List of World War I memorials and cemeteries in Artois, within the historic County of Artois and present day Pas-de-Calais Department of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, located in northeastern France. World War I battles in this area of the Western Front include the First Battle of Artois (December 1914–January 1915), the Second Battle of Artois (9–15 May 1915), and the Third Battle of Artois (25 September–15 October 1915).
It divides this part of the Western Front into four distinct sections:
Following the various declarations of war which were to lead to the First World War, the German Army opened the war on her western front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium and then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The German Army forced the Allied armies to retreat until the Battle of the Marne was fought, when the tide turned and the German Army was forced to retreat northwards. They did so to the river Aisne, dug in on the high ground there, and fought the First Battle of the Aisne. This encounter was inconclusive and what historians call the race to the sea followed, during which neither side was able to achieve a breakthrough as they edged to the north and at the conclusion both sides were to dig in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. This line, the Western Front, remained essentially unchanged for most of the war. A war of movement was over and a type of warfare that no side had planned for was to take its place: a static war of attrition with both sides entrenched on either side of the front line.
Between 1915 and 1917, there were several major offensives along this front. The attacks employed massive artillery bombardments and massed infantry advances. However a combination of entrenchments, machine gun nests, barbed wire, and artillery repeatedly inflicted severe casualties on the attackers and counterattacking defenders and as a result, no significant advances were made. Among the most costly of these offensives were the Battle of Verdun with a combined 700,000 dead, the Battle of the Somme with more than a million casualties, and the Battle of Passchendaele or “Third Ypres”, which saw roughly 600,000 casualties.
Both sides tried to break the deadlock by introducing new military technology, including poison gas, aircraft and tanks but it was improved tactics that eventually restored some degree of mobility to the conflict. The German Spring Offensive of 1918 was made possible by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that marked the end of the conflict on the Eastern Front. Using the recently introduced infiltration tactics, the German armies advanced nearly 60 miles (97 kilometres) to the west, which marked the deepest advance by either side since 1914 and they very nearly succeeded in forcing a breakthrough.
The Germans could not in the end break the Allied line and now the numerical advantage given the Allies by the volume of soldiers arriving from the United States of America fuelled an inexorable advance by the Allied armies during the second half of 1918. The German Army commanders finally realised that defeat was inevitable, and the government was forced to sue for conditions of an armistice. This took place on 11 November 1918 and the terms of peace were agreed upon with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
After the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Aisne, the encounters between the two opposing armies moved northwards towards Compiègne on 17 to 18 September 1914, to Roye on 22 September 1914, the Battle of Albert from 27 to 28 September 1914, and then the Battle of Arras from 30 September to 5 October 1914. From 4 to 8 October 1914 there was fighting at the Battle of La Bassée and at Neuve Chapelle. The two armies then continued to move northwards until the Yser and the North Sea coast were reached.
Neuve Chapelle was to see a further Battle of Neuve Chapelle from 10 to 13 March 1915, followed by the Battle of Aubers Ridge on 9 May 1915, Battle of Festubert from 15 to 25 May 1915, and the Battle of Loos from 25 September to 18 October 1915.
No major attacks took place in the Arras sector from the end of October 1915 to April 1917, but then we see the huge Battle of Arras fought from 9 April to 17 May 1917, fighting at Hill 70 in August 1917, the “Kaiser’s Battle” from 21 to 28 March 1918, the Battle of the Lys in April 1918, and the Second Battle of Arras in August 1918.
The Battle of Armentières was part of the so-called “Race to the Sea”, the series of battles that were ultimately to define the line of the Western Front as trench warfare finally took over in the autumn of 1914.
Le Quesnoy was occupied by the German Army for most of the First World War but on 4 November 1918, it was attacked by men of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, who scaled the high walls of the outer ramparts and seized the German Commander and his garrison of over 1,000 men. On the face of the walls is a memorial commemorating their success and the ninety New Zealand lives that were lost in the process. After resisting the German offensive in the spring of 1918, the Allied Armies (including American troops), under the command of General Foch, launched a counter-attack along the length of the Western Front in what was to become known as the Hundred Days Offensive. On 21 August, the British Army launched the first of a number of attacks on the Western Front in the sectors under its control: Amiens, Albert, Arras and Bapaume. The Allied troops advanced up to the Hindenburg Line which they breached at Saint-Quentin Canal on 5 October and at Le Nord Canal three days later. Lille and Douai were liberated on 17 October, and the British Army pressed on towards the Belgian border while the New Zealand Division was given the job of liberating Le Quesnoy. The 18th century Vauban fortifications protecting the town encouraged the Germans garrisoned there to hold out against the Allied advance; however the precision of the New Zealand artillery disrupted the organization of the German defence. In the general confusion Kiwi soldiers managed to set up a ladder on the south side of the town and enter through a sluice gate. Led by Lieutenant Leslie Averill, the New Zealanders completely surprised the Germans who, after much fighting in the streets, surrendered the town on the evening of 4 November. The Armistice was signed a week later.
South from Armentières was the front line dominated by the Aubers Ridge. The German army held this ridge, so much of the fighting in the sector involved attempts to dislodge them from it.
The Battle of Fromelles or Fleurbaix was a bloody affair and in a twenty-seven-hour period the Australian 5th Division suffered 5,533 casualties, with 1,917 killed, of whom 1,299 could not be identified. A further approximately 400 men were taken prisoner. To illustrate the extent of the losses the 60th Battalion Victoria Regiment started the battle with 887 men and, when the fighting was over, had just 1 officer and 106 men left. It is also estimated that the British Army had 1,547 men killed or wounded and that the German Army lost 1,500 soldiers killed or wounded in the Battle of Fromelles.
The attack at Fromelles was planned as a diversionary attack to the north of the battle raging on the Somme. Fromelles had already seen action in 1915 when British efforts to take Aubers Ridge had been repulsed with heavy losses. The Fromelles attack in 1916 saw the baptism of the Australian Imperial Force to fighting on the Western Front as the units then down on the Somme had yet to be committed to action. As was to be the case at the Somme, the provisional artillery bombardment at Fromelles did not cut the German barbed wire as hoped would be the case, and the German machine guns, with a clear view of the attackers, were able to wreak havoc once the infantry launched their attack.
Below are some photographs of the “Cobber” memorial, and V C Corner.
View of VC Corner Cemetery
Men of the Australian 53rd Battalion photographed in the trenches at Fromelles
An inscribed stone at the base of the Cross of Sacrifice at Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
This photograph of a German blockhouse at Fromelles shows just how formidable the German fortifications were.
The Indian Army made a huge contribution to the Great War. Their involvement on the Western Front was limited in the main to the years 1914 and 1915 and after this, in recognition of the difficulties for Indians to live and operate in the grim climatic conditions of Northern Europe, they were moved to the Egyptian Theatre of War and other warmer places. India, in the context of the 1914-1918 war, was pre-partition India; the Indian Sub-Continent in 1914 would have embraced present day India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Nepal and Bangladesh. Only days after the British government had declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade of the Indian Army were ordered to mobilise and prepare for overseas service. Units began arriving in France in September 1914, and by late October they were involved in heavy fighting on the Messines Ridge in Belgium. It was at Messines on 31 October 1914 that Khudadad Khan performed the act of gallantry for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross, becoming the first Indian born soldier to be so honoured. The Indian Corps, which was composed of the 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) divisions, went on to fight in some of the bloodiest battles of the first year of the war, and at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle which ran from 10 to 13 March 1915. Indian soldiers made up half of the attacking force and, despite suffering very heavy casualties, succeeded in capturing important sections of the German line. The officers and men of the Corps further distinguished themselves at St. Julien in the Ypres Salient in April 1915, at Aubers Ridge and Festubert in May of that year, and at Loos in September 1915, before they were redeployed to the Middle East in December. The Indian Cavalry Corps remained on the Western Front until the spring of 1918 and Indian labour companies, which had begun arriving in France in 1917, performed vital and often dangerous logistical work behind the lines until after the Armistice. India sent over 140,000 men to the Western Front – 90,000 serving in the infantry and cavalry and as many as 50,000 non-combatant labourers. They hailed from the length and breadth of British India: from the Punjab, Garwahl, the Frontiers, Bengal, Nepal, Madras, and Burma, and represented an extremely diverse range of religious, linguistic, and ethnic cultures. The officer corps was composed mostly of men of European descent. Of the combatants, over 8,550 were killed and as many as 50,000 more were wounded. Almost 5,000 of the dead have no known grave and are commemorated both on the Menin Gate at Ypres and here at Neuve Chapelle.
It was on 24 March 1915, several days after the failed offensive at Neuve-Chapelle, that General Joffre made an official request for the British Army to take part in a huge offensive he was planning in Artois at the beginning of May. The aim of the offensive was to break through the German line north of Arras. The main thrust of the attack was to be made by the 10th French Army on Vimy Ridge and two supporting attacks on the flanks would, it was hoped, secure the heights of Lorette Spur to the north-west and other high ground to the east of Arras. If everything went according to plan the French hoped that they would be able to advance into the coal basin itself and take Douai.
In this context the British fought two battles, that at Aubers Ridge and at Festubert, both fought in May 1915, and both to distract the German’s from Joffre’s main attack.
Neither battle achieved the results hoped for and huge casualties were sustained- it reportedly took three days to transfer the wounded of 9 May to the field ambulances on the second line. In one single day of fighting the British Army had lost 11,000 men (dead, wounded and lost in action) which was, in relative terms, one of the highest casualty rates of the Great War, in particular for officers. The memorial at Le Touret remembers those who died at Aubers and Festubert and have no known grave.
Following the German gas attack in the Ypres Salient in April 1915, the depleted Battalions of the Canadian 1st Division were reinforced and moved to France south of Armentières. On 18 May the Canadian 3rd Brigade, was called up from Reserve and moved into the line east of Festubert, joining a series of assaults around a German strong point called the Orchard . The 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment), 16th (The Canadian Scottish Regiment) and the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada) all played a significant part in the fighting.
When the battle was called off on 25 May, the line established by the advances of the 15th and 16th Battalions remained the front line until 1918. The Canadian 1st Division suffered 2,468 casualties and the 15th Battalion lost 150 men. The fallen of the 15th Battalion lie buried in: Aire Communal, Arras Road, Béthune, Cabaret Rouge, Étaples, Guards (Cuinchy), Hinges, Le Touquet and Pont-de-Hem Cemeteries and the Missing are commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. The commemorative plaque was unveiled on 23 October 2011 in the presence of Canadian and French dignitaries by members of the 15th Battalion Memorial Project.
In 1916, the young Portuguese Republic had entered the war on the side of the Allies. The Portuguese Expeditionary Force comprised up to 56,500 men and, under the command of the British Army, was assigned to Flanders and positioned in the trenches between the villages of Laventie and Festubert. The Portuguese Command took up quarters in Peylouse Manor in Saint-Venant.
In honour of the soldiers who defended the village of La Couture, the French and Portuguese governments inaugurated a monument there in 1928. The monument’s frieze shows the ruins of a Gothic church and an allegory of the Portuguese Republic coming to the aid of one of its soldiers.
In the autumn of 1915, the British High Command had little enthusiasm for another major offensive but the French were quite insistent on one. Joffre’s plans involved a two-pronged attack. The French Army was to launch a major attack in the Champagne area and a Franco-Commonwealth attack was planned on a 32 kilometres (20 mi) line to the north of Arras. Of this 32-kilometre stretch the British were allocated a 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) section running from Givenchy just north of the La Bassée Canal and the industrial town of Bully-Grenay in front of Lens; the Gohelle Battlefields.
One reason for Haig and French’s lack of enthusiasm was that they did not feel that they had fully absorbed the lessons of Second Ypres, Festubert, Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge, the earlier offensives of 1915 and the doomed Gallipoli campaign had diverted precious men and munitions from the Western Front. However, their major concern was that the levels of ammunition available would not support a major offensive as the initial advances by the infantry would have to be supported by a high degree of artillery fire. The French demand was however met and the British Army allocated the 10 kilometre sector mentioned earlier. At this battle the British intended to make their first use of gas and the offensive would give Kitchener’s “New Army” a chance to show their mettle.
In fact the offensive failed both in the Champagne and at Loos and the Loos Memorial at Loos-en-Gohelle commemorates the 20,605 British officers and men who were killed from 25 September 1915 to the end of the war in November 1918 in the little sector between the river Lys in French Flanders and the village of Grenay, near Lens, in Artois. The Loos memorial forms the rear and two sides of Dud Corner Cemetery, so called because of the high number of unexploded shells found there.
The thousands of names of the servicemen missing in action with no known grave are inscribed on 139 stone panels attached to these side and rear walls. The Loos Memorial was designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Charles Wheeler. Stone tablets containing the names of the missing are numbered from 1 to 139, starting at the north-west corner of the memorial and running around the walls to the south-west corner. It was unveiled by Sir Nevil Macready on 4 August 1930.
The Battle of Loos had opened on 25 September 1915. The 9th (Scottish) Division scored one of the few successes by gaining a foothold on the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, the main observation posts used by the Germans to view the area and the 15th (Scottish) took Loos and pushed on to the Hill 70 Redoubt. However, the gains, won at such a horrific loss of life, had to be capitalized on quickly and the reserves (mostly inexperienced New Army Divisions) were brought into action too slowly. The Germans counter-attacked and by 27 September the offensive was breaking down and the Germans had retaken both the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8. Attempts to retake these important positions were made on 13 October 1915, but failed after further heavy losses and by 19 October 1915, the battle petered to a halt. The British Army had lost over 20,000 men.
Field Marshal Sir John French, already being criticised before the battle, lost his remaining support in both the Government and Army as a result of the British failure at Loos and his perceived poor handling of his reserve divisions in the battle. He was replaced by Douglas Haig as Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in December 1915.
The first use of gas by the British had not been a success but Kitchener’s New Army had at least been “bloodied” and in every sense of the word. It has been estimated that more than 14,000 of those named on the walls of the Loos Memorial died in the Battle of Loos and that of the 8,500 who died on the first day, over 6,500 were to have no known grave.
Among the dead on the British side at Loos were: Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Consort, of George VI and “Queen Mother”), author and poet Rudyard Kipling’s son, John, and the poet Charles Sorley.
“Loos was the fourth failure of 1915 for the British and this time losses reached almost 48,000 men; at Vimy the French figure was almost identical. In the wider Artois offensive the total was 143,567.”.
No further attacks were to take place in the Gohelle, Vimy and Arras sectors until the spring of 1917.
View of slag-heaps near Loos Memorial. These slag-heaps are called crassiers in French.
View of slag-heaps or crassiers. Also called terrils in French.
A fosse in the Loos area. Fosse is the French word for a coal-mine.
Because this sector of the front had been in British hands for years, the various zones of combat forming the 1918 styled defence system was far better prepared than that of Gough’s Fifth Army (who had taken over an unprepared position from the French). However, the Portuguese were suspected to be capable of offering only a weak resistance and the British 40th Division (in front of Fromelles) and 34th Division at Armentières had both been badly mauled in Operation Michael on the Somme only weeks beforehand.
The Lancashire Territorials of the 55th Division found themselves confronted by the 4th Ersatz, 43rd Reserve and 18th Reserve Infantry Divisions on their own front whilst their immediate left flank was rapidly pushed in by the 1st Bavarian Reserve Division following the faster than anticipated collapse of the Portuguese 2nd Division. As the Germans pushed in and around them the Lancashire men fell back to their line of resistance along the road to Windy Corner, mounted counterattacks, and remained. The front by the following day looped around the top of Festubert and then turned north-west towards Locon. On 11 April, a second attempt was made to break the 55th Division but apart from a few hundred metres on its far left the assault by four German Divisions was repulsed. Having made greater gains to the north around Merville and the Belgian border, the Germans began to concentrate their efforts in those areas. Ultimately their offensive would fail. The defenders of Givenchy had not ceded a metre.
File WO 32/5870 held at The National Archives in Kew covers the memorial at Givenchy to the 55th Division and indicates that the Memorial was unveiled on 15 May 1921 by Joffre. See also
The memorial at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée commemorates the endeavours of the men of the Tunneling Companies of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who, during the Great War, lived, fought and died underground in France and Flanders. It was unveiled on 19 June 2010. It is erected in special remembrance of Sapper William Hackett (VC) of 254 Tunneling Company RE, and Private Thomas Collins of the 14th Battalion, The Welsh Regiment, who both still lie 40 feet (12 m) beneath the field in front of this memorial.
The memorial comprises a British Lakeland slate panel whose dimensions are those of the Shaftsbury Gallery in which William Hackett VC and Thomas Collins still lie. The words are framed by drawings of the tunnelers mining equipment – including canaries and mice. The circular base is the same diameter as the Shaftsbury Shaft by which the tunnelers descended into the gallery. William Hackett is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium whilst Thomas Collins is listed on the Thiepval Memorial.
The south-eastern end of the Vimy Ridge the east of the ancient city of Arras. East of Arras the front line crossed farms and villages. Arras was evacuated by French forces on 29 August 1914 but reoccupied a month later. It remained in French hands throughout the war. Underneath the city there were tunnels and catacombs dug out of the chalk by the Romans. Some were used during the First World War by medical units and as safe shelter for Allied troops. The city was destroyed by German artillery bombardments from vantage points on the high ground.
“As the boundary of the clay plain of Flanders and the chalk uplands of Artois, the Vimy Ridge and its smaller cousin Notre Dame de Lorette created a formidable military barrier, a geological fracture destined to have a deep impact on the lives of soldiers struggling for topographical advantage.” In 1914 the German Army had taken both these ridges and had occupied both Loos and Lens, and it was largely as a consequence of the efforts of French Alpine divisions, and troops from Senegal, that they were kept out of Arras. Once the front line had stabilised, Arras was left at the centre of a salient and open to constant artillery bombardment from the high ground to the north and south. The French were always sought to redress this situation and after an offensive in 1914 Foch launched the Second Battle of Artois from 9 May to 19 June 1915. The Germans were driven from Notre Dame de Lorette but a major break-through was not achieved. The Vimy Ridge and beyond it Douai remained in German hands. There was however to be little respite and 1915 was to see another offensive in the area, the Battle of Loos.
South of the coalfields around Lens, the Artois landscape gently rises up in a series of finger-like spurs. Two spurs of particularly high ground afford magnificent views in all directions. These spurs lie in a north-west to south-east direction and are located north-west of the city of Arras. They are known as the Loretto Heights (Notre Dame de Lorette) and the Vimy ridge.
Almost 40,000 men who were killed in the First World War are honoured in the cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette (Cimetière militaire Notre-Dame-de-Lorette or the Nécropole nationale de Notre-Dame-de-Lorette). This French military cemetery covers 13 hectares (1,300 a). Almost 20,000 of the soldiers are buried in individual graves whilst the remains of 19,998 unidentified casualties were laid to rest in seven ossuaries within the cemetery grounds. These seven ossuaries contain the remains of French servicemen brought into the cemetery from the Artois battlefields including single burials, burials in civilian cemeteries and small military burial sites within a radius of some 30 miles (48 km) of Ablain St. Nazaire. It was not possible to identify these remains. The ossuaries are named after French military commanders.
Ossuaries Number 1 – 5 are located at the western end of the cemetery.
There are another two ossuaries on the eastern side of the Lantern Tower.
At the base of the Lantern Tower an eighth ossuary contains the remains of another 6,000 soldiers.
There is a plot at the western end of the cemetery for Muslim soldiers, and each grave has a headstone instead of a cross with each headstone facing east. North Africans from the 1st Moroccan Division fought in this area during the battles of 1915 for the high ground of Lorette and the ridge at Vimy.
General Ernest Barbot is also buried in the cemetery. He was Commander of the French 77th Mountain Division and was killed on the Artois battlefield at Souchez on 10 May 1915. This division had fought in the 1914 battles in the Alsace mountains and had been moved to Artois by early 1915. Barbot’s grave marker was originally one created by his soldiers as a cross made out of shell casings retrieved from the battlefield but that cross was stolen in 1952 and was replaced with the same simple cross that marks the final resting place of so many of General Barbot’s comrades in arms.
After dark the Lantern Tower sends a beacon of light across the surrounding countryside. It revolves five times each minute and it is reckoned that its ray of light covers a distance of about 45 miles (72 km). This Lantern Tower was designed by Louis Cordonnier and the first stone was laid on 19 June 1921 by Marshal Philippe Pétain. The inauguration ceremony was held on 2 August 1925. The tower is 150 feet (46 m) high with 200 steps. Until recently the tower was open to the public to climb to the stop, but now the viewing area at the top has been closed for security reasons. The base of the tower is a square with each side being 35 feet (11 m) long. At the base of the tower there is an ossuary-crypt containing the remains of 6,000 soldiers and a Chapel of Rest. There are 32 coffins located in the Chapel of Rest in four groups of 8 coffins. Three coffins contain the remains of an unknown soldier from the Second World War (laid to rest here in July 1950), a soldier from the North African war (laid to rest here in October 1977), and the remains of a soldier from the Indochina war (laid to rest here in June 1980). A reliquary (a container for relics) was placed in the tower in April 1955, which contains soil and ashes from the concentration camps of World War II. Since 1920 Notre Dame de Lorette has been manned by a Voluntary Guard of Honour which welcomes visitors to the site and rekindles the Eternal Flame every Sunday. The Basilica which stands in the cemetery was constructed in the Byzantine style and is 46 metres (50 yd) long and 14 metres (15 yd) wide. The transept is 30 metres (33 yd) long. The construction of the Basilica was inspired by Monseigneur Eugene Julien, Bishop of Arras, who wanted it dedicated to all those who had fallen in this part of France. The interior of the Basilica, a vast and colourful mosaic, contains on its walls thousands of memorial plaques to both units and individuals who lost their lives for France. Six of the windows were donated by Britain as thanks for all the land given by France for British Cemeteries.
The Byzantine Basilica at Notre Dame de Lorette
The Lantern Tower which sends a beam of light over the surrounding countryside.
Interior view of the Basilica
The eternel flame at Notre Dame de Lorette. Its maintenance is one of the duties of the “Voluntary Guard of Honour”.
View of Lantern Tower and some of the many headstones at Notre Dame de Lorette
The entrance to Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery
Stoup in the form of a shell in the Basilica at Notre Dame de Lorette
One of the ossuaries at Notre Dame de Lorette. This is the “Barbot” ossuary which contains 5,649 bodies.
The ridge had fallen to the German Army in October 1914. The French Tenth Army attempted to dislodge the Germans from the region during the Second Battle of Artois in May 1915 by attacking their positions at Vimy Ridge and Notre Dame de Lorette. During the attack, the French 1st Moroccan Division briefly captured the height of the ridge, where the Vimy memorial is currently located, but was unable to hold it owing to a lack of reinforcements. (See photographs of the Moroccan memorial in the gallery below.) The French made another attempt during the Third Battle of Artois in September 1915, but were once again unsuccessful in capturing the top of the ridge.
In February 1916 the British XVII Corps relieved the French Tenth Army from the sector and, on 21 May 1916, the German infantry attacked the British lines along a 1,800-metre (2,000 yd) front in an effort to force them from positions along the base of the ridge. The Germans captured several British-controlled tunnels and mine craters before halting their advance and entrenching their positions. British counter-attacks on 22 May did not manage to change the situation, and in October 1916 the Canadian Corps relieved the British IV Corps and took up position along the western slopes of Vimy Ridge.
The Canadian Corps, commanded by Sir Julian Byng, was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
In the week leading up to the battle, Canadian and British artillery subjected the enemy positions on the ridge to a constant barrage and the new No. 106 fuze, which allowed shells to explode on contact, as opposed to burying themselves in ground, facilitated the destruction of hardened defences and barbed wire.
The four Canadian divisions involved stormed the ridge at 5:30 a.m. on 9 April 1917. The Canadians showed great bravery and Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, and where the Vimy monument now stands, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. After a further three days of fighting the Canadians were victorious. Victory was however achieved at a great cost with 3,598 Canadians killed and another 7,000 wounded.
The capture of Vimy was more than just an important battlefield victory. For the first time all four Canadian divisions attacked together: men from all regions of Canada were present at the battle. Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, “in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”
In 1922, the French government ceded Vimy Ridge to Canada in perpetuity together with the land surrounding it. The gleaming white marble and haunting sculptures of the Vimy Memorial, unveiled in 1936, stand as a terrible and poignant reminder of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France who have no known graves.
The site was founded principally as a location for the Vimy Memorial but it also contains a number of other memorials. These include memorials dedicated to the French Moroccan Division, the Lions Club International monument and that in honour of Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Watkins. There are also two Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintained cemeteries on site; Canadian Cemetery No. 2 and Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery. Beyond being a popular location for battlefield tours, the site is also an important location in the burgeoning field of First World War battlefield archaeology, because of its preserved and largely undisturbed state. The site’s interpretive centre helps visitors fully understand the Vimy Memorial, the preserved battlefield park, and the history of the Battle of Vimy within the context of Canada’s participation in the First World War. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial and Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial sites comprise close to 80 percent of conserved First World War battlefields in existence and between them receive over one million visitors each year.
The Moroccan Division Memorial celebrates the efforts of the Moroccan Division on 9 May 1915.
A side view of the Moroccan Division Memorial. The Moroccan Division’s Battle Honours are listed.
Preserved trenches at Vimy
Further preserved trenches at Vimy
The Lions International Memorial at Vimy
Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery is one of two Canadian cemeteries at Vimy.
Canadian Cemetery No. 2 is the second of the two Canadian cemeteries at Vimy.
Allward chose the highest point on the Vimy Ridge, Hill 145, as the most suitable location for the memorial. The front wall of the monument is 7.3 metres (24 ft) high and is meant to represent an “impenetrable wall of defence”. There is a group of figures at each end of this wall next to the base of the steps. One group is entitled “Breaking of the Sword” and is located at the southern corner of this wall and at the northern corner is the composition entitled “Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless”. Collectively these two groups are the “Defenders” and represent the ideals for which Canadians gave their lives during the war. There is a cannon barrel draped in laurel and olive branches carved into the wall above each group, this to symbolize peace. “Breaking of the Sword” depicts three young men, one of whom is crouching and in the act of breaking his sword, this representing the defeat of militarism and the general desire for peace. The original idea was for one figure to be shown crushing a German helmet with his foot but Allward later decided not to use this because of its overtly militaristic imagery. In “Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless”, one man representing Canada stands erect while three other figures, stricken by hunger or disease, crouch and kneel around him. The standing man represents Canada’s sympathy for the weak and oppressed; the helpless.
At the top of this front wall stands the figure of a cloaked young female, her head bowed and her eyes cast down. Her chin rests in one hand. Below her and at ground level is a sarcophagus which bears a Brodie helmet, a sword and is draped in laurel branches. This figure is known as “Canada Bereft” or “Mother Canada”. The young nation of Canada mourns her dead. The statue was carved by the Italian sculptor Luigi Rigamonti. The statue, a reference to traditional images of the Mater Dolorosa and presented in a similar style to that of Michelangelo’s Pietà, faces eastward looking out to the dawn of the new day. Unlike the other statues on the monument, stonemasons carved “Canada Bereft” from a single 30 tonne block of stone. The statue is the largest single piece in the monument and serves as a focal point. The twin pylons rise to a height 30 metres above the memorial’s stone platform. The twin white pylons, one bearing the maple leaf for Canada and the other the fleur-de-lys for France, symbolize the unity and sacrifice of both countries. At the top of the two pylons is a grouping of figures known collectively as the “Chorus”. The most senior figures represent “Justice” and “Peace”. “Peace” stands with a torch upraised, making it the highest point in the region. These two works are in a style similar to Allward’s previously commissioned statues of “Truth” and “Justice”, located outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. The figures of “Hope”, “Charity”, “Honour” and “Faith” are located below “Justice” and “Peace” on the eastern side, with “Truth” and “Knowledge” on the western side. Around these figures are the shields of Canada, Britain and France. Large crosses adorn the outside of each pylon. The First World War battle honours of the Canadian regiments and a dedicatory inscription to Canada’s war dead, in both French and English, also appear on the monument. At the base of the monument and between the two pylons is the “Spirit of Sacrifice” Here a young dying soldier is gazing upward in a crucifixion-like pose, having thrown his torch to a comrade who holds it aloft behind him. In a lightly veiled reference to the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, the torch is passed from one comrade to another in an effort to keep alive the memory of the war dead.
The “Mourning Parents”, one male and one female figure, are reclining on either side of the western steps on the reverse side of the monument. They represent the mourning mothers and fathers of the nation and are thought to be based on the four statues by Michelangelo on the Medici Tomb in Florence, Italy. Inscribed on the outside wall of the monument are the names of the 11,285 Canadians killed in France, and whose final resting place is unknown. Most Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorials present names in a descending list format. Allward sought to present the names as a seamless list and decided to do so by inscribing the names in continuous bands, across both vertical and horizontal seams, around the base of the monument. The memorial contains the names of four posthumous Victoria Cross recipients; Robert Grierson Combe, Frederick Hobson, William Johnstone Milne and Robert Spall.
The winning submission to the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission competition was Walter Seymour Allward’s winning maquette.
Masons shown carving the names on the Vimy Memorial
Walter Seymour Allward himself shown with blocks ready for carving
On 25 May 2000 the remains of an unknown Canadian soldier were exhumed and handed to representatives of Canada at a ceremony held at the Vimy Memorial. These remains were laid to rest within the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a sarcophagus placed at the foot of the National War Memorial in Ottawa. A focal point for remembrance, he represents more than 116,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the First World War. A headstone in plot 8, Row E, Grave 7 marks his original grave.
The monument was erected in 1932 in memory of the men who fought in the area from May to June 1915. Rubble from houses in the village which had been destroyed during the war was used for the base of the monument.
On the other side of the road, the cross of the Polish volunteers (paid for by donations from the Polish communities of Pas-de-Calais) pays tribute to those who ‘gave their lives for the resurrection of Poland and the victory of France’. Despite being destroyed in 1940 and storm-damaged in 1967, the monument has been rebuilt and bears the motto “Za wolność naszą i waszą” which means “For our freedom and yours”.
The Battle of Arras was a British offensive during the First World War. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British, Canadian, New Zealand, Dominion of Newfoundland, and Australian troops attacked German defences near the city of Arras.
At this phase of the war, the Allied objective was to end the stalemate of the trenches and break through the German defences into the open ground beyond and engage the numerically inferior German army in a war of movement. The French High Command’s plan was to launch a massive attack (the Nivelle Offensive) about 80 kilometres (50 mi) to the south of the British sector in the Aisne region and at Arras the Allied objectives were to draw German troops away from the ground chosen for the French attack and to take the German-held high ground that dominated the plain of Douai. The British effort was a relatively broad front assault between Vimy in the northwest and Bullecourt in the southeast. After considerable bombardment, Canadian troops advancing in the north were able to capture the strategically significant Vimy Ridge and British divisions in the centre were also able to make significant gains astride the Scarpe river. In the south, British and Australian forces were frustrated by the elastic defence and made only minimal gains. When the battle officially ended on 16 May, British Empire troops had made significant advances but had been unable to achieve a breakthrough and the stalemate of the trenches returned.
The Battle of Arras is normally divided into two phases. Phase one would embrace three encounters: the First Battle of the Scarpe which ran from 9 to 14 April 1917; the First Battle of Vimy Ridge from 9 to 12 April 1917; and the First Battle of Bullecourt from 10 to 11 April 1917.
The Second phase would embrace the Battle of Lagnicourt on 15 April 1917; the Second Battle of the Scarpe from 23 to 24 April 1917; the Battle of Arleux from 28 to 29 April 1917; the Second Battle of Bullecourt from 3 to 19 May 1917; and the Third Battle of the Scarpe from 3 to 4 May 1917.
A great deal of ground was gained for relatively few casualties in the first two days and a number of strategically significant points were captured, notably Vimy Ridge. Additionally, the offensive succeeded in drawing German troops away from the French offensive in the Aisne sector. In many respects, the battle might be deemed a victory for the British and their allies but these gains were offset by high casualties and the ultimate failure of the French offensive at the Aisne.
Siegfried Sassoon makes reference to the battle in his famous anti-war poem “The General” in which he derides the incompetence of the British military staff. The Anglo-Welsh lyric poet, Edward Thomas was killed by a shell on 9 April 1917, during the first day of the Easter Offensive. Thomas’s war diary gives a vivid and poignant picture of life on the Western front in the months leading up to the battle.
Sassoon’s poem read-
‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
* * *
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
Two files held at The National Archives in Kew, ADM 116/2906 and AIR 2/9244 provide background information on the unveiling ceremony and ADM 116/2906 contains an “Introduction to the register of THE ARRAS MEMORIAL at Faubourg-D’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, France” Memorial register 20. This was published by the Commonwealth Graves Commission and contains much valuable information. File ADM116/2906 indicates that Captain R. Bell Davies, V.C., D.S.O., A.F.C red lemon press., R.N, represented the Admiralty at the Arras unveiling ceremony on 31 July 1932.
File AIR 2/9244 provides background information on the Arras unveiling from the Air Ministry perspective also the Thiepval Memorial. The file contains a selection of press cuttings covering the Arrras and Thiepval unveilings. The file notes that The Lord Trenchard, G.C.B., D.S.O., carried out the Arras unveiling and also laid the wreath at Thiepval on behalf the RAF. Sir William Reid Dick, the Scottish sculptor, was responsible for the globe on top of the Arras Flying Services Memorial. He carved both the badges on the memorial and the great globe, which is 4.5 feet (1.4 m) in diameter and weighs almost three tons. The memorial consists of an obelisk with a globe forming a finial on the top. The badges are those of the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force, Royal Naval Air Service, and the combined badges of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. File AIR 1/677/21/13/1891 provides further background information on the Arras Memorial. It contains a draft of the Introduction to the Register of the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) written by their Director of Records, Major H.F. Chettle. Chettle’s covering letter is dated 18 March 1930. The two Memorials and the lay-out of the cemetery are the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens.
The Arras Flying Services Memorial includes amongst the men remembered a winner of the Victoria Cross, Edward “Mick” Mannock who died on 26 July 1918 aged 31.
Amongst those commemorated on the Arras Memorial are T/2nd Lieutenant Richard Basil Brandram Jones, Sergeant John Erskine, T/2nd Lieutenant John Harrison, Corporal George Jarratt, Sergeant Albert White and A/Company Sergeant-Major Alexander Edwards, all winners of the Victoria Cross.
The memorial is dedicated to the memory of the 41 New Zealand tunnelers who lost their lives at Arras and the 151 who were wounded – many who were buried under tonnes of rubble from German counter-mining.
The Kiwi tunnelers joined a number of large chalk quarries built in medieval times to develop two tunnel systems running under the main roads of Arras. In one tunnel system each cave is named after a New Zealand town – Russell, Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson, Blenheim, Christchurch, Dunedin how to tenderize round steak without a mallet, and finally, just before the German front line, Bluff.
Working parties to assist the tunnellers were sent from the New Zealand Division and included Maori and Pacific Islanders of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion. Through the winter of 1916, as the town of Arras above was destroyed by German artillery, the underground city grew large enough to accommodate 20,000 men. There was running water, electric lighting, kitchens, latrines, a light rail system and a medical centre with a fully equipped operating theatre. On 9 April 1917, 15,000 men moved through the tunnels to launch the Battle of Arras. The New Zealand tunnelers remained in France, repairing roads, developing other tunnel systems, and building and repairing bridges. They returned to New Zealand in March 1919.
Ernest Jacques Barbot was born on 19 August 1855 at Toulouse. He graduated as a Second Lieutenant on 1 October 1877 and slowly climbed the ranks. In September 1912 he became the Colonel of the 159e RIA (they were known as the 15-9, Quinze-Neuf). By the age of fifty-seven he had lost both his wife and son and would devote the rest of his life to his Grelus as people from the high Alps are called.
Once Italy had declared its neutrality, the 159e RIA was transferred from the Franco-Italian frontier to Alsace and their accomplishments soon brought Barbot to the attention of his senior officers. Having already effectively taken over command of his own brigade he was promoted to Général de Brigade on 8 September 1914. To this was added a second brigade, creating what was designated as the Division Barbot. In September 1914 his Division was transferred to the Artois Front and officially designated the “77e Division d’Infanterie”. In the battle for Arras, Barbot’s convictions and his soldiers’ tenacity were fundamental in saving the town from occupation by the Germans.
As the German line continued to encircle Arras to the north, Barbot and his Division found themselves transferred to the area in front of Souchez – their Corps was now officially designated the 33e CA and was commanded by Général Philippe Pétain. As a Colonel Petain had commanded the Arras Regiment (33e RI) and one of his young lieutenants was Charles de Gaulle. On 9 May 1915 the 2nd Battle of Artois was launched by the French against the hills of Notre Dame de Lorette and Vimy.
On its right the Moroccan Division stormed across the plain and took Vimy Ridge, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) away, in a single rush. In the centre, Barbot’s men made superb gains getting as far as Hill 119, Givenchy and the outskirts of Souchez. Hill 119 became known as “The Pimple” to the Canadians in 1917 and is the steep hill immediately opposite the site of Barbot’s monument. Unfortunately the speed of their advance proved to be the 77e DI’s undoing and under violent bombardment they were forced to retire from Givenchy, back as far as the Cabaret Rouge on the hill above Souchez. (Near the site of the CWGC Cemetery).
The Barbot Memorial was designed by Paul Dechin and sculpted by his father Jules Dechin. Work began in 1935 under a committee headed by General Pétain, and the monument was inaugurated on Sunday 9 May 1937 in the presence of numerous VIPs and thousands of veterans of the Alpine Division. The statue is not only dedicated to General Barbot himself, as commander of the 77e DI, but also to his men who fell in Artois between 1 October 1914 and 20 February 1916. Dechin depicts Barbot standing with a hand in between two buttons of his greatcoat (like Napoleon) and a gesture of his right hand suggests that he is trying to protect his soldiers who can be seen climbing up out of their trenches in berets — there were no steel helmets in 1915.
On either side of the monument are two commemorative plaques. One is to General Plessier who had preceded Barbot as commander of the 77e DI and was the first General killed in action (at Alsace on 19 August 1914), the other to General Stirn who took over on Barbot’s death but was himself killed two days later.
Why ever not ? Because I’m the General”
The 62nd Division attacked in a north-easterly direction through and either side of the village on 20 November 1917, with the Canal du Nord on the left as the Divisional boundary. The Hindenburg Line was very strong here but they had fifty tanks to support them (although there should have been more than sixty according to the plans). It took them 30 minutes to reach the Hindenburg Line, and take this (it curved south-east of the village), and by 8.15 a.m. they had reached the Blue Line – 2,000 yards (1,800 m) on from their start point, although resistance continued in Havrincourt village for some time. By 11 a.m. the Division were advancing on the next objective, the Brown Line, and by the end of the day 186 Brigade had reached Graincourt, an advance of around 7,000 yards (6,400 m) from the starting position. The village of Havrincourt was lost in March 1918 during the major German offensive. The 62nd Division again retook the village on 12 September 1918 and held it despite German counter-offensives. The 62nd Division has a strong association with the area, and this explains the decision to place their memorial here. Some of their men from both the above encounters lie in the cemetery nearby. File WO 32/5855 held at The National Archives at Kew covers the memorial to the 62nd Division at Havrincourt. The unveiling took place on 7 June 1922 and was carried out by General Berthelot under whose command the 62nd Division took part in the Second Battle of the Marne in July 1918. The file contains a list of all the men who took part in the unveiling.
After leaving the Amiens front, the Canadian Corps liberated 54 towns and villages on some 3000 square kilometres (1158 square miles) of French soil, but in the process suffered more than 20,000 casualties. The Bourlon Wood Memorial commemorates the attack by Canadian Forces on the Canal du Nord.
The Canadian Battlefield Monument Commission, established after the Great War, was appointed to select the location and design of the memorials to commemorate Canadian participation in the First World War. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge was selected as the national memorial site and seven other locations at Hill 62, St. Julien and Passchendaele in Belgium, as well as Le Quesnel, Dury, Courcelette and Bourlon Wood in France were chosen to commemorate significant battles the Canadian Expeditionary Force had engaged in. Each of the seven sites were to have an identical granite block inscribed with a brief description of the battle in both English and French.
Also at Bullecourt is the Slouch Hat Memorial which commemorates those Australian and British soldiers who fell in the area in April and May 1917. The memorial displays the badge of the Australian Imperial Force together with the divisional signs of the three British divisions involved at Bullecourt.
Plaque at Cabaret Rouge gives details about Frank Higginson the architect of the cemetery.
One of Charles Sergeant Jagger’s reliefs on the Cambrai Memorial. A soldier uses a periscope in a trench.
The second of Charles Sergeant Jagger’s reliefs at Cambrai. A wounded man is lifted from the trenches.
The painter George Edmund Butler’s oil painting The Scaling of the Walls of Le Quesnoy. The New Zealand troops’ last major action of the First World War was the capture of Le Quesnoy in November 1918, a week before the armistice. They scaled ladders set against the ancient walls of the old fortress town.
Image of Daniel Joseph Sheehan. He was a Second Lieutenant with the Royal Flying Corps,who died serving with the No. 66 Squadron in France. He is buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Cabaret Rouge Cemetery (grave plot N16) at Souchez.
View through the entrance to the Indian Memorial to the Missing at Neuve Chapelle. In the distance is one of the memorial’s two Chattri.
A memorial in the village of Lehri in the district of Jehlum/Jhelum, which lies about a half hours drive from Islamabad in Northern Punjab. The memorial records that 391 men from Lehri went off to fight in the 1914-1918 war and of these 44 “gave up their lives”. This would have been one of the many memorials erected as a consequence of the Simla directive.
Ernest Gillick’s relief depicting St George fighting the dragon on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial to the Missing.