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Webmatters : 23e Régiment de Dragons Monument at Gavrelle
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23e Régiment de Dragons

Location

The village of Gavrelle can be easily reached from Arras by taking the N50 towards Douai. The village is about 11 kilometres from Arras and coming from that direction you will pass the Scottish cairn on your right at Point du jour, before reaching the Gavrelle slip road a few minutes later.

Drive past the Anchor Monument to the 63rd (RN) Division into the village past the church with the village war memorial.

At the café turn left and then immediately right into the Impasse de la route d’Oppy. At the top of the cul-de-sac you will find the monument on your left.

An interesting linguistic point. In English we use a French phrase cul-de-sac whilst in actual French they use something else: impasse.

 

Background

The two Reservist Squadrons of the 23e Dragons (23rd Regiment of Dragoons) were attached to the 70e Division d’Infanterie (DI) as its divisional cavalry unit.

The actual Regiment was part of Conneau’s Cavalry Formation.

It was often the case that an Infantry Division’s cavalry compliment was comprised of reservists called back to the colours. The 70e DI was itself made up entirely of Reservist Regiments.

French Active Infantry Regiments had a Reserve Regiment numbered 200 more than their own. The 360e RI is therefore the Reservist regiment of the 160e RI.

On the 28th September 1914 the Division received orders to leave its positions near Nancy and en-train for the north-west. Because much of the intervening ground was held/ threatened by the Germans the route for the soldiers was torturous.

The troopers boarded their train at 2200 hours (28th September) and set off on their own Tour de France. From Nancy they travelled via Troyes, Versailles and then out to Rouen. From there they were transported via Eu, Abbeville, Étaples (turning inland again) Hesdin, St Pol and finally reaching Rouvroy to the north-east of Arras at 1500 hours on the 30th September.


The 23e Dragons Monument at Gavrelle

The monument to the 23e Dragons

From there they were marched to Beaumont and took up the line of resistance facing Douai. The 70e Division sent forces forward to aid the town but it was too late; the town had already fallen to the Germans.

The 5e Escadron was attached to the 140e Brigade who were ordered on the 2nd October to take up position in Gavrelle.

Reaching the village they were ordered to outflank the village from the east. Three squads (on foot) would advance directly on the village whilst the forth would ride around it.

The squads leading their horses were immediately subjected to heavy, machine gun fire from an already entrenched German force.

They were then shelled by artillery forcing them to release their horses and take cover. The cannonade was intense enough to prevent the Dragoons from either going forward or getting back to their own lines.

It equally prevented the supporting infantry from moving up in support. The Dragoons were forced to hang on until dark when they were able to crawl away.

The War Diary (JMO) records that they lost 33 men missing and 17 injured in the affair. Amongst them Sous Lieutenant René Grabias-Bagneris.

The Germans had set up their machine guns as a battery (as was their custom) near Gavrelle windmill and from there they had a clear view of the Dragoons in their blue jackets, red cavalry trousers and helmets (albeit in its cloth covering).

The infantry coming up behind (also of course in their red trousers – pantalons rouges) were from the 360e RI and their diary is quite clear:

This attack by the two companies forming the spearhead of the Advanced Guard took place at 1030 hours. It was a shocking surprise, the Regiment found itself up against a defensive system of German trenches; whilst according to the information provided by HQ, Gavrelle was supposed to be held by just a handful of enemy cavalry.

Although the 360e do not give casualty figures they do mention that all of the officers in the formation were killed along with the commander of the Advanced Guard and I can find reference to forty-six soldiers who were killed that day.

 

The Memorial


The 23e Dragons Monument at Gavrelle

The epitaph to Lieutenant Grabias-Bagneris

The family of Sous Lieutenant Grabias-Bagneris had the local chapel rebuilt after the war in order to contain the remains of their son and those others who had fallen with him.

The chapel and its crypt were blessed on the 2nd November 1921.

The chapel became ruined over time and the current monument was erected in 1967 by the local commune and Souvenir Français(A voluntary organisation dedicated to looking after the memorials).

The plaques on the front inform us of the action that took place and the troopers who fell with their Lieutenant.

  • Boiziaux Ismaël, 27 years
  • Bottereau Gustave, 25 years
  • Carre Julien, 19 years
  • Clement André, 24 years
  • Duchemin Emmanuel, 21 years
  • Fouquereau Henri, 26 years
  • Godderidge William, 23 years
  • Magnan André, 24 years
  • Neujean Kléber, 22 years
  • Noël Léon, 27 years
  • Partois Gustave, 28 years

 

The other memorials in Gavrelle