From Arras take the N 17 in the direction of Lens following the new road system around Vimy village. At Avion you will enter the A 211 autoroute (and pass the Green Crassier immediately on your left) this will then change to the A 21 — following Lens (Ouest).
At Sortie No 8 Lens (Ouest) leave the autoroute alongside the two enormous crassiers at Loos-en-Gohelle (Battle of Loos 1915). At the main road you are forced right and will need to turn around at the roundabout — as you really wanted to go left towards Lens (you will now see signs for the Louvre-Lens Museum).
Keep straight for about 1500 metres. You are now looking for a set of houses on your left with a sloping wall down to the pavement instead of a hedge. Steps lead up to each house. You then sense that there map be a park on the left because of the trees. There is also a bus stop on your left.
The plaque is set into the wall immediately after the bus stop and before you get to the trees — which surround the local war memorial to the 906 employees from the Lens Mining Company who died during the war whether as soldiers or civilians.
A short distance further on is the Louvre-Lens car park in the grounds of the Stade Bollaert — home of Racing Club de Lens Football Club. As a connection to things battlefield, Félix Bollaert was the president of the Lens Mining Company in 1925 and his director Ernest Cuvelette is the person after whom Puits 14 bis is named. This pit was taken by the 15th Bn CEF during Hill 70.
On 15th August 1917 the Canadian Corps successfully seized the entire ridge from the Germans in its first battle under the command of Sir Arthur Currie. His original orders had been to take Lens but he had successfully argued that taking the ridge overlooking Lens (Hill 70) would, it was hoped, make the town untenable. Although the Germans eventually gave up trying to chase the Canadians off the ridge they obstinately refused to give up the town.
In the following days Sir Arthur Currie decided that he would test the water with a two Brigade assault on the pile of rubble that represented the once bustling mining town of Lens. The date was set for the 21st August; Zero Hour was 0435 hours — whilst it was still dark.
As the attackers, the Canadians found that when they were held up by machine gun fire it was impossible to dig into the rubble and thus consolidate the ground in the only way they knew how. This would probably be the only time in the war that urban warfare on this scale would be attempted; Lens was far from being a small village such as Loos.
In 4th Division’s sector the 10th Brigade attacked with three battalions. On the right the 47th Battalion escaped the Germans’ pre-emptive shelling of the area but still had a desperate struggle amongst the ruined buildings.
One of its Companies fought its way as far as the Arras Road and by evening Alpaca Trench had been secured.
The position of the plaque is on the original Canadian front line. It must be appreciated that much of the area down which you have just driven would have been open fields in 1917 and that Lens was still a few hundred metres away.
It should also be understood that it was not in this area that Konowal and his battalion were in action.
Filip Konowal’s citation for the Victoria Cross reads:
For most conspicuous bravery and leadership when in charge of a section in attack. His section had the difficult task of mopping up cellars, craters and machine-gun emplacements. Under his able direction all resistance was overcome successfully, and heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy. In one cellar he himself bayonetted three enemy and attacked single-handed seven others in a crater, killing them all.
On reaching the objective, a machine-gun was holding up the right flank, causing many casualties. Corporal Konowal rushed forward and entered the emplacement, killed the crew, and brought the gun back to our lines.
The next day he again attacked single-handed another machine-gun emplacement, killed three of the crew, and destroyed the gun and emplacement with explosives.
This non-commissioned officer alone killed at least sixteen of the enemy, and during the two days’ actual fighting carried on continuously his good work until severely wounded.
The trilingual plaque was unveiled on the 22nd August 2005.
Organised by Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 in Toronto, in collaboration with the agglomeration of Lens-Liévin, the Royal Westminster Regiment Association and the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the unveiling was carried out in the presence of a large audience, including dignitaries representing the governments of Ukraine, France, Great Britain and Canada.
The wee borne immediately in front of the plaque is one of the famous Vauthier markers and was placed in 1923 as a marker for the limit of the German advance in 1918.