An update on the present situation regarding work at the Glory Hole, La Boisselle

Having received numerous enquiries via our website regarding the potential for archaeological work at the Glory Hole, La Boisselle, in 2014, we wish to clarify the present situation.

Our original contract expired in late January 2014. Towards the end of the November/December 2013 working period the landowner (who is also President of the Association des Amis de l’Ilot de La Boisselle) informed us that a new contract had been prepared.

Despite a number of written requests, to date no further information regarding this document or the wishes of the Association has been received. Until written notice of the Association’s wishes have been received we will be unable to inform the DRAC Picardie (Direction régionale des affaires culturelles), the British Army, the Royal Engineers, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre (ONAC), or the general public, supporters and sponsors, of the potential for future work. When we are finally provided with a decision we will publish details on our website. We sincerely apologise to those many individuals and groups who have enquired about possible site visits.

Many people have noticed that the site has been backfilled. Over the past three years we have invested heavily in the protection of the rich variety of archaeological resources at the Glory Hole. Last summer the covers suffered serious vandalism which necessitated expensive repairs. In December, with winter weather threatening, backfilling was seen as the only protective recourse: the action was approved (and indeed suggested) by the DRAC. It may appear drastic, but it is standard professional practice for protecting archaeology against the effects of inclement weather, especially frost after rain, and solving the problem of damage by uninvited visitors. It has also resolved certain health and safety concerns relating to trenches and tunnels. The workings were all lined with geotextile before backfilling took place.

Archaeological artefacts from the excavations at the Glory Hole are located as follows:

  • The personal effects of the French soldiers (November-December 2013 dig) are in the possession of the ONAC.
  • The personal effects of the British soldiers (November-December 2013 dig) are in the possession of the CWGC.
  • The remainder of November-December 2013 finds are currently stored at the DRAC offices in Amiens, and will be delivered to the landowner when they are no longer required by the LBSG for research purposes. All other finds from previous dig periods are with the landowner or at the landowner’s preferred repository, the Somme 1916 Museum in Albert.

Allegations have been made by the landowner that she was prevented from entering the site in November/December. These allegations were made both verbally and in a Courrier Picard newspaper article dated 26 January 2014. It is a matter of great concern to us that such accusations were aired in this way, and it is with regret that we are forced to respond publically. The LBSG categorically deny them.

Given the highly sensitive nature of the work, all the LBSG requested was for 30 minutes warning before visits took place. Any access restrictions that were applied were the decision of the CWGC; they were delivered to the landowner personally by CWGC personnel who were working with us on site, not by LBSG members. Access restrictions applied only to the specially-designed shelter constructed over the working area.  A specially arranged 2-hour visit of the Association des Amis de l’Ilot de La Boisselle (including the landowner) took place on 27 November 2013.

A detailed project design had been drawn up for the November work; this had first to be agreed with the CWGC and the MoD, discussed with the ONAC, and permissions authorised by the DRAC. The project design was supplied to the proprietor and to all members of the Association des Amis de l’Ilot de La Boisselle. We are presently unable to release this document because of the sensitive nature of the work it describes. It will, we hope, eventually appear on this website.

The accusations made by the landowner in the Courrier Picard article were refuted by CIRAS (Centre Interdisciplinaire des Recherches archéologiques de la Somme) who published a response on their website: It noted, ‘this article is the conclusion of a campaign of disinformation conducted by the site owner’, and, ‘the excavations conducted by the team led by Peter Barton were carried out with scientific rigour and professionalism; this was recognized by all, including the DRAC.’

Last year the LBSG supplied the landowner with projected plans for potential archaeological, genealogical and archival work up to 2016 – which, given the highly complex archaeological circumstances presented by the site, was the limit of our predictive skills. The plans complemented the detailed original Project Design drawn up in March 2011, a document that was agreed to and translated (into French) by the landowner.

Questions have been asked about funding sources. Archaeological ‘hardware’ of all kinds is very kindly sponsored by a large number of companies and the Royal Engineers. The only grant funding received by the LBSG has come from the CIRAS, who very kindly offered funds in both 2012 and 2013. All other monies are raised by LBSG fundraising efforts in the UK, some of which are illustrated on this website. The funds donated on site are occasionally sufficient to pay for meals for the team. All those who work with the project on and off the site – including LBSG committee members – are unpaid volunteers. The three-week excavations in November/December 2013 cost the LBSG £20,000.

La Boisselle Study Group, 7 April 2014

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