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Armentières Mairie

Armentières Mairie https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/armentieres-mairie Although the New Zealanders socialised here in the town, the area was also their introduction to warfare on the Western Front. Ngā Tapuwae Trails https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/sites/default/files/stop/media/Western%20Front-Plugstreet-Armentieres%20Mairie-National%20Army%20Museum-NAM%205699.jpg

Although the New Zealanders socialised here in the town, the area was also their introduction to warfare on the Western Front.

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Armentières Mairie

ou’re standing outside the town hall, the Mairie, in what was, in 1916, the partly-abandoned industrial town of Armentières. This square, where you are now, was known by the soldiers as 'half-past eleven square', because the clock had been hit by artillery at exactly that time, and that’s when the hands froze, and stayed there for the rest of the war. It’s famous for the song ‘Mademoiselle from Armentières’, and for the New Zealanders, this town was a place to socialise a little, and to interact with locals. But it was also to be their introduction to warfare on the Western Front. Armentières was situated behind the lines, and although it was still affected by sporadic artillery fire, a large part of its civilian population remained, many of whom catered for the British soldiers by running cafes and selling souvenirs – embroidered postcards being particularly popular. Armentières provided the billets and the base for soldiers who were in the frontline - which is two to three kilometres, directly in front of you - on the banks of the river Lys.

Generally the routine for the soldiers was eight days in the frontline, eight days in the support line, which was as much as one kilometre back from the frontline, and eight days out of the line - in billets here in Armentières. There were little bars and cafes set up to provide egg and chips, and beer for the soldiers. The soldiers would be able to talk to people in the streets, and they would have been conscious, for the first time, of a civilian population at war.

An interesting ritual took place once every eight days or so. You would go down to a deserted brewery, where the brewing vats had been turned into hot baths, and the soldiers would jump in, and scrub themselves clean. For clothes cleaning, local women would work behind large hessian screens. They used steam, and the soldiers would take off their long-johns, vest, and uniform, and it would be steam-cleaned in a specially designed steam chamber mounted on the back of a lorry. It was a very different life here in Armentières, compared to Gallipoli, and of course there was also the chance to indulge. And because the New Zealand soldiers were paid well and wine and beer was cheap - this could sometimes get out of hand. A favourite trick that they picked up from the Tommies was a ‘royal shandy’ - four bottles of beer and a bottle of champagne, mixed all together. You can imagine the consequences.

There are 453 New Zealanders buried in the town cemetery, and the casualties over that period amounted to 2,200. Armentières was meant to be a nursery, but was a very hard school indeed for the New Zealanders that fought, and died here in 1916.

How to get here

Getting there

Go back along the road that brought you to the Leslie Andrew VC memorial plaque. Drive back under the N58 and turn left on to it going towards Armentieres. Take the Ploegsteert-Le Bizet exit and turn right on to Rue du Touquet (Touquetstraat) continue for approximately 2 kilometres and turn left on to Avenue Leon Blum (D22A) towards Armentieres turning left on the D945A at the T-junction. Follow the signs to Grand Place or La Mairie.

Where to stand

Stand in Place du Général de Gaulle outside the Mairie so that you can see the clock tower.

GPS
50°41'11"N
2°52'56"E
Decimal GPS
50.68663
2.882261
  • The exterior of a church, severely damaged by artillery, Armentières, 1916
    The exterior of a church, severely damaged by artillery, Armentières, 1916Credits

    1992.757 National Army Museum, NZ http://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/5699

  • Three soldiers don bowler hats at Armentières. 1916.
    Three soldiers don bowler hats at Armentières. 1916.Credits

    1998.371 National Army Museum, NZ http://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/8985

  • A souvenir handkerchief from Armentières, embroidered with flags.
    A souvenir handkerchief from Armentières, embroidered with flags.Credits

    Reproduced courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa under a CC BY-NC-ND licence (CA000316/007/0001/0001)

  • The remains of Armentières Cathedral in 1919
    The remains of Armentières Cathedral in 1919Credits

    Reproduced courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa under a CC BY-NC-ND licence (O.031998)

  • A map of the town of Armentières showing marked locations of canteens.
    A map of the town of Armentières showing marked locations of canteens.Credits

    G5834.A818, Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

  • Men of the New Zealand Medical Corps move to their quarters, Armentières, 9 June 1916.
    Men of the New Zealand Medical Corps move to their quarters, Armentières, 9 June 1916.Credits

    © Imperial War Museums (Q 653)

Stories & Insights

As a young New Zealand officer, serving in the British army, Beauchamp was ‘full of beans’.

An example of the type of weapon used during a raid - a German trench club studded with nails.

Even in a quiet sector, raids were still conducted to keep the men aggressive and to obtain intelligence.

A postcard from Bill Jenkins, Armentières, 19 October 1916.

The YMCA aimed to make soldier's lives more bearable.

Because of his German heritage, Nimot was treated terribly by his fellow New Zealand soldiers.

A group of unidentified Australian and New Zealand soldiers with French civilians "somewhere in France".

New Zealanders often experienced culture shock when interacting with French locals.

McColl was excited to be leading a raid against the German lines.

Useful resources for those looking for more information.

A selection of First World War vocabulary and common phrases.

Take the next trail

The next Ngā Tapuwae trail is Arras. Proceed to La Carrière Wellington.
Link to the first stop

Decimal GPS:
71.00230776692428
-108.03456274999996
Sequence:
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Decimal GPS:
72.8024499076606
-102.48248137500002
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Decimal GPS:
76.30009933657021
-90.4421890625
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Decimal GPS:
62.84465695507049
-48.31402806250003
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Decimal GPS:
55.75279326711145
-54.39751418750012
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5
Decimal GPS:
69.4024499074282
-15.595494218749991
Sequence:
6

Stop Images

Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.73929
2.883406
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.74214
2.898378
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.74951
2.9416
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.68663
2.882261
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.68626
2.863228
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.66998
2.927455