Gazetteer of the Western Front: Lapugnoy

Location

Lapugnoy is a town in the Department of Pas-de-Calais in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France.
Lat: 50.31° N
Lon: 2.32° E

It is situated within the triangle between Bruay-la-Buissière, Béthune and Lillers and lies within the shallow valley of the little River Clarence. In 1911 the town had a population of 2,100; today it is 3,500.

Background

Settlements in the area of Lapugnoy have been found that date back to the Stone Age. Its history can certainly be traced from the Gallo-Roman era.

The town, although in a pretty and mainly rural area, is situated within the zone of the Bruay coalfield. Lapugnoy itself was not a mining community, although close by is Marles-les-Mines, home of the Compagnie des mines de Marles. Several slag heaps (terrils) dot the area today, including one 60m high, close to Lapugnoy on its south western side (Terril No. 5).

Commercial and industrial development of the town was more influenced by its position on the river, along which several mills operated. By the time of the Great War, the largest concern was the cotton mill and fabric producer Société Cotonnière de Lapugnoy.

The cotton works was established in Lapugnoy as early as 1850 and continued as a business until 1968. The date of this photograph is unknown. Image courtesy of L’Avenir de l’Artois, with thanks.

The cotton mill is shown on this 1915 map as “Chnées” at the top of square 21. Note the railway that had been constructed along the valley and the sidings that terminated near the mill. There is another circular symbol on the opposite side of the road: its marks the Church of St-Vaast which had been completed in 1865. This was essentially at the centre of the town, which otherwise straggled along the valley road.

The railway was operated by the Compagnie des chemins de fer du Nord. The line running through Lapugnoy connected St. Pol-sur-Ternoise and Béthune. It became a key part of the British supply system.

The network operated by “Compagnie du Nord” in 1914.

I apologise for the rather out of focus of this image of a post card. It shows a view from the northern slopes above the valley, looking down across the town. The Church of St-Vaast can be seen on the left, with the chimney stack of the cotton mill in the centre.

I have been unable to trace the owner of this card or establish its copyright.

Several large houses or chateaux had been constructed in the valley. The most important as far as the Great War is concerned was the chateau of Mont-Eventé, which lay to the west of the town. It was occupied by British forces and used as a headquarters before being largely destroyed by fire on New Years Eve 1915.

A postcard image of the Chateau Mont Everté at Lapugnoy. With many thanks to website Généalogie Maniez Pourre for the use of this image. Parts of its attached farm buildings still exist.

War at Lapugnoy

The first troops in the area during the Great War arrived on 10 October 1914: a screen of French cavalry (under de Mitry), with British II Corps arriving from the Aisne at the same time. Lapugnoy remained in the rear of the battle front from this point onwards, for the most part in the area of operations of British First Army. All of the villages and towns of the area used were for billeting troops and are frequently named in unit war diaries.

Staff and men of 18 Casualty Clearing Station moved to Lapugnoy from Aire on 18 August 1915. They began to establish a camp, with medical facilities at first being situated in marquees. Billets for the staff and men were in buildings some distance away. The camp was inspected by General Sir Douglas Haig (then commanding First Army) on 23 August and next days patients began to be admitted.  18 CCS remained at Lapugnoy until 1 April 1918.

For most of the war, Lapugnoy was far enough away from the front to be safe from all but raids from the air. The German advance during the Battle of the Lys in April 1918 brought the front much closer: the nearest being at Hinges.  This brought it within range of heavy German artillery.

Imperial War Museum photograph Q10880. Roll call of the 1st Battalion, Black Watch outside their billets at Lapugnoy, 10 April 1918.

Once the fighting settled down after the Battle of the Lys, plans were made (and to a limited extent put into effect) to create secondary defensive lines. Some trenches of the “Houchin – Lillers – Steenbeque Line” were dug east of Lapugnoy.

Touring the Lapugnoy area today

The town is now rather larger than it had been at the time of the Great War but the general layout is the same and there are many houses and other buildings that have survived from the period. As with many other communities of this region there are signs of decline that followed the end of coal mining and deindustrialisation in recent decades, but overall it is a pleasant place to visit. In the centre, along the main road, there is a supermarket, post office and pharmacy, along with the almost obligatory boucherie, boulangerie-patisseries and cafe-tabac. The small bar-tabac Le Relax is out on the main road going north eastwards out of town. The Friterie de la Clarence stall is often open just along the road from the Mairie. But of hotels and accommodation? Non, monsieur.

Sites of memory

Lapugnoy Military Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It is located along the lane that is signposted for Allouagne and can be seen (“Cim. brit”) on the map above.

The first burials were made in Plot I in September 1915 (the first, on 15 September, being a Jewish soldier, Pte 2250 George Myers of the 1/7th London Regiment) but it was most heavily used during the Battle of Loos in September 1915; Arras in April 1917; and of the Lys in April 1918. A large number of Canadian dead are buried here from the time of their operations at Vimy Ridge. The dead were brought to the cemetery from casualty clearing stations, chiefly the 18th at Lapugnoy and 23rd at nearby Lozinghem, but between May and August 1918 the cemetery was also used by fighting units. Two graves dating to before Myers’ death were brought in from other locations after the war. The cemetery contains 1,324 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 3 being unidentified, and 11 from the Second World War and all dating from May 1940. The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Among the burials is Brigadier General Lionel William Pellew East who was General Officer Commanding XIII Corps Heavy Artillery (grave X. D. 1.) He was killed in action on 6 September 1918 at the age of 52. Commissioned in 1895 he had seen much service in campaigns in India; had been in France since April 1915; was four times mentioned in despatches during the Great War and  made CMG and DSO. The war diary of the Corps reports that he was killed by enemy machine gun fire while reconnoitring potential forward observation posts near Richebourg.

Brigadier-General East

The town has three war memorials.

The first was erected in the central square in 1920: at the meeting of the Municipal Council on 21 July 1929, the then Mayor, M. Fernand Delforge, said “the monument erected in 1920 in the square, not worthy of the sacrifices made by the children of the commune who died for France, should be placed in the cemetery and be replaced by a monument worthy of them, situated in front of the church, sheltered from all defilements”. The original simple stele, surmounted by a funerary urn, was accordingly dismantled and installed in the cemetery where it still remains.

The memorial that that replaced it in front of the church is larger and more decorative and symbolic than its predecessor.

A screen shot from Google Maps showing the second town war memorial in front of the church.

A third memorial was placed inside the church.

Links

Gazetteer of the Western Front

Casualty Clearing Stations

Lapugnoy community website