A section of the battlefield that was fought over on the first day of the Battle of the Somme has been reconstructed ahead of the 90th anniversary marking that day.

Kirsty Nichol and Steve Litherland from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity have been working with members of the Somme Association and No Man’s Land on the excavation and reconstruction of parts of the trench system in Thiepval Wood ahead of the forthcoming opening.

The Somme Association bought the wood in 2003 - the site where the 36th Ulster Division fought during the Battle of the Somme. Grenades, unexploded shells and bodies lie buried and the criss-cross scars of the trenches had remained largely untouched since the Battle.

The group received a grant of £400, 000 from the government to purchase the site and began reconstructing the trenches. Almost 6, 000 soldiers lost their lives there and the Somme Association had always intended to preserve the wood by recreating the war-time layout and in opening it to the public.

Kirsty explains how they went about it: “The network of trenches survives well on the ground within the wood. Evidence for their construction and repair found during excavation was used to inform reinstatement of parts of the site using chicken wire and sandbags. Due to heavy shelling the underlying chalk is extremely fractured, however the sides of the trenches themselves remain remarkably stable.”

Finds from the excavations include personal items such as shaving equipment, bully beef, chocolate and cigarette tins, as well as spent and unfired ammunition, all of which help to illustrate contemporary accounts of life in the trenches.

“It is hoped that the trench reconstructions will help visitors to the site visualise the landscape of the Somme battlefield which was crisscrossed with myriad trench systems belonging to both sides.”

Around 3, 500 attendees are expected at the official opening on Saturday, where the Duke of Gloucester, Honorary President of the Somme Association, will attend the commemorations for the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and open the Visitors Centre at Thiepval Wood.


Notes to Editors:

No Man’s Land was formed in 2003 to draw together a team of people who have been involved in Great War Archaeology at various sites in Northern France and Belgium.

It comprises a number of full time professional archaeologists and historians, in addition to several specialists in particular fields. Their mission, to promote the investigation, understanding and promotion of the Great War through archaeology.

Kirsty Nichol is Project Manager at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham.

Image of Gas Goggles kind courtesy of Martin Brown (MOD archaeologist). High Res version available on request from Anna Mitchell (Email: a.i.mitchell@bham.ac.uk)

Further Media information

Anna Mitchell – Press Officer, University of Birmingham

Tel: 0121 414 6029

Mob: 07920 593946

Email: a.i.mitchell@bham.ac.uk