100 years ago today, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was involved in its first major engagement of the first world war – the Battle of Mons. The battle revolved around a canal that no longer exists today – the Canal Mons-Condé, a canal that does still exist (though it’s been upgraded significantly) – the Canal du Centre, and the medieval city of Mons near the Belgian-French border.

The British had been tasked with holding the line of the canal around and to the west of Mons, but the big problem for them was that in 1914, the route of the canals involved created a salient around the village of Nimy just north of the city. Looking at the canals that exist in Mons today there is no sign of a significant salient, you need to see the canals as they were in 1914 to understand this battle.

The reason there are many canals in this region is the presence of a big coal seam in the area to the west of Mons and to the south of the original Canal Mons-Condé. This area is known as the Borinage. The coal mines are all closed now, but the Borinage was a hive of industrial activity in 1914. I couldn’t find a good source of opening and closing dates of coal pits. If I had I would have mapped those that were open in 1914, but in the absence of that information I decided to map the railway lines as they existed in 1914. The tangle of lines to the south of the canals shows area that was involved in coal production very clearly. Note that I only mapped the mainline railways (NMBS/SNCB line numbers below 200), the nest of lines you see was surrounded by countless industrial lines and sidings.

Aside: While I wasn’t able to find a good list of pit opening and closing times, I did find a list of the locations of the spoil heaps created by the pits a few years ago, which I mapped and published in this blog post back in 2011.


The map above shows the canals in Mons as they were in 1914 in light blue, the railways as they were in 1914 in dark blue, and the canals as they are now in red. You can download the KML file to view the map in Google Earth.

Read more

Tagged with: