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.
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.
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.
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
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.
In June 2011 we were joined on site by Eddie Redmayne and Joseph Mawle, the two actors cast to play Stephen Wraysford and Jack Firebrace in the Working Title adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ novel ‘Birdsong’, a book which has come to occupy a permanent and celebrated place in First World War fiction. Filming in Hungary was yet to start.
LBSG member Peter Barton was Historical Consultant for the production. Because much of the film’s action takes place on the Somme battlefields (Beaumont Hamel) he invited the producers to visit La Boisselle to gain an understanding of the environment and conditions faced by tunnellers working beneath the Picardy battlefields. On Eddie and Joseph’s arrival the nature of surface and subterranean warfare at the Glory Hole was explained.
Peter Barton and Simon Jones show Joseph and Eddie the 179 Tunnelling Company mine plan
Peter Barton explaining the mine plans - there are up to eight kilometres of tunnels on site - all dug by hand
Trenches were flagged out, and shafts and inclines marked. Guided by Peter, they then went underground through the crown hole that gave access to the 1915 X Incline. They descended to a depth of about 30 feet, reaching the site of the now celebrated poem written in pencil on the chalk roof:
If in this place you are detained Don’t look around you all in vain But cast your net and you shall find That every cloud is silver lined… Still
We were delighted to show the actors the site and explain some of the difficulties and dangers endured by the tunnellers. The visit was filmed by LBSG member Mike Fox BSC; some of this footage may appear on the Birdsong DVD.
Speaking with Claudie Llewellyn, one of the owners of the Glory Hole
Eddie and Joseph at the collapse providing access to 1915 X Incline
The experience had a powerful influence on both men. In recent interviews Eddie Redmayne revealed that he wrote the poem, which he described as “hope in the most horrific of circumstances”, on the cover of his script as an inspiration for the role, and as a reminder of the tunnellers and their work in the Glory Hole at La Boisselle.
The following articles mention the actors’ visits to La Boisselle in June:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Modern aerial images of the Glory Hole site and Lochnagar mine crater, some with trench lines overlaid are now available to view here: https://www.laboisselleproject.com/aerial-photographs/. Once relevant permissions have been obtained we are planning on adding wartime aerials of La Boisselle as well as sections from British panoramas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.