5th Nov 2018 Toujours amis, Toujour unis. The story of the links between Sheffield. Bapaume and Serre by Sylvia Dunkley

This was an appro­pri­ate topic for the cen­ten­ary of the end of the First World War (WW1).

Before the WW1 Bapaume and the nearby hamlet of Serre were pros­per­ous towns and had good schools for edu­ca­tion.

When the war star­ted the town was a stra­tegic object­ive for the German army so they cap­tured it and were still occupy­ing the town in 1917.  The Germans then left and des­troyed all the infra­struc­ture of the area.  They returned later and set up camp in the Town Hall which was still stand­ing and used it for a while.  The Germans booby-trapped the build­ing before leav­ing once more and it was blown up, killing 30 people.

The town hall was rebuilt:

British shelling also con­trib­uted to the dev­ast­a­tion of the town.

Soldiers from the Sheffield Pals were dis­patched to France and their object­ive was to defeat the Germans at Serre.  There was a heavy bom­bard­ment which did not prove effect­ive so the Pals were ordered to “go over the top”.  Of the 600 Pals, 248 were killed, 200 wounded and 18 listed as miss­ing.  British tanks were aban­doned and all the inhab­it­ants of Bapaume left, some later to return living in cel­lars and bombed out houses.

After the war, in the 1920’s, the British League of Help for Devastation of France encour­aged British towns to adopt the bombed towns and Sheffield adop­ted Serre and Bapaume.

Notable Sheffield dig­nat­or­ies, such as Alderman Wardley, took on the task of set­ting up the French aid appeal.  Letters in the Sheffield Telegraph stated that Sheffield shells had des­troyed Bapaume so money-raising pro­jects were star­ted and  £4,800 (£250,000 in today’s money) was raised.  Money was set aside for a crèche and the build­ing of twelve cot­tages for dis­abled cit­izens.

A memorial was erec­ted on the road to Serre vil­lage.  This was in the form of a park and memorial shel­ter.  The shel­ter no longer exists.

Robert Hatfield donated a teak casket con­tain­ing a roll of honour naming 4890 Sheffield men lost in the con­flict.

George Lawrence, a Sheffield busi­ness­man who owned a razor blade fact­ory, provided money for the cause (loc­ally, he built the open-air pools at Hathersage and Longley Park).  He provided money for the crèche and, in July 1939, a party from Sheffield went to open it.  A plaque on the build­ing, com­mem­or­at­ing the con­nec­tion of Sheffield and Bapaume, is still there.

The mayor of Bapaume, Abel Gueidet, thanked the people of Sheffield for their help and presen­ted them with a large Sevres vase which is still in the council’s pos­ses­sion.  The teak casket, donated to Bapaume, was saved from destruc­tion by the wife of a care­taker who took it off a bon­fire and stored it in her attic.

Jackie Drayton, a Sheffield coun­cil­lor, went to Bapaume in 2006, found the memorial park and arranged to ren­ov­ate it.  In 2016 many Sheffield dig­nat­or­ies went to Bapaume to com­mem­or­ate the Battle of the Somme and viewed the refur­bished memorial.

Finally, in March 2018, the Mayor of Bapaume came to Sheffield to thank Sheffield cit­izens for their kind help in help­ing to restore the town, and viewed the large Sevres vase which had been donated by the pre­vi­ous mayor.

The talk was very inter­est­ing and mem­bers asked many ques­tions and some had dis­tant rel­at­ives who had been  in the “War to End All Wars”.

What a shame that wasn’t so, and still after WW2 many lives are still being lost and fam­il­ies made home­less by numer­ous con­flicts all over the world.

Stan Hirst