Gazetteer of the Western Front: Bailleul

This page is about the French Flemish town of Bailleul, which is in the Departement of Nord and close to the border with Belgium. It is not the same as the village of Bailleul-Sire-Berthoult, often known just as Bailleul, which is near to Arras. The Flemish name of the town is Belle, and this form appears on road signs in Belgium.

Bailleul location

With thanks to Geoportail.gouv.fr, this map shows Bailleul today. The A25 Dunkirk-Lille motorway runs close by and the town can be accessed from Junction 10 or 11. Note the Franco-Belgian border at the top right of this image. It runs through the pleasant and historically important area of the Flemish hills (Heuvelland in Dutch, Monts des Flandres in French).

Bailleul location

The red line on this map shows the British front as it was for much of the static period of trench warfare. Bailleul is seen to be well behind the lines. Note the proximity to Ypres. The red dashed ‘bulge’ into the line represents the German capture of ground in ‘Operation Georgette’, the Battle of the Lys in April 1918. Bailleul was utterly devastated by artillery fire and fell into German hands until it was recaptured later in the year (late August/early September).

Bailleul Place

With a population over just over 13000 inhabitants in 1914, Bailleul became an important centre behind British lines once the front settled down a few miles east of the town in October 1914. Bailleul developed in the 12th to 14th Centuries principally through the wool trade but also as a market town for the area, and was not only an important railway location but also possessed many houses and farms useful for billeting troops and several large buildings that were put to other military uses. This pre-war postcard view (author’s collection) shows part of the unusually large market square (Grande Place) with the town hall and belfry. Behind the town hall lies the church of St Vaast. The town was reduced to rubble by bombardments in April 1918.

Bailleul plan

Bailleul was an important centre for management of supplies. This British grid map of April 1918 shows that the pre-war civilian railway had been expanded by the addition of narrow gauge supply routes that were used for taking men and materials to and back from the forward areas. Bottom right are tracks used as supply sidings, in the lee of the high ground of the Mont de Lille. Higher on the right, a track goes off and eventually splits to branches going to Kemmel and the Wulverghem sector of the front. Note the large asylum at the top of this image.

Bailleul aerodrome

Bailleul was also important to the air war in this area for it was the site of three airfields, officially ‘Town Ground Aerodrome’, ‘East Aerodrome’ and ‘Asylum Aerodrome’. Australian War Memorial image E01359 (above) shows an RE8 aeroplane of No.3 Squadron, AFC, at Bailleul. Note the sheds and builings in the background. The three airfields were next to each other and lay east and north-east of the town. Town Ground lay just across the lane that runs alongside Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension (below) but has long since been built over.

Bailleul defences

Imperial War Museum image Q7026. The main asylum building in Bailleul, 1 September 1918. Offensive patrols from the 36th (Ulster) Division were in this building by 2pm on 30 August 1918. Photograph taken by Lt John Warwick Brooke. This building had been used a a hospital by British forces from October 1914 until the evacuation of the town in April 1918. Several British medical units were established at Bailleul at various times, including Numbers 2, 3, 8, 11 and 53 Casualty Clearing Stations. Others were close by, for example at Outtersteene. The asylum was rebuilt and continues to operate as an important medical facility for the area.

Bailleul defences

Imperial War Museum image Q6531. Men of the Middlesex Regiment holding a street barricade in Bailleul on 15 April 1918, just before the fall of the town. Photograph taken by Lt John Warwick Brooke.

Bailleul defences

Imperial War Museum image Q47669. The Rue d’Armentieres in Bailleul after the town was recaptured.

Visiting Bailleul on your battlefield tour

Bailleul Place

Although it took many years, and for a long time the population of Bailleul was only about half of what it had been before October 1914, the town was rebuilt and resembles its pre-war style. It is a pleasant town with good facilities and makes a good alternative centre for a trip to the Ypres, Messines, Ploegsteert, Armentieres and Fromelles areas.

Must-see locations

– the British, Commonwealth, French and German war graves in the communal cemetery and its extension. This is easily accessed by car or on foot from the town centre, and is well-signposted off the Ypres road. It is a very large and significant cemetery and it would be worth considering devoted some considerable time to see.

– the memorial to the British 25th Division, a formation deeply involved in the defence of Bailleul in April 1918. This is on a traffic roundabout, a few hundred metres from the Grande Place.

– the town’s own war memorial, centred on ruins of the church of St Amand. This is situated on a street behind (and to the left of) the town hall. As you pass you will also see a fountain, now restored, with inscriptions describing the history of the town.

GPS tour guide

The above locations are all shown on the Long Long Trail’s Google Earth guide “Bailleul places to see” (KMZ format file: right click this link and “Save Target As”. ).

Staying and refreshment in Bailleul

For accommodation in Bailleul I can personally recommend the Belle Hotel: situated just off the Grande Place, it is quiet, has off-street car parking, serves a good breakfast (no evening restaurant) and although it has no bar as such will serve you a beer or two in the reception area. Tip: try the “Trois Monts”, brewed at nearby Caestre. There are a few good restaurants within five minutes walk – the hotel can advise. See http://www.bellehotel.fr/?lang=en

On the Grande Place are a number of bars, some of which provide a limited choice of food. Bailleul also has a number of typical French brand hotels at out of town locations. You will find plenty of information at the “Monts des Flandres” tourist office website athttp://www.montsdeflandre.fr/