Gazetteer of the Western Front: Fauquissart

Fauquissart is a village in the department of Pas-de-Calais, France.

It lies on the D171 road South West of Armentières, near the village of Laventie. The road is known as “Rue Tilleloy” north of Fauquissart and “Rue du Bois” south of it. Faiquissart is not named in the map above, being a very small place. [Thanks to Viamichelin for the use of this map]

Fauquissart can now be seen when we zoom into it. Many place names of great importance in 1914-1918 can be seen nearby: Neuve Chapelle, Aubers and Fromelles. Note too the many military cemeteries in this area, shown here by star symbols. [Thanks to Geoportail for the use of this map].

This 1914 map suggests that Fauquissart was little more than a ribbon development of buildings along the road.

A pre-war view of Fauquissart.

War in Fauquissart

On 10 October 1914 troops of the Bavarian Cavalry Division, IV German Cavalry Corps, patrolled the area of Laventie and Fauquissart. Within a week the British Expeditionary Force was beginning to deploy into the area, having been moved up from the Aisne, and the German cavalry screen withdrew. Large German forces were however approaching and a battle of encounter began along the Aubers ridge. The first British trenches were dug at Fauquissart on 20 October 1914 by the 1st Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the 19th Infantry Brigade.

This map dates to later in the war but the trench position scarcely changed between October 1914 and April 1918. The British front line can be seen (dashed light blue) running parallel to the D171 road. German trenches are shown in more detail in red. For the most part, they were not trenches dug into the ground, but “breastworks” built up from it using sandbags, timber and (later) concrete. The water table in this flat ground is high, meaning not only that it flooded easily but that digging trenches was impractical.

Static trench warfare took place here during that whole period, and Fauquissart was in the front line for several key engagements: the attacks of 14-18 December 1914, the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10-13 March 1915), the Battle of Aubers (9 May 1915) and the Attack on Fromelles (19-20 July 1916). The buildings of the village were used for close support to the trenches, and housed battalion headquarters, signals units and artillery observers. As the months went by, enemy shellfire gradually reduced Fauquissart to ruins. Many British units were rotated through this area and Fauquissart features in many war diaries. During 1915 it was held, among others, by the Indian Corps.

The front line here was one of the areas where the unofficial truce of Christmas 1914tookplace: the 2nd Royal Berkshire Regiment was in the Fauquissart trenches at the time.

In April 1917 this sector was taken over by the Corpo Expedicionario Portugues (CEP), a Corps of two Divisions of the Portguese Army.

Portuguese troops holding a trench in the Fauquissart sector. Note graves in the back of the trench. Imperial War Museum image Q60295.

By 1918 the trench defences had been developed, with (in 1918) emphasis on strong-points often known as “posts”, which could in theory cover the gap between them with cross fire.

On 9 April 1918, the German Sixth Army attacked here in the opening of Operation “Georgette”: the start of the Battle of the Lys. Fauquissart was held at the time by 4 (do Minho) Brigade, which placed the 20th Regiment of Infantry from Guimarăes in the forward line: it was attacked by most of the German 42nd Division. On the left (north) of the 4 (do Minho) Brigade came the British 40th Division. The Portuguese units fought well here although under enormous pressure. When the German penetrated into the 40th Division’s area, Fauqissart and Laventie quickly fell. They remained behind German lines for several months: a large German cemetery at Laventie stands in memory.

Fauquissart was recaptured on 5 September 1918 in operations known as the “Advance in Flanders”. The ruins along the Rue Tilleloy were recaptured by the 36th Northumberland Fusiliers and 25th King’s (Liverpool Regiment) of 59th (2nd North Midland) Division.

The caption to this photograph suggests that it was at Fauquissart.

Visiting Fauquissart today

It has to be said that there is not a great deal to see in the rebuilt Fauquissart, for it is once again little more than a ribbon of buildings along the road. The area of the trench lines can be seen to the east of the road, on fields that are flat and open but for the most part are on private land.

There are several cemeteries nearby, as shown on this postcard (for which I thank delcampe.net), including Laventie German Cemetery which dates to the April-September 1918 period. Laventie is a pleasant little town for refreshment and (if it is open) the cafe at the La Bombe crossroads at Neuve Chapelle is usually good too. For those of this persuasion, an excellent friterie van operates at lunchtimes in Neuve Chapelle.

For accommodation, there is a sprinkling of B&Bs and Gites in the area, but for hotels you will need to travel to Armentières or Béthune: I prefer the latter for its choice of hotels, some good restaurants and an interesting and accessible town centre.

Links

Gazetteer of the Western Front

Ville de Laventie tourist site

Books