James Waddell was born in 1872 in Dunedin.The son
of a saddler, Waddell had moved to Christchurch to work
and study part-time at Canterbury University College.
While there, he applied for admission to the British
Army as an officer cadet. He sat the entry examination
in Christchurch and became the first New Zealander to
pass, enabling him to become an officer in the British army.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1896 and
posted to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in South Africa. A small, slight man, Waddell faced resentment from his fellow officers who saw him as an “under-sized Colonial” from the lower
classes. They bullied him so severely that Premier
Richard Seddon protested to the Colonial Office
in London. An inquiry was held and
those responsible were court-martialled.
Natalie's most recent work is a bronze sculpture depicting New Zealand War Hero James Waddell. He is probably New Zealand's most highly decorated soldier ever, being awarded 8 Croix de Guerre fighting for the French Foreign Legion.
The regiment was transferred to India in 1898 where he met and married a French woman who persuaded him to join the French Foreign Legion.
His first action with the legion was with international troops that crushed the
1900 Boxer Rebellion and freed besieged foreigners, in Peking. Waddell served
with the legion in French colonial territories in North Africa and Indo-China (Vietnam) until the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914.
By then Waddell was a senior officer and held command positions. He won his first two Croix de Guerre at Gallipoli but also received a bullet wound in the chest. Citations for the medals referred to “great qualities of bravery” and “most brilliant conduct” in the face of the enemy.
“After having led his battalion to the attack with a courage and savoir faire which was belied, personally directed the attack of his battalion against the enemy’s position, which was extremely strong and which he carried by storm.
“Grievously wounded, and wishing to bring his work to a perfect finish, refused to be taken from the field and remained at the head of his
battalion and commanded the firing line until
the next morning.”
Colonel Waddell was evacuated but returned to service in 1916. He went on to earn six more Croix de Guerre on the Western Front and the Somme. Further exemplary leadership brought promotion to the highest honour of Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1920. He returned to New Zealand in 1950 but was largely unnoticed and died in 1954 at the age of 82.
This bronze piece, cast in an edition of 10, depicts Lieutenant Waddell as he leads the attack against Turkish trenches on 21 June 1915, and which subsequently earned him his first croix de guerre. This is a man whose courage and determination rose above the difficulties he faced. He is an example for all New Zealanders and represented us in a most honourable way.
The most highly decorated soldier in New Zealand’s history, we recall
with pride those acts of valor he performed. This hero is depicted in bronze, a classic material with a beautiful way of aging; its durability is a testament to his ongoing influence as an inspirational figure.