Two of the actors in the new BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ First World War-set novel, Birdsong, went into one of the real tunnels beneath the Somme as part of their research.
Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Wraysford, and Joseph Mawle, who portrays Jack Firebrace, were given a tour of La Boisselle, which is at the heart of the Somme.
Their expert guide was Peter Barton, a member of an ongoing archaeological project at the site.
La Boisselle was the scene of intense fighting in 1916 and has remained largely untouched from the end of the war until its excavation last summer.
The tunnel that the two members of the Birdsong cast explored – known as the 1915 X Incline – was particularly important for them to see. Much of the wartime action of the novel, and TV adaptation, takes place in one of the claustrophobic and highly dangerous tunnels underneath no man’s land.
Tunnels were dug by both sides during the war, principally to place high explosive mines beneath the other’s trenches. It was perilous work; those constructing them were at constant risk of discovery.
Eddie and Joseph descended 30 feet into the chalk-lined tunnel, and were able to view an incredible remnant of one of those who had built it. Written in pencil at one place on the wall is a short poem; 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.
On having read these words, Eddie said, ‘I was so moved by the personal message the unknown soldier wanted to convey that I copied the poem down and kept it.’
View photos and footage of the Birdsong actors’ visit on the La Boisselle Study Group’s website.