Hardecourt During WWI
The Great War first came to Hardecourt in late August 1914 following the Battle of Le Cateau on the 26th August. The British and German Armies had separated and as the Allies fell back to defend Paris, von Klucks First German Army swung across to the north. His IV Reserve Corps moved into the Somme area from the east, through Hardecourt, Montauban and Maricourt and having taken Albert, turned south through Amiens to fight the Battle of the Marne. When the Battle resulted in stalemate, both sides began the race to the sea.
On the 26th September 1914 the French 45e R. I. 11th Division from the province of Lorraine found themselves holding the Hardecourt, Maricourt, Peronne road area. At the same time the 22nd Bavarian Infantry Reg arrived from the south in the area of Maurepas after a march of 51 kilometers. The 2nd Battalion commanded by Major Nagelsbach received orders to take Hardecourt then advance on to Maricourt. The Bavarians captured Hardecourt but the assault on Maricourt failed and over the next two days the Bavarian Division tired everything to out-flank Maricourt via Montauban and Faviere Wood, the end of the fight finished in stalemate.
The front line was now fixed, the French held Maricourt with their trenches running along the eastern edge of Maricourt Wood and the Bavarians held Hardecourt with their trenches running to the eastern edge of Faviere Wood or Bayern Wald to the Bavarians. For the next 21 months these positions remained almost unchanged, apart from what is described as a few minor local operations. Although there were daily casualties as there were all along the trench lines, Reserve Leutnant Franz Demmel Bavarian Inf Leibregiment served in the trenches in front of Hardecourt.
"On Easter Sunday, the 4th April, we marked the day in the morning with a church service, then in the evening we marched to our position, this time in the so-called 'Hollow Copse', opposite Maricourt and not far from Hardecourt. The dugouts were well made and practically shell proof, which was just as well, because there was much artillery fire. We had one man killed during the relief. Our comrade Schonig was killed by a shrapnel ball, just after he had gone on sentry duty. We mourned him as a kindly man, keen to do his duty and buried him in a small hollow near the position. "
During the first week of January 1916 the British 30th Division took over the front line in front of Maricourt Wood. With the 17th and 20th Bn's Kings Liverpool's being the right-hand troops of the British Army joining with the French Army at a point known as Chem des Anglais on the northern edge of Maricourt Wood. Although it was suppose to be a quiet sector 5,000 German shells were fired on the Divisional area in 24 hours on the 28th January, followed by a raid of 100 Germans on the 29th. By June 1916 plans were being finalised for the joint French and British 'Big Push' and on the 24th June the preliminary bombardment of the Germans trenches, Faviere and Hardecourt began.
After 7 days of the largest bombardment ever known in warfare by the combined artillery of the French and British, the day had arrived for the infantry to do their bit. The British 30th Division were to attack north from Maricourt with the objective of Montauban with Dublin Redoubt and the Briqueterie strong points on the right. The French 39th Division's objectives were Dublin Redoubt, Bois Faviere, Bois d'en Haut and Hardecourt if things went well.
The infantry assault by the French 39th Division and the British 30th Division was launched at the same time 07:30. Where the British and French lines met at the Chem des Anglais, Lt Col Fairfax CO of the 17th Kings Liverpool's and Commandant Le Petit CO of 3e Battalion 153e Reg, left the trench together with the second wave in a sign of unity. The individual Battalions advanced to there objectives, both assisting each other in the capture of the Dublin Redoubt. The rest of the French 39th Division, commanded by General Nourrisson, attacked under the cover of a river mist, towards Bois Faviere and Hardecourt. They quickly over ran the German 6th Bavarian Reg, in Adolf and Faviere trenches, they then advanced into what remained of Bois Faviere, where they were engaged in fierce hand to hand fighting, the Germans who held onto the bottom north eastern corner of the wood. By midday the situation was so satisfactory that Gen. Nourrisson proposed to attack Hardecourt, but he abandoned the idea after four German counter attacks were launched from Hardecourt, all of which were repulsed suffering very heavy casualties, with some German units being totally wiped out. So ended the first day with the French having taken all their objectives except a small area of Faviere Wood. The French now consolidated their gains as it was expected the enemy would attack in force at the this point were the French and British lines joined expecting it to be a weak point.
The next joint anglo French and British advance was planned for the 8th July. The British 30th Division advanced to the north of Hardecourt to capture Maltz Horn trench and farm as well as Trones Wood. The French 39th Division attacked the western slopes of Hardecourt Ridge and Hardecourt village itself. At first light the French 146e Reg and 153e Reg advanced from their forward positions in Bois Faviere under the cover of a heavy artillery barrage. The French artillery bombarded Hardecourt with light to medium guns from the main Maricourt to Peronne ridge and with heavy artillery from Maricourt. The intense artillery cross-fire allowed the French infantry to cover the open ground to the village, however once they closed on the village they found themselves dragged into a fierce subterranean battle in the church catacombs and tunnels below the village that joined all the cellars and wells in the village. After 2 hours of intense infantry fighting the French had captured the eastern outskirts of Hardecourt.
The fighting around Hardecourt now ground to a stalemate with the French trench line established on the eastern outskirts of the village, less than 50 meters from the location of today's Chavasse Farm. It was probably about this time that the communication trench that runs through the garden was dug. Over the last two years we have found hundreds of relics connected to this period. The French along with the British 1/4 mile to the north attempted several times to push the line forward firstly on 20th July followed by the 23rd and 30th July, but it wasn't until early 15th August that the French managed to push the Germans down the valley to the outskirts of Maurepas. The fighting on the 30th July is one of the best small scale battles of British and French operations of the Great War. At 4:45 am on the 30th the 2nd Bedford's from the north and the French153e Reg from the south simultanisly attacked Maltzhorn Farm within 30 minutes the position was captured with all the Germans in the position being killed except one.
For the remainder of the 1916 Battle of the Somme Hardecourt remained a support position with several French and British Artillery batteries being established there, to the west of the village Chimpanzee Valley became a hive of activity as it was in dead ground to the German positions, as well as being the main approach route of British troops moving up to the front at Guillemont, several stores dumps, artillery batteries and CCS were located there. Early in September many of the new British Mk1 tanks moved up through the valley, stopping to refuel before moving on to take part in the first tank attack on September 15th. Towards the end of the Battle the French moved up Naval guns into Hardecourt ravine to fire on the German lines several miles away.
By the end of November the main fighting drew to a close, the British line had pushed slightly to the south and Hardecourt had become the joint between the British and the French armies, what was left of the village was now occupied by both armies, there was a British and French artillery battery in the vicinity and several stores dumps. Then early in 1917 the German army withdrew to the new Hindenburg Line leaving Hardecourt well in the rear of the fighting, it wouldn't be until 1918 that the fighting would return to the village.
In the early hours of 21st March 1918 the Germans threw sixty Divisions into a final push action. After three days of very heavy fighting the Germans had advanced to a line running from Delville Wood through the eastern edge of Hardecourt to Curlu on the River Somme. The 35th Division that was reasonably fresh moved up to cover large gaps in the line, the 12th HLI commanded by Lt Col W H Anderson covered the ground in front of Faviere Wood to the western outskirts of Hardecourt. The enemy began a heavy barrage at 7:45 am on the 25th March and then followed this with a strong frontal attack, an outpost was overrun and part of Faviere Wood was taken by men of the German 199th Division. However, realizing the seriousness of the situation Anderson made his way across the open ground towards the positions where his right companies were placed and which had become disorganized. Getting them together again he set up and led a brilliant counter-attack which resulted in the lost ground being recovered together with twelve machine guns and seventy prisoners. The enemy attack again and at one point the 12th HLI were in real danger of becoming surrounded. They therefore fell back and moved into the timber yard three yards outside Maricourt. At about 5 pm Anderson took the opportunity to drive the enemy from Maricourt Wood. At this time there were no reserves to assist the 12th HLI, so a group of men who weren't usually front line troops were summoned and were formed up on the right of the Battalion. The Germans were so surprised by the ferocity of the attack that they back down the slope towards Hardecourt for a distance of a thousand yards. Unfortunately Anderson himself was killed during the attack on the furthest position taken, for his and the battalions actions during those few days he was awarded a posthumous VC, he is buried close to the site of the action in Peronne Road Cemetery Maricourt.
RAF AIRPHOTOGRAPH HARDECOURT 22 AUG 1918
During early August the Allies successfully counter-attacked the German army and so started the advance to victory, by the mid August the British Army was back on the old Somme battlefields, by the 27th August the 12th Eastern Division had advanced as far as Maricourt. On the 28th the attack was renewed by the 9th Royal Fusiliers on the Divisional right and the 1/1st Cambridgeshire in the centre and the 9th Essex on the left, the Brigade objective being a line between Hardecourt and Maltz Horn Farm. The 9th Royal Fusilier had the task of clearing the ruins of Hardecourt village that was known to be occupied by the German Fusilier Guards. At 11p.m. on the 27th the Battalion moved up through Maricourt and advanced to a start-line position on the high ground above Faviere Wood. The Battalion was complete in position at 3 a.m.; all they had to do now was wait the two hours for the attack to start. At 5:55 a.m. under the cover of an artillery and machine-gun barrage the Battalion moved of the start-line and successfully cleared Faviere Wood. They then advanced up hill across the open under heavy enemy machine-gun fire to the edge of the village, next the village had to be cleared, and two hours of intense fighting cleared the village, the total advance being over two thousand yards. A new line was formed on the eastern side of the village, contact was made with the 1/1st Cambridgeshire’s on the left and the 2/2nd London Reg on the right. The action had been a complete success, the battalion captured sixteen machine guns and 50 prisoners and as it says in the Battalion war diary many enemy were killed, although it all came at a heavy price to the Battalion 28 men being killed in action including Capt E C Dupres and 150 men wounded of which many died over the following days including 2Lt W C Long MC and 2Lt F O Bingham. The 9th Royal Fusiliers received great credit for the action of the 28th as they had just received a draft the previous week of 350 recruits many of which were aged between eighteen and nineteen but they still fought gallantly as if they were seasoned soldiers just like their enemy the German Fusilier Guards. During the afternoon and evening the Germans heavily shelled the new positions, but by the following morning the shelling had ceased, the advance continued with Mareupas being easily taken, and so ended the war for Hardecourt aux Bois.
After the war it took several years for the former population to return, in 1919 the village was still only a pile of rubble with no roads leading to the village a cemetery was situated in the centre of the village containing French soldiers and twenty nine British mostly 9th Royal Fusiliers and five RFA from 1916. By 1922 a rebuild had started but the population of the village was less than a quarter that it had been before the war, the Church had been rebuilt and several other buildings and farms were being built paid for by the German government. In 1922 Chavasse Farm was rebuilt, but even today the scars and marks from the Great War still remain, you can still see a slight dip in the ground in the garden were a communication trench once ran to the 1916 front line, we have found numerous items in the garden while landscaping including bayonets bullets shrapnel wire cutters boots and shrapnel, during the digging in of the new septic tank we found two live stokes mortar bombs and one live French shell, and I think we’ll be finding bits for years to come, you could say the Great War has left its mark forever.