War 1914 - 1918

The invasion: As in the century of Louis XIV, the canton of Lens saw formidable armies invade its territory.

On August 18, 1914, the left wing of the Von Kluck army was reported at Wavre; on the 20th, its right wing entered the capital.

On Friday the 21st, passing cyclists announce the arrival of the uhlans (the uhlans were scout riders, armed with a blade). Soon they lead to the municipal square of Montignies-lez-Lens. They are scouts. The rest of the detachment spent the night east of the village. The next day passes the cavalry followed by the infantry. 

To the north, towards Hembise, the bulk of the army follows the road to Ath and is stopped at Casteau by the English who occupy Nimy and the central canal.

A 'Hulan' searching his way to Montignies
A 'Hulan' searching his way to Montignies

on the 23rd, it was the Battle of Mons, the cavalry driven back by Montignies moved towards Lens. In the evening, Nimy blazes,

on the 24th, the cannon rumbled towards St. Ghislain, at 11 a.m., a supply convoy and field kitchens passed. The infantry passes Masnuy and pillages the houses, here are trains of trucks towed by tractors and large cars, wagons and carts in considerable numbers which take the direction of Lens and Herchies.

on the 27th, towards evening, a convoy of supplies flanked by horsemen passed. most of the soldiers are drunk and threatening. They meet two inhabitants of Montignies in the hamlet of Bouloirs. Suddenly gunshots were heard. A man named Adhémar Gilquin was shot in the heart, his brother-in-law, Emile Foucart received five serious wounds. 10 other people owe their salvation to flight.

After these fine exploits, the Germans go to the mayor of Lens to complain that civilians have fired on them.

On August 28 , 700 French prisoners taken at Tournai headed for Neufvilles. Taking advantage of the night, a large number of them fled to the woods of Braine-le-Comte.

On the 29th , exodus of the inhabitants of Jurbise, 7 men were killed, a warning firecracker having burst. The soldiers accuse the inhabitants of having fired on them. This Saturday 29, we hear the cannonade on Maubeuge which capitulates on September 6.

Soon, it's the battle of the marl.

The Montignies-lez-Lens shooting (September 25)

On September 24, a company of 110 Belgian cyclists arrived from Antwerp and spent the night at the Roger's house, at the Cogneau cross. Passing through Marcq, they took a prisoner. The mission of these "volunteers of death", as they are called, is to blow up the Brussels railway line and prevent the ammunition trains from passing.

On the morning of the 25th, they advanced slowly towards the goal of the perilous expedition. An engineer soldier lays out the explosives while a young volunteer from Jemappes cuts the telegraph wires. Two loud bangs tear through the air. Immediately, the 2nd Company of Landsurm of Hamburg which guards the station of Masnuy-St-Pierre, goes towards the mill. Another company arrives from Jurbise, troops descend from a blocked train and the shooting begins. They are greeted by heavy fire from the Belgians who valiantly support the attack.

But, what to do, one against ten!

About to be surrounded, Lieutenant Albert Artan of St Martin wants to rally his men. As he turns around, he is shot in the forehead. His soldiers set him down on the bank of the ditch near the Horlait cross, mount their bicycles and run away. Soon millstones, the Louis Viart house, the Semette farms (Omer Dewasmes), Dumonceau (Gérard Cowez) and the cure are on fire.

It is the whole village which is threatened... Without delay, all the mountaineers, loaded with heterogeneous packages, flee towards Cambron St. Vincent, Father Croisiaux, priest, who had heard the shooting during his mass, leaves for Heyst and from there for France, he returned on December 13, 1918. The mayor, Louis l'Olivier also fled by tram and returned to him on December 6, 1918.

When, in the evening, they were finally reassured, they learned that Montignies had been spared by Oberleutenant Kotka, because of the prisoner who had escaped during the action. Nevertheless, and on his instructions, on Monday at noon, Roger's house was set on fire.

The hostages

Since the 21st, we had been in the military staging area, the landsturm, commanded by Rotka, were guarding the railway.

For the purpose of security, they took hostages in the neighboring localities: Chaussée nd, Neufvilles, Montignies and Lens. After the shooting, the inhabitants suffered the worst treatment and the worst threats, the hostages were held at the station of Masnuy St Pierre, they slept on the straw, in a feeling of solidarity. A few volunteers, under the direction of Mr. Delatte, the teacher, offered to replace them, a rotation was organized, it was not a pleasant thing. At the slightest alert or attack, the Germans would not have failed to shoot them in retaliation. It was a relief when the war stabilized and this drudgery was removed,

Tragic day (May 2, 1918)

On May 2, 1918, at the Chaussée Brunehaut, near the first butte of the shooting range of the Casteau camp, seven Belgian prisoners were shot.

These are :

  • Léonce Roels, notary in Sottegem,
  • Théophile Jacmin, engineer in Hal,
  • Alfred Balthasar, electrical technician in Hal,
  • Arthur Pollet, wheelwright in Manage,
  • Alfred Ghislain, commercial traveler in Hornu,
  • Désiré Vandenbossche, Cigar Merchant in Sottegem,
  • By Ridder Théophile-François, upholsterer in Brussels

Masters Masson and Harmignies, lawyers, were only able to save Hermine Vaneuken de Masnuy St Jean who got away with 15 years of forced labor.

Deportations to Germany

It is in Jurbise that the court operates.... All men from the age of 17 must present themselves on November 7, 1916. Montignies has 50 deportees in Soltau. Four will die there of hunger, cold or misery. These are :

  • Evrard Squelins
  • Edgard Deroux
  • Louis Strébelle
  • Francois Druart

In 1918, many workers were sent to Loquignol and elsewhere for forced labor

Explosion in Mévergnies (March 9, 1918)

On March 9, 1918 in the morning, 500 ammunition wagons exploded in Mévergnies. There were no casualties to report,

Deportations to Germany

It is in Jurbise that the court operates. All men from the age of 17 must present themselves on November 7, 1916. Montignies has 50 deportees in Soltau, four die there of hunger, cold and misery, they are;

  • Evrard Squelins
  • Edgard Deroux
  • Louis Strébelle
  • Francois Druart

In 1918, many workers were sent to Loquignol and elsewhere for forced labor,

Below the line of fire - The armistice

Something worthy of note, the English who came to Mons returned there and the war ended where it had started. During the sad days of a rainy autumn, crowds of French evacuees, coming from the industrial regions of the northern department, crisscrossed our roads with their lamentable processions, November saw the last, followed at night, by the troops, we felt the debacle of an army in rout, from the heights of Montignies, the guns fired towards Herchies.

On Sunday at midnight, cannons and transports of all kinds still arrive, a pause in the square, a signal and the soldiers leave for Neufvilles, singing their very dilapidated 'Iyrola land', soon, the canon is silent .... The war is over !!!

Tomorrow is November 11, it's the armistice, it's deliverance! Monday at 11 a.m., the English are in the village.