The Aubers Ridge Part One – Aubers War Memorial

The rebuilt Aubers church, with the village war memorial on the left. 

It needed rebuilding, like all the others around here, because there wasn’t an awful lot of it left in June 1915, as the above shots show, let alone by the end of the war.

This is the first of three posts in which we shall be visiting two of the villages on the Aubers Ridge that were the objective of the British attack that began at dawn on 9th May 1915, and ended later on the same day with absolutely no ground gained whatsoever.  The third village, Fromelles, we have visited before.  The village of Aubers had been captured by the British on 17th October 1914, along with part of the Aubers Ridge, but once lost to a German counter-attack a few days later, would remain in German hands until early October 1918.

The ubiquitous Poilu, grenade in hand, stands atop the war memorial,…

…the inscription reading, ‘To the children of Aubers who died for their country’.

I’m rather fond of French war memorials, although I’m not at all sure why.  My artistic tendencies, for what it’s worth, lean towards the 20th Century – I am quite content with Monet, Oldenburg, Stockhausen & Zappa – and yet these superbly realistic sculptures entrance me.  Strange.

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, fought between 10th & 13th May 1915, had proved a useful learning process, not least for the defenders; the British had managed to gain some ground, but at great cost, and the Germans had learned, among other things, that their defences, strong though they believed they were, needed to be stronger.  The following weeks were spent improving their positions in the forward trenches facing the British, where working parties toiled each night adding more and more barbed wire to the defences in No Man’s Land, the front line breastworks were strengthened and mined, and, up on the ridge, buildings in and around Aubers were reinforced, two examples of which are shown above, almost certainly photographed after the war.

Two of the three panels on the memorial list civilian (left) and military (right) victims, all Great War casualties except three World War II civilians on the left, and the final name on the right, and your guess is as good as mine as to why that name is followed by 1959.

The third panel is a fascinating historical artefact in its own right, listing casualties as far back as the Napoleonic Wars & the Crimea, alongside 19th Century empirical campaigns in Africa, the Franco-Prussian War, Far Eastern conflicts, and two Second World War casualties.

When the British attacked on 9th May 1915, with the aim of taking the villages of Aubers (orange), Fromelles (pink) and Le Maisnil (blue, with Neuve Chapelle marked in green, just behind the British front line in the bottom left corner) up on the Aubers Ridge, following a brief – thirty-five minute – bombardment, what followed was nothing less than an unmitigated disaster.  By the end of the day, the British are estimated to have lost over 11,500 men dead, wounded, missing or captured, for precisely no gain of any kind.

Sheltered from much of the British gunfire in their concrete dugouts up on the ridge, their Bavarian opponents would lose around nine hundred men.  These images were taken on the day of the battle; on the left, smoke drifts across the battlefield from recently detonated mines beyond pollarded willows and a tram track or light railway line, for transporting supplies to the trenches, and on the right, you can see explosions from British artillery shells above the trees on the horizon to the right (click to enlarge).

Nature and symbolism.

Yes, I have visited more than once.

The original information that accompanies this photograph reads as follows, ‘View of the Battle of Aubers Ridge, attack on Fromelles. During the bombardment (which began at 0500) at 0520, 9th May 1915. Smoke is rising from the German lines. Captain Claud Garrett Salmon of the 2nd Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), was wounded in this breastwork and was killed whilst being removed.’  Claud Salmon had fought in South Africa and was thirty-nine when he was killed; he is now buried in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery, and he left £165 in his will for all his efforts.  That’s maybe twenty grand today.

Aerial view of the battlefield from behind the British lines looking towards the village of Aubers in the background.  Purely as an orientation aid, the four coloured areas…

…are reproduced here, with the orange shaded area equivalent to the area of No Man’s Land in the foreground of the aerial photo, and the inset on the right showing a British plan of the distillery, which you will find marked on both map and photograph beneath the mauve circle.

Half a mile to the east of the village, a British cemetery, created after the war, serves as a reminder of the actions that took place on and around the Aubers Ridge during four years of warfare, and that’s where we will be next post.

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6 Responses to The Aubers Ridge Part One – Aubers War Memorial

  1. Morag L Sutherland says:

    Something as simple as losing a limb and dying of war wounds 1959? Maybe one of your local.followers can make inquiries? Someone will know . Gerald Beevers whom you met in TH. Used to visit/talk of Aubers Ridge a lot. Bradford losses? Thanks as always

    • Magicfingers says:

      Yes, I wondered about that, but it would still be rather unusual, wouldn’t it? Thanks as ever Morag. Hope all is well.

  2. Alan Bond says:

    The French war memorials with statues are generally amazing, there are several around where the figures are painted and sometimes their eyes appear to follow you. The scale and quality of memorial reflect how affluent the area they are in was post WW1. The towns and cités in industriel areas often being the most flamboyant. 1959 was in the middle of the Algerian War of independence you often seen names from this war listed either on the memorial or a separate tablet in vicinity.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Yes, 1959, of course, I suppose I should have known that. The rest of your comment is a nice little addition to this post, makes absolute sense, and I thank you for it.

      • ALAN LESLIE BOND says:

        Its always a pleasure to read your posts and I try to comment as I feel its important to show that people are interested in what you do. I am still pursue the case of the Unknown 2nd L/T of the Middlesex Regiment buried in London Cemetery, but CWCG are very slow to respond. Thanks ALAN

        • Magicfingers says:

          You’re a gent mate. I know this whole website isn’t about me basking in reflected glory for my magnificent story-telling (heh heh), but in reality, would I still be doing all this if no one had ever commented? Being human, I doubt it. So comments are part of the fuel that has fired this site over the years, and your comments are up there, and have been for some years now. Always appreciated Alan. Always. And fyi, we, and I use the word ‘we’ deliberately, have had some 31,000 views on the site for the first six months of this year, which is the most for that period since 2018 and the final year of the Centenary, so we are still doing okay!!

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