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Remembered Today:

Brit & Cdn Dressing Station at Aix-Noulette


Ali Hollington
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Hi,

Received from the Southend WFA branch chairman- Peter Last- I thought this might be of interest.

"A Poignant Reminder of the First World War Soon to Disappear?

The large red cross on a white circular background, in the photograph, is one of a pair that straddles the entrance to a building in the small town of Aix-Noulette, just five minutes from the autoroutes which lead to the battlefields of Loos, Arras and the Somme. (picture can be seen here)

For the past 90 years, these crosses have been inexorably fading, to the point where one has all but disappeared and the other is now very pale. The soft stone walls also display names, and other inscriptions, carved by Canadian soldiers during the war.

Sadly, the building on which the crosses are painted has also deteriorated and it is now considered dangerous. Therefore, it will be demolished this year.

The building was brought to my attention by a local First World War enthusiast, and friend, Francis Roger, who learnt from the town historian that it had been a ‘malterie’ involved in the beer-brewing process since 1892. Significantly, she was able to add that there were large cellars beneath it, which were used initially for the treatment of French casualties.

The C.W.G.C. website description of the nearby communal cemetery extension would appear to indicate the existence of medical units in Aix-Noulette, as it says “The Cemetery Extension was begun by French troops early in 1915, and the two French plots are next to the Communal Cemetery. It was taken over by the 1st and 2nd Divisions in February, 1916, and used by fighting units and Field Ambulances until October, 1918.” It would seem logical that any French casualties who succumbed to their wounds at the malterie would have been buried here. Similarly, as British units had taken over the cemetery from the French, it is probable that they also would have inherited the malterie from them.

At the time of going to press, it has not been possible to confirm whether British medical units did move into these cellars, but the CWGC register certainly records that the cemetery was being used for burials of British soldiers in February 1916.

What is known is that Canadian units started to move into the area in October 1916, after their bloody experiences in the Somme battles. During their extended stay, they would achieve magnificent victories in April 1917 at Vimy Ridge, and in August of that year at Hill 70. It is in the official orders for the latter offensive that we first come across a recorded reference to Aix-Noulette being used for the handling of casualties.

Specifically, under the heading ‘Medical Arrangements – 2nd Canadian Division’, it states that one of the two Main Dressing Stations to be used will be at Aix-Noulette. It further qualifies this by giving a map reference - and describing the location as a brewery!

The War Diary of the unit based here, the 6th Canadian Field Ambulance, records, in its entry for the first day of the Battle of Hill 70, that 491 casualties were cleared through the station1.

Francis Roger’s subsequent enquiries at the Aix-Noulette Mairie elicited a letter from the Mayor, M.Alain Lefebvre, himself. Although he confirmed that the building would be demolished this year, his letter went on to emphasise that it was the will of the town to do everything possible to save the crosses, which he said were a reminder of its historic past. As a first step, he added that the towns technical department is to fabricate a protective transparent plaque which will be placed over the surviving red cross.

In recognition of these sympathetic and very encouraging gestures, the chairman of our association, Bruce Simpson, is writing a letter to thank the Mayor and the people of Aix-Noulette.

The above announcement reflects the situation as at January 9th, 2008, thanks to a deadline extension by the Bulletin editor. I hope to have further news of the fate of the crosses, for inclusion in the June/July magazine.

In the meantime, if you are interested in seeing this rare, or even unique, piece of our Great War history for yourself, I would encourage you to do so as soon as possible - for obvious reasons – but please note that access to the building is strictly forbidden. Directions from the A26 Autoroute are as follows:- Exit at junction 6 and follow signposts for ‘D301 Bruay’, ‘D937 Bethune’ and then take the fork signposted ‘D937 Arras’. This main road will lead you into Aix-Noulette. Turn right at the corner, where there is a sign for ‘Auto Ecole Michael’, into Rue des Marroniers. After 300 metres, turn right again and you will see the cross(es) on the wall on your immediate right, i.e. the building is on the corner. If you do visit this place, you might think it appropriate to leave a poppy or two there. Such evidence of British interest in the site will help to justify the support of the local community in preserving this memorial to the badly-wounded French, British and Canadian soldiers who were brought to Aix-Noulette, including those who now lie in the large Communal Cemetery Extension. (To visit these men, re-trace your steps to the main D937 road, turn right and then left, immediately after the church, into the Rue de Bully. The cemetery is 400 metres along on your left, behind the Communal Cemetery.)

N.B. If any member has any information, or suggestions, relating to other medical posts, or units, in Aix-Noulette, I will be very pleased to hear from them. Conversely, if anyone planning to visit this place requires further information, or updates, they are welcome to get in touch with me. My contact details can be found in the ‘Branch Meetings and Contacts’ section of this magazine, under ‘Southend-on-Sea Branch’."

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Thanks so much for bringing this to the attention of everyone. I am currently going through Canadian field ambulance hospital admission and discharge books (finished 2 so far!) so the picture is quite poignoint especially when I come across "died at ...."

John

Toronto

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Hi John,

Glad to hear it is of interest- please feel free to pass the story on.

On a different matter I'd be interested to hear about your work on admission and discharge books. PM on its way.

Regards

Ali

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The Canadian overseas Hospital and Admission Books (ledgers) are in good condition and virtually copy the British examples including diagnostic terms used with some small variations in these. While they mainly and certainly predominantly focus on Canadian casualties they also include Indian Army (serving in France), BEF casualties ( a good sprinkling plus ), Australian and New Zealand forces to some extent and a few Americans even in 1918. They are organized by medical unit that is field ambulance, casualty clearing station, stationary and general hospital. The great thing is that they are about 85 to 95 per cent complete with only a very few units missing. They were even during and right after the war's end turned over the to the British Medical Research Council in part for use in compiling stats and other information for the official British medical histories as well as for other epidemiological purposes. By the late 1920s and later they had been returned to Canada.

Hope this helps you and others.

John

Toronto

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A shame that another piece of history is to go but if it dangerous then i can see why, nice to see that the locals want to Keep the cross, wonder if they will keep it on show somewhere, perhaps the mairie.

Mandy

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JOhn- Thanks for the information.

Mandy- I believe discussions are continuing on what can be done to preserve this link to the events of 90 odd years ago.

Ali

Further to the first post- it would seem that the 74th Field Ambulance RAMC may have occupied the brewery at some point.

Regards

Ali

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Due to their condition and their excellent near completeness plus the integrity of the information (remember about pensions and the British were especially diligent that no colonial was going to suck off His Majesty's Treasury!) these documents which have just become available are invaluable as a clear primary source for documenting military medical history of ww1, diagnostic nosological terms, historically based epidemiology and British and Canadian military medical practices and stas in the war. Official casualty returns which I have processed as well and that were produced in Ottawa (and printed there as well) are excellent but do not give the short term nor immediate casualty reporting only what occurred typically after a considerable delay in being evacuated from France and elsewhere to England so that minor casualties noted elsewhere, inaccuracies noted at the time and corrected etc...do NOT make it into these printed lists(though they are still valuable of course).

Again I hope that I have helped and even stimulated interest,

John

Toronto

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  • 9 months later...

John,

I am seeking more information especially about this piticular dressing station in Aix-Noulette. My great grampa (Freddy J Church...116th Battalion, Ontario) was wounded during the battle of Hill 70 and possibly was sent to this dressing station. He succumbed to his injuries and is buried in the Aix-Noulette cemetary extention with other courageous Canadian and Brits from these battles.

I have been told that he was wounded on the field and sent to a field hospital. (Aug 1917) Was there a field hospital near by at this time? If I was to look at a map where would "Hill 70" be located? Unfortuneately none of his family has ever seen his grave site or his name on the Vimy Ridge Monument. One day Iam hoping to go to see it. His daughter, my gramma, always wished to but never had the opportunity. She has just passed away this past year at 94.

Avy

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I only have comprehensive data on 3 FAs currently (as complete as it goes say 90% +!) and cannot right now pinpoint the exact loaction of the FA. Eventually I will though.

John

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  • 13 years later...

Hello everyone, I am a resident of this village of Aix-Noulette and also a member of the local history association which tries to save its heritage and its history. Good news for you and for us the Malterie has been restored and one of the two red crosses was restored, the second will be in the coming year. Our association tries to reconstitute the history of the British presence in the village but especially in Malterie. the objective is to create a permanent exhibition in this magnificent building steeped in history. On the French side we are doing well, on the British side, the language and the difficulty of finding sources greatly complicates our research. Google translation allowed me to read your exchanges and I turn to you to try to find out more about their passage between 1916 and 1918. We also have 3 British cemeteries on the territory. Who would like to help us in this adventure? Our future exhibition focuses mainly on emergency medicine in 14-18. According to the period photos we believe that the crosses of the medical antenna were made by the British, without absolute certainty. You master the language and apparently the sources which we lack and above all you have a magnificent and deep respect of commemoration towards these brave people. We don't want them to be forgotten. Can you help us ? Thanks in advance

Aurélie (translated with Google translation)

3 fleurs.jpg

3fleurs2.jpg

malterie croix nuit.jpg

malterie croix nuit2.jpg

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thankyou for posting.

we used to travel through Aix-Noulette when we drove down through Lens and across to our house near Frevent.

hopefully we will be able to get back over and visit again soon.

merci.

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You're welcome. some of my ancestors are from Frevent and Bonnières and the surrounding villages. In Bonnières, the current main street was called Rue du Roi d'Angleterre... name changed during the Revolution...

Aurélie 

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merci Aurelie

 

31 Grand Rue Bonnieres, opposite the Maire et Ecole, apparently the village was heavily bombed in WW2 due to the two V1 sites at Beauvoir and Fortel en Artois.

 

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@cornet

Aurélie,

I have sent a private message. 

TEW

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Good evening, 

Chaz 

 

The world is small !

yes indeed, the village of Bonnières was bombed to 80%. The Laby farm was also damaged...

TEW 

I received your message but the google translation is not terrible. I have a friend (an English teacher) whom I'm going to ask to translate it, but he's only coming back this week's vacation... thank you!

Aurélie

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Good morning all, 

This is great news... and a good excuse for travel and to come visit the area... 

M.

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Aurélie,

No problem, will wait for your friend to return.

TEW

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  • 1 month later...

Hello, is it possible to visit the village and see the exhibition?

If so when is it open? We are over in March next year,

Tony

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hello sir, i am afraid that the permanent exhibition will not be visible on this date. the subsidies are coming slowly... nevertheless if it were the case I will report it on this site. do you have ancestors who came to Aix-Noulette? We can show you the 3 English cemeteries and talk about the British presence in the village during the 1st conflict. I remain available for any further information thank you in advance.

 

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7 hours ago, cornet said:

hello sir, i am afraid that the permanent exhibition will not be visible on this date. the subsidies are coming slowly... nevertheless if it were the case I will report it on this site. do you have ancestors who came to Aix-Noulette? We can show you the 3 English cemeteries and talk about the British presence in the village during the 1st conflict. I remain available for any further information thank you in advance.

 

Thanks have no relatives just looking for new places to go to for our annual trip.

Tony

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Bois de Noulette cemetery is worth a visit Tony, for the location and some interesting headstones.

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good evening sir, currently it is possible to visit the Malterie from outside and show you the 3 British cemeteries on the territory of the city.

I totally share Squirrel's opinion and from there you can walk to Notre-Dame de-Lorette. Do not hesitate to contact me some time before your visit.

To the pleasure Aurélie

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  • Admin

I walked from Bois de Noulette to ND de Lorette a few years back, it’s a lovely walk. Hoping to repeat it next week. 

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Michelle Young, 

 

Unfortunately I'm not in the area next week, hope you have good weather. Without being indiscreet, is a member of your family buried in this cemetery?

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On 22/09/2022 at 11:42, squirrel said:

Bois de Noulette cemetery is worth a visit Tony, for the location and some interesting headstones.

Thanks Tony

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