Digging out the truth of the Somme

15 June 2011 | Nigel Steel

The mine scarred and shell pitted ground of the Glory Hole in La Boisselle. The ground was recently cleared of trees and bushes by local people to enable the first steps of the archaeology to begin.

La Boisselle stands at the heart of the Somme. On 1 July 1916 British troops battered valiantly against the German defences surrounding the village. But it was days before they were driven out.

Today, La Boisselle is one of the most heavily visited sites along the old Western Front. People flock to see the breathtaking form of the ‘Lochnagar’ crater just outside the village.

Between the crater and the village there are a couple of hectares of rough ground, still cut up by the trenches where the Germans first resisted the French, then the British. In an ongoing, bitter fight, all three nations attacked each other repeatedly, both on the surface and underground. The deeper holes in the fields are mine craters. Smaller than Lochnagar, the sheer number shows how intense the duel was. In recognition of what went on there, the area became known as the ‘Glory Hole’.

On Friday 10 June 2011, a group of British historians began a detailed archaeological excavation of the Glory Hole. The La Boisselle Study Group plans to continue in a series of steps for up to ten years. Working closely with the local French people, particularly the owner of the land and the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Peronne, the team intend to unearth both the old front lines that ran through the Glory Hole and the extensive tunnel network that still survives in the chalk under the surface.

The mine scarred and shell pitted ground of the Glory Hole in La Boisselle. The area was recently cleared of trees and bushes by local people to enable the first steps of the archaeology to begin.

The first steps began last week with the geophysics needed to understand more clearly the physical construction of the area. Magnetometry will locate any dangerous shells and other ordnance buried in the fields. But it will also trace out the front line and support trenches by identifying the metal used to hold them up. Once the lines are marked out, carefully researched references to the locations of the tunnel entrances will then allow this hidden story of the war to be revealed.

The work of the La Boisselle Study Group will lead to a new and deeper understanding of this pivotal location on the Somme battlefield. It will also offer all those visitors to nearby Lochnagar an even sharper insight into the nature of the First World War in this small corner of France.

For more details visit: http://www.laboisselleproject.com/

Find out more about the fighting on the Somme from those who were there in IWM Voices of the First World War Podcast 23: The first day of the Somme.