Tag Archives: La Boisselle Study Group

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

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

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.

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.


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.

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.

ARCHAEOLOGY The Battle of the Somme resurfaced – Article in the Courrier Picard

We have been heartened by the reaction of the local residents and were pleased to read the following report in the Courrier Picard dated 18 June 2011: ARCHÉOLOGIE La bataille de la Somme refait surface

It covered the launch of the project and made reference to our colleague Daniel Deschamps of GIEOS, the specialist intervention group who study underground structures. He called the site “the most symbolic site for tunnel warfare”.

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

IWM’s new Centenary Project website reports on La Boisselle project

The Imperial War Museum’s new Centenary Project website picked up on the news of the project.  This newly formed resource will highlight centenary events and resources from around the world. Writing on the news section of their website http://www.1914.org/ Nigel Steel’s article entitled “Digging out the truth of the Somme” covers the basic facts of the story. It also has a good recent panoramic photograph of the Glory Hole.

The article can be found here: http://www.1914.org/news/digging-out-the-truth-of-the-somme/

Simon Jones interviewed by Canadian radio

The news of the project had crossed the Atlantic to Canada and Simon Jones gave an interview to CBC Radio’s esteemed ‘As It Happens’ show. His seven minute interview begins 16:35 into Part Two and can be listened to by clicking on the image below.