The Arras Battlefields
Arras was a major Allied offensive, fought in the Spring of 1917. Falling chronologically between the much higher profile battles of the Somme in the second half of 1916, and Passchendaele (or Third Ypres) in the second half of 1917, Arras today is not a battle that is particularly well remembered. The battlefields also are much less known than those of the Somme and Flanders, and are less visited.
However, there is a great deal to see around the Arras battlefields today. It is a large area, and deserves a section of its own; however at this point I have added only two pages to the website . This page deals, very roughly speaking, with the area north-east of Arras and also the Arras Memorial to the Missing, whilst Arras (2) covers the areas to the east and south-east of Arras. There is much to see and several days are needed to properly cover and understand the area.
The city of Arras itself makes an excellent base for the battlefield visitor today: it is a fairly large town with a good choice of hotels to cover most budgets, and there are many restaraunts and bars to visit in the evenings. It also makes a good base to visit the Somme battlefields, which can be reached in about 45 minutes from the town centre, and in my opinion is a nicer place to stay than Amiens, the other large city within easy driving distance of the Somme.
Several guidebooks are available which cover Arras; there is a section in the Holt's Concise Guide to the Western Front - North, and an excellent guide devoted to the Arras battles and battlefields is Paul Reed's Walking Arras, published in the Battleground Europe series by Pen & Sword in 2007.
North-east and East of Arras
The main road skirting the north of Arras is the N50. About one and a quarter miles north-east of the city centre, the D60 leads north from the N50. After about two-thirds of a mile a small track leads left off the D60. Just after this track leaves the D60 it crosses the location of the German front lines in 1917. It then runs across what was No Mans Land and towards the British Front lines of 1917. A short distance along the track is Bailleul Road West Cemetery, and also the sites of several mine craters. The cemetery consists of just two rows of graves, all of which date from the 9th of April 1917. The cemetery was made by the 12th Royal Scots in May 1917, and was located in what had been No Mans Land before then. Many burials are men from Scottish regiments, including the 6th Kings Own Scottish Borderers who were in action near here. There are just under 100 burials, only a few of which are unidentified.
Visible near the cemetery are two clumps of scrub, one on the opposite side of the road from the cemetery, and the second a little further down the road on the same side as the cemetery. These are actually the sites of two mine craters - which in the war were named 'Claude (the one opposite the cemetery) and 'Clarence'. There was also a third crater a little south of 'Clarence' which was named 'Cuthbert'.
These craters do not date from the Battle of Arras - they were blown in June 1916 - but were important features during it. The 6th King's Own Scottish Borderers attacked from here on the 9th of April, 1917. Their positions for the start of the battle were actually beyond the British front line Ė they were within these craters in No Manís Land named Claude and Clarence. The men of the 6th KOSB were so far forward in the craters that they suffered some casualties from their own artillery shells falling short of the German front lines ahead of Zero Hour.
At 5.30 a.m. the 6th KOSB attacked from the craters, and in half an hour reached their objective, a German trench named Obermayer, having crossed at least four other German trenches to reach this. Here they stopped in a sunken road, allowing the 11th Royal Scots to pass through and continue the advance. Men from the 6th KOSB did help out the 16th Royal Scots to their left, firing on a German machine gun position which was holding that battalion up. Men from both battalions are buried in the cemetery near where they started their attack (Bailleul Road West Cemetery - see above). Later in the day, they followed on the advance, eventually reaching a strong point known as Point du Jour (see later in this page).
Returning up the track to the D60, turning right and then almost immediatey left onto the D919 leads to Bailleul Road East Cemetery. Following this route, you are crossing the German front line and then support positions, and heading behind thier lines. Bailleul Road East is a larger cemetery which has a fairly irregular layout with the Cross of Sacrifice standing at the front. On one side of the cemetery are two cupolas with the Stone of Remembrance between them. The register box is within one of the cupolas, but was empty when I visited. During the war, belts of barbed wire were to be found around the position the cemetery now occupies.
There are 1287 men buried here, with only around 42% of these identified. A Duhallow block (see right-hand photo above) commemorates seven soldiers who were buried in Northumberland Cemetery in Fampoux but whose graves were lost. The other 62 graves from Northumberland Cemetery were concentrated into Plot 5 of Bailleul Road East after the Armistice. However, a number of the graves moved could not be exactly identified, and so these headstones are marked 'Buried near this spot', as shown below for Private Frank Cobley from Grimsby, who served with the 2nd Lincolns.
Next to Bailleul Road East cemetery, a small road leads south from the D919 and a short distance down this road on the left is la Maison Blanche German Cemetery. This cemetery is in a spot which was behind the German lines of April 1917. Then, as now, a small wood called Bois de la Maison Blanche stood behind the position of the cemetery, and the railway ran through the wood as it does today.
The wooded cemetery is filled with rows of mainly crosses, with ocasional headstones. Many of the crosses bear four names. There are nearly 32,000 German soldiers buried here, although there is a walled bank midway towards the back of the cemetery and 22,000 men are buried here in a mass grave. Panels between a walkway list names. Behind this mass grave is another tier of the cemetery with more crosses. Compared to most CWGC maintained cemeteries, there was a slightly unkempt feel to this cemetery when I visited - the grass was rather long and some weeds were growing through. It is a stark and sombre place to visit.
The Point du Jour was a German strongpoint, and was one of the objectives on the Brown Line for the attacking British forces. It is located about two-thirds of a mile north of Athies. Today the road which pases the spot is the very busy N50 dual carriageway, and located just tp the south of this road is a cemetery and memorial. These are best reached by a small, sometimes muddy but well sign-posted road which leads north from Athies.
The cemetery is the Point du Jour Military Cemetery, originally known as No. 1 of two cemeteries bearing this name. The nearby Point du Jour Cemetery No. 2 was one of several which were concentrated here after the Armistice. Just inside the cemetery on the left hand side are special memorials to six soldiers who were buried in other cemeteries, but whose graves were later destroyed by shellfire. The cemetery has a fairly regular layout, was started in April 1917 and was used mainly that year although there are a few burials from 1918. It was quite a small cemetery when the war ended, containing just 82 graves. However, the concentration of other cemeteries here after the Armistice mean there are now 794 men buried or commemorated here. Of these, 40 are unidentified, and there are six French graves and also three soldiers from the Second World War. At the rear of the cemetery are 22 special memorials, most commemorating men known to be buied in the cemetery, with several bearing the inscription 'Buried elsewhere in this cemetery'.
The right hand picture above shows view over the cemetery towards the memorial nearby. This is the 9th Scottish Division Memorial, but it is only recently that this memorial was sited here. The memorial dates from the 1920s, and was built with stone brought here from Scotland. It used to be located right in the middle of the N50 about a quarter of a mile east of its current location. It stood at a point where the carriageways of the road diverged to run either side of it. This made visiting it a slightly risky experience, as the traffic here is fast moving. It was moved in 2006, and whilst it is now much easier and safer to visit, there were some trenchlines around the monument in its original location which now seem to have disappeared.
The monument is a tall broad structure of rough dark stone. There are stone projections all around at about 10 feet high and the names of the Division's battle honours, including Arras, are listed on stones above the main panel. The main panel text reads 'Remember with Honour the 9th Scottish Division who on the fields of France and Flanders 1915-1918 served well'. The site of the memorial is edged by more stones at ground level, with the large ones to the right of the memorial each bearing the name of one of the units of the Division, including the 6th King's Own Scottish Borderers (see right hand picture below).
The 9th Division were the first numbered of the new Divisions formed to expand the Army on the outbreak of war. The 9th Division was formed towards the end of August 1914 and after training sailed to France in the second week of May 1915. Their first major engagement was at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and they were heavily involved at Arras, hence the siting of their memorial here.
Returning to Athies and turning left on the D42 leads east to Fampoux, and a small road leads north from this village to another memorial and cemetery. Reached first is the Seaforth Highlanders Memorial on the right hand side of the road. This is in the form of a tall cross, and the inscription at its base reads 'In memory of the Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and private soldiers of the Seaforth Highlanders Ross-shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany's, who gave their lives for their King and Country in the Great War 1914-1918'. The column of the cross has intricate carvings, as can be seen in the right hand photo below.
A little further along the road is Sunken Road Cemetery, and the narrow road leading to it is still a sunken lane. A trench named Stoke Trench ran parallel to the road on the right behind the locations of both the memorial and the cemetery. Sunken Road Cemetery is surrounded by a low flint wall, with entrances at front left and back right. In shape, there is an 'arm' which extends out beyond the main central area, to accomodate one long row of graves nearest the road.
The cemetery was started in April 1917, used until January 1918, and there are 196 men buried or commemorated here. In the central area are five rows of graves, some slightly irregular in layout, and special memorials commemorating men whose graves were destroyed flank the Cross of Sacrifice. This small, out of the way cemetery is, along with all others, most beautifully maintained by the CWGC, and the floral displays by the headstones are superb.
Returning to Fampoux, and turning right on the D42 back towards Arras, a small road leads south out of the village a little after the civilian cemetery is passed. Following this over the river leads to Level Crossing Cemetery. The cemetery still stands by a level crossing on the railway line between Arras and Douai.
Level Crossing Cemetery was begun in June 1917, and these early burials were of men whose bodies were recovered from the battlefields of April and May. The cemetery continued to be used into 1918, and there are many soldiers from Scottish regiments buried here. The layout is mostly regular rows of graves, but there are a few exceptions. There are a numbers of Guards burials dating from January and February 1918 in row 2B. The cemetery is set on a slope, with the graves running down the hill from the railway. There is a special memorial to one man buried elsewhere by the cemetery entrance. Only 29 of the 405 buried or commemorated here are unidentified. It may be that the exact dates of death of those whose bodies were recovered from the battlefields were not known, as the register entries for several men show a range for the date of death. An example is Private Douglas Eldred Young (who was born in Quebec Canada and whose parents lived in Maryland, America), who is listed as dying between the 9th and the 12 of April 1917 in the cemetery register. However, his headstone and the Soldiers Died in the Great War database give his date of death as the 12th of April.
The A1 Autoroute runs north to south about half a mile east of Level Crossing Cemetery. On the other side of it, a little west of the village of Rouex and very close to the Autoroute is a cemetery with a name redolent of the Great War - Crump Trench Cemetery. Despite being so close to the motorway that the traffic noise is ever present, it is otherwise isolated down a small track. It is a long narrow cemetery, and the trench that gave its name to the cemetery ran just the other side of the track, one of many trenches in this sector that began with the letter C. Others nearby were Crete Trech, Camp Trench and Ceylon Avenue.
The cemetery was only used for a few months between April and August 1917. There were 215 burials here, but the area was taken by the Germans in their major offensive in March 1918, and not recaptured until the 26th of August 1918. After the Armistice, 85 of the graves in the cemetery were found to have been destroyed, and so there are special memorials to these men located against the back left and right walls, either side of the Cross of Sacrifice. There are also four graves by themselves as row 2D by the Cross of Sacrifice at the rear of the cemetery.
The front row of graves, row A, seem to be far more spaced out than the others, and it is possible to speculate that perhaps some of the destroyed graves were in this row, as there are no large empty spaces within the current area of the cemetery. Two officers buried here are Second Lieutenant Frederick Hislop of the 6th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who was a partner in R & G Hislop Gas and Heating Engineers of Paisley, and Second Lieutenant Norman Bonham-Carter of the Household Cavalry who died on the 3rd of May 1917.
Located on the Boulevard du General de Gaulle on the west side of Arras itself is the Arras Memorial to the Missing. This is located in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery. The entrance to the Memorial and Cemetery is impressive, as shown below.
A large stone tablet on the outer wall of the memorial records that "Here are recorded the names of 35,942 Officers and Men of the forces of the British Empire who fell in the Battles of Arras or in air operations above the Western Front and who have no known graves'. The main Arras Memorial to the Missing now commemoates 34,718 men, acording to the CWGC website. The column of the Flying Services Memorial within is framed by the entrance arch as you walk towards the entrance way. The memorial commemorates 991 airmen of the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps, and the Royal Air Force who were killed on the whole of the Western Front and who have no known grave.
Inside the main memorial are panels on which, by unit and then by rank, are listed the names of those commemorated here. These men died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and the 7th of August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. Behind the memorial stands the Faubourg-d'Amiens War Cemetery. This is an original war-time cemetery, started in March 1916 behind an earlier French war cemetery - the French graves were removed after the war, and the Memorial to the Missing now stands on the ground they occupied.
The Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery was used through until November 1918, and after the Armistice it was enlarged and now there are 2,650 men who died in the Great War buried here, along with 10 burials from the Second World War. There are also 30 graves of other nationalities, mostly German, although one USAF officer from the Second World War is also believed to be buried here.
Sources & Acknowledgements
Major A F Becke: Order of Battle of Divisions Part 3
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Major & Mrs Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Western Front - North
Paul Reed: Walking Arras
The Times archives