ST.QUENTIN AT WAR

In August 1914 Saint-Quentin was a very prosperous, proud and ancient city with a population of 65,000 people. Dominated by its cathedral which was built between the 12th and 15th centuries with the tomb of the martyr St.Quentin in the crypt, it is located on the banks of the River Somme at the junction of five main roads and close to the important St.Quentin canal built under Emperor Napoleon between 1802 and 1810.

Not surprisingly, its strategic position brought war to this attractive city (the great siege of 1557 is commemorated on the vast war memorial not far from the railway station) and it was to suffer again during the clash of the German and French armies during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. During the summer of 1914 it was again the centre of conflict as the victorious German army entered the city. Although some French families managed to flee ahead of the advancing troops, many more were quite unable to leave and suffered many hardships, (including compulsory evacuation), during the following years of German Army occupation which saw the destruction of much of their city and its outlying villages.

Many thousands of British families must have proud and bitter reason to remember the name of Saint Quentin, for at least 8 Divisions, 23 Brigades, and 74 Battalions-an enormous number of men - fought alongside their French Army comrades in the fields and villages surrounding the town, for British soldiers and airmen were here in 1914, 1917 and twice in 1918, experiencing victories and defeats until the city’s final liberation on the 1st October 1918.

It is therefore surprising that the very considerable British presence around St.Quentin during the Great War has not received a flood of visitors to this part of the Western Front, for it is easy to reach and explore. Recently the knowledge that two English War Poets fought here, (Wilfred Owen with the Manchesters in 1917 and 1918 and Ivor Gurney with the Glosters in 1917) has brought renewed interest in the area.

Whilst it is impossible to cover the whole of the war as it affected the British Army and the French soldiers and civilians in the St.Quentin region, it is hoped that the following pages will indicate, that for the British Army at least, there is much to honour in visiting this ancient city and the fields and villages surrounding it.