James Waddell (army officer)

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James Waddell
James Waddell as Foreign Legion lieutenant, prior to World War I
Born 11 October 1873[1]
Dunedin, New Zealand
Died 18 February 1954(1954-02-18) (aged 80)
Levin, New Zealand
Years of service
  • 1895–1900
  • 1900–1926
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit Régiment de Marche d'Afrique
Battles/wars World War I

James Waddell (11 October 1873 – 18 February 1954) 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.

Early life

Born in Dunedin Waddell attended Otago Boys' High School[1] and then 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.[2]

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.[3]

French Foreign Legion

The Regiment was transferred to India and it was here that Waddell 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. Between 1900 and 1914 Waddell undertook two tours of Indo-China and served in the Sahara, Algeria and Morocco. At the beginning of 1914, he was promoted to the rank of Captain with the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment and awarded Knight (Chevalier) of the Legion of Honour for his work in Indo-China.;[4][5]


Captain Waddell landed at Gallipoli as a Captain in the Régiment de Marche d'Afrique in 1915. He soon distinguished himself by his courage and tenacity and received two Croix de guerre on 4 July 1915 and 27 August for bravery in leading his battalion in attacks against Turkish trenches on 21 June and 4 July.[6]

Western Front

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.[7] It was during this battle that the American poet, Alan Seeger, died.[8] Seeger was a member of Waddell's Battalion. Later, Waddell was in command of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment de Marche de la Legion etrangere (R.M.L.E.) and was involved in the successful capture of Aubervie during the Champagne attack in April 1917. In August 1917 his Battalion played a leading role in the RMLE's assault at Verdun which saw the capture of Cumieres. The RMLE in this action captured some 680 prisoners, eight artillery pieces and numerous machine guns. Some 2.5 km of enemy trenches were captured.[9]

After this action, Waddell was transferred to command a training camp involved in training elements of the US 2nd Division. He was brought back into action to command a Battalion of the 169th French Infantry Regiment during the 2nd Battle of the Marne in 1918. He won a further two Croix de Guerre during this battle before being wounded.[9]

By the end of the War, Waddell had been awarded the Croix de guerre seven times. Described as ‘a courageous leader and one of the most respected of all the Legion's officers’,[10] Waddell was promoted to Commandeur of the Legion of Honour in 1920. When he retired from the French Army he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Post War

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.[11]

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


  1. 1.0 1.1 Leask, Anna (14 April 2015). "Gallipoli 100: Our forgotten 'French' hero". The New Zealand Herald (46, 096). pp. A12f. Retrieved 14 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 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.
  3. 'Waddell, Lieutenant-Colonel James', in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, I. McGibbon (Ed.), 2000, Auckland: Oxford University Press, p.572.
  4. French Military records
  5. Martin Windrow, page 35 "French Foreign Legionnaire 1890-1914", Osprey Publishing Ltd 2011, ISBN 978 1 84908 422 2
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. American Fighters in the Foreign Legion, 1914–1918" Paul Ayresw Rockwell, Houghton Miffli Company, NY, 1930.
  9. 9.0 9.1 French Military Records
  10. J. Parker, Inside the Foreign Legion: The sensational story of the World’s toughest Army, London: Judy Piatkus, 1998, p.69.
  11. 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.