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Recent work on site

The team spent two days on site in early March. Some of this time was given over to media commitments which included showing Frank Barrett, a journalist from the Mail on Sunday around the site, as well as filming a short piece with a crew from Channel 5’s ‘Live with Gabby’ daytime show. The results can be seen here: https://www.laboisselleproject.com/2012/03/18/recent-media-coverage-for-the-project/.

Gary Andrews & Danny Gunner at W Shaft discussing plans for the steel cage

Our primary task, however, was to inspect and survey parts of W Shaft chamber in order to determine dimensions for the planned steel safety cage which will be specially fabricated to sit over the W Shaft. We were joined by one of our key colleagues Danny Gunner who is generously sponsoring the fabrication, transport and erection of the structure, as well as safety equipment, winches and lighting, and briefing and training for working in confined spaces.

Over the past 95 years small falls from the roof have altered the chamber’s shape so it now resembles that of a bell. The logistics of designing and installing a rectangular steel frame into this irregular shape was discussed in detail. The dimensions of W Shaft were re-confirmed (1.8m square) in order to ascertain the necessary size for the steel collar which will form the base of the cage. The shaft itself was ascertained to have 4 metres of spoil at the bottom. It was also calculated that up to 40 metric tonnes of spoil will need to be removed from the chamber area to allow for archaeology, shoring and bracing to take place.

To facilitate the removal of spoil from the chamber, and to protect the original 1916 floor, a wooden duckboard walkway was installed along 30 metres of W Adit.

Team members constructing the duckboard floor in W Adit

W Adit with new duckboard flooring - 6 March 2012

Archaeology was continued at the bottom of the steeper 1915 ‘X Incline’.  Finds included a well-preserved sandbag wall, a long and intertwined length of steel-reinforced rubber air hose with brass fittings, and an axle with rubberised wheels at each end.  When first uncovered we hoped it would be a small miners truck. However, as it was excavated it soon became evident that it was too long for use in mine galleries, its length being considerably wider than the tunnels.  The base of an oil lamp, a mess tin, and an empty tin of 25 Meadowland cigarettes were also uncovered. Work continues on cleaning, cataloguing and preserving these finds.

Sandbag wall, air pipe and rubber wheeled axle uncovered at the bottom of X Incline - 6 March 2012

Further archival study of several surface features was planned. This includes the history of the Ilôt/Granathof prior to the war, the struggle for the farm, detail of a German raid across the craters against 1/7th Black Watch on 4 August 1915 which resulted in the first British prisoner being taken, and two raids on the German lines by the Northumberland Fusiliers in June 1916. We now also have material to illustrate the symbolic 1937 ceremony at the Glory Hole between representatives of the Black Watch and 19thBreton Regiment. When we are next on site there should be much more interpretative material for visitors to enjoy.  Archival research in French, British and German records continues.

Selected images

Empty tin of Meadowland cigarettes found at the foot of X Incline. Hidden for over ninety years, they are in a superb condition.

The brass fitting at the end of the intertwined length of steel-reinforced rubber armoured hose found at the foot of X Incline.

The well preserved base of an oil lamp found in X Incline

Anthony Byledbal & Romain Leroy excavate the bottom of X Incline

Kate McIntyre filming for Live with Gabby TV show at the entrance to W Adit

Recent media coverage for the project

We were joined on site on 5-6 March by a TV crew from Channel 5’s ‘Live with Gabby’ show. Their short film was broadcast on Friday 16 March’s show. It can be viewed for a further five days via this link: http://www.channel5.com/shows/live-with-gabby/episodes/friday-16-march-2.  The film starts just after 30 minutes in to the show.

We also showed Frank Barrett, the Mail on Sunday’s travel editor around site and took him underground in W Adit. His article, entitled In search of Birdsong: Unearthing the scars of war on a drive through Northern France was published in today’s paper. It covers our work at La Boisselle, focussing on last June’s visit to site by Birdsong actors, Eddie Redmayne and Joseph Mawle. Frank’s article can be viewed online by clicking the image below.

Our thanks to Ruth Bray and all at Premier PR for organising this.

Somme Branch WFA meeting – 10 April 2012

Please note that the newly formed Somme Branch of the Western Front Association are holding a meeting at 1930 hrs on 10 April in the Somme Trench Museum in Albert. Battlefield guide Clive Harris will be speaking on subject close to his heart, ‘Sporting Icons of the Great War’.

The Somme branch has kindly agreed to donate all proceeds from the raffle funds to the La Boisselle Study Group. One of the raffle prizes is a signed copy of Arras – The Spring 1917 Offensive in Panoramas including Vimy Ridge and Bullecourt by Peter Barton & Jeremy Banning.

At present there are around sixty people who have signed up to attend. However, the branch would welcome more guests. If you are visiting the Glory Hole on 10 April then please consider dropping into the museum for this talk. The museum’s website is http://www.somme-trench-museum.co.uk/ and a map of Albert can be found here: http://www.ville-albert.fr/fr/files/plan%20albert-OK.jpg.

Next Open Day announced – 10 April 2012

We have just advertised notice of an Open Day to be held at the site on Tuesday 10 April 2012. Full details can be seen in the ‘Access & Open Days’ section. See https://www.laboisselleproject.com/access-open-days/

We look forward to seeing you on site.

There will also be Open Days from 30 June – 2 July inclusive to cater for the many battlefield visitors over that period.

Site visit by a group of 20 students and two teachers from Farnham Sixth Form College – 8 February 2012

A group of 20 students and two teachers from Farnham Sixth Form College visited the site at the Glory Hole on 8 February.  Despite bitterly cold temperatures the group was met and guided by La Boisselle Study Group member Richard Porter. Richard set the scene by pointing out the respective positions above ground of both sides, before giving an explanation of both defensive and offensive military mining in the immediate area from autumn 1914 to the opening day of the Somme offensive in July 1916.

He was also able to show the students some of the artefacts that had been found during October’s archaeological work. Many of the students were studying Birdsong as part of their ‘A’ Level English Literature course, and were fascinated at being taken a short way underground in W Adit to appreciate the work of the tunnellers, see the size of the underground workings and remains of the tramway system that had been installed. Richard was also able to tell them stories concerning individual RE tunnellers from 179 & 185 Tunnelling Companies operating at the site in 1915 & 1916.

Richard Porter greets the student group visit

Richard's briefing

With the group at the British front line

Showing the 179 Tunnelling Company mine plan

Dependent upon existing work commitments we will always endeavour to show parties around the site. Please contact us for details.

‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks – A two-part adaptation by Working Title Television for the BBC. Broadcast Sunday 22 January and Sunday 29 January 2012

In June 2011 we were joined on site by Eddie Redmayne and Joseph Mawle, the two actors cast to play Stephen Wraysford and Jack Firebrace in the Working Title adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ novel ‘Birdsong’, a book which has come to occupy a permanent and celebrated place in First World War fiction. Filming in Hungary was yet to start.

LBSG member Peter Barton was Historical Consultant for the production. Because much of the film’s action takes place on the Somme battlefields (Beaumont Hamel) he invited the producers to visit La Boisselle to gain an understanding of the environment and conditions faced by tunnellers working beneath the Picardy battlefields. On Eddie and Joseph’s arrival the nature of surface and subterranean warfare at the Glory Hole was explained.

Peter Barton and Simon Jones show Joseph and Eddie the 179 Tunnelling Company mine plan

Peter Barton explaining the mine plans - there are up to eight kilometres of tunnels on site - all dug by hand

Trenches were flagged out, and shafts and inclines marked. Guided by Peter, they then went underground through the crown hole that gave access to the 1915 X Incline. They descended to a depth of about 30 feet, reaching the site of the now celebrated poem written in pencil on the chalk roof:

If in this place you are detained
Don’t look around you all in vain
But cast your net and you shall find
That every cloud is silver lined… Still

We were delighted to show the actors the site and explain some of the difficulties and dangers endured by the tunnellers. The visit was filmed by LBSG member Mike Fox BSC; some of this footage may appear on the Birdsong DVD.

Speaking with Claudie Llewellyn, one of the owners of the Glory Hole

Eddie and Joseph at the collapse providing access to 1915 X Incline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The experience had a powerful influence on both men. In recent interviews Eddie Redmayne revealed that he wrote the poem, which he described as “hope in the most horrific of circumstances”, on the cover of his script as an inspiration for the role, and as a reminder of the tunnellers and their work in the Glory Hole at La Boisselle.

The following articles mention the actors’ visits to La Boisselle in June:

Eddie Redmayne Talks About His Character In BBC’s Birdsong

The Independent: Putting on a brave front: Behind the scenes of the BBC’s epic adaptation of ‘Birdsong’

Daily Mail: I discovered a soldier’s poem etched in the wall in a tunnel under the Somme… Eddie Redmayne recalls how he drew inspiration for Birdsong

The BBC website for Birdsong is available by clicking the image below.

We are grateful to Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Mawle and the production team at Working Title for their permission to divulge this information and reproduce the images.

Article in Black Country Bugle entitled ‘Princes End miner killed in German underground blast’

Many thanks to Andy Johnson who sent us a scan of a recent article published in the Black Country Bugle. Entitled Princes End miner killed in German underground blast, it tells of the loss of two Tipton men, Sappers John Lane and Ezekiel Parkes, who were amongst the dead from a German blast on 22 November 1915.
Further information about this incident can be found on our dedicated Tunnellers page and in the Black Country Bugle article. It can be read in full by clicking on the image below.

Article in Somerset Guardian focussing on wartime work of 179 TC tunneller

Mrs Gertrude Hillman with the Great War medals of her father, Sapper George Maule.

An article appeared in the Somerset Guardian on 10 November entitled Army worked underground which focussed on Sapper George Maule’s wartime service with 179 Tunnelling Company at La Boisselle. There is a brief mention of our work on site and a comment from George’s nephew, Barry Maule, who visited the site with his wife Sue during our Open Day weekend in October.

The full article can be read by clicking on the link: http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Army-worked-underground/story-13810040-detail/story.html

Crater clearance on site – ongoing work

We have been joined on site this week by regular volunteers and friends. Our focus has been the continued clearance of the larger mine craters. The largest crater on site had already been cleared prior to the October open days. However, the neighbouring crater, sitting nearest to the Contalmaison road has now been cleared. This work is necessary for appreciating not only the size of each mine crater but for investigating the complexity that multiple mine blows had upon the area.

Site clearance will continue over the winter months. Please click on images to enlarge.

Looking back from German positions over the newly cleared mine crater towards Tara & Usna Hills - November 2011

The covered entrance to W Adit is visible in the middle distance behind the stumps left by the clearance team - November 2011

Looking towards Contalmaison. The Contalmaison road running through the village is just visible behind the tree – November 2011

LBSG member Iain McHenry in the newly cleared crater. The Contalmaison road runs between the crater and the houses – November 2011

Recent newspaper articles on our work at La Boisselle

Following the BBC media coverage on 3 November the story of the tunnellers at La Boisselle was picked up by a number of newspapers. We were also contacted by many people with an interest in the project, including those with relatives who served above and below ground at La Boisselle. Please click on the Newspaper names to read each story.

BBC News, radio and online at La Boisselle – 3 November 2011

Thursday 3 November saw Robert Hall and BBC News again visiting the site at La Boisselle. Since their visit to the site in June when the project was launched much work has taken place.  Results from our recent archaeological dig were broadcast.

A film on the BBC website entitled Excavating tunnels from World War 1 has now been published. It can be viewed by clicking on this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15568539

A further piece with Peter Barton & Simon Jones inside the newly opened W Adit, entitled Secrets from inside a WWI trench can be viewed by clicking here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15566851

A gallery showing artefacts recovered to date on the dig is now on the BBC website. Entitled Trench soldiers’ belongings unearthed it can be viewed by clicking on this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-15574283

Dutch television programme ‘Een Vandaag’ shows short film about La Boisselle Project

During our Open Day weekend on 8-9 October we were joined by Een Vandaag, a Dutch current affairs programme. They had contacted us a few months before and were keen to film a piece for broadcast The open days provided them with the perfect opportunity to visit the tunnels in safety and to meet the group, the landowners and visiting relatives of tunnellers who had served at La Boisselle.

sitestat

The film, broadcast on 22 October, is over ten minutes long and much of it is in English. There are contributions from Peter Barton, Claudie Llewellyn and Peter Lane, grandson of 102439 Sapper Peter Lane, 185 Tunnelling Company RE who was killed at La Boisselle on 4 February 1916.

Article in Earth Magazine

October’s edition of Earth Magazine featured an article by freelance journalist, Lucas Laursen on our work at La Boisselle. Titled ‘Modern Tools Reveal World War I Tunneling Tricks’, it can be read by clicking on this link:  http://lucaslaursen.com/modern-tools-reveal-world-war-i-tunneling-tricks/

A pdf of the entire article can be downloaded for free by clicking on the image below.

New material added to the website

Following our work at the Glory Hole from 3-9 October we have updated the website with the following information:

Coverage of the week’s archaeological dig in the Courrier Picard

We were pleased to read the recent article in the Courrier Picard, “Ils empruntent la petite porte qui donne sur la grande Histoire” which reported on the week’s archaeological dig and open days for visitors.

The article (in French) can be read by clicking on the image below.

Progress Report on Archaeological Dig: 3-9 October 2011

Work is well underway on site. Having erected our HQ tent and connected necessary services such as water and electricity the team, comprising LBSG members, French archaeologists, serving soldiers from the Royal Logistics Corps, volunteers and members of GIEOS began a number of tasks for the week. Two small sondages have been started. The first, around the existing collapse of the 1915 X incline covers a 5x5m plot. Topsoil was removed and chalk  uncovered.

The 'top-stripping' process begins for the first sondage around the 1915 X incline collapse. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Terry Blackwood.

Working back from the collapse (which has been acting as our entry and exit point for the tunnel system) the archaeologists are now beginning to gain an understanding of how the incline was associated with Quémart trench. A large amount of infill has been removed from the incline mouth, yielding impressive quantities of artefacts including containers for cheese, jam and pickles as well as a hipflask and tobacco tin. A quantity of French small arms munitions was also retrieved.

French archaeologists inspecting artefacts found in the first sondage at the 1915 X incline. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Terry Blackwood.

A second sondage was begun yesterday to locate and open the 1916 W adit. By the end of the day the entrance had been located and cleared. The adit is much longer and thus has a shallower gradient than the 1915 X incline. Once completed in 1916 it became the main entrance point to that sector of the tunnel system. By having two openings to the tunnel system the flow of air is now regulated.

Peter Barton, Simon Jones & Anthony Byledbal discuss how best to excavate the 1916 W Adit entrance. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Terry Blackwood.

Clearing infill at the top of the 1916 W Adit. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Terry Blackwood.

Today will see us clearing spoil from this adit as well as continuing archaeological work on the 1915 X incline and Quémart trench. It is slow, meticulous work but by utilising this process we are beginning to understand the complex relationship of the trench system. Only one item of unexploded ordnance has been unearthed – a German Lanz trench mortar – which was dealt with immediately and efficiently by the Service Déminage.

Daylight at the top of the 1916 W Adit - the first such light for over ninety years. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Terry Blackwood.

Preparations are well under way for the Open Day at the weekend. Trench lines have been flagged out all the way to Lochnagar Crater. These will be named and the locations of mine shafts clearly marked. We will also be marking the precise locations of men known to be buried on the site. Their details and, in some cases, photographs will be affixed to signs directly above their burial spot. By doing this we endeavour to interpret the site for the expected large number of visitors.

Work on site – an ongoing process

Scrub and tree removal has continued throughout the summer. The site now looks markedly different from our first visit late last year.  The area behind the British front line has now been cleared opening up previously unseen vistas. The work has exposed a section of communication trench (Quémart Street), further small craters and a sap leading to an observation or listening post on a crater lip.

May 2011. View along the British front line towards Lochnagar crater on the horizon.

One of the two largest craters on site has now been cleared. Under the supervision of Iain McHenry a group of volunteers exposed one of the Glory Hole’s most impressive surface relics of mine warfare.  Archival investigation continues into the formation of the crater; at present it is unknown if it was formed by French, British or German mines or a combination of multiple blows.

Looking back over the British lines from the crater lip towards Tara and Usna Hills bisected by the main road to Albert.

Clearance work in the crater nearing completion - 29 August 2011.

The cleared crater with Tara Hill on the horizon. 15 September 2011.

As well as the installation of new fencing, time has also been devoted to the organisation of the October excavations. Updates of progress during that week will be posted in due course.

Open Day – Sunday 9 October

We have just advertised notice of an Open Day to be held at the site on Sunday 9 October. Full details can be seen in the ‘Access & Open Days’ section. See https://www.laboisselleproject.com/access-open-days/

The hidden battlefields – article in the ‘News & Star’ seeking descendants of men who served at La Boisselle

We were pleased to read an article in the Cumbrian newspaper, the News & Star from Wednesday 6 July, focussing on our work at La Boisselle. Special mention is made of the men whose names we have found on the walls in part of the British tunnel system.  We are aiming to locate any surviving family of these men, some from the 11th Border Regiment (Lonsdale Battalion) and others from 179 Tunnelling Company RE.

Unfortunately the piece was not added to the News & Star website but we have received a hard copy in the post. If anyone has any details on the men mentioned in the article then please get in touch with us via our Contact page.  Our thanks to Stephen Blease for his interest in our work. The full story can be read by clicking on the image below.

Tunnels under the Somme – The Sun newspaper article

We had been contacted by Martin Phillips, a feature writer for The Sun newspaper as to the possibility of his writing a piece on our work at La Boisselle.  We met him on site on Friday 17 June and spent a couple of hours showing him around. His feature has attracted huge interest to the site and our work.

For the online version of the story ‘Tunnels under the Somme’ please click the image below.