Planet Suffolk: Bringing together the Suffolks of the world

Suffolk Hill, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Département du Nord, France

Suffolk Hill is situated at 50° 01’ N  03° 53’ E, less than a mile to the west of Le Cateau-Cambrésis.  This is a small town approximately 27 km (17 miles) south-east of Cambrai in the northern part of France.  Brussels is 140 km (87 miles), Paris is 209 km (130 miles) and London is 352 km (219 miles).  

Population:-  Suffolk Hill itself is uninhabited.  The 2015 figure for the population of Le Cateau-Cambrésis is 7,033.

How to get there:-

By road: The nearest Routes Nationales are at Cambrai (N2 & N26) to the west and Saint-Quentin (N26 & N29) to the south.  Le Cateau-Cambrésis is located on Route Départementale (RD) 643 which runs east from Cambrai, and on the RD 8 which runs north from Saint-Quentin, which becomes RD 21 at Busigny (non-trunk roads are managed by départements and their numbers change at the département boundary).  On the RD 643 at Le Cateau-Cambrésis, take the southbound lane of the RD 21 until the junction with the Rue du Pont Fourneau is reached.  Likewise, coming north on the RD 21, at this junction turn off onto the Rue du Pont Fourneau.   

Proceed west along the Rue du Pont Fourneau, then take the second left along Le Chemin Vert.  At the second intersection, turn left along Rue Jules Ferry and park on this road.  Walk to the intersection and take the continuation of Le Chemin Vert to the west (left).  The road continues past a few houses and then narrows into a track.  Further along the track is a clump of trees at the top of a small hill and on the left of the track is the white Suffolk’s Memorial - this is Suffolk Hill.    
By rail: The ‘Gare du Cateau’ serves the town of Le Cateau-Cambrésis.  Although the  railway station is on the main LGV Nord high-speed lines Paris-Brussels and Paris-Cologne, passengers will need to use the regional Creil to Jeumont line that connects Creil, a northern suburb of Paris, to Jeumont on the Belgian border.

The nearest airport is Valenciennes-Denain Airport, 25.9 km (16 miles) north of Le Cateau-Cambresis.  The nearest international airport is the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport 25 km (16 miles) NE of Paris.

Time Zone:  Central European Time (GMT +1 hr).  Daylight saving time in summer + 1 hr.

Order of contents on this page: (Click on the links below)

History & Derivation of Name

Le Cateau-Cambrésis

History & Derivation of Name

Suffolk Hill is named after the Suffolk Regiment who fought a battle here during the First World War.  Today, a memorial on the hill that was the centrepoint of the Suffolks’ position in 1914 commemorates the brave men of General Smith-Dorrien’s II Army Corps (see photo, right).  Although the hill does not have an official name, the memorial is dedicated to all the units that supported the Suffolks during the battle, and the hill is referred to in most guidebooks and by the locals as Suffolk Hill, and the memorial in turn is known as the Suffolk’s Memorial.  The memorial was unveiled on 26 May 1926 by General Smith-Dorrien.  It is located where the last stand took place on 26th August 1914 and lists all the fatal casualties of the units attached to the hill for this battle.

The 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment arrived in France a few weeks after war had been declared on 4 August 1914; it numbered 28 officers and 971 Other Ranks.  Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel C.A.H.Brett DSO, it moved up to take part in the Battle of Mons, the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on 23 August.  The Germans had the better of the battle and the BEF was forced to retreat from Mons, reaching Le Cateau-Cambrésis on the 25th August 1914.   After bivouacking at the cross-roads west of Le Cateau, the 2nd Suffolks moved to the high ground overlooking Le Cateau from the west on the 26th, with the order to stand fast to cover the retreat of the main British and French forces.   

The Suffolks were forced to improvise its defensive position, much of it exposed, but their tenacious hold on the high ground was crucial in enabling the British and French to withdraw to the south-west later in the day.  This enabled the Allied forces to regroup to fight the Battle of the Marne that stopped the German advance on Paris.  The Suffolks were provided with support by the Argylls of 19th Brigade and the Manchesters of 14th brigade.  In an attempt to dislodge the defenders, repeated attacks were made from German infantry, shell fire and machine gun fire.  During one bombardment Lieutenant Colonel Brett was mortally wounded.  The Germans called upon the Suffolks to surrender but this was declined.  Attacks came from the front and right flanks, but the battalion was only finally overrun when the Germans worked their way round to the rear of the Suffolks’ position.  The survivors that got away mustered for a roll call in St Quentin which showed that there were only 2 Officers and 111 Other Ranks left.  The majority of the losses were men who were wounded and taken prisoner; it is estimated that more than 500 men from the battalion became prisoners of war in this action.  This fight-to-the-last-man defence at Le Cateau-Cambrésis was later recognised as a key factor in preventing the German occupation of Paris.

See also The Suffolk Regiment section on the Suffolk Misc. page

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Le Cateau-Cambrésis

Locally known as Le Cateau, the town is located in the valley of the Selle, a tributary of the River Scheldt, east of Cambrai.  The origin of Le Cateau results from the union of two hamlets, Peronne and Vendelgies, which developed around the abbey of Saint-André.  The name derives from a wooden fortress built in Vendelgies in 1001 by the Bishop of Cambrai, known as the “castle of Sainte-Marie”, to protect the villages from marauding bands.  ‘Cateau’ is the local dialect for ‘castle’.  Since the Bishops of Cambrai owned the territory, it became known as “the castle of Cambrai” (Le Cateau-Cambrésis).

Until 1678, the city belonged to the Spanish Netherlands (now called Belgium). France conquered the town and it was ceded to that country in the Treaty of Nijmegen signed in 1678.  The fame of the city is mainly due to the Peace of Le Cateau-Cambrésis signed in 1559 between the rulers of France, England and Spain.  This ended the 65-year struggle (1494–1559) between France and Spain for the control of Italy, leaving Habsburg Spain the dominant power there for the next 150 years.

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