Leslie Averill was born in Christchurch in 1897. He began studying medicine at Auckland University College in 1916, but when his friend Paul Clark volunteered that year, Averill followed him, despite his parents’ concerns.
After training at Trentham Military Camp, both Averill and Clark succeeded in gaining commissions. They left New Zealand in 1918, and Averill was posted as second lieutenant in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Brocton Camp, England. After 12 days in hospital with measles, he joined the brigade in France in May.
Averill was awarded the Military Cross for exceptional gallantry and fine leadership during the assault on Bapaume in August, but his friend Clark was killed in action. After Bapaume, Averill was involved in the capture of Le Quesnoy on 4 November.
That afternoon, the New Zealanders found a lightly defended section of the town’s 60-foot-high wall. Several Lewis guns and trench mortars were brought forward to clear the German posts on the top of the wall, and Averill was sent forward to explore.
Fortunately the possibility of wall-climbing had been foreseen and a ladder had been provided by the engineers. There were originally two but one had been destroyed by shellfire.
The C.O. was anxious that these bastions should be explored and so, with about 5-6 men, I put the ladder against the wall, we climbed up it and drew up the ladder behind us.
I left two men there with a Lewis Gun to give covering fire for any assault on the final wall.
Averill was the first of the New Zealanders to climb up the ladder over the final wall and, with the 4th Battalion swarming up behind him, he helped speed the surrender of the hundreds of Germans inside the town, who gave up once they realised the wall had been breached.
Proceeding further, with one other soldier as companion, I arrived at a Military Hospital and barracks from which at least 150 to 200 German soldiers poured out from all the buildings in the area. As there were only two of us and so many of the enemy, we had to show that we meant business and we made them all line up preparatory to their departure for the P.O.W. compound.
Walking through the town, Averill became aware of just how overjoyed the local inhabitants were to be liberated.
After being under the heel of the Hun for four years, the delight of the people of Le Quesnoy on being free once 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 greatly and this battle, in which 90 of the N.Z. Division gave their lives, was a sacrifice which will never be forgotten...
After the German surrender that evening, the New Zealanders were billeted in the town and took part in an official exchange of flags with the French on 7 November.
After the war, Averill received a scholarship to continue his medical degree in Britain, and maintained a life-long relationship with Le Quesnoy, visiting numerous times before his death in 1981.
Le Quesnoy continues to mark Anzac Day and has named several of its roads and squares after well-known New Zealanders. The town also named its primary school after Averill.