Every day commuters walk through the beautiful front foyer of Wellington’s railway station without seeing the plaque on the wall that commemorates a war hero.
Leslie Andrew was a Wanganui boy but he was adopted by Wellington after he worked as a clerk at the Railways Department office before volunteering to serve in the Great War in October 1915.
Born on March 23, 1897, in Ashhurst in the Manawatu, the son of the headmaster of a local school William Andrew and mother Frances Hannah, he grew up in Whanganui. After completing his schooling he worked for a solicitor before moving to the New Zealand Railways Department.
He had gained valuable military service experience with the Territorial Force as a cadet which led to his eagerness to go to war.
He wasn’t supposed to, he was underage at 18 and lied about it to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force shipping out in May 1916.
By September 1916 he had arrived in France and fought with the 2nd Wellington Battalion on the Somme before being wounded.
During fighting around the tiny village of La Basseville, near Messines, in Belgium, then Corporal Andrew was leading men to destroy a machine gun post. He noticed a nearby machine gun post that was holding up the advance of another platoon. He diverted his force and removed the threat then led his men on to the original target. Despite being under continuous gunfire Andrew and Private Laurence Robert Ritchie kept going, taking out the post. He received a flesh wound to his back.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his “cool daring, initiative, and fine leadership, and his magnificent example was a great stimulant to his comrades”.
At 20 years old, he was one of the youngest New Zealanders to be awarded the VC.
After further action he was sent to England for officer training and was there when the war ended.
It was there he met Bessie Ball from Nottingham and married her. They had five children.
Andrew opted to become a professional soldier and came back to New Zealand where he was appointed adjutant of the 1st Wellington Regiment.
At the outbreak of WW2 Andrew, now a major, was seconded to the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force then appointed commander of the 22nd Battalion. They sailed in May 1940 to the Middle East but were diverted by the invasion of (then) Holland and Belgium.
From there he went to Egypt and then Greece leading the battalion through the Battle of Greece.
Evacuated to Crete, Andrew was ordered to hold Point 107, the dominant hill overlooking the airfield. Heavily bombed and with communications lost, they eventually had to withdraw
After heavy losses in Crete. The battalion withdrew to Egypt to rebuild.
When his commander was captured in 1941, Andrew was given temporary command, earning a Distinguished Service Order for his leadership.
In 1942 he gave up his command in order to return to New Zealand where officers were needed to oversee home defences with the entry of Japan into the war.
He led the Wellington Fortress Area for the rest of the war.
Andrew died on 8 January 8, 1969 at Palmerston North Hospital after a brief illness and is buried at the Levin RSA cemetery.
His VC was one of the ones stolen from the National Army Museum in Waiouru and later recovered.
A large number of his descendants were at the unveiling of the railway station plaque 100 years after the battle for which he was awarded his VC.