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World War I

La Targette Czechoslovakian Memorial - WWI

This page was updated on: Sunday, December 10, 2017 at: 4:00 pm

Artois region

La Targette Czechoslovakian Cemetery is located along the D937, the road that links La Targette-Neuville-Saint-Vaast and Souchez.

It was created in order to bury the Czechoslovakian soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the 1st Regiment of the French Foreign Legion who died during the assault on Hill 140 on May 9, 1915.

This offensive took pace during the Second Battle of Artois.

Artois is a historical province of Northern France adjacent to the Flanders.

The cities of Abbeville, Amiens and Cambrai delineate its southern boundary.

Artois' main cities are Arras, Saint-Omer, Lens and Béthune.

Souchez, Vimy Ridge and La Targette-Neuville Saint-Vaast are located north of Arras.

Second Battle of Artois

The Germans took control of Vimy Ridge in the early days of the war.

This elevated position gave them clear view over the surrounding valleys.

They therefore had a neat advantage over the French and Allied Forces positioned below in the lowlands.

They established a network of barbed wire, trenches and fortified underground dugouts connected by tunnels and defended by machine guns.

This line of defense spread from La Targette-Neuville Saint-Vaast to Souchez, Carency and Ablain-Saint-Nazaire to the west of Souchez.

This highly fortified area was known as the Labyrinth.

The first attack launched by the French Army is known as First Battle of Artois; it lasted from December 1914 to January 1915, however, failed to break the front line stalemate.

The Second Battle of Artois was launched on May 9, 1915 on two different sectors.

The British troops attacked on the northeast of Béthune, along a 11km line going from Festubert to Neuve-Chapelle and Aubers Ridge (Battle of Aubers Ridge).

The 10th French Army, placed under the supreme command of General Foch, attacked the Labyrinth from two directions at once.

The first assault area targeted Ablain-Saint-Nazaire-Notre Dame de Lorette or Hill 165, located 3km northwest of Souchez, and Hill 119 on the far side of Souchez.

The second assault area targeted the Labyrinth's fortified system of trenches, along Carency, Souchez, La Targette and Neuville Saint-Vaast, and Vimy Ridge - Hill 140 (Hill 145 for the Canadians).

Between 6am to 10am, the French artillery made a preliminary bombardment, which was followed by an Infantry assault.

General Pétain’s troops progressed swiftly between Souchez and La Targette-Neuville Saint-Vaast.

The Moroccan Colonial Regiment managed to push through the German lines and a small wood known as Bois Folie, from where they started the assault on Vimy Ridge.

They nearly reached the crest of Vimy Ridge, however, had to retreat as the reinforcement troops were delayed.

They tragically suffered very high casualties.

Their Memorial is located by the entrance to the Canadian National Memorial.

General Maistre’s troops captured Ablain-Saint-Nazaire -Notre-Dame De Lorette – Hill 165 on 12 may.

However, it took another ten days in order to clear the hill from any German presence.

The Second Battle of Artois ended officially on June 18, 1915.

The French troops had captured Ablain-Saint-Nazaire -Notre-Dame De Lorette and La Targette-Neuville Saint-Vaast.

Souchez was captured on September 26, 1915.

However, Vimy Ridge and surrounding lowlands remained under German occupation until April 9, 1917.

Nazdar Company

La Targette Czechoslovakian Cemetery was created on the site of the original hamlet of La Targette near Neuville Saint-Vaast.

The Czechoslovakian soldiers buried in La Targette were volunteers who lived in France and abroad.

They enlisted in the Czechoslovakian section of the French Foreign Legion in order to free their country from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

250 men enlisted as soon as August 22, 1914 into the Nazdar Company, the first Czechoslovakian unit to fight under the French flag.

The name Nazdar comes from the company’s battle cry meaning Hello.

In the years that followed, the company grew into 150000 Czech and Slovak volunteers coming from all around the world.

The Czechoslovakian soldiers of the Nazdar Company were part of the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the 1st Regiment of the French Foreign Legion involved in the assault on Hill 140 on May 9, 1915.

Fifty men were killed and 150 wounded; 20 died at a later date from their injuries.

The survivors remained in the Legion.

They then joined their own army when Czechoslovakia became independent in 1918.

The Association of the Czechoslovakian Volunteers of France was created after the war.

La Targette Czechoslovakian Memorial

Ten years after the battle, the association decided to erect a monument in order to pay tribute to all the Czechs and Slovaks killed during WWI.

The artist Jaroslav Hruska designed La Targette Czechoslovakian Memorial, which was unveiled on May 31, 1925.

The sale of postcards in Czechoslovakia and many countries worldwide funded the construction of the memorial.

The Czechoslovakian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Memorial of Resistance in Prague largely contributed.

The front of the Memorial is engraved with the following epitaph:

"Ils ont choisi de mourir pour la Liberté - They chose to die for Liberty"

The back:

"Ici le 9 Mai 1915 les Volontaires Tchécoslovaques ont combattu pour leur patrie et pour la France 

Here on 9 may 1915 Czechoslovakian Volunteers fought for their fatherland and for France."

The same inscription in Czech is placed above the list of the names of the soldiers with no known grave.

A commemorative ceremony is held each year in early May.

La Targette Czechoslovakian Cemetery

In 1938, the president of the Association proposed the creation of La Targette Czechoslovakian Cemetery.

The mayor of Neuville Saint-Vaast, who then was then the president of the French Federation of Veterans Affairs, immediately approved the project.

The Head of the French Mission in Czechoslovakia also gave his full support to the association.

Twenty-four lime trees were especially brought from Czechoslovakia and planted the same year.

Sadly, WWII interrupted the development work!

It was not until 1958 that the Association of Czechoslovakian Volunteers was able to open the cemetery in order to provide a proper burial to their Dead.

206 graves (70 from WWI and 136 from WWII, including 19 airmen) were successively brought to La Targette; they were repatriated from 73 municipal and military cemeteries scattered in 38 departments!

The official opening of the cemetery took place on May 19, 1963.

The last burial transfers took place in 1970.

In 1968 the Association of the Czech Volunteers erected a monument dedicated to all the victims of WWI and WWII, in order to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Czech Republic.

The architect Bernard Heger and the artist Marta Sumova designed the Memorial, which was funded by Czechs living in France, UK, USA, Canada, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Australia.

A Bohemian Cross stands in the centre of the cemetery.

It is a reminder of the death of John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, who died fighting alongside the King of France during the Battle of Crecy in 1346.

The Cross symbolizes the alliance that united our two countries over the centuries.

A commemorative slab dedicated to the Nazdar Company was affixed under the cross.

La Targette Polish Memorial

La Targette Polish Memorial stands opposite the Czechoslovakian Cemetery and Memorial, along the D937.

About 2000 Polish enlisted in the French Foreign Legion (Légion de Galicie) at the beginning of WWI.

They fought under the French flag in order to defend France, their 'new homeland'.

Many had indeed settled in Artois and worked in the mines around Douai.

They also fought for the independence of their country of origin.

Historical Galicia was located at the border of present day Poland and Ukraine and had been under foreign domination (Russia and Austro-Hungarian Empire) since the 18th century!

The Memorial pays tribute to the Polish Volunteers who fell on May 9, 1915, while assaulting Thélus Mill (east of Neuville Saint-Vaast along the D49 and at the foot of Vimy Ridge - Hill 140).

Poland became independent in 1918.

Department of Pas de Calais - La Targette on D937
Coordinates: Lat 50.365814 - Long 2.744729

Photos via Wikimedia Commons:  Carency aftermaths 1915  source: The War Illustrated, June 1915 and Carency aftermaths 1915  are in Public domain - Battle of Artois map by anon is in Public domain
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