Butte de Warlencourt
The Butte de Warlencourt is an ancient burial mound alongside the Albert-Bapaume road, north-east of the village of Le Sars in the Somme département of northern France. It is located on the territory of the commune of Warlencourt-Eaucourt. The site was later purchased for preservation by the Western Front Association.
During the final stages of the 1916 Battle of the Somme, the Butte de Warlencourt was the subject of a number of costly and unsuccessful attacks by the British Fourth Army. It was captured by the British after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in February 1917.
The Butte de Warlencourt earned an evil reputation, because the Butte dominated the British lines and was used by the Germans for artillery observation. The Germans also constructed deep dugouts throughout the Butte, making it a formidable defensive position.
The first attack on the Butte was made on 1 October 1916 by the 141st Brigade of the British 47th (1/2nd London) Division following their capture of the nearby village of Eaucourt L'Abbaye. Another failed attack was made by the 140th Brigade on 7 October. The 47th Division's history described it thus:
"From across the valley the enemy had magnificent observation of the ground leading to our objective, and made full use of it... not a man turned back, and some got right up under the Butte, but they were not seen again."
The regiment most closely associated with the Butte de Warlencourt was the Durham Light Infantry. In November this sector was held by the British 50th (Northumbrian) Division which contained the 151st Brigade comprising, at the time, three Durham Light Infantry battalions. On 5 November the Butte was attacked by the 1/9th Durham Light Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Roland Boys Bradford who had just won the Victoria Cross at Eaucourt L'Abbaye. Initially the attack was successful with a foothold being gained in the German trenches however strong counter-attacks drove the Durhams out. The battalion sustained over 400 casualties. Bradford summed up the fatal attraction of the Butte:
"The Butte itself would have been of little use to us for the purposes of observation. But the Butte de Warlencourt had become an obsession. Everybody wanted it. It loomed large in the minds of the soldiers in the forward area and they attributed many of their misfortunes to it. ... So it had to be taken. It seems that the attack was one of those tempting, and unfortunately at one period frequent, local operations which are so costly and which are rarely worthwhile. But perhaps that is only the narrow view of the Regimental Officer."
British artist William Orpen visited the Somme battlefield in September 1917. He later described the Butte de Warlencourt as "pale gold against the eastern sky, with the mangled remains of trees and houses, which was once Le Sars, on its left. But what must it have looked like when the Somme was covered with snow, and the white-garmented Tommies used to raid it at night? It must surely have been a ghostly sight then, in the winter of 1916.". Orpen later executed a landscape of the Butte, and a portrait showing a British soldier sitting upon it in a manner evoking Rodin's The Thinker. Orpen later gave the paintings to the Imperial War Museum. British war artist Christopher R. W. Nevinson also depicted the Butte in a pencil and chalk sketch, later acquired by the British Council.
The land on which the Butte de Warlencourt stands was bought by the Western Front Association in 1990; memorials detailing the fighting that took place in the area were dedicated in a ceremony on the Butte on 30 June 1990.The ceremony involved the then President of the WFA, well known historian and author John Terraine.
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- Orpen, W. (2012). "The Butte de Warlencourt (1917)". Your Paintings. BBC. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
- Orpen, W. (2012). "The Thinker on the Butte de Warlencourt (1917)". IWM Collection Search. Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
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