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Webmatters : 5e Division d'Infanterie Memorial at Neuville-Saint-Vaast
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5e Division d'Infanterie

Location

Neuville-St Vaast is a village 6.5 kilometres north of Arras, a little east of the road from Béthune to Arras (D 937). On arriving at La Targette turn right following the signs for the Canadian Vimy Memorial. In the centre of the town you will see the Mairie (Town Hall) on your right at the junction.

There are numerous memorial plaques on the wall.

WARNING ! This junction follows the code in France that unless it says otherwise you give priority to the right. The red triangle X sign does not mean crossroads, it means priority to the right at the junction.

Two things to note if asking for directions: St Vaast (The patron saint of Arras) is pronounced without the -st so it sounds like vaa. Targette is pronounced Tar-zhette because in French G before E is pronounced as a soft J.

 

Background

Plaque to the 5e DI at Neuville St Vaast

The 2nd Battle of Artois was launched on the 9th May 1915 and within a couple of hours the French 11e Division d’Infanterie (DI) had forced their way to the southern outskirts of the village.

The village cemetery became the scene of a great deal of bitter fighting changing hands throughout the day. Despite their progress much of the village remained in German hands.

The battle raged on for weeks and eventually the fresh 5e DI were ordered to definitively take Neuville. Their commander, Général Charles Mangin, was a man noted for his aggressiveness in battle (His nickname would become The Butcher).

From its arrival the Division was subjected to a nigh on continual bombardment by heavy artillery that covered not only the front line trenches but also as far back as Maroeuil and the lines of communication. On the 28th May the 36th Régiment d’Infanterie (RI) took the U-Buldings—because of their shape—in what is now the Impasse de la Paix.

The following day (29th) the War Diary complains of faulty radio equipment hindering the artillery from regulating their fire with the aid of aircraft. There is an urgency to develop regulation from aircraft.

On the 30th May the Division carried out a diversion to help the 53e DI in the Labyrinthe to the south (There is a memorial to Augustin Leuregans not far away). This accounted for a further hundred casualties.

The battle for Neuville was one conducted house by house, barricade by barricade. A house taken during the day could easily be lost again during the night. On occasions French infantry attacks were met by gas shells (gas on a major scale had only been introduced on 22nd April 1915).

If you drive towards Vimy Memorial Park you can only imagine the urban warfare that took place amongst the rubble for every single house that you are passing along what is now Rue du Canada.

A large blockhaus at the far end of Rue François Hennebique proved particularly troublesome but inexorably the soldiers of the 36e RI, 39e RI and 129e RI mastered the village.

M Hennebique’s house is a little further along the road on your left. There is a plaque on the blue wall commemorating the man who invented reinforced concrete—his system was to build the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool.

By the evening of 9th June Mangin was able to feel satisfied that the village was his.

In the fighting between 26th May and 10th June 1915 the 5e DI lost:

  • 24 officers killed and 48 wounded
  • 702 soldiers killed and 1828 wounded

 

The Memorial

This plaque and that for the 39e RI were unveiled in June 1930 in the presence of the renowned French author Roland Dorgelès (Les Croix de bois: 1919) who served with the regiment.

The plaque states:

Après huit jours de combats ininterrompus le village de Neuville-Saint-Vaast a été le 9 juin 1915 repris aux Allemands par la 5ème division d’infanterie que commandait le général MANGIN

After eight days of uninterrupted combat the village of Neuville-Saint-Vaast was retaken from the Germans on 9th June 1915 by the 5th Infantry Division commanded by Général Mangin.

 

Other memorials in the area


Cemeteries