Leslie Wilton Andrew VC

b. 23/03/1897 Manawatu, NZ. d. 09/01/1969 Levin, New Zealand.

Leslie Wilton Andrew (1897-1969) was born on 23rd March 1897 at Ashhurst, Manawatu-Wanganui, near Palmerston North, New Zealand. His father, William Jeffrey Andrew MA, born in Ballarat, Australia, emigrated to New Zealand and settled in Wanganui. He was a teacher in Westland at Ross School from 1880-1884, Gillespie Beach School 1884-1885, and Blue Spur School 1885-1887. He eventually became a headmaster of three schools until his retirement in July 1924. He married Frances Hannah Neil at Wesleyan Church, Auckland in 1891. They had seven children including Leslie.

Leslie W Andrew VC

Leslie was educated at Ashhurst Primary School, Sedgebrook School, Wanganui District High School and Wanganui Collegiate School. After school he worked in a solicitor’s office until joining the Railway Department in Wellington as a clerk. He served in the Avenue School Cadets, in which his father was a company commander, and also in a Territorial unit, No 7 Company, Railway Engineers. Leslie enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 26th October 1915.

On 1st May 1916 he left New Zealand with the 12th Reinforcements aboard HMNZT 51 Ulimaroa, landing at Suez, Egypt on 9th June 1916 as a Sergeant. He reverted to Private to join 2nd Wellington and sailed for England in July before proceeding to France in August. He was wounded for the first time on the Somme in September, and promoted to Corporal in January 1917.

On 31st July 1917 at La Basse Ville, France, Corporal Andrew was in charge of a small party in an attack on the enemy’s position. His objective was a machine-gun post which had been located in an isolated building, but on leading his men forward he encountered another machine-gun post which was holding up the advance of another company. He immediately attacked it, capturing the gun and killing several of the crew. He then continued with his attack on the original objective and finally captured the post, killing a number of the enemy and putting the remainder to flight.

He was the youngest New Zealander to earn the VC. Leslie was promoted Sergeant on 1st August and was wounded again and buried three times by high explosive shells before attended officer training in England. He received the VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 31st October 1917. He was commissioned on 1st March 1918, but remained in England and led a Victory Day parade contingent through London. He departed for New Zealand in August 1919 and was demobbed in October. Leslie married Bessie Mead Ball, a VAD nurse, on 12th November 1918 at Basford, Nottinghamshire. They returned to New Zealand and lived in Levin. They had five children.

Leslie served in the Permanent Army. He was Lieutenant and Adjutant of the Taranaki Rifles 1920-1923 and was promoted Captain the following year. In 1927-1929 he was attached to 2nd Highland Light Infantry in India. On returning to New Zealand he served as Adjutant of 1st Wellington. On 11th May 1937 Leslie commanded a New Zealand party mounting guard on Buckingham Palace and the following day he attended the coronation of George VI with fellow New Zealand VCs, Captain Samuel Frickleton and Staff Sergeant James Crichton.

He was promoted to Major in 1939 and Lieutenant Colonel and CO 22nd Battalion, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 29th January 1940. He became known as “Old February”. He served in North Africa during Operation Crusader from November to December 1941. He handed over command of the Brigade on 9th December. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the DSO for his outstanding courage, skill and leadership. He was replaced in February 1942 and returned to New Zealand in April. He stopped expeditionary service in October 1943 and in November was promoted Colonel and appointed Officer Commanding Wellington Fortress Garrison. He returned to Britain and commanded the New Zealand Contingent during the Victory Parade in 1946 and in 1946-47 attended the Imperial Defence College in London. He was appointed ADC to the Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Cyril Newell. He was promoted Brigadier in 1948 and appointed Commandant of the Central Military District, New Zealand.

Leslie retired in 1952 and was asked on several occasions to stand for Parliament, but he refused. He was a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen and attended the VC Centenary Celebrations at Hyde Park, London on 26th June 1956. He died after a short illness at Palmerston North Hospital on 8th January 1969. He was buried in the Returned Services Association Lawn Cemetery, Palmerston North. In addition to his VC and DSO, he was also awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, New Zealand War Service Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and New Zealand Long & Efficient Service Medal. The VC is held by the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand. It was stolen in December 2007 with eight other VCs. Following a reward, the medals were recovered in February 2008.