Jean Lois Legrand, is a bit of an embarrassment to the village of Serre-lès-Puisieux, and he’s also a nuisance to the French police. The volatile farmer works land near Sheffield Memorial Park in northern France where there are memorials to the famous Pals Battalions of World War One.
To reach the Pals’ Battalions memorial, which is owned by Sheffield City Council, visitors must use an unmade public right of way that crosses land owned by Legrand. The path is owned by the town of Serre whilst the park itself is looked after and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
The fiery farmer has been threatening visitors who use a track that leads to it, shouting at them, starting fires – and even driving his van towards them at high speed.
The matter is yet to be resolved, the French aren’t happy about him, and it clouds this quiet place on the Somme battlefields.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 men of the 12th battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment (“the Sheffield Pals”) were entrenched ready to launch an attack on the German position in the fortified hilltop hamlet of Serre. The troops met with devastating machine gun fire and by the end of the day, the Battalion reported 248 killed, 246 wounded and 18 missing.
In 1927, Alderman Wardley chaired the Sheffield-Serre Memorial Park committee which raised £978, part of the proceeds for which came from a friendly football match between Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town, and a gift of £60 from Sheffield Town Trustees.
The Park on land at Railway Hollow, near Serre, where the Pals had been entrenched on the 1 July 1916, contains a cemetery with the graves of 107 British and two French soldiers. Only some of the graves are of Sheffield soldiers because the practice was adopted of burying those who could be identified near where they had fallen, irrespective of their nationality or regiment.
Sheffield Memorial Park was opened in May 1931 by Mr J. Lawson, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, who represented Sir Fabian Ware, Chief of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and the dedication service was conducted by the Rev. Edward Cattell, of Sheffield. Also present, was bugler Heber Joseph Revitt, the Sheffield man who sounded the ‘cease fire’ call in France on 11 November 1918, and who rang the Last Post and Reveille on the same bugle.
Sheffield’s greatest benefactor, J.G. Graves, presided over the ceremony:
“Let me say how grateful we all feel to the former owner of this land for his kindness in making its use for this noble purpose. So now we may count this little plot of ground ‘Forever Sheffield’.
“Well may we count this soil sacred and desire that it shall remain forever consecrated and apart as an altar on which was offered the greatest sacrifice our city has ever made in the cause of right and freedom.”
The memorial represented some 10,000 men whose names were inscribed in a roll of honour (4,898 from Sheffield) kept in a stainless-steel casket given by Sir Robert Hadfield and placed in a teak case with a glass front presented by Walker & Hall in a shelter, designed by Mr F. Ratcliffe, an original member of the Sheffield Battalion.
Observers will notice that the shelter we see today is different to the one unveiled in 1931.
During the Second World War, Sheffield Memorial Park didn’t suffer as badly as it might have. The Germans allowed a Commission gardener, Mr B.M. Leach, to maintain the grounds, and he hid the memorial casket and roll of honour in his tool shed and at the end of hostilities deposited it at the nearby Chapel of Notre Dame de Treile, Serre, but was found to be in damp condition. This casket is now in the Town Hall at Puisieux. However, the shelter didn’t fare so well, and was eventually replaced with a more modest structure.
The Sheffield Memorial Park is a wooded area where the original frontline trenches and the shell-holes in the ground have been preserved. There is an information tablet placed by Sheffield City Council near the front of the park. This has a coloured map, showing the positions of the various battalions here on July the 1st 1916, along with the German trenches and machine-gun positions they advanced against.
The memorial park slopes downhill, and the land still bears the scars of battle, with shell-holes and vague outlines of other trenches still visible today. Within the park are several memorials to the various “Pals” battalions that fought here or near here that day, including the Accrington Pals, the Barnsley Pals, and the Y (Chorley) and Z (Burnley and District) Companies of the 11th East Lancashire Regiment.
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