Webmatters : Monument to the 15th Bn CEF at Festubert
Rough Map of Area

15th Bn Canadian Infantry

Location

15th Canadian Infantry Monument at Festubert

The monument is situated on the Rue de Lille close to its junction with the Rue Taillis a kilometre to the east of Festubert.

From Béthune take the D941 towards Auchy les Mines. At Cambrin turn left onto the D166 following the signs for Cuinchy. Continue on this road for approximately four kilometres until you reach Festubert church. Turn right noting that this is a 30 kph zone and follow the Rue de Lille (D72) for a further kilometre. The monument is on your right adjacent to a parking area.

Alternatively if coming from Neuve Chapelle take the D947 from the Indian Memorial in the direction of La Bassée. Just after the Portuguese Cemetery you turn right onto the Rue de Lille (D72). You will pass a lumber yard on your left and shortly afterwards you will see the monument and car park — also on your left.

 

Background

Following the chlorine gas attack and heavy defensive fighting in the Ypres Salient in April 1915, the depleted Battalions of the Canadian 1st Division were reinforced; pulled out of the line at Ypres; and on 3rd May moved to France south of Armentières. On 9th May as part of the plan to support the French Tenth Army’s offensive north of Arras at Neuville-St Vaast, Notre Dame de Lorette and Vimy Ridge, the British First Army launched an attack against German positions along Aubers ridge. Although these costly attacks failed, the British command decided to resume the offensive near Festubert to prevent German reinforcements moving south against the French at Vimy.

The Battle of Festubert opened on 15th May with British and Indian troops pushing the Germans back and making advances towards La Quinque Rue. On 18th May the Canadian 3rd Brigade, was called up from Reserve and moved into the line east of Festubert joining a series of assaults around the Orchard (Today it is the camping ground opposite the lumber yard), a German strong point bordering the Rue de l’Etang. Despite heavy casualties, The 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) pushed the line forward north of La Quinque Rue and the 16th (Canadian Scottish Regiment) fell short of the Orchard but captured part of the strong-point called the North Breastworks. On May 20th the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada) advanced from this area along the La Quinque Rue with orders to take two German strongholds,L.11 and L.12, on Rue d’Ouvert while the 16th Battalion renewed its attack on the Orchard.

As the 16th Battalion advanced under cover of an artillery barrage to successfully seize the Orchard, the 15th Battalion encountered heavy German artillery and machine gun fire in the open fields.

Despite inadequate artillery support and the loss of their own machine guns, the Highlanders secured the remaining sections of the North Breastworks. The 15th Battalion’s advance continued in leaps and bounds but it proved impossible to maintain direction and barbed wire entanglements in front of the German line could not be penetrated. Despite a renewed attempt to push forward, there was no chance of reaching their objectives so the 15th Battalion fell back to the North Breastworks and held it against several determined German counter-attacks.

After the capture of the Orchard and the North Breastworks, units of the 1st Canadian Division continued to press forward against heavy odds around Festubert for several more days but without making any significant gains.

When the battle was called off on 25th May, the line established by the advances of the 15th and 16th Battalions remained the front line until 1918. The Canadian 1st Division suffered 2, 468 casualties and of those the 15th Battalion lost 150 men.

The Fallen of the 15th Battalion lie buried in Aire Communal, Arras Road, Béthune, Cabaret Rouge, Étaples, Guards (Cuinchy), Hinges, Le Touquet and Pont-de-Hem Cemeteries. The Missing are commemorated on the Vimy Memorial.

 

The Memorial

15th Canadian Infantry Monument at Festubert

This commemorative plaque was unveiled on the 23rd October 2011 in the presence of Canadian and French dignitaries by members of the 15th Battalion Memorial Project.

The 15th Bn CEF were sponsored by the 48th Highlanders of Canada a militia unit from Toronto. The regiment has demonstrated its continuing interest in commemorating its First World War combatants by the raising of plaques across the Western Front.

 

The Inauguration

Inauguration of the plaque at Festubert

The afternoon of Sunday 23rd October 2011 turned out to be warm and sunny and drew a large crowd of interested people from the local area.

Joining M Jean-Marie Douvry, Maire de Festubert and Brigadier General (Retd) Greg Young of the 15th Bn Memorial Project were M Jean-Dominique Iéraci, Ministre-Conseiller representing the Government of Canada, Colonel Richard Gervais the Canadian Defence Attaché and Honorary Lieutenant Colonel John Newman of the 48th Highlanders of Canada.

The old Canadian Flag used to drape the plaque was kindly lent by Captain Steve Gilbert. The flag had belonged to his grandfather a Great War veteran who had been wounded on the Somme.

The gathering were welcomed to the event and then listened to an introductory description of the Battle of Festubert and the part played by the Canadians. M Douvry then spoke on behalf of the town and M Iéraci for the Embassy.

Following the unveiling of the plaque by M Iéraci and Lt Colonel Newman the musicians from Festubert’s Harmonie sounded Aux Morts. The minute’s silence was terminated by the exhortation being proclaimed in English by General Young and in French by Stephan Tremblay, a former Captain with the Highlanders. The flowers of the Forest played by Conny Beckman of the Passendale Pipe Band completed the honours to the fallen.

The formal part of the ceremony was brought to a close with the musicians playing superb renditions of the Marseillaise and O Canada. It needs to be said that they had only had the music for the Canadian anthem for a few weeks and had been practising constantly in the run-up to the ceremony. Their flawless account was greatly appreciated by their Canadian visitors.

They then entertained us to further melodies whilst photos were taken at the monument and people talked and introduced themselves before the party moved into the centre of the town in order to lay wreaths honouring those from Festubert who had died during the two World Wars.

Some photos from the inauguration

Richard Foot from the Toronto Star with General Greg Young The musicians from Festubert The local Portes Drapeau gathering around the monument Honorary Lt Colonel John Newman M Jean-Marie Douvry Maire de Festubert  M Jean-Dominique Iéraci, Ministre-Conseiller Captain Stephan Tremblay O Canada resounded for the first time in Festubert Members of the 15th Bn Memorial Project Captain Stephan Tremblay with M Philippe Devos Following the unveiling of the plaque Even the French wore their poppies with pride At the reception At the reception Captain Vic Goldman Colonel Newman tries a St Glinglin beer Capt Steve Gilbert whose grandfather's flag was used during the ceremony M Thomas Pierre of the Brasserie Artésienne

Click on the thumbnail for a larger version

The afternoon was rounded off by a reception in the local school buildings where a small exposition had been mounted by this website and M José Molleda of the Cuinchy Historical Club. The Regiment and town offered the packed hall food and wine whilst the beer was provided by local brewer M Thomas Pierre of the Brasserie Artésienne at Auchy les Mines.