22nd Battalion 2NZEF
"Vrai et Fort"
Brigadier Leslie Wilton Andrew VC
Leslie Wilton Andrew was born at Ashurst between Woodville and Palmerston North in the Manawatu on 23 March 1897. He grew up in Wanganui, where his father was a headmaster. He attended both Wanganui Boys' High School and Wanganui Collegiate before starting work with the Railways Department as a clerk. He married Bessie M. BALL, daughter of T. Ball, Brinsley, Nottinghamshire, England. They had two daughters and two sons.
Enlistment in 1915
Following the success of the June 1917 attack on Messines Ridge and the dislodgement of the Germans from positions that looked down on Allied lines, fighting in the area continued as the Germans attacked and the Allies consolidated their gains. On July 26 1917, some seven weeks after the Battle of Messines, New Zealand forces had taken the tiny village of La Basseville just a few kilometres southwest of Messines. They had suffered serious casualties, however, many resulting from fire from a German machine-gun position in a two-storey inn. This machine-gun post had also stopped the New Zealanders effectively securing the gains they had made. The next day the Germans re-took the village.
Attack at La Basseville
On July 31 the British launched another attack, which included the Second Wellington and First Auckland battalions at La Basseville. The Wellington men were to take the village and move some 500 metres further to clear an additional area and establish positions there. The Aucklands were to hit German defences. The artillery barrage began and shortly before 4 am the New Zealanders began advancing behind it. Leslie Andrew was leading two sections with the express task of destroying the machine-gun position in the inn. However, as they moved forward behind the barrage they noticed another machine-gun emplacement on the nearby railway line which was holding up other New Zealand troops. They diverted, captured it, and then ran to catch up with the creeping barrage. As they approached the inn, they pushed through their own barrage and headed for their objective which was firing continuously. Leslie Andrew mad a decision to approach the inn from a different route in order to avoid being spotted. This they did, famously crawling their way through thistles. They threw in their Mills bombs and then rushed the position, killing some of the Germans and capturing the gun. While his men withdrew with the captured gun, Leslie Andrew and a Private L. R. Ritchie moved some 300 metres further forward towards the town of Warneton and to the limits of the barrage in order to scout out the area. At Der Rooster Cabaret they found some of the Germans ensconced in the cellar as well as a machine-gun in a trench. The two men rushed the position, throwing Mills bombs and clearing it before finally returning to their company.
It was for his leadership and bravery during these actions that Leslie Andrew was awarded the Victoria Cross at the age of 20. The citation in the London Gazette was dated September 6, 1917, and reads:
A day after the attack at La Basseville, L.W. Andrew was promoted to sergeant and by March the next year he was an officer. In October 1918 his service came to an end. Back in New Zealand, he was discharged on 21 October 1919, but applied successfully for an officer's commission and held a number of posts, including Lieutenant Adjutant of the Taranaki Rifles, from 1920 to 1923. During his time in Taranaki, he joined the Legion of Frontiersmen. He also undertook a two year exchange with the Indian Army in 1927-1929. Together with Samuel Frickleton VC, he was in New Zealand's 1937 Coronation Contingent in London.
Formation of the 22 Battalion
Officers selected for the 22 (Wellington) Battalion assembled at Trentham on 8 November 1939, the NCOs arriving on 9 December 1939. The men were sent home for Christmas. When they arrived back at Trentham on 10 January 1940 they met the new CO - Major Andrew - for the first time. Andrew was one of a small number of officers still remaining in the New Zealand Army, so was nominated to be the Commanding Officer for the new 22nd Battalion. He did not actually take up this position until it had been confirmed by General Freyberg after he had arrived in New Zealand to take charge of the 2NZEF.
The first troops arrived at Trentham on 12 January 1940 and the 22nd Battalion came into being.
L.W. Andrew was promoted to temporary Lt-Colonel on 29 January 1940, a rank later confirmed. Lt-Col Andrew sailed with the Battalion on 2 May 1940 on transport HMT X3, finally arriving in Greenock, UK on 18 June 1940. The Battalion sailed for Egypt on HMT J24 on 4 January 1941, arriving in Tewfik on 5 March 1941, then on to Helwan Camp the next day. The Battalion, under Lt-Col Andrew, saw its first action at Olympus Pass, Greece, on 14 April 1941. This action, the withdrawal from Greece and the splitting of the Battalion between Crete and Egypt is told elsewhere including the Official History, and through the War Diary.
Award of the DSO
After their evacuation from Crete, the Battalion regrouped in Egypt, but were soon involved in the Desert Campaign. In late November 1941 the Battalion as part of the 5th Infantry Brigade were at Menastir, when Brigade Headquarters was over-run and captured. For his leadership in the following days, LtCol Andrew was awarded the Dinguished Service Order (DSO).
Return to New Zealand
Following the disaster on Crete, Lt-Col Andrew, together with a number of other senior officers, became embroiled in the controversy that still surrounds the Battle. L.W. Andrew remained with the 22nd Battalion to serve in the early phases of the North Africa Campaign. He relinquished command of the Battalion on 3 February 1942, (a significant date given his nickname was "Old February" for his tendency to give 28 days punishment for various misdemeanors) and returned to New Zealand, where he was promoted to Colonel and took command of the Wellington Fortress Area and undertook various training commands.
Colonel Andrew commanded the 1946 Victory Contingent in London. He was promoted to Brigadier and retired in 1952.
Leslie Wilton Andrew died on 8 January 1969, aged 71, and is buried at the Levin RSA Cemetery. His Victoria Cross and other medals are held at the New Zealand Army Museum, Waiouru.
Last updated: 25/04/2015