Memorial - Battle of Arras
The Battle of Arras Memorial. Source: Town of Arras
The memorial, which stands in the former Wellington Quarry, commemorates the offensive launched by the British in Arras in April 1917.
The Battle of Arras Memorial was opened to the public on 1 March 2008. Erected in the former Wellington Quarry, it commemorates the Allied Engagement and the role this location played in the planning of the British offensive of April 1917 in Arras.
In spring 1917, the French General Nivelle, while preparing the Chemin des Dames offensive, requested that the commander of the British troops launch a diversion attack in the sector of Arras.
The main difficulty with this operation was gathering the troops in large numbers without attracting the enemy’s attention. The New Zealand fire brigade were commanded to dig tunnels beneath the enemy trenches in order to link together the old quarries used by stonecutters in the 15th and 16th centuries and create a huge underground network stretching 20 kilometres. It allowed the British troops to come out from nowhere, on the morning of 9 April, a few metres from the German front line.
This underground network was the biggest of its kind ever constructed by the British troops. The other purpose of these passages was to meet the basic needs of the 24,000 men billeted there prior to combat, the quarries providing a high level of security despite its close proximity to the Front with kitchens, showers and latrines installed as well as a military hospital. To facilitate their movements around the tunnels, the New Zealand and British troops named the quarries after towns and cities from their homelands. The main quarry was named Wellington.
A recent research programme carried out on these quarries by Arras’ archaeological department unearthed many traces of their former French and British occupants, the soldiers who lived and fought here during the war. In light of the interest these new-found testimonials hold in helping us to understand the everyday lives of the soldiers, a thorough inventory of the passages was made in the Wellington Quarry.
The town of Arras took the initiative to build this memorial, part funded by the Regional Council, the French Ministry of Regional Planning, the Urban Community, the General Council and the Ministry of Defence.
This place of remembrance comprises a remembrance garden and a wall dedicated to the British regiments who fought in this battle engraved with the names of all the soldiers. Documents about Arras dating back to the Great War are displayed in the half-buried reception hall.
Over 75 minutes, the tour pays tribute to the engagement of the Allied troops around Arras, focusing more on the soldiers’ everyday lives than the war itself. The quarry is open to groups of up to 17 people led by a tour guide. A glass lift takes the group 20 metres below ground to visit the 350 metres of tunnels that have been renovated.
This strategic network also housed the living quarters of thousands of soldiers billeted below ground. Drawings and graffiti, bas reliefs, crosses and other features can be seen on the walls, along with traces left behind by the soldiers such as helmets and rusted tins of food.
Each visitor is given an audio-guide that describes 10 sequences illustrated by visual projections and light shows on the surrounding walls: the discovery of the underground world; the traces left by the working quarry in the Middle Ages; the tunnel of history (the quarries up to 1916); the objectives of this unique military strategy in the context of the war; the tunnelling operation in 1916 and 1917; daily life in the quarries in April 1917; the construction of the network, and the Battle of Arras in April 1917. To conclude, a film about the Battle of Arras, based on archives from the Imperial War Museum, is shown in a room at the end of the tour. The memorial hopes to welcome 60,000 visitors a year.
Rue Delétoile 62000 Arras
Tel: +(0)3 21 51 26 95
Rue Delétoile 62000
03 21 51 26 95
Price: €6.80 Concessions: €3.10 Standard group price: €5.80 “Advantage” group price: €4.30 Standard school price: €2.90 “Advantage” school price: €2.10
10 am to 12.30 pm and 1.30-6.00 pm
1 January and the three weeks immediately after the Christmas holidays. 28, 29 and 30 June and 25 December.