On 24 August 2016, a ceremony was held in Maurepas in commemoration of the battle that had taken place in the village exactly one hundred years before, which involved troops of the 1st Infantry Regiment of the French Army and the 63rd Battalion of Chasseurs Alpins during the Battle of the Somme
The Battle for Maurepas, a symbol of French involvement in the Battle of the Somme
On 12 August 1916, after an intense artillery barrage, the general French attack was launched in cooperation with the British, forcing the Germans to the north-east of the village where each corner building had been turned into a fortress, flanked by a blockhouse and machine gun posts.
On 19 August, a new Allied artillery barrage commenced. The ground was hammered by fire, and despite the trenches being damaged, the shelters remained. The village was captured on 24 August.
The name of the village became a symbol of French involvement in the Battle of the Somme. Maurepas, one of the most highly defended German positions of the German 2nd line of defence, was the glorious and bloody trophy of five days of fighting.
The Chasseurs Alpins
The 63rd Battalion of Chasseurs Alpins was one of the units involved in this fight. In 1916, it was a battalion originating from the South of France, composed of former reserve troops and younger 'classes' of soldiers (those who would be 20 in 1915 and 1916). Later on, other servicemen would join its ranks. Amongst them were Etienne Estrangin (1879-1971), from Marseille. He was promoted to captain in January 1915 and was involved in fighting in the Marne, the Aisne, the Nord, the Vosges, the Somme, Lorraine, Belgium and Italy. It was, however, the attack on Maurepas that left the greatest impression on him. He often wrote about this battle, both in the days that followed and 40 years later.
After the war, he returned to his position as general secretary for a farming union in Alpes and Provence and was later named chairman of the Chamber of Agriculture of the Bouches-du Rhone (from 1936 to 1940). He was commended for his bravery during the battle: "Commander of an outstanding unit, of great moral standard. Managed to impress on his unit a great sentiment of duty. During the attack of 24 August 1916, after a serious advance, managed to hold his men during hand-to-hand combat, in which he himself took part, until only a handful of brave men remained with whom he hung on to the ground that had been won.”
Amongst the 13 Chasseurs Alpins who survived the attack on Maurepas were Henri Micoulet, a young soldier from Ardèche who was 20 at the time. Named corporal in September 1915, he became a sergeant two weeks after the attack. He was commended in the order of the 5th Brigade of Chasseurs: “Continually demonstrated great courage and sang-froid especially on many occasions during the attack of 24 August, he voluntarily participated in dangerous missions.”
The Commemorations 100 years later
The day of commemorations of 24 August 2016 began with a religious service at Leforest Church, which was followed by an act of remembrance at the Maurepas French Cemetery which contains 2120 individual graves and mass graves containing 1518 Frenchmen, the majority of whom are unidentified.
General Nicolas Graff, the grandson of Sergeant Micoulet, paid his respects at the graves of the 10 Chassuers Alpins of the 63rd Battalion who had fallen during the recapture of Maurepas.
In the afternoon, wreaths were laid at the village war memorial and at the memorial to the 9th Zouaves Regiment and the 1 Infantry Regiment.
At 5.45pm, Captain Estrangin's words about the battle were read by his son Bernard Estrangin and General Nicolas, on the very ground it had been fought over 100 years before.
The memorable day came to an end with flames lit in remembrance of the Frenchmen in the cemetery and 193 lanterns lit in memory of Captain Estrangin and his 192 Chasseurs who fought for the liberation of the village.