to the Western Front
Part 3: Y-Sap, Lochnager Craters
Brian Pohanka - October 24, 1999
brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion
group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.
look at the fields of the Somme today is to note the healing
power of man and of nature, on that once-tortured landscape.
After the Armistice it was at first proposed to make many
square miles off limits -- as was done at Verdun. Too
much unexploded ordnance in the ground, every village
leveled, forests and livestock erased, and so on. But
the residents of Picardie are a hardy farmer stock and
they wanted none of that. So back they went, and literally
rebuilt their homes and lives on the same acreage they'd
vacated during the War. Today the little villages look
much as they did in 1914 -- though with rare exceptions
the homes, churches, farms date to the 1920s. Such a place
is La Boiselle, which on July 1, 1916 saw some of the
worst carnage of that bloody day -- more than 60,000 British
casualties, more than 20,000 dead -- in a single day.
The Y-Sap Crater, one of several mines blown up under
the German lines, has been filled in, though the white
chalk so common in the soil of Picardie marks its outline.
The Lochnager Crater on the other hand has been left as
it was. High explosive made a crater that was 100 feet deep
-- today I would say it is still about 70 feet deep, and
must be 80 yards or more across. It makes "The Crater"
of [the American Civil War battlefield] at Petersburg
[Virginia] look like mighty small by comparison. As we
drove up into La Boiselle, noting the memorial to the
Tyneside Irish -- one of the new "Kitchener Army"
regiments slaughtered that day -- and over to the Lochnager
Crater -- it was a solemn site. A 12 foot high memorial
cross stands at the edge. There are many dozen of paper
poppies, popsicle stick crosses, personal messages to
grandparents and so on -- left at it's base. And behind
it is the crater.
On October 31, 1998 a tourist walking along the edge of
the crater saw a boot heel sticking from the ground. Thinking
perhaps it might mark at least a partial set of human
remains, he notified the authorities. In fact a complete
human skeleton was found, along with equipment and gear,
a rifle with wire cutter attachment, and among the items
buttons and a badge denoting one of the Tyneside Scottish
Battalions -- 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers. No identity
disk was found, but a straight rasor, the handle of which
had a name and Army Number on it -- identified the man
as George Nugent of the 22nd Btn. His remains have since
been reinterred in one of the many cemeteries there, with
As I was walking around the lip of the crater I saw a
small wooden cross off to one side, near the edge of a
plowed farmer's field. There were some of the ubiquitous
popsicle stick crosses and paper poppies around it, but
no inscription. However this was where, a year earlier,
Private Nugent had been found.
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