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Heritage tomatoes link Cambridge with War Centenary

Heritage tomatoes link Cambridge with War Centenary

Tomatoes that were kitchen garden favourites a century ago are helping pay for the Cambridge Brass Band to play at the centenary of the wartime liberation of Cambridge's sister city Le Quesnoy in France.

The French town has invited the band to the centennial celebration of the event to reprise a concert given by the New Zealand Army Band the day after Kiwi troops liberated the town without any civilian casualties on 4 November 1918.

To help raise money for the trip, the Cambridge band's tuba player, retired Waikato University geochemistry professor Chris Hendy, has been growing and marketing heirloom tomatoes from 130 heritage plants.

“Getting to Le Quesnoy is expensive, especially for the junior members who make up more than half the band. For the past year we have been on a fund-raising drive, and my contribution has been to turn one of my other hobbies into a money-earner for the venture,” he says.

Friends and neighbours have been more than happy to buy heirloom tomatoes from Chris and to be regaled by the story of Le Quesnoy and why the Cambridge Brass Band has been invited to go.

The liberation of Le Quesnoy, just one week before the Armistice, was one of New Zealand's most important victories during World War 1, but also the last.

“A key to that success is memorialised by a painting and stained-glass window in St Andrew's Church, Cambridge, whose vicar, Clive Mortimer-Jones, served as an Army chaplain at Le Quesnoy,” says Chris Hendy.

“The NZ commander borrowed ladders to scale the town's historic fortified wall rather than bombard the town with artillery. Only one ladder was long enough, but it allowed a soldier to climb the wall and open a sluice gate allowing the troops to take the town without any civilian casualties.”

The soldier, Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill, was son of the then Bishop of Auckland (a diocese that included Waikato at the time), and brother to Rev Walter Averill who served as a curate in Cambridge after the war.

“In gratitude the town named two of its streets after New Zealand and is one of only two French towns to celebrate ANZAC Day,” he says.

Chris grows 16 varieties of heirloom tomatoes which range in colour from deep plum red to orange and bright yellow, with a great mix of shape, size, texture and taste.

He says its been a difficult year for growing tomatoes outside, with the hottest December on record followed by the wettest January and February. But he's kept the plants healthy, flourishing and still producing, and the tomatoes have raised more than $800 towards the band's November trip.

The band has a 'give a little' page, a stall at many of the Sunday Markets, is playing concerts to raise the money needed but is still looking for fund raising ideas and is happy for any suggestions.

The give a little page can be found here:

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