James Waddell (French Foreign Legion)
James Waddell as Foreign Legion lieutenant, prior to World War I
Dunedin, New Zealand
|Died||1954 (aged 81–82)
Levin, New Zealand
|Years of service||
|Unit||Régiment de Marche d'Afrique|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
James Waddell was one of New Zealand’s most highly decorated soldiers of the First World War. Waddell was received in the French Legion of Honour and promoted twice. He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre seven times during the war.
Born in Dunedin Waddell attended Canterbury College in the evening to prepare for, and win, the first New Zealand government military scholarship. In 1895 he became the first New Zealander to pass the open examination for an officer's commission in the British Army.
Waddell entered the British Army in 1895 and was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion (Duke of Wellington's) West Riding Regiment. He saw service in Natal and India. During this period he faced prejudice from his fellow officers because of his colonial origins.
French Foreign Legion
During the Boer War Wadell met and married a French woman. She helped him earn the unusual honour for a foreigner, of a direct appointment as an officer in the French Foreign Legion. While the majority of the rank and file of the Legion were non-French, only a small number were able to become officers, and then normally after first reaching the rank of sergeant and becoming naturalized Frenchmen. Waddell resigned his British Army commission, obtained French citizenship and was appointed as a sous-lieutenant (second lieutenant) in the French Army on 25 April 1900. He saw early service in the Boxer Rebellion, Algeria and French Indo-China.
Captain Waddell landed at Gallipoli as a company commander in the Régiment de Marche d'Afrique in 1915. He soon distinguished himself by his courage and tenacity and was received as a Chevalier in the Legion of Honour and the Croix de guerre on 4 July 1915 for bravery in leading his battalion in a costly attack against Turkish trenches on 21 June.
Waddell subsequently served on the Western Front and was promoted to Officier of the Legion of Honour on 10 June 1917 for his actions on the Somme, where his personal example helped carry an attack on the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. It was during this battle that the American poet, Alan Seeger, died. Later, (Major) Waddell was in command of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment de Marche de la Legion etrangere (R.M.L.E.) during the Champagne attack in April 1917.
By the end of the War, Waddell had been awarded the Croix de guerre seven times and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Described as ‘a courageous leader and one of the most respected of all the Legion's officers’, Waddell was promoted to Commandeur of the Legion of Honour in 1920.
Waddell served in Tunisia until retiring in 1926, but remained in North Africa until returning to New Zealand in 1950. James Waddell died at Levin in 1954 and is buried in the RSA section of the Levin cemetery.
Note that the "headstone" is a memorial, while the bronze plaque marks the grave in the military service part of the cemetery. While the plaque indicates 5 bronze palms were awarded; the correct number is 7 (thus the Croix de guerre was won seven times at the highest level, that of citation at the army level). He is mentioned prominently in the book "American Fighters in the Foreign Legion, 1914–1918" Paul Ayresw Rockwell, Houghton Miffli Company, NY, 1930.
List of honours
- W. Barton, 'For King and Republic: One of the French Foreign Legion's greatest and most decorated heroes was a New Zealander who will be recealled at today's Armistice Day commemorations, Dominion Post, 11 Nov 2001.
- 'Waddell, Lieutenant-Colonel James', in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, I. McGibbon (Ed.), 2000, Auckland: Oxford University Press, p.572.
- Martin Windrow, page 35 "French Foreign Legionnaire 1890-1914", Osprey Publishing Ltd 2011, ISBN 978 1 84908 422 2
- Order No.73 of the Dardanelles Expeditionary Corps 4 July 1915, cited in E. Coppin, Victory Forever: “Waddell of Gallipoli” an amazing true story of the New Zealand Born Hero of the Foreign Legion, Levin: E. Coppin, 1957.
- Official Gazette 10 June 1917, cited in E. Coppin, Victory Forever: “Waddell of Gallipoli” an amazing true story of the New Zealand Born Hero of the Foreign Legion, Levin: E. Coppin, 1957.
- American Fighters in the Foreign Legion, 1914–1918" Paul Ayresw Rockwell, Houghton Miffli Company, NY, 1930.
- J. Parker, Inside the Foreign Legion: The sensational story of the World’s toughest Army, London: Judy Piatkus, 1998, p.69.
- M. Brewer, 'New Zealand and the Legion d'honneur: Officiers, Commandeurs and Dignites', The Volunteers: The Journal of the New Zealand Military Historical Society, 35(3), March 2010, p.134.