Serre, 2003

Some of the first excavations I was involved with on the Western Front was back in 2003, at Serre, an area attacked by my local Pals battalions (Sheffield City Battalion). We excavated the German strongpoint of the Heidenkopf, revealing trench boards, sniper plates, dug-out entrances and three sets of human remains. Two of these were Germans, killed in 1915 whilst defending against a French attack. The third was a British soldier from the Kings Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment killed whilst assaulting this position around 7.30 am 1 July 1916. Remember all of them.

Skeleton 2 was found lying extended on top of the chalk fill of the front trench of the Heidenkopf. Cause of death was a shell-burst, demonstrated by the numerous small shell fragments amongst the bones and the serious fracture to the right femur, a common blast-related injury. Some attempt at burial may have been made; the screw picket beside the body may have served as a temporary grave marker. However the body was sufficiently accessible to have attracted rats, whose burrows could still be seen in the abdominal area, underlining the realities of trench warfare. The skeleton still had remains of uniform, gas mask, candles and other pieces of material equipment, as well as a purse containing French, English and Channel Islands coinage. This latter currency is of interest as it suggests the body to have been a regular soldier, based on information that the 1st Battalion, The Kings Own had been on garrison duty in the Channel Islands immediately! prior to the outbreak of war. He lies in Serre Number 2 military cemetery. (from