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