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A souvenir from Arras: A First World War Memento from the collection of William Curtis

Introduced by Richard Eldridge

Souvenir Photograph album of Arras WW1

The Photograph Album


My grandfather, William Curtis, was a serving soldier on the western front in France during the first world war. My mother preserved the diary of his experiences as a supply driver which can be seen elsewhere in these pages ("The Western Front 1916; A World War I Journel".

The Arras album was something I was aware of in the family but no great importance was attached to it. I understood that my grandfather had brought it back after the 'Great War' as a momento because he had seen action in that area of the war. As far as I remember it has always been missing the front cover but whether my grandfather had acquired it like that, I do not know.

Richard Eldridge

The historical context

Arras In Flames by Gustave Faipont

Arras In Flames 1914
Painting by Gustave Faipont

Arras was one of many French towns and villages which were caught up in the onslaught of destruction that raged across the region during the first World War. It suffered major destruction in the autumn of 1914 and again as part of the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. (1)

The Canadian Military Heritage website (2) decribes the German bomardment of Arras thus: "Arras is a town with a priceless architectural heritage. It lies in north-western France near the border with Belgium. In 1914, the destruction of Arras reinforced Allied propaganda comparing the Germans to barbarians. This painting by Belgian artist Gustave Faipont shows the Hotel de Ville (city hall) of Arras, with its beautiful Belfoi (bell tower). Both were largely destroyed during the war. Many other historic Belgian and French towns suffered similar fates during the Great War."

War correspodent William Beech Thomas reported in the Daily Mail on April 10th 1917 (3): "Near Arras our troops leapt to the attack in the midst of such artillery fire as the world has never seen. It was accompanied by an onslaught of strange engines of war, while overhead, as soon as the clouds allowed, our aeroplanes, moving at 130 miles an hour, rushed to tackle any German machines they could find. From this vantage-point, where the full panorama from Vimy to Tilloy was etched in flames, I write immediately after watching the first storming. It is too early to give more than partial news, but the famous divisions directly in front of me, both of which I had before seen throw themselves on an entrenched and buttressed enemy, went straight through to their goal."

It appears that enterprising French photographers were on hand to capture the destruction (often as before and after comparisons) and then sell these images to the passing Forces as souvenirs, earning a few centimes to eke out their meagre existence. Some of these photographs are available on a number of military web sites. However we have not found such a complete set as this (25 views) which remains bound in its original album - although the cover is missing. This edition was printed by Levy Son & Co., Visa-Paris. The spine has been inscribed "From your dad from France"

The photographs

The photographs are presented here in the sequence in which they were bound. We have also copied the captions as printed - some obviously translations into English from the original French.

The Town Hall
After the bombardment

The Town Hall and the Small Place (left); After the bombardment of the 6-7-8th of October. The town Hall with its surroundings part of which was destroyed. (right)

The Town Hall before the bombardment
Top of the belfry
Bomb damage at the Town Hall

The Town Hall before the bombardment (left); The top of the Belfry (centre); Town Hall and Belfrey after the bombardment of the 6-7-8th of October. In spite of the fire and shells the Belfrey was still up after the bombardment. (right)

Small Place
Ruins of the Town Hall

A portion of The Small Place, the houses of which are of Spanish origin, entirely destroyed (left); The Small Place. In the ground the ruins of the Town Hall. (right)

After the bombardment October 21st
Ruins after October 21st

General view of the Town Hall after the bombardment of the 21st of October. View taken from the Vacquerie Place. (left); What remains of the Town Hall and the Belfry after the 21st of October. The tower after a last obus falls down (right)

The pillar of the Town Hall
The Cathedral

Through a curious effect, one of the pilars of the Town Hall resisted to the bombardment of the 21st of October. In the ground the Small Place proved by the bombardment. (left); The Cathedral (right)

Continued in column 2...

Interior of the Cathedral
Inside the Cathedral: another view

Interior of the Cathedral. (left); The Cathedral presents at the interior the mournfullest aspect (right)

The station before the bombing
The destruction of the station

The Station. (left); The Place of The Station. All those fine houses are destroyed (right)

G street
M street

Corner of G... Street. (left); M... Street where the rubbish look as stone mountains (right)

Ruins of the museum
Ruins of the museum; another view

Ruins of the Museum and Cathedral (left); The Museum with all its richness is destroyed (right)

Convent of Saint-Sacrement
St John's Hospital
Tower of St John the Baptist

The ancient Convent of the Saint-Sacrement (left); St John's Hospital - Arch towards the second yard (centre); The top of the tower St John-the-Baptist A few instants before fallen down.. (right)

The Grand Place
Beaudimont Gate

The Grand Place (left); Beaudimont Gate. District very proved by the bombardment (right)


1. Battle of Arras: Wikipedia
2. The Destruction of Arras: Canadian Military Heritage
3. William Beach Thomas: Spartacus Schools Net

Page added - June 15th 2006
Last updated - April 18th 2012

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