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Military hero's exploits to be reproduced on screen

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12/10/2012

A TRIBUTE: At Levin’s Old Cemetery, Sam Waddell, 15, Horowhenua mayor Brendan Duffy and Emma Waddell,

12, acknowledge the life of war hero Lieutenant Colonel James Waddell.

The life of a French hero and New Zealand's most decorated soldier is set to be translated onto screen.

Independent film producer Jasmine Millet, notable for her work on Anzac documentaries for Maori Television, has told how she was approached by three unrelated people in one month asking whether she had considered looking into the life of one Lieutenant Colonel James Waddell.

She found he was buried in Levin's Old Cemetery, close to her home city of Palmerston North, and had the distinction of being a seven-time recipient of the Croix de Guerre, France's highest military honour.

She also found a connection with her own history.

"Some of the key moments of his story take place in colonial India and that's where my family is from." Her husband is also French and the coincidences struck a chord with Mrs Millet.

"It's a story somebody needed to tell," she said. "These stories have come to me and now I feel an obligation to tell them."

She has spent the past three years researching his life and has applied to the Film Commission for support to make a feature film to tell Lieutenant Colonel Waddell's story.

Lieutenant Colonel Waddell's links with France led to a comemmoration led by the French embassy yesterday.

The Dunedin-born soldier entered the British Army in 1895, not long after he met a French woman who became his first wife. He went on to serve on the Western Front where he was promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1917 for his actions on the Somme and he also commanded the second Battalion of the Regiment de Marche de la Legion etrangere during the Champagne attack in April of that year.

His service in the French Foreign Legion earned him a Croix de Guerre with seven palms - the equivalent of eight Victoria Crosses. He took part in the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion and World War I, including the Gallipoli campaign, in which he commanded the 1st Regiment of the Legion. He was awarded Commander of the Legion d'Honneur, in 1920 and died in 1954 aged 82 from prostate cancer while visiting his son in Levin.

French ambassador Francis Etienne yesterday paid tribute to the soldier in a ceremony attended by Lieutenant Colonel Waddell's family, some of whom flew from Australia to mark the occasion, alongside Horowhenua mayor Brendan Duffy, returned servicemen, Mrs Millet and a few interested members of the public.

Mr Etienne told the gathering he had pored through records of Kiwis with French heritage and came across Lieutenant Colonel Waddell's story and felt compelled to make a visit to his grave.

He found that the French consulate had not officially honoured the soldier since a 1954 visit to attend his funeral. According to French records of that visit, the soldier's list of military achievements was so long it took 10 minutes to read aloud in full.

"Something has to be done in order to rejuvenate his memory," he told Lieutenant Colonel Waddell's descendants. "The intention is to say that he is an example of life, he is an example of courage."

Claudia Klein had travelled from Tauranga to mark the day and recalled her grandfather's stoicism.

"He never spoke much about the war. Reporters were there to meet him when he returned to New Zealand, but he wouldn't speak to them. People in the war did not want to talk about [it]," she said.

Mr Etienne used the occasion to announce his intention to mark February 18 every year with a ceremonial visit to the soldier's grave.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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