Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Beamont-Hamel tunnels


Ralph J. Whitehead
 Share

Recommended Posts

I recall at least one previous thread that discussed the current search for tunnels in ‘Y’ Ravine. I also know of the archeological work being done where the new Thiepval visitor’s center is being built. I was wondering if anyone knows if the tunnels under Beaumont-Hamel might still exist.

In October 1914 a sentry from the 99th Reserve Regiment discovered a concealed opening inside of a cellar in the village. The pioneers opened it up and discovered a stairway leading 6-8 meters under the ground to a long tunnel. Additional side tunnels branched off of the main gallery. It was immediately put to use to quarter men from the regiment. It served them well as a safe and reasonably comfortable shelter even during the heaviest bombardments. The tunnels had apparentky been created by the villagers when mining for chalk.

Does anyone know if these still exist or if there is any record of their destruction?

Ralph

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Talking to some of the villagers, some still exist, while others were filled in just after the war.

The ones under the Y Ravine are certainly still there, but unlikely to be opened at the moment.

I did hear that there is a project in hand to look for the bell from Beaumont church, which (as I am sure you know!) was used as a gas alarm. It is believed it was 'buried' in one of the tunnels in 1918/19.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Paul, any ideas of what kind of method they were planning to use in order to find this bell? Metal locator or GPR is perhaps not a good idea as there is quite much metal in the ground...

Nils Fabiansson

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe that complex underground system of tunnels around many Somme villages date back hundreds of years. There were safe-havens when this part of northern France was invaded at various times. I was also told that many tunnels are very long and make their way to a vast underground chambers.

I either dreamt this or had few too many beers in the Three Pigeons Bar in Albert when somebody told me.

If I am slightly right, Perhaps, Paul Reed could verify it.

Cheers

Terry

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Terry, Considering the one tunnel I mentioned could house 250+ men and equipment and consisted of several large tunnels and chambers it is a reality and not a dream. I have references to similar tunnels in several other Somme villages, all pre-dating the war. Then you have the tunnels created by the Germans, one housed 300+ and another 1,000+ men. Both of these were located under Mouquet Farm and in the hillside near St. Pierre-Divion. I am sure some of these survived the war till the present.

When the monument to the missing was built over the old chateau grounds didn't the builders have a great deal of trouble with the ground giving way from old dugouts and tunnels? I seem to recall reading something about the extra work required to make the foundation secure.

Ralph

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They had the same problems with Mill Road cemetery I believe hence the gravestones laid flat.

Believe they are now setting them upright with extra "footings"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why are Gallipoli headstones different? They are square or nearly so and on a base near the ground, angled, not upright. I saw some in a cemetery undergoing maintenance and the bases are much longer than you would think, several feet I think though that makes no sense to me.

We will see if someone can beat Terry Denham to an answer!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry Paul!

The headstones to which you refer are known as Dutch Stools.

I have always been told that they were used because of the nature of the ground. The long base presumably keeps them stable. The concrete beam under a normal CWGC headstone is much larger than you would imagine for the same reason.

However, they are also widely used in the Far East and in Australia. I have just had a soldier added to the CWGC list who died in Australia and when CWGC sent me a photo of the headstone, I was surprised to see that it was a Dutch Stool although others in the cemetery were the common European style.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I always understood it was because of the possibility of earthquakes; the small squat block being more stable than the usual upright pattern.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Earthquakes are a problem, but thankfully they occur quite rarely. Torrential rain, flash-flooding and severe soil erosion, on the other hand are problems on Gallilpoli year after year, after year; witness the number of death in the trenches which were flooded in the storms of the winter of 1915.

The CWGC Information Sheet for The Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, states

"The design features which distinguish these cemeteries from other Commonwealth war cemeteries are the use of stone-faced pedestal grave markers instead of headstones, the walled cross feature instead of the free standing Cross of Sacrifice, and the rubble-walled ha-ha to channel flood water away from the cemeteries."

Although it does not actually say so in so many words with regard to the grave markers and the cross, I think that the problem of severe, annual erosion by flash-flooding was in fact the governing factor in the whole of the design of the cemeteries and not just that of the ha-ha feature.

As Paul said, despite the huge bases which the grave markers have, the problem of their instability in the soil of Gallipoli is so severe that regular maintainance is required in an on-going programme.

Regards

Michael D. R.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Also the religious emblems on the vast majority of headstones are less prominent on dutch stools than on headstones. This was a consideration when planning cemeteries in cultures where the dominant religion was not Christian. It's the reason why the Cross of Sacrifice is inscribed on a wall at the back of the Gallipoli cemeteries rather than erected as a freestanding item as the case on the Western Front.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I forgot to add that the Dutch Stool headstones used in the Far East etc are different to the extent that they have bronze plaques bearing the details rather than having them carved directly on to the stone as at Gallipoli.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I notice that the "dutch stool" headstones in Korea,commemmorating the Korean War dead have bronze plaques.Are these in the care of the CWGC?

If not ,who is the organisation looking after them to the same standard?

Dave.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Korean War graves are not the responsibility of the CWGC. They remain the responsibility of the MoD who arrange for their maintenance and upkeep.

CWGC advise on the construction of MoD cemeteries on occasions (as for the Falklands War) and so it is not surprising that there is a similarity of design etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe that complex underground system of tunnels around many Somme villages date back hundreds of years. There were safe-havens when this part of northern France was invaded at various times. I was also told that many tunnels are very long and make their way to a vast underground chambers.

I either dreamt this or had few too many beers in the Three Pigeons Bar in Albert when somebody told me.

If I am slightly right, Perhaps, Paul Reed could verify it.

Yes, its true that most villages in Northern France have some system of tunnels; the Germans mapped most of them during the war and actualy produced a publication listing all of them and mapping some of them - I quote from it in my book on Combles when describing the Catacombs there.

Here in Courcelette there were several tunnels, some of them leading to and from the Sugar Factory. Cellars/tunnels under Red Chateau (never rebuilt) were used as a Dressing Station by both sides and could house 3/400 men.

The Mouquet cellars are certainly still there, and once death duties etc have been sorted out in respect of the family that own it (the most recent owner died in 1999 and his son should be taking it on), it is possible the farm should be more open to the public. The current tennant isn't always welcoming!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The headstones to which you refer are known as Dutch Stools.

Terry D.

Can you spare a minute please to clarify a small point not covered by the CWGC Gallipoli info sheet: why are they called 'Dutch Stools?'

Guess: In English a Dutch Barn has no walls, these stools have no (visible) legs, therefore they are Dutch ?????

with thanks in advance

Michael D. R.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not really sure how they got their name but I have seen several pictures of Dutch stools (furniture that is) & they vary widely in design. I presume they originated in the Netherlands.

They all have four legs and are small and rectangular - more like a footstool or child's seat. I suppose someone thought the block headstones looked like this and the name stuck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...