Less than a mile south west of Estaires, and now just south, once more, of the River Lys, our penultimate stop on the first part of this tour finds us at the war memorial in the centre of La Gorgue.
Like the memorial in Estaires, there are plenty of names here too.
The site of the war memorial is marked on both trench map and aerial photograph in red, with La Gorgue Communal Cemetery, our next and final stop, marked on the map in yellow. It is at La Gorgue that the River Lawe reaches the Lys and it was roughly the course of the Lawe, where the British held the second line behind the Portuguese on 9th April 1918 between here and Bethune, seven miles, as the crow flies, to the south west, that the western thrust of the German assault would, slowly, begin to falter.
The names of forty five civilians and sixty one military victims of the Great War are to be found on the left-hand side,….
…along with another sixty three Great War military casualties, making 124 in total, on this side. The right hand panel has fourteen military and twenty four civilian casualties of World War II, one casualty from the Indochina War (or, if you are North Vietnamese, the Anti-French Resistance War) in the late forties and early fifties, and four from the war in Algeria, which actually lasted for seven years, four months, two weeks and four days, between 1954 & 1962.
Extract from a traffic map from 1917, covering the area of the whole of our current tour, from Erquinghem to Estaires & La Gorgue, which shows how the problem of heavy road traffic was dealt with in the British rear areas.
Another map, dated June 1918, this time showing the Allied rail network as it was after the Battle of the Lys, with Estaires & La Gorgue, both under German occupation at this time, marked beneath the blue circle. One of the major objectives of Operation Georgette in April 1918 had been the capture of the major British railhead at Hazebrouck (top left of map), an objective, as the map shows, they were destined never to achieve. Although Merville, a couple of miles west of La Gorgue, would fall on 12th April 1918, Australian and British troops defending the Forest of Nieppe (marked on the map below) would halt the German offensive in this area the following day; St. Venant, a smaller railhead a further four miles west and a little south of Merville and annotated in red on this map, would never fall into German hands,…
Another rebuilt church,…
…La Gorgue being just one more of the Lys communities that would suffer, mainly from Allied shellfire and bombing once they were in German hands, during the summer of 1918. Interestingly, the church at Bac St. Maur was the only one along this section of the Lys that escaped serious damage, and was used for services throughout the war (thanks once again to Agnès).
Being a short post, we’ll finish with some more old maps, four British and one French, and originally from various ancient publications, that show how little agreement there seems to have been, perhaps still is, over the exact extent of the German advance in the first few days of the battle – certainly these exact maps, and similar, are still to be found in new publications to this day, which is pretty lazy penmanship, if you ask me. Which you didn’t. What is undeniable, however, is that the speed of the German advance meant that keeping documentary evidence of what was happening at the time was difficult at best, impossible at worst. Many war diaries were written well after the event, for example, often cobbled together from individual officers’ notes and diaries, so it is perhaps hardly surprising that some details of the initial days of the battle may be contradictory.
Both the Canal de la Lawe and the River Lawe itself are marked on this map between Bethune and La Gorgue,…
…and this map, with the positions reached by the Germans on the morning of 10th April marked, shows that, although serious advances had been made, the defences on the Lawe had not yet been overcome, and there were few bridgeheads as yet west of the river. The map also clearly shows the Corps boundary, near Laventie, between 2nd Portuguese Division, who bore the brunt of the German attack, and 40th Division, and it is around Laventie, right in the middle of the German advance on the first day of the battle, that the second part of this tour will revolve. Givenchy, at the bottom of the map, was attacked as part of the German offensive on 9th April 1918, but there the British defences held firm and the Germans failed to take the town.
…with the same advance marked on this map,…
…or this French one. Well, I thought it was interesting. One final part to come.