If you drive through the villages and surrounding countryside today you’ll be struck by its subtle beauty and light. The similarities of England are comforting. The hills are undulating and the woods look inviting. The villages look old and are charming (even though they have all been rebuilt since 1918).
The Sunken Roads of Northern France
On the 1st of July 1916 the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers were photographed in a sunken road, just before their attack. By the end of the day this Battalion had lost (killed) 163 men, 312 had been wounded and 11 were missing, all within a short distance from this road.
A sunken road is a road or track which is deeper than the land on either side. The sunken roads were heavily usedfor agricultural and it could have been the farmer who constantly dug and cleared the roads that pushed up the soil banks around the roads. Other theories for how the roads were formed include erosion by water and the digging of double banks to mark the boundaries of estates.
These roads become crucial for the troops of all sides during the warfare of the First World War.
They provided cover for the men and allowed for shelter on long marches. They became the scenes for many battles and the roads were witness to large numbers of causalities.
This is me standing in the same sunken road by Beaumont Hamel.
"The hollow or sunken road and the steep emblai, or lynchet, are everywhere. One may say that no quarter of a mile of the whole battlefield is without one or other of them. The sunken roads are sometimes very deep. Many of our soldiers, on seeing them, have thought that they were cuttings made, with great labour, through the chalk." John Masefield from The Old Front Line
The Lochnagar Crater 2013
The Craters near La Boisselle and Beaumont-Hamel are well documented but only two remain in evidence today. The large crater called Y-Sap was filled in when farmers wanted to reclaim the field.
The bigest crater at La Boisselle is now called the Lochnagar Crater. On the 1st July 1978 Richard Dunning was handed the 'deeds' to the Lochnagar Crater in an informal ceremony at the site. Interestingly, in 1972 Mr Dunning was reading John Masefield’s, The Old Front line when he must have had an epiphany and decided he wanted to own a bit of the Somme Battlefield.
The crater gets its name because in 1915, when the British troops took over the trenches from the French Army at La Boisselle, there was a battalion called the 7th Gordon’s, formed mainly from Deeside. An officer went round naming all the trenches after familiar landmarks and towns. Lochnagar was the name of the mountain not far from Balmoral.