French Flanders and Artois Battlefields of WW1, France

Images of sites to visit on the French Flanders and Artois battlefields, France.
Looking north-east across the Lens-Douai plain of Artois from the high ground of the Vimy Ridge and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Looking north-east from the Canadian National Vimy Memorial across the Lens-Douai plain.

The 1914-1918 battlefields of French Flanders are located in an area of northern France historically called the Province of Flanders and the County of Artois. Nowadays these two provinces are situated in the northernmost region of France, namely Nord-Pas-de-Calais. This region shares its northern border with Flemish Flanders in Belgium. Towns and villages in the area which feature in the battlefields of 1914-1918 are Armentières, Arras, Bailleul, Béthune, Bullecourt, Festubert, Fromelles, Hazebrouck, Loos-en-Gohelle, Monchy-le-Preux and St. Omer. The city of Lille is the administrative capital of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. During the First World War Lille was a busy centre of commerce and was occupied by the German Army for exactly four years from October 1914 to October 1918.

Looking towards the “man-made mountain” of the slag-heap at Mazingarbe when standing on the old 1915 German Front Line at Grenay south of Loos-en-Gohelle.
Looking towards the slag-heap at Mazingarbe from Grenay.

The western part of the region is rural and generally low-lying, with fertile fields criss-crossed by streams and ditches. The eastern part of the region is industrial. During the 19th century this area developed quickly into one of the leading industrial centres of France, producing almost all of the coal used in France by 1914. The landscape rising in gentle spurs and ridges towards the area of Arras underwent a transformation in the early part of the twentieth century with the appearance of numerous “man-made mountains” of spoil near the many pit-heads.

Visitors to the battlefields of French Flanders and Artois will find several small museums, mostly privately owned, monuments and over 350 cemeteries for the thousands of Allied and German casualties who died. This region was the most badly damaged by the four years of warfare of all the areas in France on the Western Front.

Local Events

Commemorative events are held on the battlefields of French Flanders according to an annual or special anniversary of a battle. At times there are private ceremonies and Remembrance events in relation to a particular monument or memorial.

French Flanders & Artois Events

Battles of French Flanders and Artois

View looking south-east towards Arras on the skyline from the high ground of Notre Dame de Lorette. This ridge was held by the French in 1915 until they pushed the Germans off it and further east to establish the line on the Vimy Ridge. The white building is Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery.
View looking south-east towards Arras from the high ground of Notre Dame de Lorette.

Fighting arrived in the region of French Flanders and Artois within a few weeks of the outbreak of the First World War. From late September 1914, as the German Armies and Allied French and British Armies attempted to outflank one another during the series of battles known as “The Race to the Sea”, the line of the Western Front was established here.

Battles of French Flanders & Artois

Towns & Villages

Arras

City of Arras.
City of Arras.

Arras was in the Allied-held territory throughout the war, apart from when the German Army entered the city on 29th September 1914 and left again the following day, never to retake it. Civilians and soldiers lived underground in the ancient chalk tunnels under the city throughout the war. By the end of the war the medieval buildings of Arras had been almost completely destroyed by German artillery shellfire, suffering the same fate as the shattered town of Ypres in Belgium.

Arras is the capital of the modern-day Department of Pas-de-Calais. Much of the centre of the city was rebuilt in the medieval style. It is a busy commercial and cultural centre in the region, offering visitors a variety of accommodation, restaurants and museums.

Towns and Villages on the French Flanders & Artois Battlefields

Museums

Tunnel and mining truck in the Wellington Quarry (La Carrière Wellington) museum in Arras.
Tunnel and mining truck in the Wellington Quarry (La Carriere Wellington) museum in Arras.

There are several private and public museums or visitor centres with unique collections and experiences for visitors to the French Flanders and Artois battlefields.

French Flanders & Artois Battlefield Museums

Cemeteries

Ablain St-Nazaire French Military Cemetery “Notre Dame de Lorette”.
Notre Dame de Lorette French Cemetery

The battlefield area of French Flanders contains the resting place of many thousands of Allied and Imperial German troops. The military cemeteries for the British and Commonwealth casualties number over 300 and range in size from small battlefield cemeteries to larger concentration or collecting cemeteries created after the First World War. This area includes several French military cemeteries, one of which is the largest French military cemetery in the world at Ablain St. Nazaire (Notre Dame de Lorette). The largest German military cemetery for First World War casualties in France called Neuville-Saint-Vaast “Maison Blanche” contains the remains of 44,833 German soldiers.

French Flanders & Artois Cemeteries

Monuments and Memorials

The twin pylons of the Canadian national memorial at Vimy Ridge, commemorating 60,000 Canadian servicemen who fell in France during the First World War, and which commemorates the names of over 11,000 of them who have no known grave.
Canadian National Vimy Memorial, Vimy Ridge.

In addition to numerous memorials to individual military units, this battlefield area has several national memorials dedicated to thousands of servicemen who died in this area and who have no known grave.

French Flanders and Artois Monuments & Memorials

Memorials to the Missing

Arras Memorial to the Missing (British)

Arras Flying Services Memorial (British)

Canadian National Vimy Memorial

Loos Memorial to the Missing

Notre Dame de Lorette Ossuaries and Lantern Tower (French)

Battlefield Remains

Preserved trenches at the Vimy Memorial Park.
Preserved trenches at the Vimy Memorial Park.

There are three main sites where battlefield remains can be visited. These include trenches, tunnels and mine craters.

Battle Remains in the French Flanders & Artois Battlefields

Accommodation

Accommodation on and around the French Flanders & Artois Battlefields

Tourist Information

Mairie and village war memorial at Bullecourt.
Bullecourt village mairie.

Information and links for online research about the places to discover in the French Flanders and Artois region of France.

Tourist Information for French Flanders & Artois

Related Topics

The Western Front

Laying a wreath at the 41st Division Memorial at Flers on the Somme battlefield.
Members of a battlefield tour lay wreaths at the 41st Division Memorial at Flers on the Somme battlefield.

An overview of the main WW1 battle areas of the Western Front and the type of landscape where they are found in Belgium and France:

WW1 Battlefields of the Western Front

Battles of the Western Front 1914-1918

Visiting the WW1 Western Front Battlefields

Advice and information for travellers wishing to visit the battlefields in Belgium and France:

Visiting the WW1 Western Front Battlefields

Acknowledgements

(GWPDA) Photographs with grateful thanks to the Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War.