The Englishmen and the Dessenne's Family – Villeret

The “Dessenne” and Villeret’s Englishmen (1915-1916)                

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Villeret Panoramic View from Hargicourt



Church in 1910 (1858 -1917)





Marie Dessenne, 64 years old,

called Marie Coulette (See photo)





Florency Dessenne, 34 years old,

Son of Marie (See photo)

Marie Therese Duelz,

Spouse of Florency Dessenne




Starting in 1915, during

the next 16 months, four Englishmen lived in their house attic (See photo)

on “Rue d’en Bas”.







They came from the North and were found hiding in the little woods south of Villeret (Trocme Wood) by Mr. Tordeux and Mr. Dubuis. At first, they were hidden in the Little Priel Farm and were fed by the inhabitants of Villeret.

(Willy X – Thomas Domec – David Martin – Robert Digby)


The four Englishmen knew few words of the French language but lived the entire time with the villagers, worked in the fields, walked to and from the village together.

Robert Digby and Claire (Grand Daughter of Marie Dessenne)

fell in love and had a female child named Helene.


Month passed without problems, despite repeated warnings from the Germans that helping the enemy could result in the death penalty or severe punishment.


They repeatedly tried to re-join their lines to no avail. On the 16th of May, 1916, German investigators were led to their hiding place in the Dessenne’s loft and captured (Willy X – Thomas Domec – David Martin). They were informed upon by one of the villagers and this led to their eventual capture, imprisonment and execution.


On the 20th of May, the war council decreed the following sentences for all who were implicated in this event:

-          The 3 English Soldiers ………….........…..           Death Penalty

-          The Mayor, Mr. Parfait Marie…………          Forced Labor

-          Mr. and Mrs. Dessenne Duelz…………..         Forced Labor

-          Mrs. Suzanne Morelle………………....….            1 year Imprisonment

-          Mr. and Mrs. Leon Lelong…………….....            Pendized

-          The postman, Mr. Achille Poette.….            Deported


After having hidden himself for a few days, on the 23rd of May, Robert Digby turned himself into the local German Commander and was immediately sentenced to death.



On the 27th of May, Willy X – Thomas Domec – David Martin were executed by German Firing Squad near the Le Catelet Castle and later buried in the Le Catelet Cemetery

(See photo).






On the 30th of May,

Robert Digby was executed by German Firing Squad in Le Catelet and also buried in the Le Catelet Cemetery.

(See photo).






















                  Letter of Robert DIGBY




                  Claire DESSENNE


                  little time before its execution


                  May 30, 1916








These events were told to me by:


1.)     My Grand-Mother, Clara Dessenne, maiden name Bochard, Daughter-in-law Aunt’s Marie and Claire, died in 1962.

2.)    My Father, Emile Dessenne, Son of Clara, Grand-Son of Marie and Claire’s Cousin, died in 1976.


These dates and circumstances came from the

“L’invasion de 1914 dans le canton du Catelet” book.

(St. Quentin Academic Society – 1933)


Jean Dessenne – 1933

Mayor of Villeret from 1968 to 1995






Robert Digby before 1914

Helene and her mother Claire in 1920


Thomas and Florence Digby

Brother and Sister-in-law of Robert





Helene and Claire in 1925













Last posting in the Villeret Town Hall, April 1916





Villeret in 1914



The Villeret ruins in 1919

Click to enlarge the postcard


The Villeret Town Hall in 1914


The ruins of the Villeret Town Hall in 1919




The Villeret Church in 1910


The ruins of the Villeret Church in 1919


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