We have mainly selected photographs from the Imperial War Museum showing the presence of British troops in Arras. They defended our city; we pay homage to them and in particular to those, a regretably great number, who never left Arras. They are mostly buried in the monumental "Faubourg d'Amiens" cemetery, details of which can be found in the French original of this blog (The cemetery of the Faubourg d'Amiens).
(The I.W.M. photographs are supplemented by some from the article "The conflict seen by the Photographic Section of the army")
In 1914, the British army was a professional one. Following the heavy losses suffered at the start of the war, Lord Kitchener, then Minister of War in Great Britain, launched a massive recruitment drive and appealed to volunteers to form the New Army K, "The New Kitchener Army".
We thus see arriving among the British troops young inexperienced soldiers coming from all Great Britain: England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Also joining the Commonwealth Army were young men from Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, countries still closely linked with Great Britain.
Far from their native land, these volunteers had traveled thousands of kilometers by boat to reach England for training before being assigned to different sectors of the British front which stretched from Flanders to the Somme.
The British General Headquarters, responsible for stragetic planning, initially located in Saint-Omer, was transferred in March 1916 to Boulogne-sur-Mer.
In the Artois, the British replaced the French troops, en route to Verdun, from February-March 1916.
The first General Staffs settled in Arras in March 1916.
The French "Place Militaire" was attached to the British Military Authority.
A plaque on the Wellington Memorial mentions : "In April 1917, on the eve of the Battle of Arras, 14 Commonwealth divisions under British command await the start of the offensive on a 22 km front". (Ref.1. See below.)
This British presence in Arras was hailed by two articles in the "Lion of Arras", one of which is in English.
Arras, British entrenched camp
The administration of the city by the Town Major was done in collaboration with the mayor. It had different structures: provost, complaints commission, requisitions service, military stewardship, medical unit, circle of officers... The French Military Mission, directed by the commander of arms of the Place d'Arras was attached to it.
The files of the French Military Mission inform us that the gendarmes on foot or the security agents formed a pair with their British counterparts. An interpreter joined them.
The British Army had mobile kitchens, canteens, bathhouses, a Catholic club, a chapel, a soldiers' recreation room, cinemas, a street photography studio dyers. In agreement with the inhabitants of the city, gambling houses welcomed the British soldiers (such as Le Repos du soldier at 26 rue des Louez-Dieu. It also housed an English club).
A police report dated May 3, 1916 tells us that the British army only authorized the opening of drinking establishments to the troops from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. The report mentions: “[we] noticed that several English soldiers were entering the Duhamel tavern , located rue St Aubert n° 81, in Arras. This establishment was brightly lit and the door wide open. We entered and found that the innkeeper, Mrs. Duhamel, 27, was serving a mug of beer to an English soldier, and that about sixty English soldiers were standing and seated in the bar of this inn. Many drinks: wine and beer, were served to them. We pointed out to the innkeeper that it was 8:20 p.m. » 2
The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) rented a house at 5 rue du Tripot (rue Neuve-des-Ardents). A photograph also informs us of the presence of this association in Place de la Vacquerie, in a metal structure leaning against the Town Hall, in ruins. Another photograph shows a Canadian YMCA on the Petite Place.
The staffs were lodged in the middle-class houses of the Lower Town. The British General Staff, initially located at the intersection of Rue Gambetta and Petite-Rue-Saint-Jean, moved to Place Victor-Hugo, while the French Place Militaire resided on Rue des Promenades.
Many streets of the city saw their houses requisitioned for the quartering of the British soldiers. The civilians still living in the Grand’Place left their homes for this purpose in February 1917. It was then a contingent of 18,000 soldiers who settled in the city, in the buildings still standing and in the boves of the Grand’Place. 3
1 - Plaque on the memorial at the Wellington Quarry.
2 - File : "Mission militaire française DEN à F", Municipal Library Archives.
3 - Docteur Georges Paris, Un Demi-siècle de vie arrageoise, 1971, p 56
The British presence in our city during the Great War can still be detected on our facades!
Three dates are visible: 12/12/1916 - 1916 - 08/23/1916. And ,giving it careful examination this house has other surprises in store...Names of soldiers and regiments have been carved in the bricks. (our thanks to Jérémy Bourdon for these discoveries )
We received a message from Michael Le Blanc, a resident of New Brunswick (Canada), not far from Campbellton.
My grandfather Ted arrived as a member of the Canadian 42nd 'Black Watch' Reg’t at the west end of Vimy Ridge in mid-summer of 1917. Received a gunshot wound in the chest in September (must have been a minor thing - only in field hospital for 2 days) then returned to the front. While night marching towards to the front lines in October, a shell hit the front of the column he was in, killing many around him and leaving him with a serious leg wound that saw him in various military hospitals in SE England for the rest of the war. At some point a serious romance was begun between him and one of his nurses ... He was shipped home in January 1919 welcomed by his wife and two sons he had not seen since Sept 1916 when he enlisted.
The title of this article is inspired by the title of a chapter - "Arras à l'heure anglaise" - of the excellent book: Jacques Alain, Mortier Laurence, La Bataille d’Arras, Editions Degeorge, 2014
A big thank you to our British friend and also from Arras Barrington Cross for the wise proofreading of these translations and the additional information he was kind enough to give us.
Thanks also to Marty Thompson for his contribution.