BATTLEFIELD GUIDE : 
ARMENTIÈRES TO LOOS

 

This often neglected area of the Western Front battlefields – the Battlefields of Artois - sees few travellers compared to the Somme and Ypres. I have always found this sad, as some of the most important battles of the early period of the war were fought here, and it is an area that has one of the highest concentration of military cemeteries. Being a static front from 1915 until April 1918, both sides commonly used concrete structures – pillboxes, observation posts, unit headquarters, artillery and trench mortar positions – and many of these still remain. This means that there is often much more physical evidence of the war than on other parts of the battlefields.

This ‘Rough Guide’ follows a one-day tour starting in Armentières and following the front down to the Loos battlefield. It therefore presumes you will be staying in, or local to, Armentières, and also that you will start the day reasonably early – at least, no later that 9.00am. Detail of accommodation in this area, and suggested reading, is appended at the end of the main text.

I trust this brief visit to the ‘forgotten front’ will inspire you to look at this battlefield in greater detail, and as always, I am happy to answer any questions via email.

Email Paul Reed

Part 1: Historical Notes

‘Artois’ is the old name given to the region of France from the French-Belgian border near Armentières to the rolling down land near Arras. It goes west some distance to the towns of Hazebrouck, Aire-sur-la-Lys and St Omer. At one time parts of what are now Belgium were included in it. To the east is the huge city of Lille, birthplace of Charles de Gaulle.

This sector of the front line during the Great War was considered ‘quiet’, if indeed any part of the line could ever be called quiet. For most of the war the lines never changed, and it was used by the British High Command to train new divisions in the day to day activities and duties of trench warfare. Indeed, the Australians referred to it as the ‘Nursery Sector’.

As such, a soldier’s daily life was occupied with maintaining and repairing the trenches and their defences. Each day, at dawn and dusk, he and his comrades would ‘Stand To’, often firing off their rifles and machine-guns. The Germans would bombard the front and support lines with shells of all calibres, trench mortar bombs, rifle grenades and gas. At night a battalion might organise a wiring party in front of the trenches to repair the barbed wire, and even launch a patrol into No Man’s Land to observe the Germans. Occasionally ‘trench raids’ would also take places: these could be anything from a dozen men under an officer to a whole battalion. Casualties therefore soon mounted in this ‘quiet sector’ and "daily wastage", as GHQ called it, ran at 5,000 men a day! (On the whole front) However, there were a number of important battles fought in Artois: they are listed chronologically below.

During the four years of trench warfare, units from every corner of the Empire fought in Artois: Indians and Ghurkhas in 1914, Canadians in 1915, South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians in 1916. Black West Indians in 1917. In 1918 men of the Portuguese Expeditionary Force also fought here: with little experience they were overwhelmed and wiped out in the German Lys Offensive in April 1918. In addition, almost every regiment of the British army fought in Artois and added many of the battles listed below to their Battle Honours.

Principal Battles in Artois 1914-18

BATTLE OF LA BASSÉE: October 1914

BATTLE OF NEUVE CHAPELLE: 10th-13th March 1915

BATTLE OF AUBERS RIDGE: 9th May 1915

BATTLE OF FESTUBERT: 15th-25th May 1915

BATTLE OF LOOS: 25th September – 18th October 1915

BATTLE OF ARRAS: 9th April – 17th May 1917

BATTLE OF HILL 70: 20th-21st August 1917

THE KAISER’S BATTLE (ARRAS): 21st - 28th March 1918

BATTLE OF THE LYS: April 1918

SECOND ARRAS: August 1918

(Note: The fighting at Arras will be covered in a separate Old Front Line Battlefield Guide)

 

Part 2 : The Tour

ARMENTIÈRES

Begin your tour in the main square at Armentières, outside the large town hall with the clock tower. During the Great War Armentières was an important town in the British lines in Artois: a main route to and from the trenches where units were billeted, a depot for support and Lines of Communication troops, Divisional headquarters for the neighbouring sectors, the site of many artillery gun sites and a forward rail head for this part of the front. Up until around 1916 French civilians could still be found in Armentières, many of them operating the infamous ‘estaminets’ where egg and chips along with cheap, watered down wine, could be purchased. Other forms of entertainment were also available – and thus grew the legend of the famous "Mademoiselle from Armentières"! We shan’t repeat some of the more fruitier verses here, but the gist of the song went something like:

Mademoiselle from Armentières parlez-vous?
Mademoiselle from Armentières parlez-vous?
Mademoiselle from Armentières,
Hasn’t been kissed in fifty years,
Inky, Pinky, Parlez-vous!

The square where you are parked was one of the main routes through the town, and all troops in this sector knew it as "Eleven o’clock square" as the original of the clock tower was struck by a shell in 1914 and thereafter the hands stuck on eleven o’clock. Armentières was badly damaged by years of shelling, and all but levelled by German guns during the Lys battle in April 1918. It was rebuilt in the 1920s on a similar style, but in recent years has grown in size, and now many of the local villages (such as Houplines) have been ‘swallowed up’ and are now suburbs of the town. It has a very good bus service, and in theory much of the battlefields around Armentières could be visited using public transport – but make sure you check on the timings! The Tourist Office should be able to help on this – see address below.

Leave the centre of Armentières via the one-way system towards the railway station ("gare"), and cross the tracks following signs for Fleurbaix and La Bassée on the D22and turn right on the D22b to the village of Fleurbaix. The road roughly parallels the British front line, which at various points was anything from a few hundred to a few thousands yards out to your left. Signs of British pillboxes can be seen along the way. At a cross-roads turn at Petillon, go left on the D175 and where the road forks, go right in the direction of Fromelles. Soon you arrive at VC Corner Cemetery on your left.

FROMELLES

Fromelles was in German hands from 1914 until October 1918. Following the fighting here between the British regular army and the Germans in October 1914, both sides dug in. The ground here was very boggy and many trenches were breastworks, built above ground. Despite several major actions, the lines here barely changed for four years.

Fromelles was first attacked by units of the British 8th Division on 9th May 1915, as part of the Battle of Aubers Ridge. They were repelled with heavy losses. 1916 was the year of the Battle of the Somme. However, in Artois several ‘raids en masse’ were planned in Artois to confuse the Germans about the true location of the forthcoming offensive. The first was at Richebourg on 30th June was a disaster; the 116th Brigade, 39th Division, lost eighty percent of its men and were unable to hold any German trenches. A second for Fromelles was planned for late July – by this time the Battle of the Somme had already started!

The troops selected for this action were the 5th (Australian) and 61st (South Midland) Divisions. The 5th (Australian) Division was a new formation with no battle experience – it had only recently arrived from Egypt. A handful of its men had fought at Gallipoli, but none on the Western Front. The 61st (South Midland) was a second-line Territorial Force division which had likewise little experience in the trenches, having only been in France for a month.

The front select for the attack was four kilometers long. The German trenches were well made and strongly constructed, as were their wire defences. Concrete bunkers were numerous. Behind Fromelles was a low ridge, the Aubers Ridge. From observation posts on this ridge, the German artillery virtually commanded the battlefield. Preparations for the operation were not disguised, and in the days before the battle Australian and British troops were seen bring up ammunition, supplies, creating a new light railway and carrying up 1,500 gas cylinders. In the end it was decided not to use gas, and the soldiers about to make the attack were ordered to carry them back again. By this time the men were physically exhausted. The Germans, meanwhile, knew an attack was coming and even placed notice-boards on their trenches asking ‘Why so long?’.

But the attack went ahead. At Zero Hour, 6pm on 19th July, twelve battalions from both divisions went over the top. The attack failed, although here and there some troops had made it into the German lines. The British commander of 61st Division did not commit any more troops to the debacle, but the commander of 5th (Australian) Division allowed reserve troops to go forward, only to be unsupported and mowed down in No Man’s Land. By 5am on 20th July the battle was over – those left in the German lines fought on where they could but they were soon overwhelmed. Some 470 Australians were taken prisoner at Fromelles.

The 5th (Australian) Division lost over 5,000 men in this battle: by the 20th July there were 2,000 dead in No Man’s Land.

VC CORNER CEMETERY, FROMELLES

The cemetery takes its name from a point near a t-junction on the road towards Fromelles. There are two stories of how this place came to be known as VC Corner. One suggests that no Victoria Cross was ever won here, but it was considered such a dangerous spot to even show yourself above ground would result in the award of the VC! Another relays the fact that seven VCs were won near Fromelles in 1914/15 – probably the real reason!

The cemetery was made after the war when the battlefields were cleared. The bodies of 410 Australian soldiers, found in the old No Man’s Land, were buried in what is a large mass grave. A screen wall at the rear of records the names of the men from 5th (Australian) Division who were killed at Fromelles and have no known grave: among them are several brothers.

Each year the people of Fromelles hold a remembrance ceremony here on 19th July, the anniversary of the battle, where wreaths are laid in memory of all the ‘Diggers’ who fell here in 1916.

AUSTRALIAN MEMORIAL PARK, FROMELLES

This new memorial was unveiled in July 1998. Located on the site of the old German front line in 1916, several German concrete bunkers are preserved here. A bronze orientation plaque, one of many erected on AIF Battle Memorial sites, and designed by Roger Bastien, is seen by the entrance.

The centrepiece of the Memorial Park is a huge bronze statue of an Australian soldier rescuing a wounded comrade. It is one of the finest sculptures to be seen on the Western Front battlefields. It depicts Sgt Simon Fraser of the 57th Battalion, who was mentioned in despatches for bringing in wounded ‘mates’ during the battle. A 40-year old Victorian farmer, Fraser was eventually commissioned and was killed at Bullecourt on 12th May 1917. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Somme). Fraser described his role in the action in a letter to his family.

It was no light work getting in with a heavy weight on your back especially if he had a broken leg or arm… You had to lie down and get him on your back; then rise and duck for your life with a chance of getting a bullet in you before you were safe. One foggy morning… we could hear someone over towards the German entanglements calling for a stretcher-bearer; it was an appeal no man could stand against, so some of us rushed out and had a hunt. We found a fine haul of wounded and brought them in; but it was not where I heard this fellow calling, so I had another shot for it, and came across a splendid specimen of humanity trying to wriggle into a trench with a big wound in his thigh… another man about 30 yards out sang out ‘Don’t forget me, cobber’. I went in and got four volunteers with stretchers and we got both men in safely.

BATTLE OF FROMELLES MUSEUM

This museum was started over ten years ago by a group of local militaria collectors and historians anxious to preserve the memory of what happened at Fromelles during the Great War. It is located in the huge attic of the town hall and a staggering array of militaria, photographs and battlefield artifacts are on display. Trench and dugout reconstructions house mannequins in original uniform. Much of the collection is centered around the Australian action in 1916, but the other fighting for Fromelles is well represented in what is one of the finest private museums on the battlefields.

The museum is normally only open in the mornings during weekdays, and at weekends by appointment. It is always wise to phone in advance. For further information contact Martial Delabarre; his details are on the Forgotten Front Battlefields page elsewhere on the site. Martial is a WFA member, an enthusiastic local French military historian/collector and a leading light in the Fromelles Museum, who speaks excellent English.

Leaving Fromelles, follow the D141 in the direction of Aubers. Just on the outskirts of the village, to the right of the road, is a German bunker. The locals call this "Hitler’s Bunker" because Adolf Hitler was photographed in front of it in June 1940, while touring the sites where he had fought in the Great War. However, this bunker was constructed by a German pioneer unit after Hitler was in the Fromelles area. It is now owned by the Battle of Fromelles Association.

Continue on this road towards Aubers. You are on the crest of the so-called Aubers Ridge, which despite the battles of 1915 was not reached by British troops until October 1918. As you come into Aubers there is a remarkable pillbox on the left. It is the shape of a small cottage, and indeed was once built inside the ruins of one. The brick walls and roofing have long gone, now leaving the shell of the bunker – once an observation post. It is possible to get up to the top of the bunker where the OP was, although extreme care must be taken and visitors enter at their own risk.

Continue past Aubers to a roundabout; here turn right and follow the road back across the area of the front lines (noticing various other bunkers) to the village of Fauquissart. Here you meet a road junction on the main D171. Turn left and follow to the middle of Neuve Chapelle.

BATTLE OF NEUVE-CHAPELLE

This was the first British offensive on the Western Front. Launched on 10th March 1915, regular army troops from the British 7th and 8th Divisions and Indian Corps attacked and captured the village. The preliminary bombardment of the German lines had involved over 180 artillery batteries and over 3,000 shells were fired in the space of thirty-five minutes. However, the gains made could not be exploited and the huge Bois de Biez beyond Neuve-Chapelle eluded capture – legend has that a company of Ghurkhas disappeared into the wood never to be seen again! British and Empire casualties amounted to 12,000 men.

There is a small display of military items and photographs relating to Neuve Chapelle in the foyer of the local town hall (‘mairie’). This is normally open weekdays, but rarely at weekends. If closed enquire locally – the display was put together by the local mayor who is very enthusiastic about the history of his village.

Continue on the D171 to a roundabout where it meets the D947. The Indian Memorial is visible ahead. Turn left, and an area of parking can be seen just outside the memorial entrance on the right.

INDIAN MEMORIAL, NEUVE-CHAPELLE

This fine memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, is on the site of the British front line on 10th March 1915. Close to a road junction known as ‘La Bombe Crossroads’ (but now a roundabout!), units of the Meerut Division attacked here during the battle.

On the memorial panels are the names of 4,843 soldiers of the Indian Army who have no known grave. They were killed or died in France from October 1914 until the end of the war. A further memorial inside records the names of Indian Army soldiers who died in Germany whilst prisoners of war. The walls are decorated with the badges of the Indian Army, and the visitor will notice shrapnel damage to the memorial in almost every place: this area was the scene of fighting in May 1940 when the memorial received several direct hits. Indian soldiers who died in Flanders who have no known grave are commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.

On a lawn alongside the D171 is a private memorial to Lieutenant C.W.A.Crichton of the 1/3rd London Regiment. He was killed at Neuve Chapelle on 10th March 1915, and this memorial once stood much closer to La Bombe Crossroads. It was moved here in the 1970s, and is now under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

PORTUGUESE MILITARY CEMETERY, NEUVE CHAPELLE

From the Indian Memorial, this cemetery is visible a few hundred yards further down the D947. Either walk (taking extreme care on the road), or drive down.

This, to my knowledge, is the only specifically Portuguese Military Cemetery anywhere on the Western Front. It commemorates the men of the Portuguese Expeditionary Force who fought in this sector from 1917-18. There are 1,831 burials. At the rear of the cemetery is a small display of artefacts relating to the Portuguese army, which isn’t always open. Opposite the cemetery is a chapel.

By now it will be approaching lunchtime. You have several options. There is a café at La Bombe Crossroads – directly opposite the memorial. This offers set lunches, and sandwiches. However, as with most rural French cafés, it has irregular opening times! Another option is to drive over to the nearby village of Laventie which has several cafés and bars. Otherwise return to the main square of Armentières, about twenty minutes drive back along the D171/D22.

Following lunch restart your tour at the La Bombe Crossroads. Take the D171 in the direction of Bethune, pass the turning on the left for Festubert, and then a few hundred yards further up on the left is the Le Touret Memorial and Cemetery.

LE TOURET MEMORIAL

This memorial commemorates 13,479 soldiers who were killed in the battlefields south of Armentières from October 1914 until the 24th September 1915: the Loos Memorial then takes over. Every regiment of the British army is listed here, and the majority of the men regular soldiers killed in the fighting for La Bassée, Neuve-Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert and Givenchy. It also records some of the first territorial soldiers to be killed in a major battle. Among them are over 100 men from the 1/5th (Cinque Ports) Bn Royal Sussex Regiment who fell at Richebourg on 9th May 1915: this locally recruited unit had one company from the small Sussex village of Wadhurst. The village lost twenty-three of its young men in this battle, all of whom are listed here.

LE TOURET MILITARY CEMETERY

Attached to the memorial, this cemetery has 899 British, 11 Canadian, 4 German and 1 British West Indies Regiment burials here. The cemetery was started in November 1914, and then used by the Guards Brigade, Indian Corps and later in the battle of Festubert. When this became a quiet sector, battalions holding the line near Richebourg and Festubert also buried their dead here.

Following their disastrous attack at Serre, on the Somme, on 1st July 1916, the units of the 31st Division (made up of Northern Pals Battalions) came here for a ‘rest’ before returning to the Somme in November 1916. Many of their dead are found in this cemetery: men who survived the bloodbath of Serre only to be killed by a stray shell, sniper or trench mortar bombardment. Among them is Lieutenant Colonel H.B.Fisher, commanding 12th Bn York & Lancs (Sheffield Pals).

Lieutenant C.W.A.Crichton of the 3rd Londons is also buried here: there is a rare private memorial to him at La Bombe crossroads, close to the Indian Memorial (see above).

Retrace your steps along the D171 and turn right for Festubert on the D166. Stop in the main square in front of the church.

FESTUBERT

One of the forgotten battles of the Great War, the main fighting for Festubert took place between 15th – 25th May 1915. The initial fighting involved a night attack on the 15th/16th May at 11.30pm when units of the 2nd Division attacked on a 1,300 yard front, with elements of the Indian Corps on their flank. Initially this was successful, and 300 yards of No Man’s Land was crossed by the 2nd Division with few casualties, although the commander of the 1st King’s Royal Rifle Corps was mortally wounded. The fighting around Festubert continued, Canadian troops becoming involved in a position know afterwards as ‘Canadian Orchard’. In an action fought here on 16th May 1915, a Victoria Cross was won by L/Cpl J.Tombs of the 1/King’s Liverpool Regiment. His citation reads:

On 16 May 1915 near Rue du Bois, France, Lance-Corporal Tombs, on his own initiative, crawled out repeatedly under very heavy shell and machine-gun fire to bring in wounded men who were lying about 100 yards in front of our trenches. He rescued four men, one of whom he dragged back by means of a rifle sling placed round his own neck and the man's body.

During the May 1915 Battle of Festubert the following casualties had occurred among the units involved in the battle:

    OFFICERS     OTHER RANKS  
UNIT KILLED WOUNDED MISSING KILLED WOUNDED MISSING
2nd Division 46 120 12 536 3,725 1,006
7th Division 57 98 12 674 2,628 654
47th Division 26 138 2 207 1,387 595
1st Canadian Division 25 70 2 356 1,536 215
Meerut Division (British) 29 38 3 103 766 123
Meerut Division (Indian) 2 30 - 91 1,203 134

German casualties were estimated at 5,000.

Festubert was rebuilt in the 1920s, but came under fire again in May 1940 when the German Blitzkrieg swept through here. Signs of shell damage to the church can still be seen today. From 1919 until her death in the late 1970s, a French lady lived in the remains of a British concrete bunker at Festubert (there are photographs of this in the older editions of Before Endeavours Fade by Rose Coombes). Following her death the bunker was sealed up, but can still be seen today – although covered by ivy. It is about a thousand yards south from the church on the D166, on the left of the road.

Continue on the D166 to a crossroads at Cuinchy. This was known as ‘Windy Corner’ during the Great War and was a main route up to the front line at Givenchy. It got its name as German shells often dropped here, and by this time any troops going up would be ‘windy’ – i.e. frightened. Turn left at this junction on the D167 and follow signs for Givenchy. In the centre of the village pass the church on the right, and as you turn the next corner the 55th Divisional Memorial is just ahead of you.

GIVENCHY

Fighting took place around Givenchy in October 1914, when units of the British regular army fought here. The village was successfully defended, and a trench system established east of Givenchy, with the La Bassée canal on the southern flank. The ground here was especially suited to mine warfare, and tunnellers of both sides began mining as early as 1915. Soon there were vast crater zones between the trench lines, in particular at a position known as ‘The Duck’s Bill’. Another famous position was The Red Dragon Crater, where the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers had fought. There is a good account of this action in the Great War classic, Old Soldiers Never Die, by Frank Richards. Richards was awarded the DCM for this operation.

In 1999 a local militaria collector and Great War enthusiast Olivier Hancart found the remains of several soldiers in the field close to the site of the Duck’s Bill. There was no sign of any identity disks, but a steel backed shaving mirror carried by one of them had the soldiers details scratched on the back. This identified him as Pte Richard Thomas Clarke of the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers who died in the attack described by Frank Richards. They were all laid to rest in Gorre British and Indian Cemetery in May 2001.

55th (WEST LANCS) DIVISION MEMORIAL

The 55th (West Lancs) Division was a territorial formation which had fought at the Somme in 1916, and at the Hindenburg Line and Ypres in 1917. It was comprised of battalions from several regiments, most notably the King’s Liverpool Regiment, Lancashire Fusiliers, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and South Lancs Regiment.

In April 1918 the division was in the trenches at Givenchy when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. On other sectors the Germans broke through, but the 55th (West Lancs) held out and Givenchy was not captured. In these operations three Victoria Crosses were awarded to men of the division:

2/Lt J.H.Collin 1/4th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regt
Givenchy 9th April 1918 (posthumous)

2/Lt J.Schofield 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers
Givenchy 9th April 1918

L/C J.Hewitson 1/4th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regt
Givenchy 28th April 1918

The division also lost 163 officers and 2,956 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. This memorial was erected in the early 1920s on the site where the division had fought in 1918. The divisional motto was:

They win or die, Who wear the Rose of Lancaster

Our tour now takes us into the Loos Battlefield of 1915. First read the historical notes below, and then continue.

THE BATTLE OF LOOS

The Battle of Loos (25th September – 18th October 1915) was the first major British offensive on the Western Front, and also the first time the British used gas in the Great War. Launched on 25th September, the initial attacks were from the La Bassée Canal at Givenchy in the North to the Double Crassier in the South. Many of the troops assembled for this battle were men of the ‘First 100,000’ – the originals of Kitchener’s Army from September 1914. Indeed the very first Kitchener’s Army division – 9th (Scottish) Division – had its debut here in the battle.

The initial advance at Loos was successful, and the German line breached in several places, but at high cost. Losses on the first day of the Somme in 1916 are well known: similar, if not higher losses were suffered at Loos in September 1915. Some examples:

FIRST DAY OF LOOS: UNITS WITH OVER 450 CASUALTIES

UNIT

OFFICER CASUALTIES

OTHER RANK

CASUALTIES

TOTAL

CASUALTIES

7th Camerons

19

668

687

9th Black Watch

20

660

680

6th KOSB

20

630

650

10th HLI

15

631

646

8th Devonshires

19

620

639

7th KOSB

20

611

631

12th HLI

21

532

553

2nd Royal Warwicks

17

510

527

8th Black Watch

19

492

511

8th Seaforths

23

479

502

8th Royal Berkshires

?

?

493

1st Loyal North Lancs

?

?

489

10th Cameronians

21

464

485

2nd Royal Sussex

?

?

481

9th Devonshires

15

461

476

2nd KRRC

?

?

460

10th Gloucesters

?

?

459

1st Middlesex Regt

16

439

455

1st South Staffs

18

430

448

It should be noted that many of these were Scottish units: aside from the 9th, the 15th (Scottish) Division also fought at Loos. In many ways it was a ‘Scottish Battle’ – certainly more so than almost any other of the war.

The gas used by the British at Loos proved troublesome, and in many places actually blew back on the attackers! This was the last major battle where gas was released from cylinders placed in the front line – thereafter gas shells were developed, which were a far more reliable way of delivering gas to a target. Both sides used this awful weapon until the end of the war.

Fighting continued at Loos following the successes on the first day, and the newly formed Guards Division was brought up to attack Hill 70, which dominated the landscape here. They were assisted by units of the 21st and 24th Divisions, both Kitchener’s Army divisions, who had only been in France a few weeks – this was their first action. Under the face of withering machine-gun fire, these two divisions were forced back from Hill 70. Many accused them of having run away – but their high casualties testify to the fact that the men kept on moving forward into the German guns.

The major stumbling block at Loos was the Hohenzollern Redoubt, which did not fall until 1918. Many units fought here, and in the last phase of fighting at Loos on 13th October 1915, the 46th (North Midland) Division was wiped out in trying to capture this formidable German defensive position.

Casualties at Loos were 2,013 officers and 48,367 other ranks killed and wounded, with 867 officers and 21,627 other ranks missing. Many of those killed and missing were never found – their names placed on the Loos Memorial (see below).

From here return to Windy Corner, and turn left. Cross the road bridge over the La Bassée canal, and where this road meets the N41 turn left. As you approach Auchy-les-Mines, turn right on the D75, following signs for Vermelles. In the centre of Vermelles turn left following signs for Hulluch on the D39. As the road takes you out of Vermelles, there is a memorial cross on the right of the road – stop here.

46th (NORTH MIDLAND) DIVISION MEMORIAL

The 46th (North Midland) Division was a first line territorial formation recruited from regiments from the north midland area of England. Among them were the North Staffordshire Regiment, South Staffordshire Regiment and the Leicestershire Regiment. During the operations at the Hohenzollern Redoubt the division was all but wiped out. Using a trench map and compass, it is possible to orientate yourself towards the site of the Hohenzollern Redoubt – but with the ever changing Loos landscape this can be sometimes difficult. Gone, sadly, are the familiar wartime landmarks of Fosse 8 and The Dump.

Stay on the Hulluch road. It brings you out onto the open fields of the Loos battlefield. Continue until the military cemetery is reached.

ST MARY’S ADS CEMETERY

Located roughly in the centre of the Loos battlefield, this cemetery has the following burials:

1,761 British
19 Canadian
30 Special Memorials

Until some years ago, one of the graves simply read ‘an unknown Lieutenant, Irish Guards’. Research by Norm Christie, who then worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, proved it to be Lieutenant John Kipling, killed at Loos in September 1915. He had a famous father – Rudyard Kipling. Toni and Valmi Holt published a book on this subject, My Boy Jack (Leo Cooper 1998).

Out in the fields close to this cemetery are two others; both battlefield cemeteries. They can be reached by either walking across the fields outside of the main growing season (but respecting property at all times), or by going further along the D39 and taking a track off to the right.

BOIS CARRE BRITISH CEMETERY

The cemetery was started during the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and remained in use until August 1916; in 1916 the 16th (Irish) Division used it extensively. A few graves were also added in March 1918. Burials total:

227 British
53 Unidentied
47 Special Memorials

Of these 140 belong to Irish regiments; in particular the 8th and 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

NINTH AVENUE CEMETERY

Named after a trench which ran across the north end of the cemetery, it was started after the first attack at Loos when an officer and forty-one men from 1st Cameron Highlanders who fell on 25th September 1915 were buried here in a ‘comrade’s grave’. Four other graves were added in January 1916, one of them an unknown.

As this is effectively a mass grave, all the Cameron graves are represented by Special Memorials and are arranged in a square within the cemetery.

After returning to the ADS Cemetery rejoin the D39 and continue to the roundabout in Hulluch. Here turn right on the D947 towards Lens. At the next major junction, turn right into Loos on the D165. Follow into the centre of the village.

GREAT WAR EXHIBITION – LOOS

For several years local Great War enthusiasts have been trying to establish a museum at Loos. Since early 2001 there has been a permanent exhibition in the village hall (‘mairie’) and now there is an on-site guide who will take you on a guided tour of the nearby tunnels in Loos. These tunnels were used by Canadian troops during the attack on Hill 70 in August 1917, and the walls are covered in graffiti. Entering the tunnels can be extremely dangerous, and all do so at their own risk. For further details contact:

Association ‘Sur les traces de la Grande Guerre’
Mairie de Loos-en-Gohelle
Place de la Republique
62750 LOOS-EN-GOHELLE
FRANCE
Tel: 0033 3 21 69 88 77
Email: a.villedieu@infonie.fr

Leave Loos on the D165 and where it meets the main Bethune-Lens road, the N43, turn right and follow it uphill. This brings you to Dud Corner Cemetery, with parking on your right. It is advisable to not leave anything of value on display in your car here, or leave it unlocked. There have been several incidents of theft and break-ins, sadly.

DUD CORNER CEMETERY

The main Loos battlefield cemetery, the following are buried here: 

1,772 British
28 Canadian

Located on the site of the Lens Road Redoubt, a large German defensive position, this area was attacked and captured by the 9th (Scottish) Division on 25th September 1915. A few graves were on this site in 1918, but this is largely a concentration cemetery with burials from all over the Loos area.

The following Victoria Cross winners are buried here:

Sgt Harry Wells VC, 2nd Bn Royal Sussex Regiment, 25th September 1915:

On 25 September 1915 near Le Rutoire, Loos, France, when the platoon officer had been killed, Sergeant Wells took command and led his men forward to within 15 yards of the German wire. Nearly half the platoon were killed or wounded and the remainder were much shaken but Sergeant Wells rallied them and led them on. Finally, when very few were left, he stood up and urged them forward once again and while doing this he was killed.

Captain Anketell Moutray Read, 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment, 25th September 1915:

On 25 September 1915 near Hulluch, France, Captain Read, although partially gassed, went out several times in order to rally parties of different units which were disorganised and retiring. He led them back into the firing line and regardless of danger to himself, moved about under withering fire, encouraging them, but he was mortally wounded while carrying out this gallant work. He had shown conspicuous bravery on other occasions, particularly on the night of 29/30 July when he carried out of action an officer who was mortally wounded, under a hot fire of rifle and grenades.

THE LOOS MEMORIAL

This memorial commemorates 20,633 soldiers who were killed in the Loos sector from 25th September 1915 until October 1918, and have no known graves. The majority of the names are men who fell in the Battle of Loos in 1915, and every regiment of the British army is represented here.

Famous names on the memorial include Lieutenant John Kipling (see above), the poet Charles Hamilton Sorley and the Queen Mother’s brother, Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon of the 8th Black Watch.

 

This is the last stop on the tour. From here you can either return to where you are staying, or if you have some spare time there are several other cemeteries in the area with graves from the fighting at Loos: most notably Noeux-les-Mines and Vermelles. Bethune is a good place to go for an evening meal, and there is a large British cemetery there.

Suggested Reading

There are few books about this ‘forgotten sector’ as such, but many make mention of it. Among those recommended are:

BATTLEGROUND EUROPE

The ‘Battleground Europe’ series of guidebooks lead the way in new publications about the Great War. Several are planned for the Artois area, among them:

Geoff Bridger Neuve Chapelle (Pen & Sword 2000)

FORGOTTEN BATTLES SERIES

Michael Gavaghan Book 1: The Battles of Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert 1915 and Book 2: Loos 1915 (Both M&L Publications 1997)

- These small pocket-sized guide books give background information, historical details and battlefield information. They are available from the author at: 166 West Park Ave, Preston, Lancs, PR2 1SY, England.

GENERAL BOOKS

Rose Coombes Before Endeavours Fade (After the Battle)

Rightly consider the Bible to the Western Front Battlefields, this is a guide to the whole front from Belgium to the Swiss Border. Easily available and in print.

John Giles The Western Front Then & Now (After the Battle)

The third in his trilogy of Then & Now books, this one has a lot of coverage of the Artois battlefields. Still in print and easily available.

Phillip Warner The Battle of Loos

The only published work about Loos, this dismal book came out in the 1970s and has just been reprinted by Cassells. Warner wasted the excellent material he gathered for the book, but it is worth reading for the veterans accounts he does use. The maps are also useful.

MEMOIRS

Edmund Blunden Undertones of War (various paperback editions)

Blunden was an officer in the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment who served at Festubert in 1916. The book contains a good description of the line at this time. A Great War classic.

Terry Norman (Editor) Armageddon Road (Leo Cooper 1983)

This is the edited diaries of Billy Congreve, a Rifle Brigade officer whose father had won the Victoria Cross in the Boer War. Billy was himself to win a posthumous VC on the Somme in 1916. Prior to that he served in Artois during the fighting of 1914, and the diaries contain some good material on this period.

Frank Richards Old Soldiers Never Die

Originally published in the 1920s, there have been several recent editions of this book. Frank Richards was a private soldier in the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers, and this superb book records his experiences in just about every battle of the Great War. He fought in Artois from 1914-16, and there is some particularly vivid descriptions of the Givenchy sector, where he got a DCM in 1916.

Henry Williamson A Fox Under My Cloak

This is one of Williamson’s fifteen novel sequence entitled, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. These fictionalised memoirs are among the best books about the war, and this one concerns the Battle of Loos. The book was reprinted recently by Alan Sutton.

Maps

The Michelin ‘Yellow’ series No 51 covers the entire area in 1/200,000 scale (the CWGC version with the cemeteries marked on is the most useful). More detailed, and better for getting around is the French IGN ‘Green’ series 1/100,000 map for LILLE-DUNKERQUE. More detailed ‘Blue’ series maps are especially useful and the ones for this area are:

2404 Est : Armentieres
2405 Est : Lens

Both are 1/25,000 scale and can be purchased from the IGN Web Site.

Accommodation – Tourism

See the Battlefield Pages for this area elsewhere on the site.

©PAUL REED 2001-6

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