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Battlefield Artefacts

Iron Harvest: found every year

One of the most astonishing things that brings home the scale of the Somme battles is the amount of material which remains today. Not just the scars on the landscape, such as trench outlines seen in crops or fields, or the craters and preserved trenches and shellholes, but the amount of material that is ploughed up every year in the fields of the Somme. If you visit at the right time of year, just walking along the edges of ploughed fields you will see twisted and rusty metal fragments. These are literally all over the place in some areas where the shelling was intense. However, this is by no means all. There are piles of shells and other ordnance lying around (see image above) following ploughing, as every year, even nearly 90 years later, unexploded shells, grenades and other material is ploughed up. It is important to note that you should NOT touch these shells. There were a lot of duds sent over in the bombardment, but many have still got the potential to explode, or worse to leak gas or chemicals. Sometimes the size of these shells is amazing. The picture below shows a couple I saw by the roadside just outside Mametz (near the site of the Shrine machine gun). The one on the left was enormous - beside it is a standard paperback book just to give some idea of the size.

Large shell seen near Mametz, May 2004

It is also not uncommon to find grenades (such as British Mills bombs), again these should not be touched as they may explode. The one on the left was found on the track between Montauban and Loungueval, and the other near the road from Fricourt to Bray-sur-Somme, in fact very near point 71.N which Siegfried Sassoon mentions in his Memoirs of an Infantry Officer. This was a supply area, so this one may have been dropped and lost accidentally.

Mills grenade found on a track near LoungevalMills grenade near point 71.N, outside Fricourt

I have also seen the remains of Stokes trench mortars such as that seen below left, found on Hawthorn Ridge, near Beaumont Hamel (thanks to Peter for identification of this, see his website on the Battle of Verdun). There are bullet rounds galore, and if you look at the bases of these for manufacturers information you can get an idea of whether they are British or German.

Stokes trench mortar.303 rounds found on the Somme battlefields

I have also found a rusted coil of barbed wire (although I can't be sure it dates from the War), again between Montauban and Loungueval. Another interesting item was the base of a glass jar or bottle that I found near the site of the Leipzig Redoubt, close to Thiepval. This was the site of very fierce fighting, and bullets and grenades as well as numerous shell casing fragments can be readily seen. The glass fragment is around 5 cm across, very thick (around 1.5 cm) and has the words "HENGSTENBERG" and "ges.gesch" on it. My research has shown that HENGSTENBERG was a company founded in 1876 (which still exists) that made, amongst other things, Sauerkraut. The term 'ges.gesch' I believe means 'registered'. It may not date from the War, but the thickness of the glass leads me to believe it does.

Glass jar base found near Schwaben redoubt

One can also find shrapnel - small round shot, which is very heavy. It is apparently easier to find after rain, again I collected several of these shrapnel balls from a field near High Wood. It is sobering to think of these deadly little balls of lead flying out of a shell, particularly when you come across one which has been deformed in some way - presumably as a result of striking something (or even someone).

Perhaps the most impressive of my own finds has been a bayonet, which I found in the Bois Francais, which is an area near Mametz/Fricourt where there was very intense fighting before the Somme battle because the lines were very close and on a ridge that neither side wished to concede. This find was near the Kiel trench, where Siegfried Sassoon won his M.C. The bayonet is of the "pig-sticker" variety used early in the War. It is extremely rusty and also the blade has been bent so the majority of it sticks up at 90 degrees, but the blade was 16 inches long.

I have tried to find out the origin of this bayonet without success; it doesn't seem to match the length of the standard British bayonet of this type (used early in the War) which was around 17 inches long; it could be French (the French held this sector before the British, hence Bois Francais) or German (there was also a Bois Allemand near here). If anyone has any ideas, please e-mail me at Webmaster .