This section covers news and information relating to the battlefields of WW1 in France and Belgium. I would welcome any news items to be included. Contact me at the usual email address.

[email protected]

News From The WW1 Battlefields.


The following ceremonies have been announced for 1st July 2004:

Lochnagar Mine Crater, La Boisselle - 7.30am

Thiepval Memorial - 10.30am

Ulster Tower - 2.30pm

Newfoundland Park, Beaumont Hamel - 3.30pm (arrive by 3pm latest)

Battlefield Visitors Centre - Drop-In Centre: As usual I will be running my annual information centre. Once again it will be in the shop area of Delville Wood Museum, Longueval. I will have a large array of free tourist information on the WW1 battlefields, be on hand to offer any advice or help, and have 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' available for consultation - come and look up your army ancestors who died in WW1!

This will be open on the following days: Wednesday 30th June and Thursday 1st July.


The centre is due to open to the public as part of the 1st July ceremonies this year. While it will not entirely be finished, the doors will open to the public and the shop and toilets will be available. It will properly open at full capacity in the Autumn.


The construction work on the new Thiepval Visitors Centre started in mid-July 2003. During the early stages of laying the foundations, the bodies of five German soldiers were found - sadly unidentified. Some of the work was filmed by the BBC for a forthcoming documentary about 'Birdsong', which will be narrated by William Hague MP, former leader of the Conservative Party. The centre should open in July or November 2004.


The following ceremonies have been announced for 1st July 2003:

Lochnagar Mine Crater, La Boisselle - 7.30am

Thiepval Memorial - 10.30am

Ulster Tower - 2.30pm

Newfoundland Park, Beaumont Hamel - 3.30pm (arrive by 3pm latest)

Battlefield Visitors Centre - Drop-In Centre: As usual I will be running my annual information centre. Once again it will be in the shop area of Delville Wood Museum, Longueval. I will have a large array of free tourist information on the WW1 battlefields, be on hand to offer any advice or help, and have 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' available for consultation - come and look up your army ancestors who died in WW1!

This will be open 1pm - 5.45pm on the following days: Sunday 29th June, Monday 30th June and Tuesday 1st July.

Please note the Shop and Museum at Delville Wood will be open exceptionally on Monday 30th June from 1pm-5.45pm ONLY.


A French First World War Society (A.R.H.A.M.) in conjunction with the village of Saint-Venant is organising an exhibition to commemorate the 85th Anniversary of the Battle of the Lys. Entitled 'The Battle of the Lys 1918 - or the history of a Forgotten Battle', it will run in the Salle Birgy at Saint-Venant from 9th-13th April and will be open from 09.00-17.00 every day. Entrance is free.

Postscript - I went to visit this excellent exhibition last weekend and met several members of ARHAM. It was a well thought out display, with superb maps and photographs - many of which I hadn't seen before. I hope that ARHAM will organise some more events connected with this forgotten battlefield.

Members of ARHAM at the St Venant Exhibition, April 14th 2003.

AHRAM Website: ARHAM Website


" All who know Mesen well (or Messines as it is known to the French) will be saddened to learn of the death, on 23 February 2003 of Albert Ghekiere, Church Warden of St Nicholas Church, Mesen.

Albert was the instigator and promoter of the Peace Bells project, which became his life’s work.

Countries whose armies fought in that part of the Salient, regiments, schools and individual families have been among the bells’ sponsors. The late Queen Elisabeth the Queen Mother presented the funding for the London-Scottish Regiment bell personally to Albert. Another bell has been sponsored by the WFA. The flag of each sponsoring country is flown behind the high altar.

The bells ring every 15 minutes. Many of the songs that they play have been chosen by each bell’s sponsor(s), which is why you will hear familiar songs such as “Wild rose of the Mountains” (Scotland) or “Danny Boy” (Ireland) ringing out over the surrounding countryside.

Albert undertook this Herculean work in memory of those who had died on the Salient and as an appeal for reconciliation in the world. Before illness sadly intervened to cut short his labours, Albert had succeeded in installing 58 bells, making it the largest such carillon in Belgium. A complete carillon for the church would be 61 bells. Hopefully, others will complete Albert’s work. By the way, the last time there was a complete carillon in St. Nicholas was in 1793. That year the French revolutionaries took the bells down and brought them to Armentières, where they were melted down to make cannons.

For those who have not been to Mesen, I would urge you to visit the church to see for yourself the magnum opus of this extraordinary and dedicated man. Shortly before his death, Albert informed me that the President of Germany had awarded him the Order of Merit for his work. At Albert’s funeral mass the Ambassador of Germany formally presented the honour, by placing the Order of Merit on Albert’s coffin.

St. Nicholas church was rebuilt after the Great War on the pattern of the former abbey church. The candelabrum and wall lighting were made by Herr Otto Meyer, a 1914-1918 soldier from Hildesheim Germany. Adolf Hitler was billeted in the church crypt during the Great War and he made a number of watercolour drawings of the church.

Albert was also curator of the war museum in Mesen town hall for many years. The late Rose Coombs justly described this museum, in her book “Before endeavours Fade”, as “small but excellent”.

Article submitted by WFA member Catherine Hennessy, Brussels. Our thanks to her for bringing us this sad news. The Western Front Association extends its sympathy to Albert's family."



For the forthcoming period around Armistice Day there are a number of events on the Western Front Battlefields:


At the Newfoundland Park, Beaumont Hamel, Somme, on Saturday 9th November at 11.00 am. Arrive by 10.30am.


I understand there will be some form of service at Thiepval at 11.00am on 11th November. No further details available at this time.


As usual there will be a special service at the Menin Gate at 11.00am and Special Last Post that evening. I am awaiting full details from the Last Post Committee and will post when I have them.


Display of photos, militaria and memorabilia connected with the Great War at the Town Hall, Place Faidherbe, Bapaume from Saturday 9th November - Monday 11th November. Open from 0900-12.00 and 14.00-17.00. For further information telephone 03 21 07 05 01.


The Association for Battlefield Archaeology in Flanders is organising a series of events in the village of Gheluvelt (now Geluveld) in Flanders from 31st October. This is will include an exhibition from 1st-11th November (entrance 2 € per person) and conference about Battlefield Archaeology on 9th November (15 € per person). For further information see the website:


As part of a general festival in locations connected with the Great War, a French history group is organising a number of events in key towns and locations. Most events feature the French historian Pierre Miquel and a film by Jean-Marc Surcin "Les derniers de la der des ders". This event will arrive in Albert (Somme) on Tuesday 26th November at 20.30 in Theatre du Jeu de Paume, in the main square near the town hall. All events will be in French. For further details see the website connected with this project:


At a 'book launch' and 'sound and lights' show at the Menin Gate on Sunday 15th September 2002, the Belgian poet Lanoye made the following remark:

“ ‘Dulce est decorum est pro patria morum’ is latin” said Lanoye, “ ‘it is good and sweet to die for your country’ says that poem. As we are in fact standing on British soil and again a war is threatening I dedicate willingly this poem to Tony Blair and George Bush.”

This has been greeted with a great deal of dissatisfaction on the WFA Great War Forum, and we at the Old Front Line total deplore both the event and the sentiments made given in the context - the location - in which they were made. The Great War battlefields are not a theme park and the dignity of those of all sides whom sites such as the Menin Gate remember should be preserved at all times.

If you wish to protest against the use of the Menin Gate in this way contact the head of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Ypres, Mr Jeremy Gee OBE:

[email protected]

For photos of what the event looked like see Sad Event at the Menin Gate page elsewhere on this site.


Tom Morgan reported via his website, Hell Fire Corner and the WFA Discussion Forum that the Somme airport had been scrapped. He referred to an Australian newspaper account which read:


France's decision to abandon plans for an international airport in the Somme region was a victory for the memory of Australian and Commonwealth soldiers who gave their lives in the fight for freedom, Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and Minister for Veterans' Affairs Danna Vale said today.

The Ministers welcomed the announcement by French Transport Minister Gilles De Robien that the Chaulnes district in the Somme was no longer being considered as a site for a new airport. The proposed development zone had included a number of war cemeteries, including Commonwealth cemeteries containing the war graves of 61 Australians killed during the two world wars.

Instead, M. De Robien said a parliamentary committee would be set up to investigate the broader question of the future of France's airports.

"Australia and the other Commonwealth nations that fought in France have strongly opposed any development that might disturb the graves of our war dead," Minister Anderson said.

"Veterans and the wider community have added their voice to the Australian Government in speaking out against this proposal and I am delighted that the French Government has withdrawn this plan."

The Deputy Prime Minister met the French Veterans' Affairs Minister in April, to personally present Australia's opposition to the airport development.

Minister Vale said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which represents Australia's interests in the preservation of graves on the Western Front, also had continued to vigorously press the position that Australian and Commonwealth war graves should be left undisturbed.

"This is marvellous news and highlights the deep respect that still is held for the thousands of Australian and Allied servicemen and women who served during the two world wars," Minister Vale said.

"The Australian Government will closely monitor the work of the new parliamentary committee, which is due to report later this year. Australian veterans can rest assured that we will be making sure that our war graves continue to be respected," Minister Vale said.


The battlefield of Belleau Wood, near Chateau Thierry, is another battlefield under threat. SNCF are threatening to push a new TGV line (high speed train link) through the area, and right across the wood itself. The wood has remained untouched since the US Marines fought there in 1918, and this previously unspoilt area would be lost forever. At the moment Old Front Line does not know of any protest groups, but we hope to keep you informed via the site.

Thanks to Paul Guthrie for this information.


In the Somme battlefields area, 10,736 war graves are threatened with destruction due to the third airport plan. Help us to save them, and join the demonstration against this project. This will be on Monday April 27 afternoon @ 2 : 30 pm at Fouquescourt.

Source: Olivier Debourge via email.


The Flemish Minister of the Interior has decided that some inquiries and research must be done before considering to protect the whole site of “ Pilckem Ridge”. This job will be undertaken on one side by the Institute for the Archaeological Patrimony (department concerning archaeology) and a team of international military historians concerning the history. Afterwards, having considered the reports of both instances, the Minister will decide as to the need to protect the area.

Source: Jacky Platteeuw via email.


News has reached the Old Front Line that the plans for the proposed Somme Airport have been changed. The whole complex will now be moved south, so that now even more CWGC cemeteries will be affected: Fouquescourt British Cemetery and Warvillers Churchyard Extension among them. This will affect casualties not only from Britain, but from Australia, Canada and South Africa.


The Courier Picard, local newspaper to the Somme area, reported today that French International Footballer, Eric Cantona, will star in a new film about the Great War, Play The Game. The film, by Stéphane Barbarto and Sam Kaye, will see Cantona take the role of Victor Raboul, a liaison officer who served with the 8th East Surreys on the Somme in 1916. It will follow his friendship with Captain Billie Neville, whose men kicked footballs as they went into the attack on Montauban on 1st July 1916. Neville was killed that day, and is buried in Carnoy British Cemetery. The event became famous throughout the world, and was used as propaganda by both sides! Filming will begin shortly, and will cost an estimated 152 000 €. The well known Dominique Zanardi, of Le Tommy Café in Pozières is involved in the project and parts of the film will be made in his reconstructed trenches.

For further information and to follow the progress of the film, see the official web site at:


During some renovation works near Passchendaele, the bodies of three Canadian soldiers were found. The bodies were exhumed by The Diggers and remains passed to the local authorities, who in turn will pass them to the CWGC. Although no identification has been found, one soldier had three gold teeth and the collar badges of 3rd Canadian Infantry. This unit made an attack near here on 6th November 1917 during which Cpl C.F.Barron won the Victoria Cross. Further details are on The Diggers web site, including photographs.

Source: email and


You may have heard about the extension plans of the motorway A 19. If these plans become reality it means that one of the last surviving WW I battlefields in the Salient will be cut in two by this new motorway. The route would go straight through the Pilckem Ridge battlefield where on April 22nd the first gas attack took place. It is important that this place is preserved for future generations.
 At the moment no final decision has been taken but surely it won't last much longer before that will happen.
In case you wish, just like we do, that this battlefield stays untouched and preserved for the future, may I ask you to send a message to the following address in which you enter  your protest.
[email protected]
This person, who works for the village of Langemark, will collect all protest and present it to the minister involved, hoping that this will help influencing the decision not to go ahead with the present plans.
Thanks in advance for your help in this matter.
Best wishes,
Charlotte Cardoen-Descamps
[email protected]


The cemeteries that were closed as a result of Foot & Mouth Disease have all now re-opened and there are no further restrictions on visits.



As with the majority of projects like this one, the timetable seems to be continually slipping. However             now that we have an architect and have all round agreement that the official opening will take place on             1st July 2003, we only have to fill in the intervening construction dates. This we will do when the                    project goes out to tender following the detailed ground survey.

Source: Nils Fabiansson via email.


December 2001 :Proposed Motorway Extension - Ypres (2)

Another battlefield is at risk according to a letter in today's Times, by the eminent military cartographer, Peter Chasseaud, who writes that a planned motorway extension to the Kortrijk to Ieper (Ypres) road threatens the Pilckem Ridge and the site of the first German gas attack of 1915. His solution is worth repeating :- 'There should be a European policy on such historic sites. We could follow the American example and give them protected status.'

Robert Pike

From: via email.

December 2001: Proposed Motorway Extension - Ypres

On 3 December of this year, the Flemish Government agreed upon extending the A19 motorway coming from Coutrai (A19) to Ypres, to the coast. This motorway now ends somewhere between St Jan (Sint Jean) and St Juliaan (Sint Julien), North of Wieltje, at the foot of Pilckem Ridge.The extension has been a hot issue in the area for many years. The tourist sector (especially those located at the coast) and industry (between Ypres and Nieuport, and beyond) kept lobbying while locals and so-called "Green Boys" were always opposed to the proposal. The 3 December agreement was reached between liberal and socialist Government partners. The A19 would be extended to Steenstraete where it will be linked to the N8 between Woesten and Oostvleteren. From this point the N8 will be further modernised till Veurne. From Steenstraete onwards one should regard it as an "Expressway", linked with local car and bicycle routes. This new extension should be finished by 2006 and will cost some 30 million £.The Green party, which is part of the Flemish Government, is still opposed to the plans of their partners as far as the Pilckem Ridge is concerned. Agalev (Flemish green party) does not want this area to be touched. It wants the following routes to be modernised instead: the N38 (which runs from the A19 end to the Town of Poperinge) and the N369 (running past Diksmude to Veurne).Last Thursday 13 December there was a debate in a Flemish parliament commission on this subject. There seems to be a growing consensus on the fact that alternatives and more investigation are needed for the proposed A19 extension, over Pilckem to Steenstraete. "Nothing has been decided as yet" said the Flemish Minister for Mobility. In this same week, a request has been made to the "Flemish Department of Monuments and Landscape" to investigate the historical and archaeological value of the Pilckem Ridge. The result of this investigation MUST be included in the final discussion for the proposed A19 extension. As such, it is not unlikely that the Pilckem Ridge will be legally "protected" (cannot find a better word) and, even more, included in the recent UNESCO proposal for International recognition of the WW1 War Graves and Memorials in this area.

Source; Newspapers "De Standaard" and "Het Nieuwsblad" and "Westhoek online" (


15th November 2001

International airport on Somme battlefield will force the first mass removal of soldiers' graves
By John Lichfield in Vermandovillers

Over the bodies of the living and the dead, the French government will plough ahead with plans for an international airport on the Somme battlefields and war cemeteries 80 miles north of Paris.

Despite the collapse in air travel since 11 September and despite evidence that Paris has no pressing need for a third big airport, Lionel Jospin, the Prime Minister, will approve plans tonight to build a futuristic terminal at Chaulnes, almost halfway between Paris and Calais. The government hopes eventually that the airport, designed for long-haul flights, will draw traffic from Britain and other countries.

At least one village will have to be destroyed and three largely dismantled to make way for the airport, next to the high-speed railway to London, Brussels and Lille. The site, controversial for several reasons, will force the first mass removal of graves of soldiers killed in the First World War.

A small British cemetery containing the remains of 20 soldiers killed in March 1918, on land granted "in perpetuity" by the French state, like all British war cemeteries, falls within the proposed airport boundary. So does a large French military cemetery, also containing six British graves.

The 15-year construction of the terminal will also force the removal of the bodies of 22,665 German soldiers, in one of the largest German war cemeteries in France, now occupying the site of what will be the airport's northern runway.

Mike Johnson of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said no British war cemetery in France had been moved before. "We would object vigorously," he said. Eckhardt Holtz, of the German war graves authority in Metz, said his first reaction had been that moving so many graves was impossible. "But if the French insist, and they pay to build another cemetery elsewhere, and they are moving their own cemetery near by, I suppose we cannot stand in their way."

Press reports say Chaulnes will be selected from a shortlist of eight possible airport sites by Mr Jospin and a group of ministers in Paris. The location has been chosen, in part, to relieve protests against air traffic noise in the Paris suburbs. But the site has also been pushed vigorously by Air France, the state-owned airline, which hopes the inter-continental terminal will attract passengers from Belgium and from Britain.

The airport will be less than two hours from London by rail once the high-speed line through Kent and eastern London is completed. It will be 30 minutes from Paris by TGV and 45 minutes from Brussels.

But the choice of the Chaulnes area has infuriated people living there. "It is our memories, our childhoods that they are rubbing out," said Ghislaine Caussin, 71, whose home in the village of Vermandovillers stands in the middle of what will become a main runway.

Raphael Poupard, 61, the Mayor, is struggling to mount a rearguard action from his one-room town hall, with one telephone line and no fax machine. "Look at the map," Mr Poupard said. "The other threatened villages may survive a little but we will be wiped out 100 per cent. Vermandovillers will be scratched from the map of France. And why? No airport built so far from a city has ever succeeded."

Mr Poupard has a point. Although the Chaulnes site seems logical, next to a junction of two motorways and the TGV line to the north, its apparent advantages are misleading. The A1 motorway to Paris is already choked. The TGV line is running at full capacity. Two new tracks would have to be added all the way to Paris to serve the airport. Northern France is, in any case, an air traffic bottleneck. Putting the airport south of Paris would have made more sense.

Yves Crochet, the French Environment Minister, who is from the Green party, says there is no need for a third airport, after Charles de Gaulle and Orly. The complaints of pressure groups in the Paris suburbs could be met by trans- ferring freight and other flights to the provinces.

But this misses the real argument. The promise of expansion at an intercontinental airport within 15 to 20 years will give Air France a huge advantage in the battle for domination of the European skies, as smaller carriers disappear. Putting that airport within a short high-speed train ride of Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany will, Air France hopes, prove to be a strategic masterstroke.

From: via email.

24th September - Reburials at Ypres - Jacky Platteeuw.

On Thursday 27th September nine French soldiers of the Great War will be reburied at St. Charles de Potijze Cemetery. 

On Tuesday 2nd October several British fallen of the Great War will be reburied at Cement House Cemetery. These are all from 'The Diggers' site at Boesinghe. 

From: via email.

22nd June 2001 - Soldiers found at Arras. - From the 'Independant' Newspaper.

Arm in arm they lie, twenty soldiers killed by friendly fire

European Times: Arras

By John Lichfield 20 June 2001

Eighty-four years after they died, a "lost patrol" of 20 "Grimsby Chums" has been found lying arm in arm in a corn field, beside a busy dual carriageway in northern France.

Almost certainly, they were victims of what is now called "friendly fire": a British gun firing short as they advanced behind a rolling barrage to attack the second line of German defences on the first day of the battle of Arras, on 9 April 1917.

Their remains were discovered last month by French archaeologists, excavating the battlefield site before a factory ­ ironically, probably a German BMW car factory ­ is built on the farmland east of Arras later this year.

There is no absolute proof that the bodies of the British infantryman ­ uncovered in a shallow grave, lying on their backs in a single line with their elbows overlapping ­ were from the 10th battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, known as the "Grimsby Chums".

But that is almost certainly who they were. Three of the soldiers had 10th Lincoln badges. The battalion attacked the German lines at exactly that point on 9 April 1917. Twenty-four of them were killed and 20 of their bodies ­ exactly the same number as in the battlefield grave ­ were never found.

Alain Jacques, head of the Arras archeological service, which found the bodies, said: "The fact that the bodies had been arranged so theatrically suggests to us very strongly that they were from one unit. By arranging them arm in arm, their comrades were saying, 'These people were friends'. The bodies must have been collected in the heat of the battle, before the limbs had stiffened. That again suggests that they all came from the same battalion."

The original "Grimsby Chums" were one of the so-called "Pals Battalions" ­ friends, cousins and brothers from industrial towns who answered Lord Kitchener's call for volunteers in 1914. Like many other Pals' Battalions, the Grimsby Chums suffered heavy losses at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, nine months before the Battle of Arras.

The battalion was reformed with soldiers from all over England who joined the rump of the original Lincolnshire volunteers. Although they were still called the "Grimsby Chums", a list of the 20 dead and missing 10th Lincolns from 9 April 1917, obtained by The Independent, shows the soldiers killed near Arras came from many places.

About a third of the casualties were from Lincolnshire: the rest were from Salford, Leamington Spa, Walsall, Westminster, Leicester, South Shields, Bradford, Bury, Cannock, Durham, Worksop, High Wycombe and Leigh.

The addresses reflect the recognition, after the Somme, of a great psychological blunder. Whole streets of sons and brothers and friends were wiped out in one day, plunging entire neighbourhoods of industrial towns into mourning. After that, the Pals' battalions were ordered to be geographically diluted.

The bodies of the soldiers have been removed to the headquarters of the Commonwealth War Graves' Commission, also near Arras. A British army forensic team is expected to examine the remains in the next few days and attempt to match them to army dental and medical records of the 10th Lincolns known to have been killed at Arras on 9 April.

Four other bodies of British soldiers have also been discovered near by in the past three weeks, including another Lincolnshire Regiment soldier and one from the Royal Naval Division.

All will be reburied in existing Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries. If any of the bodies can be positively identified, the Army will make efforts to trace surviving relatives before the reburial services.

Peter Chapman, author of the official history of the 10th Lincolns, said yesterday: "This is an extraordinary and very moving discovery. Unfortunately, it is very likely that they were killed by what we now call friendly fire. There was one British gun in the barrage which was firing short that day and killed many men in the 10th Lincolns."

Mike Johnson, of the Commonwealth War Graves' Commission, said it appeared many of the soldiers in the shallow grave had been killed by artillery shells. Their limbs were shattered and fragments of shell were found alongside their bodies and, in some cases, embedded in their bones.

Mr Johnson said the facts pointed to the likelihood that the soldiers were all from the same unit but there was no absolute proof that they were all Lincolns. "It is disappointing that more uniform badges or personal effects were not found with the bodies," he said.

The place where the bodies were found ­ Le Point du Jour, close to the main A26 Calais to Paris motorway and the Eurostar high speed train route ­ was two miles behind German lines at the beginning of 9 April 1917. The British
and Canadian advance broke through the first line of German defences and captured part of the second line, with enormous casualties.

The Battle of Arras, which lasted until 15 April, was part of a French masterplan to smash the German army. It failed disastrously, as had the Battle of the Somme the previous year. The British and Canadian troops advanced four miles in all and had 142,000 casualties, killed and wounded. The German army suffered 85,000 casualties.

The offensive was intended to suck in German reserves and allow a successful French attack near Reims further south. That offensive, on the Chemin des Dames, was so calamitous that it led to widespread mutinies in the French army.


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