British First World War soldiers identified through DNA testing

The remains of First World War soldiers – the missing – are uncovered every year on the old battlefields of France and Flanders, but the story of two men of the Essex Regiment found in late 2013 on the Somme is unlike any other, for both were for a century believed to have lain beneath headstones bearing their names in a nearby Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery.

The two soldiers were part of a group of eight men buried alive as a result of the explosion of a massive German underground mine in the Somme village of La Boisselle. In the early hours of 22 November 1915 their bombing post and dugout was engulfed by hundreds of tons of falling earth. Only now, after meticulous archaeological recovery, detailed research in British and German archives and the use of DNA analysis can the entire story be told.

British steel helmet found alongside one of the Essex Regiment soldiers

British steel helmet found alongside one of the Essex Regiment soldiers

In 2010 an excavation by the La Boisselle Study Group (LBSG) began near the village of La Boisselle. The project came about as a result of the landowner approaching historian Peter Barton to request his assistance in the study and preservation of a three-acre piece of undisturbed battlefield known during the war as the ‘Glory Hole.’

Over the decades the landowners had gradually sold off portions of land for house building, but as this symbolic and historic site was in danger of being totally lost to construction, opposition from the United Kingdom led them to reconsider. Finally, because of concerns over the existence of wartime tunnels beneath the land, and the threat of subsidence and consequent liability, one of the landowners decided to re-purchase a sold plot. She then approached Peter Barton to help prove the historical significance of the land to prevent her coming under further local pressure to sell land for development.

As a result, Barton formed the La Boisselle Study Group with the aim of carrying out a detailed long-term study of the site. An initial three-year contract with the owners was agreed, and the team came to include historians, archaeologists, engineers, mine-rescue specialists, ordnance-disposal consultants, surveyors, anthropologists, conservators and osteologists.

Funds were raised through voluntary donation, and in 2010 the LBSG commenced a three-week period of work at the site. The surface archaeology included French, German and British trenches plus vestiges of a farmhouse and stables; beneath them lay an extraordinary eight-kilometre complex of tunnels; this too was accessed. In 2013 the project was the subject of a BBC film: The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars.

The archaeology soon produced evidence of the bitter warfare that characterised the site. Bone fragments lay everywhere and the remains of four French soldiers were found. By May 2011 the remarkable results of the first season had already ensured that the Glory Hole had been de-classified as building land, and thus protected and preserved for posterity.

The first discovery of the remains of British soldiers came in summer 2013 during the penultimate work period before the expiry of the LBSG’s three-year contract.

Associated artefacts such as badges and rifle markings indicated the first soldier belonged to the 10th Battalion of the Essex Regiment. LBSG historian Simon Jones quickly concluded that there was a strong likelihood that he was one of a group of eight soldiers buried alive as a result of the explosion of a massive German underground mine: in the early hours of the morning of 22 November 1915 their bombing post and dugout was engulfed by falling mine debris. Barton’s research in Stuttgart in 2011 had also supplied a comprehensive German narrative of events. Before the discovery of the remains, therefore, a wide-ranging history, both operational and personal, had been compiled.

The eight men were:
13392  Harry Carter, b. 1894, West Ham, estate agent’s assistant
10352  Harry Fensome, b. 1896, Luton, moulder
13333  Albert Huzzey, b. 1897, West Ham, errand boy
13370  William J. Marmon, b. 1894, St Pancras, London
13517  George E. Pier, b. 1890, Dagenham
13350  Charles Ruggles, b. 1892, Halstead, Essex, farm labourer
13263  Edward Toomey, b. 1889, Walworth, Surrey, restaurant kitchen porter
14998  Charles C. Aldridge, b. 1888, Caxton, Cambridgeshire, farmer’s son

But there was a problem: all the men were recorded as having been ‘killed in action’, and had graves and headstones in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in the nearby town of Albert. LBSG historians, however, could find no documented evidence of the recovery of their bodies, nor indeed of their burials.

The five headstones of the Collective Grave I.DA. in Albert Communal Cemetery

The five headstones of the Collective Grave I.DA. in Albert Communal Cemetery

The mistake over the burials, understandable given the conditions in the front line at the ‘Glory Hole’, was not that of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but of British Army recording at the time. The descendants of Harry Carter have in their possession the official War Office notification, dated January 1916, erroneously confirming that Harry had been buried in Albert Cemetery.

In order to properly recover the remains, the CWGC allowed the LBSG to carry out a full archaeological excavation around the location of the dugout. This took place in November/December 2013 during the final weeks of the three-year contract with the landowner. A highly experienced team of archaeologists, finds specialists and conservators was assembled, led by archaeologist Cameron Ross.

Before archaeological work could commence a protective timber structure was erected over the work area

Before archaeological work could commence a protective timber structure was erected over the work area

The site was covered by a specially-designed and constructed temporary building that incorporated space for the excavation, study of the remains, and cleaning and listing of associated artefacts. The bodies of two Essex Regiment soldiers were recovered and taken to the CWGC headquarters in Beaurains near Arras.

LBSG archaeologists at work

LBSG archaeologists at work

Importantly, both had been found in a trench, fully armed with rifles with fixed bayonets, carrying bags of grenades and flares, and with flare pistols close to hand: they had clearly been on duty. The search for their six comrades then continued, but the project had already become further complicated by the discovery of two French soldiers buried barely half a metre from the British. Excavated by archaeologist Brian Powell, Louis Heurt and Appolinaire Ruelland (118th Infantry Regiment) had been killed in early January 1915. The men were wearing their identity discs, and both have since been reburied. To make matters more complex, the remains of a German soldier were then partially uncovered.

Essex shoulder title associated with HR9

Essex shoulder title associated with HR9

Two metres further along the trench, the timber remnants of the dugout in which the remaining six Essex soldiers were believed to have been sheltering, awaiting their turn of trench duty, was found. A mass of archaeological evidence at the collapsed entrance such as rifles, stacked helmets, personal items and boxes of hand grenades left LBSG specialists in little doubt that the excavations had brought them close to the bodies of the six entombed men.

A poignant reminder of the men still entombed in the bombers dugout - stacked helmets at the collapsed entrance

A poignant reminder of the men still entombed in the bombers dugout – stacked helmets at the collapsed entrance

Butt disc from SMLE rifle stamped with 10th Essex

Butt disc from SMLE rifle stamped with 10th Essex

But time was now no longer on the side of the team, and to their bitter disappointment, not only was it impossible to explore the dugout, but the German soldier also had to be left in situ: the depth of the archaeological cutting through the high lip of the mine crater made excavation unsafe without further earth moving. The LBSG was unfortunately unable to agree terms with the landowner for a new contract to complete the recovery.

Cleaning of small finds

Cleaning of small finds

Finds specialist Anna Gow documented many hundreds of individual artefacts found with the four soldiers, with expert post-excavation conservation by Pieta Greaves. As well as their equipment and weapons, the personal possession were poignantly preserved in their entirely but it was not yet possible to identify the two British soldiers. One had three small ceramic figurines, usually found in cakes traditionally served in France at the festival of epiphany, a French bullet head finely-carved with a heart symbol, a metal slot-machine token, some French coins and the remains of a pipe and lighter. The other soldier was wearing a ‘trench-art’ ring on a finger of his right hand, and was carrying a lighter, coins and writing paper. The possessions, however, gave no clue as to their names and their fibre identity discs had long since decayed. It could not yet be said which of the eight lost soldiers the two men might be.

Simon Jones recording the finds

Simon Jones recording the finds

An osteoarchaeological analysis by Hayley Forsyth showed that their ages were between 18 and 25 and that their skulls showed impact trauma at the time of death. LBSG genealogist Glen Phillips produced family trees for all eight soldiers which enabled the Ministry of Defence Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) to locate and make contact with the all the descendants. DNA analysis carried out for the JCCC finally identified the first man to be found as 21 year-old William James Marmon aged 21 from St. Pancras, London, and the second as Harry Carter, also 21, born in West Ham, Essex. This confirmed that they were indeed two of the eight men killed by the mine explosion of 22 November 1915.

The reburial of William Marmon and Harry Carter will take place at 1100 hours on 19 October 2016 in Albert Communal Cemetery Extension – the same cemetery in which the men were believed to have lain for a century. Further details will be released by the CWGC, JCCC and LBSG nearer the date.

View of excavation site with protected area constructed over exhumation area

View of excavation site with protected area constructed over exhumation area

The LBSG would like to extend their gratitude to all those who worked on this project. Particular appreciation must go to sponsors and donors who enabled the work to take place in November/December 2013, most notably JCB and Thwaites who provided brand new machinery for the excavation and Margaret Beach and her colleagues at Multi-Limn who provided laser and site surveying.

Additional Images

LBSG archaeologists at work

LBSG archaeologists at work

Surveying - all finds were plotted using a total station

Surveying – all finds were plotted using a total station

Head archaeologist Cameron Ross at work

Head archaeologist Cameron Ross at work

Original dugout roof timbers in situ before their removal

Original dugout roof timbers in situ before their removal

Section within the dugout showing the complex strata created by the mine debris

Section within the dugout showing the complex strata created by the mine debris

Funeral of Appolinaire Ruelland, 118th Infantry Regiment

The new plaque on the grave of brothers, Appolinaire and Francois Ruelland

The new plaque on the grave of brothers, Appolinaire and Francois Ruelland

The funeral of Appolinaire Joachim Marie Ruelland, the second of the two French soldiers discovered during last November’s excavations at the Glory Hole, took place on Thursday 9th October in the French necropole at Tracy-le-Mont some 90 kilometres south of La Boisselle. The reason this location was chosen by the family is because it is the resting place of Appolinaire’s brother Francois who was killed in action nearby on 7th June 1916. Appolinaire and Francois are now reunited.

On a beautiful autumn day the LBSG was represented by Peter Barton, Anna Gow, Brian Powell and Cameron Ross. Seven members of the Ruelland family had made the journey from Brittany. They were presented with a dossier containing documents, plans and photographs outlining the events of 8 January 1915 that led to the deaths of Appolinaire Ruelland and Louis Le Heurt.

There were present many members of the Ancien Combattants, French military personnel, officials from ONAC, Prefets and Mayors. The event was colourful and celebratory, the speeches of several officials being especially complimentary about the quality of the LBSG’s work in the recovery of the remains of several French soldiers at La Boisselle. Peter Barton laid a floral tribute and planted a Breton flag.

Ancien Combattants provided the Guard of Honour

Ancien Combattants provided the Guard of Honour, Nécropole Nationale Tracy-le-Mont

Peter Barton laying the LBSG wreath

Peter Barton laying the LBSG wreath

Wreaths at the cemetery's memorial

Wreaths at the cemetery’s memorial

Peter Barton speaking with the great niece and great nephew of Appolinaire Ruelland

Peter Barton speaking with the great niece and great nephew of Appolinaire Ruelland

The new plaque on the grave showing Appolinaire and Francois are now buried together

The new plaque on the grave showing Appolinaire and Francois are now buried together

Archaeologist Cameron Ross at the graveside

Archaeologist Cameron Ross at the graveside

Ceremony for the dedication of the grave of Louis Joseph Heurt, 118th Infantry Regiment

On 8 September 2014 a ceremony was held at the French National Cemetery at Albert  to commemorate the burial of one of two identified French soldiers recovered by the La Boisselle Study Group during archaeological excavations in November 2013.

French National Cemetery, Albert

French National Cemetery, Albert

The two soldiers, who were discovered buried in the wall of a trench, were identified from their identity discs.  Privates Louis Joseph Heurt and Appolinaire Joachim Marie Ruelland, both of the 118th Infantry Regiment, were killed on 8 January 1915 during a German attack on the Ilôt at La Boisselle.  Louis Heurt’s remains were interred earlier this year at the French National Cemetery at Albert.  On 8 September 2014 a ceremony was held enabling family members to pay their respects, during which the plaque was formally fixed to the cross over his grave.

Anciens combattants provided standard bearers for the ceremony

Anciens combattants provided standard bearers for the ceremony

Descendants of Louis Heurt were in attendance, including his nephew M. Michel le Heurt.  Personal affects, including uniform buttons and other items found with the remains, were presented to M. le Heurt during the ceremony. These items had been passed to the ONAC (Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre) by the LBSG when the remains were recovered in November 2013.  A number of LBSG members were in attendance, including the archaeologists who carried out the excavation.

M. Bureau of ONAC conducts the ceremony

M. Bureau of ONAC conducts the ceremony

M. Le Heurt is presented with the artefacts found with his uncle's body by M. Quintin of ONAC

M. Le Heurt is presented with the artefacts found with his uncle’s body by M. Quintin of ONAC

LBSG team members and archaeologists with M. Michel le Heurt

LBSG team members and archaeologists with M. Michel le Heurt

Archaeologist Brian Powell and M. Michel le Heurt

Archaeologist Brian Powell and M. Michel le Heurt

Louis Joseph Heurt, 118th Infantry Regiment. Image reproduced with permission of Michel Le Heurt.

Louis Joseph Heurt, 118th Infantry Regiment. Image reproduced with permission of Michel Le Heurt.

The grave of Louis Joseph Heurt, 118th Infantry Regiment

The grave of Louis Joseph Heurt, 118th Infantry Regiment

At the request of his family, the remains of Appolinaire Ruelland will be buried at Tracy-le-Mont  alongside those of his brother. The ceremony is due to be held on 9 October 2014.

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.


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.

Holding statement regarding work at the Glory Hole, La Boisselle

Numerous people have contacted the LBSG requesting information on the future of archaeological excavations at the Glory Hole.

At present we are able only to offer a holding statement. In November 2013 during the final archaeological excavations of the season, and indeed of the initial three-year contract period, the Group was advised by the landowner/president of the Association des Amis de l’Ilôt de La Boisselle (hereafter, Ilôt Association), Mme. Claudie Llewellyn-Lejeune, that a new contract was being drawn up and that meetings were required with LBSG members to discuss details.

No meetings took place, and the Group was not contacted for verbal or written advice or discussion. The LBSG frequently requested updates.

In late April of this year the Group were surprised to receive a draft contract from the Ilôt Association. For reasons that will be made clear in future statements on this website, in May the contract was universally declined. Mme Llewellyn-Lejeune and all members of the Ilôt Association were informed why rejection had been considered obligatory. However, the key issues had been made known to them on numerous previous occasions.

No further correspondence or communication has been received from the Ilôt Association.

Given the number of individuals and businesses associated with our work at the Glory Hole since 2011, discussions concerning the publication of certain aspects of the project have been long and complex. A detailed statement will be posted on this website as soon as consultations with British and French lawyers are concluded. Our thanks to all supporters for their patience.

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

Festival du film d’archéologie d’Amiens 2014: 8-12 April

Festival du film d’archéologie d’Amiens (Amiens Archaeological Film Festival) runs from 8-12 April 2014. The first two films to be shown on the Monday are “The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars” and “Breathing Fire – Le Dragon de la Somme”, both produced by LBSG Director Peter Barton. Full details of the festival’s screenings can be found by downloading the PDF: festival du film archeologie amiens

festival du film archeologie amiens

Précis of recent work at La Boisselle

In mid-November 2013, archaeology by the La Boisselle Study Group (LBSG) restarted on First World War trenches at La Boisselle, Somme. The work concentrated upon features that once lay within the courtyard of a large farm, a position known by the French forces as the ‘Ilôt’, and by the Germans as the ‘Granathof’.

In July 2013, during the excavation of a pre-Christmas 1914 German trench located within the last surviving corner of the farm courtyard (the rest is now a mine crater-field), and an associated early 1915 communication trench dug by French troops, LBSG archaeologists uncovered the remains of a British soldier. Investigations revealed the presence of further human remains.

Following discussions with the British Ministry of Defence, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles (DRAC) and the Office Nationale des Anciens Combattants et Victimes (ONAC), and after an intensive fund-raising campaign, archaeological investigation recommenced at La Boisselle on 15 November 2013. The international LBSG team of volunteers comprised historians, archaeologists, genealogists, geophysicists, anthropologists, surveyors and conservators.

A specially-designed shelter was constructed over the proposed work area. It comprised artefact processing, cleaning, and conservation areas with photographic station, and an anthropology section. During the subsequent highly complex work amongst the debris of the farm stables, a second British soldier was found; nearby, the remains of seven French and German soldiers were also discovered.

When the project terminated on 8 December, the French and German remains had been deposited with the ONAC in Bray-sur-Somme. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, acting on behalf of the Ministry of Defence in the UK, is holding both sets of British remains at its morgue in Beaurains, and the MoD are continuing their work to identify the casualties.

Pending decisions about the future of the Glory Hole site to be taken later this month by the newly-formed Association des Amis de l’Ilot de La Boisselle, the site has been backfilled to protect the archaeology.

La Boisselle Study Group, 8 January 2014

Our recent evening of fundraising lectures, ‘WW1 Uncovered’ at Reading University

Our evening of fundraising lectures, ‘WW1 Uncovered’ at Reading University on Friday 18 October 2013 was well attended with over 380 people joining us. Three lectures were given over the course of the evening.

Attendees enjoying pre-lecture drinks

The first, by La Boisselle Study Group members Peter Barton and Jeremy Banning concentrated on the unique value of the La Boisselle Project in promoting the commemoration, education, archaeology and memorialisation of the Great War. Next up was BBC Coast’s Tessa Dunlop who spoke about a subject unknown to many; the role of Queen Marie of Romania during the Great War.

Simon Jones, Jeremy Banning, Hugh Dennis, Tessa Dunlop, Peter Barton and the evening’s MC, Richard Anderson

After an interval break we were treated to Hugh Dennis (Mock the Week, Outnumbered, The Now Show) speaking about his wartime family experiences and what he had learnt from visiting the battlefields whilst appearing in the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

The evening was successfully concluded with an auction of books written by La Boisselle Study Group members – the winning bid coming from our guest Hugh Dennis.

Our sincere thanks to Tessa and Hugh for joining us and the organising team of Richard Anderson, Rohit Tanna, Andrew Norton, Roy Murphy, Bill Gornall-King and Nicky Dane for their wonderful assistance. Similar thanks are extended to Reading University who provided a superb venue, our team of volunteers who marshalled the evening and, of course, those who joined us.

Peter Barton and Jeremy Banning speaking about their work at La Boisselle

Peter Barton talking about archaeology and the Great War

Tessa Dunlop speaking about Queen Marie of Romania

Hugh Dennis speaking about his grandfather’s service in the Great War

The audience enrapt in Hugh’s talk on his grandfather’s wartime service

Battlefield Tour. The Underground War – Tunnellers On The Western Front

Battlefield trip with Leger Holidays: The Underground War

The La Boisselle Study Group is offering one ticket on Leger Holiday’s WW1 Battlefield Tour: The Underground War – Tunnellers On The Western Front. This four day tour departs from the UK on 31 October 2013 and is offered with single supplement already paid.  Entrance fees to museums are also included. Full details can found via Leger’s website as shown above.

The tour is being offered via Ebay.  Please follow this link: EBAY or click the banner below.

Ebay – WW1 Battlefield Tour: The Underground War – Tunnellers On The Western Front

Your guide for this trip will be Leger Battlefields guide Iain McHenry who is also a founding member of the La Boisselle Study Group. As well as his work at La Boisselle Iain has been involved in archaeological projects at Vampire Farm, Zonnebeke and the search for the Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector at Mametz, both of which were shown at Channel 4 Time Team Specials.  He has a specialist knowledge of tunnellers and has recently completed a book on 177 Tunnelling Company, RE.

Our thanks to Alan Dawson at who very generously donated this prize.

Another report from Dutch television programme ‘Een Vandaag’ about the La Boisselle Project

Bart Hettema, a reporter for the show ‘Een Vandaag’ returned to La Boisselle in early July to discover the work that had taken place since his last visit in October 2011. Much of the video is in Dutch but there is an extended interview with Peter Barton and unseen footage from the 80ft level of tunnels. The video can be viewed below.

“The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars” BBC Four, 9pm Monday 20 May 2013

Our documentary, “The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars” will be broadcast at 9pm on BBC Four on Monday 20 May 2013. Written and presented by Peter Barton, the film follows the team as we explore the hidden labyrinth of the tunnel system at the Glory Hole, La Boisselle.

The film will also be shown on a number of occasions throughout the week. More details can be found on the BBC’s dedicated page:

“The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars” BBC Four, 9pm Monday 20 May 2013

Recent press coverage – “Beneath the Glory Hole & Unearthing the Past”: Industrial Fire Journal Winter 2012

Recent press coverage of our work at La Boisselle includes an article in winter’s edition of Industrial Fire Journal. It includes an interview with Kevin James, international training coordinator for world-renowned breathing apparatus manufacturer and LBSG sponsor Siebe Gorman on his time training team members on site in October. There is also a summary of the work conducted thus far. The magazine is available to read online via this link HERE or by clicking on the front page below. The article runs from pages 40-42.

A dedicated page on Siebe Gorman’s Proto breathing apparatus and the life-saving work of the specially trained rescue teams in the Great War will soon be added to our website.

“Beneath the Glory Hole & Unearthing the Past”: Industrial Fire Journal Winter 2013. Please click the image to read the article.

Fundraising Dinner at the Officer’s Mess, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst – 8 November 2012

On Thursday 8 November ninety-one guests gathered for a fundraising black tie dinner at the Officer’s Mess, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. During pre-dinner drinks in an upstairs ante-room artefacts from this year’s archaeology were on display along with a selection of maps, plans and books. There was also a ‘pop-up’ display on show, designed by Paul Hewitt and generously donated and printed by George Prové at Newvale Print.

The ante-room with ‘pop-up’ and archaeological artefacts on display

After a brief introductory talk by Peter Barton and Jeremy Banning we went downstairs to be treated to a delicious three-course dinner. Full regimental mess protocol was observed with a Loyal Toast to Her Majesty The Queen, a toast to fallen comrades and a minute’s silence.

Archaeological artefacts on display in the ante-room

There followed an hour’s illustrated presentation by Peter Barton and Jeremy Banning on the history of the Glory Hole at La Boisselle, tunnel warfare on site and the ongoing archaeological work; it was followed by many questions. The evening ended with an auction which was very generously supported. We would like to thank all of those who attended and made the evening such a memorable success.

Dinner guests seated in the Officer’s Mess

Our sincere thanks to the Commandant of Sandhurst, Major-General Timothy Evans, Giles Orpen-Smellie (The Sandhurst Foundation) and Paul McQuillan of Compass Group. We would like to express our gratitude to Richard Anderson (auctioneer extraordinaire), Rohit Tanna, Roy Murphy, Andrew Norton, Bill Gornall-King and Nick Mercer for their assistance in organising the evening and guests plus a million other kindnesses.

Peter Barton & Jeremy Banning’s after dinner presentation

Images from the 80ft level British tunnel system

The team have been working on site since 24 September and have gained access to the 80ft British tunnel system via W Shaft. There are three kilometres of tunnels accessible from this one shaft alone.

We are grateful to our volunteers for their help during this period – the work would not be possible without them. The site will be winterised over the weekend. Access to the site will not be possible until further notice.

Here are a few selected images. More will follow in due course. The website will be updated with details of May and October’s digs in the coming months.

The view looking south east along the lateral gallery from the foot of W Shaft. The tunnels are in a remarkable state of preservation. Exploration continues section by section in order to ascertain structural integrity in advance of archaeological survey.

Peter Barton in W2 mine chamber, 80ft below No Man’s Land. The floor was carpeted with sandbags.