News

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: http://www.associationciras.fr/2014/01/26/fin-des-fouilles-au-glory-hole-sur-fond-de-brouille/. 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 http://ww1-2tours.co.uk/ 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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01skvnh

“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.

Recent media coverage of the project

Back in April we were joined on site by a press delegation who were visiting the Somme as part of the Historial de la Grande Guerre’s ‘The Missing of the Somme’ new exhibition. Further details can be found by clicking on the link: http://en.historial.org/Exhibitions/Exhibitions/The-Missing-of-the-Somme/Major-new-exhibition-at-Historial

One of the journalists was Martin Mace from ‘Britain at War’ magazine. June’s edition of the magazine includes a 30 page pullout special on the Missing of the Somme which includes a five page article on underground warfare at La Boisselle and our group’s work.  There is also  an article entitled ‘The Worst of the Worst’ (referring  to casualties sustained on the 1st July 1916) focussing on the 34th Division’s attack at La Boisselle.

Another visitor that day was Derek Johnson from ITV Meridian News who arranged to come back to La Boisselle at the end of May’s archaeological dig. Derek visited us on 16 May and gained access to the newly opened tunnel entrance (W Incline) whilst also witnessing the ongoing work on the Granathof. His story and news report videos can be viewed by clicking on the following links:

Part 1 video and story: http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/2012-06-06/time-tunnel/

Part 2 video: http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/story/2012-06-06/time-tunnels-of-the-somme/

Discovery of two French soldiers

During the archaeological excavations of May 2012 two sets of human remains were uncovered near the south-eastern corner of the ‘Granathof’, the ruins of an old courtyard farm that before the war had long been present at the site. Whilst most of the farm is now a crater field, early surveys suggested that a substantial portion of this highly symbolic structure might still survive, protected by the fallout from mine explosions (see separate section on the Ilot/Granathof).

Granathof - an early French trench driven through the stable block. The brick stable floor is evident. Both sets of human remains were uncovered in this area.

The first set of remains was found near an early trench that had been driven through the stable block; unfortunately this man was unidentifiable. The small collection of bones was carefully excavated and removed by a qualified archaeologist. No identifying artefacts, other than French line regiment buttons, were found with the remains.

The second soldier was found by Peter Barton during work on the walls of the adjacent farmhouse. There was present an 1881-model identity disc which carried the name ‘BIDEAU’. The following casualty form confirms his name as François Marie Bideau of the 118th Infantry Regiment, killed at La Boisselle on 27 December 1914. The disc also bears his call-up year and recruiting region, with the regimental number on the reverse side. The region is Tréguier, a port in Brittany. Found alongside were buttons, a toothbrush and small pieces of leather – possibly from personal equipment. It required five days to complete the exhumation.

1881-model identity disc carrying the name ‘BIDEAU’. Parts are corroded.

The reverse side bears his recruiting region, Tréguier, a port in Brittany.

Casualty form of François Marie Bideau, 118th Infantry Regiment

The War Diaries of the French 118th Infantry Regiment and 11th Army Corps, and also the history of the 13th Wurttemberg Pioneers enable the events of 27 December to be pieced together. After the loss of the farm on Christmas Eve, the Germans tried to retake the position on 27th with a grenade attack by infantry and pioneers. Determined to hold the line, the French had amassed a large amount of artillery. The farm buildings were at this time held by the 3rd Company of the 118th Regiment commanded by Lieutenant de Castel. After a heavy bombardment by trench mortars, the Germans advanced from their trenches some 60 metres away with fixed bayonets. According to the war diary of the 118th Regiment, the Germans came forward with right hands raised, signifying surrender, until nearing the French some amongst their ranks threw melinite bombs. The attack was repulsed at bayonet point, but was followed by another heavy German bombardment, which itself preceded another grenade attack half an hour later. The French then bombarded La Boisselle and the German artillery batteries, reporting that this fire combined with that of the infantry defeated the assault. De Castel’s Company was now very tired, having held the position for three days. It was therefore relieved by a company of the 65th Regiment later in the day. Sandbags, logs, improvised grenades and coils of wire known as ‘réseaux Brun’ were brought up to reinforce the farm. The German fire gradually lessened and by the end of the day quietened down. Losses to the 118th were one officer wounded and approximately forty casualties to other ranks. Amongst the German casualties were two pioneer officers killed.

Francois Marie Bideau

Several coils of wire were recovered during the excavation. Soon after the discovery of the remains of François Bideau, Claudie Llewellyn-Lejeune, one of the Glory Hole’s proprietors, made contact with the family in Brittany and also the Mairie of the soldier’s home town. François Bideau’s son served in the Second World War; he was killed in 1940. Other family members are in the process of being traced. Further information will appear as soon as it becomes available.

Progress Report on Archaeological Dig: 30 April- 16 May 2012

We began work on Monday 30 April, erecting two new tents to be used for storing archaeological finds and to act as a workshop.  Further clearance work continued at the foot of X Incline (1915).   Our main focus has been on a larger sondage between X Incline, the Granathof  back towards W Adit. Topsoil was removed over a 50m x 30m area encompassing W Incline, Scone Street and Quémart Street. This process revealed clearly the outline of trenches. Work has begun on opening a section of Scone Street as well as clearing around the covered entrance to W Incline.

Volunteers working on the Granathof

Brick floor of the Stable Block - Granathof

A concerted effort began on uncovering what we believed was a surviving corner of the Granathof farm.  Results have been spectacular with walls and a brick floor of the stable block uncovered. Using French maps sourced from archival research we have discovered one of the first trenches, dug through the stable block to the forward French trench. Many artefacts including large quantities of French and German small arms ammunition have been found at this spot.

Our efforts underground have been equally rewarding. Over the first week we have cleared an estimated 40 metric tonnes of chalk spoil from W Shaft chamber. The duckboard floor laid on W Adit has been extended further. Working in Petzl harnesses under strict safety requirements we have cleared the spoil from around the 50ft vertical W Shaft. As this will be our main access point into the underground system we have endeavoured to make this area as safe as possible. Using the expertise of key sponsor, Danny Gunner a bespoke steel safety cage has been built which which sits over the shaft.  Bolted and welded together, there is now a secure area with steel mesh floor in which to work from. Work will continue this week installing electric winches and a safety cage in which to stand under when at the shaft foot. We will also begin the delicate process of assessing the integrity of the vertical shaft walls and, if safe to do so, clearing up to 12 feet of spoil from the shaft foot.

Spoil clearance in W Shaft Chamber. Over 40 metric tonnes have been removed this week.

Clearing spoil from area around W Shaft. Steel beams and timbers cover the 50 ft shaft.

We have welcomed hundreds of visitors. Many have been very generous in leaving donations. We would like to thank them for their help and for those who have donated via PayPal. If you are interested in helping us financially then please visit the Donate page. Our public thanks to the dedicated volunteers who have given up their time to help us with our work. Further thanks to Phil Giles from Pan 3Sixty who has been with us from the start, taking panoramic images above and below ground. These will be made freely available via our website.

We will be joined by Meridian TV on 16 May who are filming for an extended news piece to be broadcast later that day.

A full report of the archaeological work will be made available via the website upon completion of the dig. If you are planning on visiting the Somme battlefields before 16 May then please come and visit us.

Selected other images

Looking vertically down W Shaft. Approximately 12 feet of spoil needs clearing from the foot before access can be gained into the lateral tunnel.

Clay pipe and corked glass bottle containing a small drop of rum. Both items, in a remarkable state of preservation were found in W Shaft chamber.

Peter Barton standing above W Shaft

Open Day – 10 April 2012

Despite poor weather our open day on 10 April was very well attended. It is estimated that there were at least three hundred visitors, many of whom had travelled from the Netherlands. We also noticed visitors from the UK, Germany, Belgium and Australia. We would like to thank all of those who visited and made a donation towards the continuance of our work. The site will be open to visitors during May’s working period. Please see http://www.laboisselleproject.com/access-open-days/for further details. We look forward to welcoming you on site then.

Jonathan Porter shows a group around site

At the suspected corner of the Granathof

Visitors queue to visit W Adit

Richard Porter explaining about the digging of W Adit

We are still seeking donations to help us with our work. Please see our fundraising video and visit the Donate page: http://www.laboisselleproject.com/donate/