft of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

On July 16, 1917, he boarded the troop carrier HMNZT 88 Athenic at Wellington.

How Chow left England in October and was posted to his battalion where he saw active service as a rifleman including in the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Bapaume where the rifle brigade suffered heavy losses.
Between March and May 1918 he was out of the front line for nearly eight weeks, first with a sprained ankle incurred while watching an army rugby match featuring two teams from B Company and later with influenza.

He served in Cologne after the war on occupational duties before being posted to Sling Camp at Bulford, near Stonehenge.

It was there the New Zealanders, angry, bored and impatient to be shipped home, carved out a 127-metre kiwi on Beacon Hill.

How Chow did not set foot back in New Zealand until on October 2, 1919, when the troop ship Cordoba sailed into Wellington.

The huge kiwi still exists in England today with the British Army maintaining it as a legacy “to old soldiers in the new country from the young soldiers in the old country”.

Little known of How Chow after war

How Chow was not the only Chinese-New Zealander among the 6000 troops at Sling Camp, but his family was a prominent one in Gisborne.

His father, a naturalised New Zealander, owned the Central Bakery in Gladstone Road later known as the Empire Dining Rooms.

The Empire Dining Rooms, located on the site where the Odeon stands today, was damaged in a major fire in 1893.

The dining rooms were rebuilt and sold in 1901 when George (Senior) and Sophia bought the Te Karaka Tavern.

Inter-racial marriages involving Chinese were frowned upon in the larger centres of New Zealand in those times.

But researchers have told George’s descendants that smaller centres were more accepting of Chinese if they were hard working and social.

The family built a house at 1 Kipling Road, Te Karaka, which still stands today, but they moved to China in 1906.

George Senior was supposedly captured by brigands in China and held for ransom of 9,000 NZ pounds.
Unlike the rest of the family, George Senior never returned to New Zealand, and there was speculation he collected the ransom money himself.

Back in New Zealand, Sophia started her own boarding house located across the road from the Gisborne Bowling Club.

When World War 1 broke out in 1914 the family were farming in Opotiki.

Little is known of George Junior after the war. Newspaper reports indicate that he played club rugby in Gisborne for a short period of time. He later worked as a labourer at Puha, and as a farmhand in Waioeka Road, and in Taukau near Pukekohe.

George was engaged to an English woman he met while stationed in England during the war. It is believed they had a child named George Davis.

There was a George Davis who came to New Zealand in search of his father, and while here, changed his surname to How Chow.

An article in the Gisborne Herald on February 19, 1966, shows a photo of George How Chow at the opening of Waipiro Bay Fishing Club’s new ramp. There is a definite likeness, say family members.

The war veteran disappeared after the mid-1930s before the family rediscovered and occasionally visited him in Auckland.

It seems that How Chow went off to live in solitude perhaps because of his war experiences.

He died in Pukekohe in 1971.

Most successful day on Front

The capture of the French town of Le Quesnoy by the New Zealand Division on November 4, 1918, has special significance in New Zealand’s military history.

This is not merely because it was the last major action by the New Zealanders in the Great War — the armistice followed a week later — but also because of the particular way it was captured.

When the New Zealand Division attacked on November 6, its units quickly by-passed Le Quesnoy and pushed further east on what was to be the New Zealanders’ most successful day of the whole campaign on the Western Front.
It advanced 10 kilometres and captured 2000 Germans and 60 field guns.

The day’s action cost the lives of about 140 New Zealand soldiers — virtually the last of the 12,483 who fell on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918. Of these 140, about 80 were men of the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade who led the assault on Le Quesnoy.

Le Quesnoy was an old fortress town occupying a strategic position in northeastern France.
It had been in German hands since 1914, and there were several thousand German troops still in the town when it was captured by the New Zealanders.

The walls of Le Quesnoy could have been quickly reduced by heavy artillery, but there was no plan to mount such an assault on the town. Instead, several battalions of the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade were given the task of masking the forces in the town.

Their orders did not emphasise an immediate assault on the town, but the New Zealand troops were determined to capture it.

There was a little competition between the 2nd and 4th Battalions; the former advanced on the town in the direction of the Valenciennes Gate, and the latter pressed forward from the west.
The German defenders were demoralised, but their officers were not prepared to surrender without a fight.

This set the stage for one of the New Zealand Division’s most spectacular exploits of the war.
When a section of the 4th Battalion reached the inner walls about midday on November 4, they had already scaled the complex network of outer ramparts with ladders, supplied by the sappers (or engineers).
But due to the height of the inner wall, the riflemen could only position a ladder on a narrow ledge atop a sluice gate.

Led by Lieutenant Leslie Averill, the battalion’s intelligence officer, a small group of men quickly climbed up the wall.

After exchanging shots with fleeing Germans, the New Zealanders entered the town.
The garrison quickly surrendered.

The medieval-like assault on Le Quesnoy captured the imagination of the townspeople, who were overjoyed at their release from a four-year bondage.

Ever since, the town has maintained a strong affinity with New Zealand. — Nzhistory.govt.nz

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Richard Bate, Takapuna - 10 days ago
There were several Riflemen of Chinese decent in the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. At least one was an Officer, in New Zealand's only real national infantry unit - that is, they were not not drawn and put into the Provincial Battalions. Research is now pointing to Lt. Col Jardine's 2nd Battalion actually getting into Le Quesnoy before the 4th Battalion.