ARMENTIÈRES TO LA BASSÉE
SOME NOTES FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS
The Old Front Line from Armentières to La Bassée is arguably the most neglected part of the British sector of the Western Front. Why this should be so is difficult to say, considering that some of the major actions of the early part of the war in 1914-15 were fought here. Furthermore it has a very high concentration of British cemeteries, and incredible amount of battlefield remains - in particular concrete pillboxes. Hopefully these notes will prompt a few of you to visit the area, and further pages will appear on the Forgotten Fronts history pages elsewhere on the site.
As always, contact me if you need any help.
Email: Paul Reed
WHERE IS THE 'FORGOTTEN FRONT'?
The area we are talking about runs from Armentières in the north, just astride the French/Belgian border, to the town of La Bassée which is about 20 km away. All of this is in northern France, largely in the Departement du Nord (59), but some of it is in the Pas de Calais (62). The area encompasses battlefields such as Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Fromelles, Festubert, Givenchy and Loos. Although most of these are from the 1914-15 battles, there was action in this region again in April 1918 when the Germans broke through. As such, the area extends to the west out to places like Bailleul, Bethune, Hazebroucke and Merville.
HOW TO GET THERE
The easiest route from Calais is to take the A16 signposted DUNKERQUE, and once there join the A25 in the direction of LILLE. You can exit the motorway anywhere in the Armentières area. This part of the motorway is free - no tolls. An alternative route would be to follow the A26 towards ARRAS, and exit at BETHUNE. There is a toll on this part of the route, however.
WHERE TO STAY
Most of the large towns in this region have hotels, and there are a few B&Bs in some of the villages. The Nord Tourist web site (see below) has further accommodation details.
Some of the places known to me are:
ARMENTIERES: Hotel Albert 1er, 28 rue
Robert Schuman, 59280 ARMENTIERES, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 20 77 31 02. Fax: 0033 3 20 77 05 16.
** star hotel. 17 rooms.
ARMENTIERES: Hotel Arcades, 7 rue de
la Gare, 59280 ARMENTIERES, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 20 35 92 00. Fax: 0033 3 20 44 17 44.
** star hotel. 12 rooms.
ARMENTIERES: Hotel Joly, 7 rue
Kennedy, 59280 ARMENTIERES, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 20 77 00 94. Fax: 0033 3 20 35 51 89.
** star hotel. 17 rooms.
BAILLEUL: Belle Hotel, 19 rue de
Lille, 59270 BAILLEUL, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 28 49 19 00. Fax: 0033 3 28 49 22 11.
*** star hotel. 31 rooms. All en-suite with TV. No restaurant.
BAILLEUL: Hotel Formule 1, Champ du
Briestraete ZI, 59270 BAILLEUL, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 28 41 26 26. Fax: 0033 3 28 42 23 28.
Cheap chain hotel, with shared bathroom facilities. 64 rooms. All with sink and TV. No restaurant.
BETHUNE: Hotel Le Vieux Beffroi, 48
Grand Place, 62400 BETHUNE, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 21 68 15 00. Fax: 0033 3 21 56 66 32.
** star hotel. 37 rooms. Logis de France recommended.
ENGLOS: Novotel Lille Englos,
Autoroute A25 Sortie Englos, 59320 ENGLOS, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 20 10 58 58. Fax: 0033 3 20 10 58 59.
*** star chain hotel. Close to Armentières and just off Englos exit on A25 motorway. 124 rooms. Restaurant.
LESTREM: La Cigogne, 256 place de
l'eglise, 62136 LESTREM, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 21 02 57 77.
Small hotel - cafe - brasserie. All rooms have TV.
BED & BREAKFAST
NOTE: These are all French run B&Bs and most speak only a little English, if any.
LA NICHE: Gites de France B&B
located in Vielle-Chapelle.
Address: La Niche, Vielle-Chapelle, 62136 RICHEBOURG, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 21 65 33 13. Fax: 0033 3 21 66 89 04.
LES CAPERIES: Gites de France B&B
located in Richebourg.
Address: Les Caperies, 106 rue des Charbonniers, 62136 RICHEBOURG, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 21 26 07 19.
LA PILATERIE: Gites de France B&B
located in La Couture.
All rooms have toilet, shower, telephone and TV.
Address: La Pilaterie, 2129 rote d'Estaires, 62 LA COUTURE, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 21 26 77 02.
M. & Mme BLONDIAUX-PRINS: Gites de
France B&B located in Richebourg.
All rooms have toilet, shower, telephone and colour TV.
Address: 20 rue de la Croix Barbet, 62136 RICHEBOURG, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 21 26 04 95.
MUSEUM - FROMELLES
The only museum in the area is at Fromelles. This superb private museum organised by the Association Souvenir de la Bataille de Fromelles (ASBF). It is currently located in the attic of the village hall, and has a staggering array of material on display; some of it recovered from the battlefields around Fromelles. Because of the Australian action in July 1916, there is a great emphasis on the AIF. It is open on certain weekends throughout the year, but members of ASBF will open it up by prior arrangement. A small fee is charged, and groups can be accommodated. Not to be missed if you visit the area!
For further details contact Martial DELEBARRE, who speaks excellent English:
10 rue de l'eglise
Tel: 0033 3 20 50 65 28
NORD TOURIST WEB SITE
This site is dedicated to tourism in the departement du Nord. There is information on hotels, camp sites, walks in the area and what's on. You can also order a number of tourist guides.
NORD - PAS DE CALAIS WEB SITE
This site is offered by the Comite Regional de Tourisme Nord - Pas de Calais and has details of accommodation, events and tourist information in this area of France. You can also order an excellent 'Holiday Guide' (English version available).
'IN THE TRACKS OF THE GREAT WAR'
This is a free multi-language tourist
brochure which covers parts of the battlefield from Flanders to Arras. The basic
brochure suggests a number of routes, one of which is in the Forgotten Front
area. The brochure links to a guidebook which can be purchased in tourist
offices in this part of France. I know copies can be found in the tourist
offices at Bailleul and Bethune.
AU COEUR DU BAS PAYS d'ARTOIS - TOURIST MAP
This excellent map, with some text in English, covers the area of the battlefields south of Armentières to the area between Bethune and La Bassée. Military cemeteries and memorials are marked on, and there is a list of them with number of commemorations etc. The map also lists local accommodation, restaurants and other useful information. Copies are free from the Bethune tourist office:
L'Office de Tourisme de Bethune
"Le Beffroi", Grand Place, BP 551, 62411 BETHUNE, FRANCE.
Tel: 0033 3 21 57 25 47. Fax: 0033 3 21 57 01 60.
There are few books or guide books to the area, but the following will help:
Before Endeavours Fade
- Rose Coombes (After The Battle)
Battleground Europe: Neuve Chapelle - Geoff Bridger (Pen & Sword 2000)
1915 - Lyn MacDonald (various paperback editions)
The Battle of Loos - Phillip Warner (Cassell reprint 2000)
The Forgotten Battle Series - Book 1 The Battles of Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert - Michael Gavaghan (M&L Publications 1997)
The Forgotten Battle Series - Book 2 Loos 1915 - Michael Gavaghan (M&L Publications 1997)
VCs of the First World War: The Western Front 1915 - P.Batchelor & C.Matson (Alan Sutton1997)
The French Green series IGN Map 1/100,000 No 2 'Lille-Dunkerque' covers this area and is suitable if you just intend driving the battlefields. The Michelin 'Yellow' series No 51 covers Armentières to La Bassée, and the CWGC version with all the cemeteries marked on it is very useful.
The is a number of the 'Blue' series IGN maps which are more useful for walking, or comparing to trench maps. These can be purchased in newsagents ('maison de la presse') in some of the larger towns (such as Armentières, Bailleul, Bethune and La Bassée) or on-line from the IGN web site.
©Paul Reed 2001-2006