5

Bancourt British Cemetery

Bancourt British Cemetery https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/bancourt-british-cemetery The New Zealanders took Frémicourt, but Bancourt was well defended by the Germans and proved costly. Ngā Tapuwae Trails https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/sites/default/files/stop/media/Western%20Front-Somme%201918-Bancourt-Alexander%20Turnbull%20Library-22563421.jpg

The New Zealanders took Frémicourt, but Bancourt was well defended by the Germans and proved costly.

WF_Bapaume_British bancourt_changes.mp3
Read this story

Bancourt British Cemetery

You are standing in the Bancourt Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. Just inside the entrance, there is an open area, surrounded by headstones of New Zealand soldiers who were killed in the fighting for Bancourt and Fremicourt in late August early September 1918. There are two names on every headstone and you realise that the open area that you’re standing on is a mass grave. As you look around this mass grave you’ll see other New Zealand headstones. This cemetery was started by the New Zealand Division after this attack.

Bapaume was evacuated by the Germans on 29 August and they pulled back in this direction, onto the next major junction point at Cambrai, which they were determined to hold. If you look over the memorial cross in front of you - you will see the village of Bancourt itself and directly past the stone of remembrance you will see the village of Fremicourt, to your right. If you picture the open ground between the two villages, that is the area of the Bapaume-Cambrai road. The two New Zealand Brigades, attacked in this direction, over that open ground. The 1st Rifles took on Fremicourt, and the Wellington and Auckland Battalions attacked Bancourt - coming towards you.

Zero hour was supposed to be at 5.00 in the morning, however the British on their flank were delayed and so the Aucklanders didn’t start until 6.00a.m. By that stage it was light, and the Rifle Brigade had fought their way into Fremicourt supported by tanks and taken it. However, Bancourt posed a different problem. The fighting there was difficult, and the New Zealanders once again attempted to outflank the village itself, to secure the high ground on the other side and then take control of the village. The problem was this high ground behind you, beyond the public cemetery. From there, German machine guns covered this area. Both battalions were pinned down with heavy casualties.

Look at the names on the graves. Some of these men were veterans who were private soldiers on Gallipoli and who were now sergeants or 2nd lieutenants. Up to 1915, each unit had a separate two-digit code followed by a slash and then a longer number - you can identify these veterans by these numbers. It was their leadership that got the men through this fighting. It was a different type of fighting here.

The New Zealanders were getting into open country and it was now mobile warfare. While there were still training trenches and dug-in defences around here, so much now depended on the skills of NCOs to lead their men following the loss of officers during battle. In fact there are the names of eight Auckland officers on these headstones who were killed in this fighting. At that time, the sergeants and the corporals stood up, and took over, and that cost them dearly, because they became the target for snipers and machine gun fire. That cost can be read all around you in this cemetery.

Further up the hill, Sergeant John Gilroy Grant, fought his way forward to clear a machine gun nest. That bravery won him the Victoria Cross. In fact, he was out on a limb, and the New Zealanders couldn’t hold that exposed position. They were pushed back to the ground, just in front of you, as the Germans launched a major counter attack, and for the first time, used tanks against the New Zealand positions. New Zealanders in the forward trenches had to lie doggo, while the artillery and machine guns engaged them, and the German tanks, clumsy, box-like contraptions, had to pull back.

Unfortunately for the Germans, German tanks were rare and many of their own soldiers had never seen them on the battlefield, and they were immediately engaged by their own fire. German anti-tank gunners and machine gunners, firing anti-tank rounds, forced two of the tanks to stop and they got stuck. Their crews abandoned them, and they were eventually captured by the New Zealanders.

Bancourt is an example of just how difficult an advance can be in country ideally suited for defence. The Germans tried to make the best use they could of this landscape, but they were increasingly a spent force, and the skill and experience of the New Zealanders, and the British, continued to drive them back.

How to get here

Getting there

Drive back the way you came on the D917 towards Bapaume. At the roundabout take the second exit towards Bapaume - centre. Follow this road to the town centre. When you reach the town square you will come to a small roundabout, take the third exit. Follow this road (D917) for about 800 metres and you will see a sign indicating left to Bancourt. Take a left as the road forks towards Bancourt and onto the D7.

Follow this road for about 2km passing Bancourt and you will see a sign to turn left for Bancourt British Cemetery. The cemetery is on your left.

Where to stand

Enter Bancourt cemetery through the entrance next to the non-military cemetery. Turn left at the war stone and stand facing the memorial cross.

GPS
50°6'7"N
2°53'50"E
Decimal GPS
50.102178
2.897248
  • A humerous sketch showing an abandoned German tank, stuck in a ditch or trench.
    A humerous sketch showing an abandoned German tank, stuck in a ditch or trench.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: E-920-046. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22563421

  • Brigadier General Herbert Hart shaves outside his dugout near Bapaume.  August 1918
    Brigadier General Herbert Hart shaves outside his dugout near Bapaume. August 1918Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013554-G. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22705697

  • The ruins of the town of Bapaume the day after it was captured by the New Zealand Division. 30 August 1918.
    The ruins of the town of Bapaume the day after it was captured by the New Zealand Division. 30 August 1918.Credits

    © Imperial War Museums (Q 8262)

  • A German machine gun crew manning a MG 08. Note the gunner's sight.
    A German machine gun crew manning a MG 08. Note the gunner's sight.Credits

    © Imperial War Museums (Q 23709)

  • German A7V tanks - one of them named 'Hagen'. The village is possibly Frémicourt.
    German A7V tanks - one of them named 'Hagen'. The village is possibly Frémicourt. Credits

    © Imperial War Museums (Q 37344)

Stories & Insights

Fighting their way around the town of Bapaume, Jervis and his men were under constant fire.

A crowd gathers around a mobile field kitchen (goulaschkanone) in Berlin.

Fast running out of food and materials to feed their people and supply their army, Germany was under intense pressure.

General Russell awards a soldier a medal  for gallantry - earned in the fighting at Meteren, France 1918.

Various medals and distinctions were awarded to soldiers during the war, with the Victoria Cross being the highest honour.

 

When the Germans attacked at the Somme, the New Zealand Division was rushed to the region.

German soldiers haul a granatenwerfer - a type of grenade or mortar thrower - forward in support of advancing stormtroops, 15 July 1918.

In March 1918, the Germans launched a huge offensive - with the aim of winning the war.

Using a false name, Coley lied about his age to join the army.

 

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 Road to Le Quesnoy. Proceed to Havrincourt Bridge.
Link to the first stop

Decimal GPS:
57.828052
-70.114880
Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS:
66.78265700440272
-100.33920450000005
Sequence:
2
Decimal GPS:
74.26320590579186
-68.48160753125
Sequence:
3
Decimal GPS:
74.69582567031232
-74.85099850000006
Sequence:
4
Decimal GPS:
75.49514911130507
-64.33908012500001
Sequence:
5

Stop Images

Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.10177
2.619838
Sequence:
2
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.13221
2.668608
Sequence:
3
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.10823
2.819662
Sequence:
4
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.12177
2.844314
Sequence:
5
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.102178
2.897248