Statement on rejection of new contract at La Boisselle

As some followers of the La Boisselle Study Group (LBSG) will be aware, in the autumn of 2013 a new local organisation was formed in order to consider the future potential of the ‘Glory Hole’ archaeological site at La Boisselle, Somme. It was named the Association des amis de l’Ilôt de La Boisselle (hereafter Ilôt Association). It was also decided that future contracts were to be agreed between the LBSG and the Ilôt Association, rather than solely with the proprietors as before. This was seen as a wise and useful development. The President of the Ilôt Association is the proprietor of the Glory Hole, Mme. Claudie Llewellyn-Lejeune.

In late April the LBSG received a new draft contract from Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune in her role as President of the Ilôt Association. It has been unanimously rejected for the following two key reasons:

1. As every visitor to the Glory Hole will be aware, the LBSG invested careful thought and enormous effort in ensuring maximum site safety for all. This feature of practical archaeological and engineering work has always remained at the top on our list of priorities, and our safety procedures evolved and became more stringent as the project progressed, for reasons that will become clear. In the new contract there are no clauses that deal with the behaviour of one individual associated with Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune who was not a member of LBSG , whose erratic and dangerous activities have for some time caused problems for the LBSG and the project as whole.

Of the many thousands of people who have visited the Glory Hole during the last three years, and despite attending a specially arranged and comprehensive ordnance awareness lecture by world expert Brian Todd of Bactec International,  this individual is the only person who has repeatedly – and knowingly – put human life at risk. He has frequently wilfully ignored clear and essential safety regulations, and on many occasions has been present on site whilst under the influence of alcohol; the LBSG have received numerous comments from colleagues and visitors about his behaviour. After each event, the LBSG challenged him about his potentially lethal activities, which on at least two occasions included the throwing of live hand-grenades towards or to volunteers. Despite discussion, however, this individual’s behaviour did not change. During the past two years further examples have been brought to our attention by other parties. All events that took place at the Glory Hole are documented.

In the autumn of 2012, Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune was made fully aware of the serious danger that this individual posed, and of the many messages of concern received from visitors. Having, to our surprise, initially defended him, she then stated categorically that he would never again come on site when the LBSG were working there; unfortunately, that assurance has not been adhered to.

It is impossible to ensure the safety of any person working at or visiting the Glory Hole if the individual is present. Given that the LBSG will not be returning to work at the site, we are no longer able to personally police his activities. The French authorities (including the Picardy archaeological organisation, the DRAC) have been made aware of the situation.

We understand that villagers have been led to believe that work has ceased because it had become too dangerous. The LBSG would like to state that this is entirely untrue. Having received expert training and been sponsored with specialist equipment, and implemented the strictest of health & safety procedures, the Group at no time had any concerns about subterranean work. In three years of exploration there were no emergencies or alarms. By far our greatest concern was  the erratic and dangerous behaviour of the individual referred to above, and his wilful disregard of unambiguous and critical safety regulations to which everyone else on site studiously adhered.

2. The second key reason the LBSG is unable enter into an agreement is because for some time the proprietor/president of the Ilôt Association has publicly and repeatedly been making false, defamatory and injurious comments relating to members of the LBSG; some have appeared in the regional newspaper, the Courier Picard. Defamatory e-mails and letters have also been sent to French historians, archaeologists and other interest groups, societies and historical associations, and also individuals. It soon became clear that some messages had been re-circulated via mailing lists and other forms of social media. The identities of some of the recipients are known. The nature of the accusations made in these communications are as follows:

  • The LBSG are profiteering from the project.
  • The team is of solely British composition.
  • The French or German history of the site is regarded by the LBSG to be of minor importance.
  • The LBSG is only concerned with exploring British trenches and finding the remains of British soldiers; the remains of any French soldiers that are uncovered are being summarily dispensed with.
  • Heavy machinery is being employed to cut archaeological corners, and professional archaeological techniques are being deliberately ignored, not only by the LBSG but by the French archaeological authorities, who are “looking the other way”.
  • Archaeology and landscape features are being deliberately and wantonly destroyed.
  • In November 2013, the LBSG deliberately impeded the proprietor from visiting her own property.
  • The LBSG have been stealing artefacts from the site.
  • Artefacts from the site have been taken (i.e. stolen), and transported to the UK in the helicopter of one of our sponsors.

The defamation applies personally to members of the LBSG and their professional volunteer colleagues, but also libels the DRAC Picardie, who not only oversee the La Boisselle Project but frequently work alongside our archaeologists. Some LBSG sponsors have also been implicated; they have all been advised of the situation. Despite repeated requests to Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune to supply corroborating evidence for her accusations, none has been provided.

For the benefit of the many thousands of people across the world who follow and support the La Boisselle Project, we are reproducing below an example of this defamation, a message sent on 26 November 2013 by M. René Richard, President of the Breton 14-18 Association, to his colleagues:

Claudie Llewellyn m’a fait passer cette photo prise clandestinement sur le site de la Boisselle dont elle est propriétaire. L’équipe uniquement britannique de l’archéologue Peter Barton, au mépris des règles du contrat d’intervention sur ce site privé et préservé, mène des fouilles à grands coups de pelleteuse (mais oui !), ceci avec l’accord de la DRAC Picardie. On a connu la DRAC plus soucieuse de préservation de patrimoine. Sur les châteaux, truelles, cuillères et pelles sont juste tolérées. Ici, carrément une pelleteuse pour aller vite. Le site magnifique que le groupe Bretagne 14-18 avait visité en mai est défiguré, le premier entonnoir est éventré. Ce que veulent les Anglais (qui interdissent à Claudie, propriétaire des lieux, de venir constater ce qu’ils font, et qui tolèrent tout juste qu’elle entre sur son terrain ; Peter Barton ne lui adresse plus la parole) veulent manifestement trouver au plus vite des squelettes de tunneliers anglais. Le reste, comme la préservation du site, est secondaire ou même sans importance. Ils saccagent sans vergogne, tolérés par la DRAC, sous le regard incrédule et impuissant de Claudie et de quelques amis. Tout ça sera filmé et fera un beau reportage à la BBC en 2014. S’ils trouvent des soldats français (car ils furent nombreux à disparaître dans ce charnier que fut cet îlot), tant pis pour eux. Il faut sans nul doute des ossements anglais. ET, pendant ce temps, les autorités françaises, locales, départementales ou régionales regardent ailleurs. Navrant. J’en reparle dans le bulletin.

Summary: This message claims that the LBSG are using mechanical diggers to speed up the archaeological process and that the preservation of the site is of secondary importance. It claims that this was done in order to reach the remains of English soldiers more quickly, and that if French remains are found then it is simply ‘too bad for them’. It claims that our work is focussed solely on the recovery of English ‘tunnellers’ and will be filmed for a BBC documentary in 2014. Everything other than this desire, it is noted, is of lesser or even no importance: archaeological corners are being cut. The message suggests that the DRAC Picardie are complicit in this and that French departmental and regional authorities have no interest and avert their eyes. Every aspect of this email – circulated widely – is incorrect and defamatory. M. René Richard did not visit the site during this period, and has never made himself known to the LBSG team. We categorically refute these deeply damaging allegations.

The LBSG have also been advised that certain regional directors of the DRAC have received malevolent communications from Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune. During the last working period in December 2013, M. Tahar Ben Redjeb of the DRAC Picardie spoke personally (on site) to her, making it plain that she was libelling his organisation, and quoting passages as examples. Mme Llewellyn-Lejeune denied this, and the defamations have continued. Other authorities to receive similar communications include the CWGC and their French counterpart, the ONAC.

There have, therefore, for some time been repeated attempts by Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune to damage the personal and professional reputations of a wide range of personnel involved in the excavations. The LBSG have received no apologies for this behaviour, and there is no indication that any of Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune’s accusations will be retracted or rescinded. After each defamatory episode, the LBSG responded privately but in full to all members of the Ilôt Association.

Additional points

Length of contract

The new contract was offered for a period of one year. This was an insufficient period for the LBSG, for the professionals who work with the Group, for our very many volunteers, and for our sponsors. It allows no flexibility in planning or fundraising. In the autumn of 2013 the LBSG cautioned Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune that to prepare the site for the centenary commemoration of French and German actions at the Glory Hole in 1914, a new contract needed to be drawn up and agreed very soon, and that to be feasible it needed to be of a duration of at least three years, encompassing 2015 and 2016, each of which would require commemorations tailored to the archaeology and events.

In November of 2013 the LBSG were informed that a new contract had been drafted. It was not however delivered until late April 2014. In the intervening period Mme. Llewellyn-Lejeune’s defamatory activities continued, so the arrival of the new contract came as something of a surprise. It was discussed by members, and in late May universally rejected. The LBSG has heard nothing from the Ilôt Association since.

Given the enormous amount of time and effort required in the reporting, planning, application and fundraising process – and to honour our own heavy personal work commitments at this very busy time – it was in any case too late to do anything before the spring of 2015.

Artefacts

All items recovered as a result of archaeology have remained the property and the responsibility of the proprietor. Many artefacts are currently lodged in the Musée Somme at Albert. Those that were displayed in the recent exhibition at the International Festival of Archaeological Films at the Gaumont cinema in Amiens were noted by LBSG members, the DRAC and the CIRAS as being in a serious state of degradation; it is essential that the Ilôt Association make immediate efforts to properly conserve these and other unique items.

Protection of archaeology

As noted in our News update of 7 April 2014, in December 2013 the trenches and other vestiges were covered and the site completely backfilled. This standard archaeological practice was undertaken in order to protect the archaeology from both the climate and unauthorised visitors (vandalism/treasure hunting became a serious and costly problem for the LBSG last summer), and to make the site entirely safe. All LBSG property, such as tools and safety equipment, has been removed and put into storage elsewhere.

Photograph of site taken on 9 December 2013 showing archaeological workings backfilled

Photograph of site taken on 9 December 2013 showing archaeological workings backfilled

A note of gratitude

We wish all interested parties to know that we have been very grateful for your generous support since 2011, and it is with the most profound regret that we leave our unique work at the Glory Hole; there remains much more to learn – and much more to share.

The LBSG are, however, delighted that their collective efforts have been instrumental in helping to save the site from development and for posterity: the Glory Hole is now firmly embedded in public consciousness, not just in France and the UK, but worldwide.

There is a greater understanding of its importance by the Conseil Général, local politicians, the DRAC, the CIRAS, UNESCO, the tourism authorities, museums, and countless local people.

Our supporters across the world have played a large part in this achievement. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the French archaeological and cultural authorities (the DRAC and the CIRAS) for their confidence, support and assistance with funding. We thank the Service Déminage for their confidence, and for their unfailing skills and advice, and the ONAC for investing responsibility in our specialists to recover the remains of French and German soldiers. We would also like to thank the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for working with our specialists to recover the remains of British soldiers.

We are pleased that, having previously been engaged in selling off, plot-by-plot, sections of the Glory Hole for housing development, the Lejeune family are now fully aware of the historical and symbolic importance of the site, and will work with the Ilôt Association and others to ensure its long-term future and protection. We wish them the best of good fortune.

We are especially gratified that as a result of the work the LBSG has carried out during the last three years, the threat of larger-scale development by compulsory purchase order has been lifted.

With a view to future publications, international archival research into the history of the Glory Hole and La Boisselle will continue. Other archaeological projects are being considered for the centenary period.

21 Responses to Statement on rejection of new contract at La Boisselle

  1. Very saddened to read that the project has at the very best been put on hold. I was fortunate enough to visit in July 2013 and, as stated by many others, was wholeheartedly impressed by the dedication of the on site team and their commitment to sharing and explaining what to me is a very important and worthwhile cause.

    I certainly agree with the belief that visual history brings the subject home much better than blackboards and books. This was borne out by the party of teenage students who were also on site at the time of my visit who were enthralled by the commentary being provided by the volunteer guides on site.

    Thanks to all those involved for the fantastic work carried out – lets hope that all is not lost with the projects future.

  2. Although having visited the Somme many times over the last 20 or so years and past the ‘Glory Hole’ on many occasions, I have not been fortunate enough to pay a visit and now it seems highly likely the opportunity will never arise. It is a pity that the owner of the site has not put on record her side of the argument and one wonders what is the ultimate motive and objective is being party to this unfortunate animosity.

    That said and not wishing in anyway to add to the flames of the issues, I have, over my many visits, often found a lightly veiled attitude with some of the British organisations involved on the Western Front, that ‘this is ours and you’re only here because we let you’ . I wonder if others have experienced this ?

  3. Sad news, but LBSG`s efforts were not wasted; hundreds of individuals, and families like ours, have had their knowledge of WW1 enhanced through this project, and I am sure many, many others who were unable to visit the site. I salute your hard work and high professional standards. Such a shame.

  4. This is such a shame. During my visits to the site, the professionalism, dedication and pride of the team in their work shone through. I sincerely hope this can be resolved.

  5. Now that this particular project has finished following an irreconcilable breakdown of the relationship between the two parties it would seem to be an appropriate time to review the whole principle of the excavation of hitherto untouched WW1 battlefield sites. The fact that all archeology is by its very nature destructive plus the fact that these sites are of national and international importance and bearing in mind the sad and prolonged saga of the Glory Hole in my opinion leads to the inevitable conclusion that such sites should remain undisturbed.

    The only exception to this will be if the site is threatened by development in which case the only viable course of action is for a “rescue” dig to be carried out organized and controlled by the appropriate official bodies and with the permission of the site owner(s). The unfortunate situation that arose at the Glory Hole has in my opinion a positive benefit in that it highlights the pitfalls of such projects and should act as a warning to those who would seek to excavate similar important battlefield sites in the future.

    Norman

    • Poor arguments, Norman
      Historia Vitae Magistra. History, the teacher of life. Sadly textbook / blackboard history can be a touch dull. The subject needs a bit of PR and archaeology illuminates and sells it very nicely. You don`t have to look too far for modern day politicians who haven`t grasped their history, their decisions contributing massively to the many conflicts / problems now blighting the planet. The history drum needs banging `til our ears bleed.

      Archaeology may be “destructive” to a degree but your statement must infer there is something constructive about allowing things to degrade in the ground. I can`t see myself being persuaded of that.

      I think it would be overstating it to suggest the Glory Hole is “threatened by development” but it is an extremely obvious area for development. All could be lost very, very easily.

      Your “pitfalls” pale into insignificance when confronted with the positives

      • But Jim this project is now defunct and like it or not an object lesson to those contemplating such excavations in the future. The obvious extension of your comments would be to dig every unique battlefield site up and just for what purpose exactly?. I wonder what the response from the authorities would be if such a project as this one was proposed on the battlefield of Verdun, I very much suspect that such a project would be turned down pretty smartly and quite properly in my view. If as I suspect this would be the reaction perhaps someone can explain why places such as the Glory Hole should be treated any differently.

        Norman

        • Hi Norman
          I`m no expert but given the inclination / time / training / equipment / logistical support I don`t think the Chinese Army could unearth the Western Front. So, regardless of whether my arguments lead in that direction, digging up “every unique battlefield site” is a non starter.
          Likewise your Verdun argument is nothing more than a red herring
          As I understand it the Glory Hole, which let`s face it is a tiny, tiny fraction of the Western Front, was left for special consideration. I cannot imagine that the special consideration was to accommodate a horse.
          Archaeology is an entirely valid, hugely valuable, widely appreciated discipline. If it is to be practiced where better than the Glory Hole. Indisputably, to my mind, the results were worth the effort and the project was a major achievement. The interest and support generated bear this out.
          I`m not party to what is going on. The project may be defunct. But, the offer of a contract suggests to me that the alternative group have yet to get their collective finger out. If the LBSG can resurrect the project I would be thrilled

  6. Thanks for the above statement do I understand that the LBSG will no longer continue to excavate the site. I will appreciate clarification on this as I do not see it being clearly spelt out in the statement. What other archeological projects are being considered as mentioned in the statement.

    Norman

  7. So sorry to read about what has been going on. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the site last year and to see the great work that was being carried out. I felt very privileged to be shown around the site and to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather (John Grady). It’s such a shame that other people will not be able to have the same opportunity I had.

  8. Words fail me. All that good work undone because of this mindless individual. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

  9. A group from my school were fortunate enough to be given a tour of the site in 2012 and came away totally fascinated by the work being done. That such visits are no longer possible is a crying shame and your dignified response to what is clearly serious provocation only goes to show what a responsible body the LBSG is. Let us hope this is not the end to the story.

  10. What a great pity after such a great amount of work by many people and organisations. There does come a point when enough is enough. The project has by no means been a waste of effort as it has been followed by many people from all corners of the earth who are now better informed about the war in general and the site in particular..

  11. Come on chaps. Please don`t give it up.
    Everyone knows you are all consummate professionals, of the highest integrity, welcoming of appropriate French and German involvement.
    I fully appreciate that health and safety is paramount but I`ve seen the Gendarmes tossing “live” grenades very close to La Boiselle. If that`s how the authorities, charged with public protection, behave then it`s little wonder the citizenry follow suit.
    And I suspect it`s an universal truth that if you can`t fully control site access you will get an interloper. I`m also sure it is particularly infuriating to those who are meticulous by nature.
    It is what it is though. The cause and objectives are great ones. Your work is widely admired and appreciated. If you can, rise above it and “crack on”

    • Jim
      Many thanks for your encouraging words but as the statement mentioned, the new contract offered was unworkable and so was rejected. The statement clearly explains the defamation that LBSG members have been subjected to which explains why we will not be continuing archaeological work on site.
      Regarding the Gendarme’s attitude to live ordnance, we agree that their safety protocol with regard to ordnance may vary but that fact has no relation to events that took place on site. At La Boisselle we were working on a controlled archaeological dig that is sanctioned by DRAC Picardie. Site safety is of utmost responsibility to the LBSG which was why we insisted volunteers attended a strict ordnance awareness briefing. Despite attending this, the individual mentioned chose to ignore all instructions and on two separate occasions threw live grenades at people. These incidents were not cases of dropping grenades but deliberately throwing them at people. The danger posed by this behaviour cannot be underestimated.

      • Hi, thanks for the reply
        I`m really not trying to undermine your decision. I`m just bitterly disappointed at this wonderful project being derailed by buffoons
        Pushing my devil`s advocacy a little I do feel you have been in a Catch 22 situation. Success such as yours, with a certain inevitability, attracts the glare of the green eyed monster. You were going to get it from some quarter .With all the positive feedback you have received, ( I was at Reading so I have encountered a good cross section of your support ) could you not have ignored some heckling from the cheap seats. I`m not trying to diminish the unpleasantness of defamation but sticks and stones………..
        Likewise, it`s an ancient truism that familiarity breeds contempt. Those brought up in a landscape of ubiquitous rusting ordnance will have completely differing perceptions to those of us who weren`t. I`m not condoning that behaviour but a brainstorming perusal of the “ways and means act” could well have revealed an innovative form of deterrence.
        Just my thoughts. Hope you are all back wielding trowels with aplomb soon
        Very best wishes
        Jim

  12. Really sorry to hear the news. I was always impressed with the professionalism, care and skill which was shown by the LBSG in all facets of the work and hope the opportunity to explore the fantastic site will come back.

  13. We are so sad to read what has been happening at the site, we are proud to have contributed in the past to this wonderful project and will continue to support the LBSG in their next endeavour.
    An absolute shameful disgrace what has happened so very sorry boys

  14. Thank you for this dignified statement.
    I was privileged to help briefly in a small way in the work and was very much aware of the professional approach being demonstrated daily by the group. It is sad that the physical archaeological work has come to an end but what has already been achieved has added to our knowledge and the publication in the appropriate journals of detailed reports will be much appreciated.

  15. What a shame all that good work had to end because of such petty jealousies, suspicion and politicking. There’s always someone to ruin a good cause.

    • As a volunteer for Tynemouth WW1 Commemorative Project I with other volunteers have had the honour of producing a database (on our website) holding the names of casualties who died as a result of the war and resided in the borough at the time.
      Having seen over the years documentaries about La Boiselle both above and underground I am aware through your dedication,
      the hardships and sacrifices these men made, many died as a result of July 1st 1916 at La Boiselle.

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