'SAVED FROM PROGRESS':
THE BATTLEFIELD AT BOESINGHE 2000
Excavated trench at Boesinghe 2000 (ŠThe Diggers)
Over the Armistice weekend of 10th -13th November 2000, a Belgian amateur archeological society, called 'The Diggers', organised a superb exhibition in the school at Boesinghe (now Boezinge).
The Diggers are a group of military enthusiasts, with a passion for the military historian of the Ypres Salient. They all live in the Flanders area, and for the past two years have been working on a site near Boesinghe which was part of the front line from 1915-17. Due to the grace of the Ypres town council they have been allowed unrivalled access to the site, to the extent that they have actually been able to dig out the old trench lines (see above photo). In doing so they have discovered vast amounts of Great War material, and more than 100 bodies: of British, French and German soldiers. In some cases it was possible to identify several of the soldiers, and all the British casualties now lie in honoured graves in Cement House Cemetery at Langemarck.
During the Armistice weekend, the activity of The Diggers attracted some adverse press publicity in the UK, in which they were accused of being "grave robbers". This greatly upset the group, who have handled the discovery of remains with care and compassion, and left no stone unturned in the possible identification of the men concerned. In all cases the exhumations were done under supervision by the local Police and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Sadly it is impossible to keep the site at Boesinghe secure at all times, and The Diggers are aware of several less scrupulous individuals having entered the site and removed items.
The exhibition at Boesinghe showcased the sort of material which The Diggers have discovered on the site. Because they had been able to dig so deep, they unearthed a lot of wartime supply dumps: this meant tools, equipment, ammunition and munitions of all types from grenades to Livens bombs. Many personal items were found, from Army issue spoons to pieces of leather equipment. In one case a complete British Greatcoat was found, and also an early British 'Hypo' gas helmet - in very good condition. Many of these items will now be passed to the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, where they will form a permanent display.
They also found it possible to remove some of the trench A-Frames and duck-boarding, and reassemble it as part of the museum: this offered a fascinating insight into the sort of trenches that existed in this part of the line.
Overall an excellent and worthwhile project, that has no doubt contributed to our knowledge of the Boesinghe sector. One hopes The Diggers will look into some other areas of the old Salient.
An A4 ring-bound booklet (in Flemish) was published to co-incide with the exhibition. It was called 'Gered Van de Voortuitgang: Opgravingen op een Boezings slagveld uit de Eerste Wereldoorlog' by Aurial Sercu. Copies can be obtained from Hooge Crater Museum.
The Diggers now also have a web site:
ŠPAUL REED 2001