Location of Gouzeaucourt

Gouzeaucourt, a village in north-eastern France, found itself occupied early in WWI. It saw heavy fighting in the later stages of the war, eventually being deliberately destroyed by retreating German troops during 1917.

As the German army advanced into France in 1914, Gouzeaucourt was overrun. Behind enemy lines, most of the war was spent under occupation. A strict ‘occupation regime’ was imposed until the remaining population were forcibly moved out of Gouzeaucourt in 1917 to prepare for the German tactical withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in 1917. Allied troops advancing in the spring of 1917 found a deserted and destroyed land.

Village after village “found empty, a mass of smouldering ruins”. Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War, Capt H FitzM Stacke M.C.

Gouzeaucourt shared in this destruction.

'Deborah', a British tank buried at Flesquieres, close to Gouzeaucourt,
after being disabled at the battle of Cambrai. 5 Soldiers died. Photo by Martin Addison
Tanks returning from Cambrai, 6th December 1917, on the railway at Fins
the railway which runs through Gouzeaucourt, a few miles away. 
Reproduced with kind permission from Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 7287)


During late November and December of 1917 a major battle took place a few miles east from Gouzeaucourt when allied troops, having occupied the devastated countryside around Gouzeaucourt, pushed through the Hindenburg Line at Cambrai.

The Battle of Cambrai is famous as the first battle in which the use of tanks by the Allies was built into the battle strategy, greatly contributing to their success. But with no follow-up plan or reserves to draw on, all the gains made at Cambrai were lost in early 1918.

Captain Cyril Holcroft DSO
Captain Cyril Holcroft DSO (on the right)
By kind permission of L-L Lt. Major Patrick Holcroft 

It was during this battle the Capt. Cyril Holcroft, fighting in the 2nd/8th battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, played a significant role, earning a DSO. Although wounded while fighting a few weeks earlier at Ypres, he led his men during the fighting around Cambrai, continuing even though suffering further injury.

Cyril Holcroft, great uncle of the present Lord-Lieutenant of Worcestershire, was a solicitor at the start of WW1 when he left, with his younger brother, to volunteer in the war. He saw most of the action, while his brother, an Oxford student in 1914, became a staff officer. Both survived the war.

Lessons learnt at Cambrai, particularly in the use of tanks, were to prove decisive in the final stages of the war.

British built pill-box in Gouzeaucourt
British built pill-box in Gouzeaucourt. Photograph by Martin Addison


Gouzeaucourt had been ‘liberated’ during 1917, but was deserted and ruined. Fighting took place in and around the village for many months. A fierce encounter in November 1917 kept the village in Allied hands and the British built a pill-box there in early 1918 when the front line was briefly down the middle of the main street. It was eventually re-occupied by the German army in the spring of 1918 before final liberation towards the end of the year.


The village was given the Croix de Guerre in 1920 by the French government in honour of its contribution to the war effort.

Croix de Guerre
Croix de Guerre awarded to Gouzeaucourt in 1920