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.

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