Battle recalled as French group visits

A small group of visitors from a town in northern France are soaking up some Nelson highlights as part of a familiarisation trip with New Zealand, which has been held in high regard by the townsfolk since World War I.

The visitors from Le Quesnoy includes the town's mayor, Paul Raoult, and his wife Mireille. The group of 17 visitors left early this morning for a day in the Abel Tasman National Park before returning this evening for a dinner and reception organised by the Nelson Tasman Alliance Francaise group.

Le Quesnoy, a town of 5000 in northern France near the Belgium border, was liberated by New Zealand forces a week before the end of World War I.

The Germans held the town for almost the entire war, from August 1914 through to its dramatic liberation on November 4 1918, when the New Zealand Division captured the town and took the remaining Germans as prisoners.

The attack cost the lives of 100 New Zealand soldiers but there were no civilian losses. It was the New Zealanders' last major action in the war, but the town has continued to mark the role that New Zealand played in its history. Streets are named after New Zealand places, there is a New Zealand memorial and a primary school bears the name of a New Zealand soldier.

Nelsonian John Bethwaite, whose father was one of the New Zealand soldiers who fought in the battle of Le Quesnoy, will join tonight's reception at the Trafalgar park pavilion.

Le Quesnoy has a sister city relationship with Cambridge in the Waikato, where the group has already visited in the eight days since arriving in New Zealand. They have also visited the Bay of Islands, Auckland, Taupo and Wellington, tour guide and driver Pierre Romanet said.

Mr Raoult, who has been mayor of Le Quesnoy since 1983 and on the council since 1977, said a highlight of the group's visit has been the wonderful hospitality provided by their New Zealand hosts.

He and his wife were on their fourth visit to New Zealand, but many in the group were on their first visit.

The group leaves Nelson tomorrow and will head down the West Coast before ending their New Zealand visit in Christchurch.