Lieutenant-Colonel James Waddell, awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and Commander of the Legion of Honour (Photo courtesy of the Waddell family)

Somme exhibition tribute to New Zealander who fought for France

Posted on on 13 July 2016
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A new exhibition marking the Somme Centenary aims to raise awareness of James Waddell, a much decorated New Zealander who served in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War.

Lieutenant-Colonel Waddell, a veteran of the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme, Champagne and Verdun, was awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and made a Commander of the Legion of Honour.

Yet his exploits weren't widely remembered until efforts in recent years to bring them back to public attention in both New Zealand and France.

"The story of James Waddell is fascinating for so many reasons, and it’s one we in both countries should know more about,” says New Zealander Jasmine Millet, curator of the Médaillé Extraordinaire exhibition.

The event opened in the Picardy village of Belloy-en-Santerre on July 4th 2016, the 100th anniversary of an attack by the French Foreign Legion during the initial days of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Large-scale photographs are combined with Jasmine Millet's seven years of research to tell Col. Waddell's story.


Millet comments: "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."

James Waddell, born in Dunedin, originally joined the British Army, switching to the Foreign Legion after marrying a French woman while serving in India.

His career with the Legion spanned 20 years, including the Great War.

Médaillé Extraordinaire is supported by the New Zealand-France Friendship Fund, and 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 led a Legion battalion at the forefront of that big push. And he was the only battalion commander to come out alive."

'Médaillé Extraordinaire' will be displayed at the Mairie (town hall), Belloy-en-Santerre, until the end of August, after which it will travel around the Santerre region of the Somme.

Source: Jasmine Millet/Story Shop

Images courtesy of the Waddell Family