The area around Loos-en-Gohelle, at one time an important mining community, saw three battles on its territory. In 1914 French soldiers were beaten back by the, at the time, all powerful German artillery. In 1917 The Canadian Corps swept to victory taking the heights of Hill 70 but then found themselves grinding to a halt in the face of urban street warfare in Lens.
In September 1915 the French High Command directed the British to support a French offensive against Vimy Ridge by attacking across the open plains of ‘Loos’.
It should be noted that the full name of the town is Loos-en-Gohelle — Loos is near Lille. That said it is locally known simply as Loos; which is pronounced : Loss.
Although we talk about the Battle of Loos the ground stretches over a number of adjoining communes all of whom organise or take part in commemorative events.
The opening commemoration for the centenary weekend took place at Haisnes, in the St Mary’s ADS Cemetery.
The night before it had been announced that Henry Harrison, (Grave : V F 10) had been identified as the grandfather of Beetle, George Harrison. A wreath and a number of poppy crosses were evidence of the family having preceded us, away from the glare of publicity.
The advantage of this cemetery over Dud Corner and its memorial is that whilst listening to the speeches you can look out over the flat empty space that was the battlefield and imagine the difficulties of the British as they mounted their assault.
Speakers from the local community and on behalf of John Kipling’s regiment, the Irish Guards, spoke of the heavy losses not just of the opening three days but also into mid-October when fighting at the Hohenzollern Redoubt brought the battle to a close.
Music was provided by the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band and local school children read letters and poems from the time, before singing both national anthems.
Before leaving the cemetery The Sous-Préfet unveiled a pair of information panels near to the entrance.
Organised by the town of Loos-en-Gohelle and the London Irish Rifles Association the weekend’s major commemoration took place at Loos British Cemetery on the morning of Saturday 26th September.
A gathering of thousands were in attendance, many having made the journey from Scotland, commemorating the fact that the town was for the most part taken by the 15th (Scottish) Division.
The London Irish Rifles’ Association brought along the famous ‘Football of Loos’ and it took pride of place for the drumhead service.
Footballs and footballers appear quite often in our battle accounts. Entire battalions were inspired by teams joining their ranks; footballs appeared at numerous points along the line at Christmas 1914 and on the Somme the 8th East Surrey Regiment would attack behind a ball per company.
As the chaplain remarked in his address, the London Irish Rifles had intended to use a number of footballs but all but one were gunned down by an officer who thought that they would be “a distraction”.
Following the service the parade marched through the streets of Loos, behind the pipes and drums of the London Irish and London Scottish, to the town memorial.
Here just to its left is a new memorial plaque dedicated to the London Irish Rifles who took part in the taking of the town on 25th September 1915.
Arriving in the town square M Jean-François Caron, Maire of Loos-en Gohelle, spoke about the town’s own heroine: Emilienne Moreau who assisted the British throughout the street battles. A new plaque was unveiled just outside where her house used to be on the corner of the street opposite the Hôtel de Ville.
The current town hall sits on the site of the old church. The original site of the Mairie was up the street to the right of the Moreau’s home and grocery store.