Médaillé Extraordinaire, the first exhibition bringing to light the remarkable story of a New Zealander whose glittering military career spanned 20 years in France’s Foreign Legion, opens in Belloy-en-Santerre, Picardy, on 4 July 2016.
The exhibition, supported by the New Zealand-France Friendship Fund, coincides with centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme in France starting in July.
It tells the little known story of Lieutenant-Colonel James Waddell who was born in Dunedin and raised in Cromwell, New Zealand, but fought under the French flag for the duration of World War I.
He gave brilliant service as a battalion commander of Legion troops at Gallipoli, on the Somme, at Champagne and Verdun. He was awarded France’s Croix de guerre 1914 – 1918 with seven palms, was made Commander of the Legion of Honour and lived to tell the tale.
“The story of James Waddell is fascinating for so many reasons, and it’s one we in both countries should know more about,” says curator New Zealander Jasmine Millet.
“I think his military achievements make him one of New Zealand’s most important military figures but Waddell also had the most unusual personal life, which explains how a working class boy from the bottom of the world wound up as an officer in the Foreign Legion.”
The exhibition combines large-scale photographs with the story of Waddell researched by Millet over seven years and is hosted in Picardy by the Association Santerre 2014 – 2018 and the Souvenir Français.
“We are delighted to be able to present this unique exhibition as part of our local centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme,” says Association Santerre secretary Marcel Queyrat.
“The liberation of the village of Belloy-en-Santerre in 1916 was a key moment in the history of this area. Until recently we had absolutely no idea that a New Zealander called James Waddell lead a Legion battalion at the forefront of that big push. And he was the only battalion commander to come out alive.”
The exhibition will be shown in Belloy-en-Santerre until the end of August, after which it will travel around the Santerre region of the Somme.
Médaillé Extraordinaire is one of only two New Zealand-led projects given the official seal of France’s Mission du centenaire de la Première Guerre mondiale.
It has been supported by: Story Shop, New Zealand-France Friendship Fund, Association Santerre 2014-2018, Souvenir Français, ECPAD and the Horowhenua Chronicle.