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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Butte de Warlencourt

The Butte de Warlencourt is a prehistoric burial mound near the village of Warlencourt, on the Somme battlefield. It was heavily fortified with barbed wire, machine guns, tunnels and mortars.

The British Army tried to capture it several times in the Autumn of 1916; the first attack was on 1 October by the 141st Brigade of the British 47th (1/2nd London Division). On 5 November 1916, the 6th, 8th and 9th Battalions The Durham Light Infantry attempted to take it.

Although the Butte was of little real strategic importance, it had become a symbol to many of the soldiers, who believed that it was vital to capture it. Lieutenant Colonel Roland Boys Bradford, who was the Commanding Officer of the 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry at the time, later wrote an account of the attack.

He believed that 'the BUTTE DE WARLENCOURT had become an obsession. Everybody wanted it. It loomed large in the minds of the soldiers in the forward area and they attributed many of their misfortunes to it. The newspaper correspondents talked about 'that miniature Gibraltar'' (ref. D/DLI 2/9/37).

Photograph of the Butte de Warlencourt, 1917 (D/DLI 2/6/10/423) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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The attack on 5 November, or Bonfire Night was carried out in appalling conditions, after a night of heavy rain.

Although 9DLI captured the Butte temporarily, they were forced to retreat that night with 130 men dead, 400 wounded and 300 missing.

On 25 February 1917, the Butte was finally taken by the Allies, as the Germans retreated to another trench system 15 miles to the east.

Within a few weeks three wooden crosses had been placed on the top of the Butte in memory of the DLI soldiers who had died.

The ornate cross in the centre was designed by Captain Robert Mauchlen. The Butte was visited by King George V in July 1917.

The three crosses were removed in 1926 and placed in Chester-le-Street and Bishop Auckland parish churches and Durham Cathedral, where they can still be seen today.