Buried for over ninety years: the men that time forgot

23 November 2011 | Nigel Steel

French archaeologists working near Carspach in Alsace, France recently announced the discovery of 21 German bodies buried since the end of the First World War.

The men were all killed in 1918 while serving in the 94th Reserve Infantry Regiment (Reserve Infanterie Regiment 94), raised in the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.

The bodies were originally found at the end of last year during a road building project, entombed in a tunnel 6 metres beneath the surface.  The full tunnel – 1.8 metres high and over 100 metres long – is believed to have held up to 500 soldiers.

It was constructed with several exits, electric light and heating, and was known as the ‘Killian Shelter’.  Its size is characteristic of the deep tunnels and underground workings that were built up and down the length of the former Western Front by both sides during the war’s closing years.

The 21 German dead were part of a larger section of 34 who were all killed in March 1918 when a heavy shell exploded above the tunnel, causing  part of it to cave in.

Thirteen bodies were recovered at the time, but the rest were left in the remains of the tunnel.  All of the bodies are believed to have been identified.

The archaeologists have described the tunnel where the men were found as being ‘a bit like Pompeii’.  The speed with which it collapsed meant that everything inside it at the time is still there, including uniforms, bottles, wallets and prayer beads.

Even the skeleton of a goat has been identified, assumed to be a source of fresh milk for the soldiers.

The bodies will be handed over to the German War Graves Commission for burial.