* Harnes in World War I *
(as told in maps and pictures)



Harnes during World War I was located behind enemy lines only five miles from the Western Front, and some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place nearby. Much of Harnes was destroyed, and three-fourths of the buildings damaged. The German army occupied the town from October 3, 1914 to mid-October 1918, during which time Harnes was a command post and field hospital. A "switch" trench west of town connected the main German trench at the front to back-up trench systems that the Germans could fall back to during a retreat. The Battles of Loos (Sept. 25 to Oct. 19, 1915) and Hill 70 (Aug. 15-25, 1917) were fought close by, with combined British and German losses of over 100,000 men, a third of them deaths. Although the Germans on April 17, 1917 evacuated most civilians, with a second evacuation on July 5, 1917, many still perished. Perhaps half of the 18,000 civilians of nearby Lens, which was just behind the front line, were killed by artillery bombardments. Although there were fewer deaths in Harnes, 35 adults and 237 children still lost their lives.

The loss of lives was the greatest tragedy, but many historical records were damaged or destroyed as well. The destruction of the town archives at Harnes in particular was a great loss to historians and genealogists. Also, the town hall of nearby Arras was completely destroyed. Among the records stored at Arras was a massive work of 25,000 pages in 35 volumes written by Father Dumetz-Ignace le Carlier (1686-1754), better known as Pere Ignace, covering the religious history of the local area. Included in Pere Ignace's history there were sections in at least two of his volumes that dealt with the history of the area around Harnes.

Artillery bombardments damaged most of the town, and few buildings survived intact.
Nearby Courrieres was heavily damaged, and Lens, only four miles from Harnes, but on the front lines, was reduced to rubble (click to see picture). The town hall in nearby Arras was also heavily damaged (click to see picture), with the loss of many historical records.
The Harnes church in the central part of town was severely damaged during the artillery bombardments.
German forces during the war used the town as a command post, and Allied forces after the war used it to house German prisoners.
Although the town, including the church, was rebuilt, the restored brick walls of many buildings still bear scars from the artillery bombardments.


Some Related Links
The Counts of Harnes
      Michel of Harnes, the Knight-Trouvere
      The Last Count of Harnes
Descendants of the Counts of Harnes
      The Three Deaths of Uncle Antoine
Harnes Through the Ages



Copyright © Michael S. Clark, Ph.D., 1998- - All rights reserved.