DNA Tests help identify WW1 British Soldiers buried at The Glory Hole
A few years ago I had the honour to help out the La Boisselle Study Group (LBSG) with an archaeological dig at The Glory Hole – a small but incredibly dangerous sector of the Somme front line. The dig was centred around some tunnels and an old farm house, and I was lucky enough to be allowed to travel deep below the front line trenches and see for myself some of the British tunnels from the war. The dig was the subject of a BBC documentary – The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars and you can read my thoughts on my visit to the site here.
One thing I wasn’t able to talk publicly about (due to legal reasons) was the fact that the LBSG had uncovered the remains of British soldiers.
Associated artefacts such as badges and rifle markings indicated the first soldier belonged to the 10th Battalion of the Essex Regiment. LBSG historian Simon Jones quickly concluded that there was a strong likelihood that he was one of a group of eight soldiers buried alive as a result of the explosion of a massive German underground mine: in the early hours of the morning of 22 November 1915 their bombing post and dugout was engulfed by falling mine debris. This in itself isn’t so unusual – bodies are found quite regularly during archaeological digs across the Western Front. However, what made this story slightly unusual was that the eight soldiers identified by Simon Jones already had been identified as Killed in Action and had named gravestones in the nearby Albert Communal CWGC Cemetery. Yet, despite lots of research and desk-top ‘digging’ there seemed to be no concrete evidence of either the recovery of their bodies or any actual burial.
Thus started a fascinating and complex investigation that has taken over two years to complete and required the help of DNA tests to answer some of the questions. Rather than me re-write the story, the chaps at LBSG have eloquently described this fascinating journey over on their website – they have also posted a number of incredible photos from the dig. I strongly encourage you all to have a read!
Suffice to say I feel privileged to have been a tiny part of this amazing story.