Vimy Ridge

The Moroccan Division

La Légion étrangère

The Moroccan Division Memorial

It is a shame that so many people who come to Vimy, visit the trenches, go down the tunnels, marvel at the Canadian monument and leave without giving much thought to the large memorial at Hill 145 to the men of the Moroccan Division.

To them this was in fact Côte 140 or Hill 140, and whilst the Canadians did indeed score a magnificent victory here, the men of the French Foreign Legion had already gained the summit in May 1915.

In their case, they hadn't started at the foot of the ridge but from almost four kilometres away.

The right of their Division was positioned in the general area of the French Military Cemetery at La Targette and extended towards the north-west and a place called Berthonval Farm which can still be seen today if you take the La Targette to Mont St Éloi road: D49.

 
The Canadian Monument seen from Berthonval Farm

The Canadian Monument seen from Berthonval Farm about 4 kilometres away

 

Their route towards the summit of Vimy Ridge would take them across the main Souchez-Arras road (D937) in the area of the Polish Monument and Czechoslovakian Cemetery.

Czechoslovakian Cemetery Polish Monument and Czechoslovakian Cemetery
 

Monuments

Czechs and Slovaks were minorities within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and at the declaration of war hundreds living in France took the decision to fight for France within the ranks of the Foreign Legion.

They formed the Nazdar Company (Coming from their battle cry meaning: Hello) and would lose 50 men killed and 150 wounded out of a strength of 250. Amongst the killed were their Standard Bearer Karel Bezdicek and Lt Dorstal the first Czech officer to be killed. Bezdicek accounts would have us believe was hit by a shell and died within the German trenches wrapped within his standard showing the Czech Lion.

The few remaining survivors following the battle stayed in the Legion until passing into their own army on the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918.

At the beginning of May each year there is a short ceremony at their cemetery which was enlarged in 1970 by the consolidation of all Czech and Slovak nationals buried in France.

Polish members of the Legion initially formed the 2nd Company of the 3rd Battalion which would fight here. Their monument sits opposite the Czechoslovakian Cemetery.

 

2nd Battle of Artois

The Advance

Berthonval Farm

Berthonval Farm

Fallen Czechoslovakians

The Division went into the attack on 9 May 1915 with two regiments: The 1st Régiment étranger and the 7th Tirailleurs. Their other two regiments were held as the 33rd Corps Reserve (8th Zouaves and 4th Tirailleurs).

Unlike other units in the French Army the Moroccan Division (and thus the Legion as well) wore khaki uniforms.

Starting their advance at 10:00 hours the Division smashed its way through all of the German front and reserve lines in its path. By 11:00 the first elements of the Division were already on the ridge and by 11:30 hours the summit was theirs.

The Swedish soldiers remembered

There would be other occasions in the war when a unit would so outstrip its flanking units that it would find itself placed in danger and under attack from three sides. Rarely though would the distance be as great as created by the Moroccan Division.

Their success was so unexpected that the reserves that were being called for at 10:45 hours were still in the villages of Mont St Éloi and Acq, eight kilometres behind the objectives.

Neither the Zouaves nor the Tirailleurs would enter into the conflict until mid afternoon.

For two days Légionaires, Tirailleurs and Zouaves struggled in the face of mounting enemy counter attacks and heavy bombardments.

The Greek Fallen

By the 11th it was evident that they would have to be pulled back.

Their monument stands proudly alongside that of Canada and has recently been refurbished.

At its base are small plaques commemorating some of the 52 nations represented within its ranks.

Plaques to various nationalities

A plinth records how the Division was the most decorated of them all.

 

Armistice Commemoration 2005 Armistice Commemoration 2005
2nd Battle of Artois 2nd Battle of Artois
Hill 119, The Pimple Hill 119, The Pimple