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Webmatters : Polish Memorial, Neuville-Saint-Vaast
Rough Map of Area

Polish Volunteers

Location

Neuville-Saint-Vaast is a village 6.5 kilometres north of Arras, a little east of the road from Béthune to Arras (D937). Continue through the village towards Souchez. At the crest of the hill you will come to a Polish Memorial and the Czechoslovakian Cemetery opposite. There is sufficient parking for a vehicle in either direction.

This is an extremely busy and fast road. Children or pets should be well supervised at all times in particular if crossing the road.

GPS N E Wikimapia
Decimal 50.3656 2.74502 Map

The Polish Memorial at Neuville St Vaast

The Polish Memorial

 

Background

If you have been up to the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge (which is visible on the horizon behind the Polish monument) then you may well have wondered about the large memorial at Hill 145 to the men of the Moroccan Division.

To them it was known as Cote 140 or Hill 140, and whilst the Canadians did indeed score a magnificent victory there, the men of the French Foreign Legion who were attached to the Moroccan Division 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 be seen if you look towards the twin towers of Mont St Eloi directly behind the Czech cemetery.

The Czechoslovak Cemetery looking towards Mont St Eloi

Berthonval Farm and Mont St Eloi

In the valley in front of the ruins is a large farm to the left of a wood; this is Berthonval Farm (Which would serve as General Byng’s HQ in 1917).

The Legionnaires’ route towards the summit of Vimy Ridge would take them across the main road in the area of their two monuments.

Polish members of the French Foreign Legion initially formed the 2nd Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment.

Poland had ceased to exist at the end of the 18th century and had since been ruled either by Russia, Prussia (Then Germany) or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The modern state traces its foundation to 1918.

Approximately 2,000 Poles joined up at the beginning of the war. 300 of them had already been living and working in the mining area of Douai just on the other side of Vimy Ridge. The Polish volunteers became known as the Bayonnais because they were formed at Bayonne and carried a banner fashioned by the ladies of the town.

These men in particular were not only fighting for the idea of an independent Poland but also in order to liberate their new homes.

 

The Monument

The monument is the work of renowned sculpture Maxime Real del Sarte and was inaugurated on the 21st May 1933 in the presence of the Polish Ambassador.

It bears the inscriptions :

Za nasza wolnosc i wasza

For our liberty, and yours

A la mémoire des volontaires polonais qui le 9 mai 1915 se sont portés à l’assaut de la côte 140 et sont tombés pour la résurrection de la Pologne et la victoire de la France.

To the memory of the Polish volunteers who on 9th May 1915 assaulted Hill 140 [Vimy Ridge] and fell in the name of the resurrection of Poland and the victory of France.

The monument was destroyed by the Germans in 1940 and rebuilt. Subsequently badly damaged by the tempest of 1967 it was rebuilt. By local subscription amongst the Polish community it was renovated in 1995.

 

Cemeteries in the area


Memorials