Those who have read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes will have learned of miners being used in WWI. I certainly knew nothing of this activity until I read that book. The miners’ job was to dig tunnels several metres below ground towards the enemy lines. As they neared their objective, silence was necessary because the enemy was listening. Bayonets were used to prise out flints buried in the clay and helpers would catch the flints as they fell. A chamber at the end of the tunnels was then excavated and packed with masses of explosives to be detonated in the hope of devastating the enemy defences. This seemed incredible to me when I read about it.
Just a few kilometres to the west of Albert lies the small village of La Boiselle and site of “La Grande Mine”. This is the Lochnagar Memorial Crater, a privately owned enormous hole in the ground left by the detonation of one of the WWI tunnelling activities. To the owner’s credit, it is free to see. The detonation of this mine and a second of its kind was followed up by yet more canon-fodder troops being ordered to walk towards the German line mostly to their deaths. Some of the infantry took shelter from the machine-gun fire in the mine’s crater. Like many memorials in this vicinity, it is a spine-tingling sight. Having read about it, I’m glad I’ve seen these remains.
This is our last full day in France, which may be a good job because I don’t know how much more evidence of man’s insanity our nerves can take. Tomorrow we make for Calais and the ferry back onto home soil. It would be good to think that we’ll be returning to normality but recent history is making normality somewhat uncertain. Mercifully, it should not be as uncertain as it was for the poor saps who were forced to sacrifice themselves in the European carnage, parts one and two, of the 20th century. The western world is, however, suffering a potentially dangerous nationalistic backlash, of late.