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Whangamata pays tribute to fallen of WWI Battle of Le Quesnoy

04 November 2015

The weather this morning at the ceremony in Whangamata to commemorate the soldiers who fell in the World War I Battle of Le Quesnoy resembled conditions on the Western Front: wet and muddy.

Timothy Clark and Beryl Wharton speak at the Battle of Le Quesnoy commemoration at the WWI Whangamata Memorial Forest

[Photo: Beryl Wharton (left) and her grandson Timothy Clarke pay tribute to their relative, Sergeant Vincent Stephenson Twidle, who was killed in the Battle of Le Quesnoy on 4 November 1918]

But a short break in the rain allowed the commemoration to go ahead as scheduled.

About 50 people gathered at the WWI Memorial Forest site in Whangamata that honours those who fell in the last battle of the Great War, fought on 4 November 1918.

Among them were relatives of WWI soldiers, service personnel past and present, RSA members, Lions members, Mayor Glenn Leach and Waikato Regional Council Chair Paula Southgate.

Thames High School student Timothy Clarke was there with his grandmother, Beryl Wharton, who is the niece of Sergeant Vincent Stephenson Twidle. Sgt Twidle was killed in the battle, just one week before the end of the war.

"At age 26, Vincent signed up," says Timothy. "His brothers came home but he didn't. It would have been heart-breaking news for his family as he was unmarried and had plenty more life to live."

Timothy found out about his great uncle Vincent and his role in WWI when he asked his grandmother if she had any medals he could wear in this year's Anzac Day parade - which marked the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

'We haven't forgotten'

Shortly after Anzac Day he had a school assignment to research the war and working on this project he discovered his great uncle's war record and that he had been killed liberating the French town of Le Quesnoy from German troops.

"Learning about Vincent's life coincided with news of the World War One Memorial Forest being planted in Whangamata," Timothy says.

"The World War One Memorial Forest at Whangamata will be a special place to honour Vincent Twidle and his comrades. People say, 'Lest we forget'. We haven't forgotten."

Read the full text of Timothy's speech here.

The Le Quesnoy WWI Memorial Forest site in Whangamata

Mayor Glenn Leach thanked the RSAs, schools, Lions clubs, Waikato Regional Council and all the other groups and volunteers who have helped with the Whangamata Memorial Forest and the other Memorial Forest sites around the Coromandel.

"It's going to be ongoing - with the involvement of youth. If you want to get something going, get the youth involved.

"When we look at the Memorial Forests across the Coromandel, this is the finished article. Whangamata, you have set the benchmark," Mayor Leach says.

The Council reserve where 122 trees have been planted to remember the 122 soldiers who died liberating Le Quesnoy has been officially renamed Le Quesnoy Park.

It is one of seven WWI Memorial Forest sites around the Coromandel, one in each Community Board area. Some sites honour the fallen from a specific battle, such as Le Quesnoy or Gallipoli (Cathedral Cove); others honour the war dead from a given town, such as the Memorial Forest site at Thames's Rhodes Park where 247 trees were planted this year to remember the 247 Thames men who never returned from the war.

In total, about 3,000 trees have been planted this year since planting began on Anzac Day. In June, the project was officially launched by Conservation Minister Maggie Barry at the Gallipoli Memorial Forest site.

Honour the fallen by donating the cost of a tree

You can participate in the project by donating the cost of a tree. Your $100 donation secures a tree which is named in honour of your chosen soldier who was killed in the war. A memorial certificate is issued with the soldier's name and rank and the GPS coordinates of the tree. You can also dedicate a tree to the "unknown soldier" - one of those whose remains were never identified.

Or, you can gift a tree on behalf of your family without necessarily having a specific soldier in mind who was killed in the war. You'll receive a memorial certificate but no GPS location.

To donate please go to the donate page on our website www.tcdc.govt.nz/donatetree

For full details on the New Zealand WWI Memorial Forest, go to www.tcdc.govt.nz/ww1memorialforest