“L’Égalité” National Cemetery, Montdidier
“L’Égalité” National Cemetery, Montdidier. © Guillaume Pichard
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Located close to a German military cemetery, Montdidier “L’Égalité” National Cemetery contains the remains of 745 soldiers. The vast majority died of their wounds in the ambulances and hospitals of the area. A plaque recalls Montdidier’s unique fate in the First World War, following which it received the Légion d’Honneur, along with five other towns in the department.
An area marked by the fighting of the Great War
From the first weeks of the war, the department of the Somme was the scene of violent clashes. From the fighting of autumn 1914 to that of 1918, the area remained fiercely disputed, being referred to many times in official communications. In August 1914, Amiens was occupied for a few days. In September 1914, each army made a last-ditch attempt to outflank their adversary to the north. This frantic dash saw clashes at Roye, Villiers-Bretonneux, Péronne and Albert. The war dragged on. In 1915, a small number of actions of limited impact were carried out. In 1916, the front line was shaken by one of the most iconic offensives of the war: the Battle of the Somme.
In late 1915, the Allies were planning to carry out a major offensive. But the fighting in Verdun thwarted their expectations. The operation, which mainly involved Commonwealth forces, went ahead nonetheless, to relieve the pressure from the enemy on the French forces. The situation behind the lines gradually transformed. Roads and railways were built. Men and munitions were transported to the many billets and depots.
On 1 July 1916, the first waves of British troops advanced. They were soon stopped by sustained German machine-gun fire. The enemy held firmly onto the ridge lines dominating the Ancre and Somme valleys. In a few hours, nearly 30 000 men were put out of action. Further south, the French took the Flaucourt plateau. But their offensive momentum deteriorated into useless, bloody attempts to wear down the enemy. The enemy positions were systematically bombarded, but no decisive breakthrough was achieved. On 18 November 1916, this offensive was called off. After four months, 650 000 Germans, 420 000 British and 195 000 French had been killed or wounded.
In the spring of 1918, the Germans took the initiative once again in this sector. Following violent actions against the British forces, the front was breached. In April, the enemy took Moisel, Ham, Péronne and Montdidier. Thanks to the resistance of Australian troops at Villiers-Bretonneux, Amiens remained in the hands of the British. In July, the German army was halted once more outside Paris. The Allies fought back, freeing up the entire front. On 8 August, the Canadians, Australians and French attacked between Albert and Roye, jostling the enemy. Persevering with their objective, by late August the Allies had entirely liberated the department of the Somme, which had been severely damaged.
Montdidier, a town with a unique fate in the First World War
From 31 August to 13 September 1914, Montdidier was briefly occupied. After the Battle of the Marne, the town remained under fire from German artillery. Given the extent of the shelling, the destruction was considerable. In spring 1917, the front was pushed back 25 miles. Following the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, Montdidier appeared to be free once and for all. But in spring 1918, the town was occupied again, until 10 August, when it was finally liberated, in ruins.
On the D 329 (Rue Jean Doublet), adjacent to a German cemetery
Unguided visits throughout the year