V) Under the burden of a heavy past (1794 - today)

Inauguration of the Dupleix statue (cf Famed Landrecians section) on the Town Hall square in 1888...

Throughout the last two centuries, Landrecians tried to forget their long military past and to create a new reputation for the town. Unfortunately, numerous ordeals were still awaiting them...

The siege of 1794 and the short Austrian occupation were not the last challenge for Landrecies : this little town would have to face 4 more invasions until today.

The first one occurred in 1815, when a coalition of European states managed to defeat Napoleon and decided to occupy the French territory temporarily. At Landrecies, the local administration was first given to the Prussian army (i.e the German army). The Prussian occupation of the town is still remembered as a terrible time : destructions and arbitrary executions were not uncommon. Fortunately, the Prussian army was soon replaced by Russian soldiers, of whom Landrecians have better memories.

After this difficult period, though, the Landrecian military tradition began to decline, and the town devoted most of the 19th century to its economic development, especially by improving its transport network. The Sambre river proved to be unadapted to new ships, which were bigger than before. Therefore it was decided to channel and to enlarge the river. This very important work began in 1826 and was finally achieved in 1836. Thus, the distinction between the "Sambre canal" and what remains of the "Old Sambre" actually dates back to this period.

The new "Sambre canal"

In 1855, a new opportunity emerged for the town, with the building of a railroad connecting Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. The route was to pass through Landrecies, and so a railway station (one of the first in the country) was awarded by the government. It is located in lower town, and is still operative today.

The war against Germany in 1870, however, reminded to Landrecies its military identity. In 1871, the town was surrounded by Bismarck's troops : this was the beginning of the last siege of the town. After an artillery bombing, Landrecies had to surrender and to suffer several months of German occupation, as well as most of the French territory. However the destructions made by the war of 1870 were not excessive.

The end of the 19th century was also the great era known as the second industrial revolution. First Landrecies had some difficulty in taking advantage of all the economic opportunities of that time, because its ramparts were an obstacle to its geographical expansion. That's why the "Demolition law" was voted by the government in 1894 : it ordered the destruction of all the Landrecian fortifications. The work proved arduous, and lasted from 1895 to 1899. Landrecies was no longer a stronghold.

The demolition of the ramparts enabled the creation of new, larger streets. Here, an example in lower town...

Some people think that when Landrecies lost its ramparts, somehow it also lost its soul. And yet, the demolition favored a good deal of innovations like the creation of new, larger streets, which gave a more spacious and pleasant appearance to Landrecies. Moreover, new residential and industrial areas were built beyond the former limits of the town, like the Indian district.

Actually, if the town could have possibly lost its soul, it would have been rather during World War I. This war began in a heroic way for the town : on the 25th and the 26th of August 1914, the battle of Landrecies virtually saved from destruction a whole English regiment led by general French, who managed to avoid being surrounded by the enemy with the help of some Landrecians. German troops, however, entered the town on the 26th and took their revenge on Landrecies for this patriotic act : just like their Prussian ancestors in 1815, their harsh rule was defined by destructions and arbitrary executions

At the beginning of November 1918, the Germans occupying Landrecies knew that their defeat was not far away : the English troops of general Ronald Charles were approaching the town. In desperation, German soldiers started bombing the upper town and destroyed it almost entirely. A priceless architectural heritage (including the former Town Hall) was destroyed forever, not to mention casualties. On the 4th of November, and after enduring heavy losses, Sir Ronald Charles finally liberated Landrecies, which was grateful but deeply traumatized. A commemorative plaque was created and dedicated to Ronald Charles. The French Military Cross of World War I was awarded to Landrecies.

Two German soldiers in front of the German headquarters of Landrecies, during WW1.

In spite of a lot of previous destructions, this one was the most severe for Landrecies, insofar as the town would then have a lot of difficulty in rebuilding its identity. However this didn't prevent the little town from becoming one of the main centers of Resistance in the Avesnois region during World War II.

Indeed, the town was seized by Rommel's troops on the 17th of May 1940, and Landrecians had really, really bad memories of Germany (cf 1815, 1871, 1914-18). As a consequence, Resistance fighters were extremely active in Landrecies, but German repressions were too. One of the best known episode of World War II in Landrecies involved Mr&Mrs Godart. Henri and Hermance Godart lived in a farm of the Happegarbes hamlet : they were suspected (and probably rightly so) by German troops to be Resistance fighters. Henri was shot in his farm on the 8th of January 1944, and Hermance died later in a concentration camp. Today a Landrecian square bears their name, and a memorial was built alongside the main street for them, as well as for all the other Landrecian fighters who lost their lives in this war.

Landrecies was liberated on the 2nd of September 1944 by American troops. The French Military Cross of World War II was also awarded to its inhabitants. Therefore, the town is proud of having three different decorations, which is something unique in France.

For a contemporary description of Landrecies, please refer to the following sections of this site.

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