By lex, on June 10th, 2011
Between July and November 1916, Commonwealth and French troops engaged the Kaiser’s forces in the disastrously bloody Battle of the Somme, a campaign that cost the British army 420,000 men killed for the temporary gain of two miles territory – a cost of two men per centimeter. The British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day alone.
The little French town of La Boisselle sat directly athwart the main line of advance. Over the years of static warfare leading up to the battle, mines and counter-mines were tunneled by the opposing forces in an attempt to breach the trenches that characterized the war on the Western Front. One collapsed in November 1915, having run into a German mine that touched off a huge store of explosives. Twenty-eight British colliers died there and have been entombed ever since, the site remained in private hands and untouched.
After six years of painstaking paper research by fellow historian Simon Jones, the researchers had built up detailed knowledge of the individual tragedies involved.
They knew the exact locations and depths at which each man was lost, the circumstances of their deaths, and almost all of their names.
And yet it was only when the owner of the site chose to open it up to research that they were able to finally connect the stories to the place.
The Lejeune family, who have owned the land since the 1920s, have a deep affinity with the site and have known many British veterans who served at La Boisselle.
But it was only after visiting the team’s excavations at nearby Mametz last May that they decided to offer their land up for historical study.
Archaeologists, historians and their French and German partners now aim to preserve the area – named the Glory Hole by British troops – as a permanent memorial to the fallen.
Less than a hundred years gone, these men lived and died in world that has changed almost immeasurably.
These were hard-working men of the earth, who labored and toiled at great hardship and in continual danger. I wonder what they would think of what their grandchildren have wrought.