The Lochnagar Crater and a relic of war

At the end of September I visited some of the WW1 battlefields in northern France and Belgium and thought in the lead up to Armistice Day on 11th November I would dedicate some of my posts to what I saw.

One of the places that we visited was the Lochnagar Crater in The Somme.  This huge crater was created by 24 tonnes of explosive and along with around 16 others heralded the start of the infamous Battle of The Somme.  They were the largest explosive devices ever created at that time and incredibly shook the windows of houses in London 200 odd miles away across the sea in England.

Lochnagar Crater

Lochnagar Crater

As witnessed from the air by 2nd Lieutenant C.A. Lewis of No. 3 Squadron RFC:

The whole earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up in the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air. The earth column rose higher and higher to almost 4,000 feet. There it hung, or seemed to hang, for a moment in the air, like the silhouette of some great cypress tree, then fell away in a widening cone of dust and debris.

Some Ration Party

Somme Ration Party

The Somme was a battle and a disaster as big as is imaginable with 60,000 British casualties on the first day with entire military units disappearing in seconds.  The battle had been preceded by weeks of heavy artillery shelling which the generals thought would be enough to kill any opposition.  However the Germans who survived the shock of the initial bombardment hid away relatively safely in underground shelters.  When the shelling ceased a few minutes before the battle commenced, it merely gave them notice that something was about to happen.

Sunken Road

Soldiers waiting for the whistles to blow at 7.30am on July 12st 1916.

The British Tommies has been told the barbed wire in No-Mans Land would have been vapourised, it wasn’t.  They were told the German soldiers would be dead or have fled, they weren’t.  They were ordered to walk and indeed in places men were told they would be shot if they ran for disobeying orders and so a generation of young men walked bravely into a hail of machine gun bullets.

Video of an actual WW1 Somme mine explosion. This was filmed almost precisely where the photo of the men above was taken.

The mines were timed to go off at 7.28am  with the attack at 7.30am but this 2 minute gap allowed the Germans to set up positions ready to fire on anyone who approached.  At least one mine went off 10 minutes early and another went off late killing all the advancing soldiers who had gone over the top.  Others would get buried alive or terribly injured by the falling debris that had gone thousands of feet up in the air.

It was the biggest single loss of life in British history and along with the French in Verdun, hard to imagine any modern battle ever surpassing that dreadful tally.

Relic of The Somme

Almost 300ft (91m) in diameter and 70ft (21m) deep.

Most of these massive craters have long since been levelled out but Lochnagar Crater was bought by an Englishman to protect it going into the future.  It is now visited quite a lot by school children and war tourists.  This area was in the sector of the Grimsby Chums who eventually successfully occupied it despite at times coming under both enemy and British artillery fire.  There is a memorial at the centre of the crater along with a cross from Tyneside.

Lochnagar Crater

How many soldiers lie buried under the crater and surrounding fields?

It was from the vicinity of the Lochnagar Crater that I brought back a WW1 era British bayonet.  You can find anything on the battlefields if you have the time and patience to distinguish iron and steel remains from the very stony soil.  Shrapnel, bullets, barbed wire, artillery shells are some of the things I have found on my visits here.  In fact farmers frequently leave piles of ammunition at the sides of their fields as there were so many million fired and a third of them failed to detonate.

British WW1 era bayonet

British WW1 era bayonet

Here is my WW1 British bayonet of a design circa 1906 and had likely been buried in the mud since 1st July 1916 when its unfortunate previous owner met his end.  It’s quite a heavy item and still sharp.  You can see the handle suffers a little from rot or insect infestation but considering what it has been through, it isn’t in bad condition.

You can see where the bayonet handle has slightly decomposed due to a century in the mud.

You can see where the bayonet handle has slightly decomposed due to a century in the mud.

I can’t see any serial number on the blade so I can’t ever really narrow down who it was who once used it however for as long as I’m on this planet then I for one will always remember them.

Bayonet Sight

Here you can see where the bayonet attached to the rifle and the firing sight.

For more information on the Battle of The Somme, check out my book, Lest We Forget published by Endeavour Press of London and available on Kindle and in Paperback.

Lest We Forget

My easy to understand but comprehensive history of WW1 in Kindle and Paperback.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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3 Responses to The Lochnagar Crater and a relic of war

  1. Ankur Mithal says:

    Quite a find. The present peaceful surroundings hide a bloody past. Also wonder what the meaning of Lochnagar is. In India, “nagar” is a common suffix for a town, much like the American “ville”. Small-ville would probably become Small-nagar in India. Is there some Scottish and Indian history in the name Lochnagar?

    Liked by 1 person

    • From what I know, the crater gains its name as the tunnel to dig the trench originated at Lochnagar Street Trench. Many of the trenches were given names to make people feel more at home and to help them avoid getting lost.

      Incidentally the tunnels that were dug would be up to 130 feet deep and the Germans themselves had dug a tunnel around 80 feet deep along the whole of the front line in this sector.

      The names of the trenches were often taken from where the soldiers came from. I did see quite a few Indian memorials, especially in the Ypres area but that is about 70 miles from this crater and as far as I know the soldiers in this area were from north and east England.

      To me Lochnagar sounds Scottish so it is interesting to learn of the Indian suffix. There is a Lochnagar street in East London near where the old docks were (including what was the East India docks (as opposed to the West Indies in the Carribean). I wonder if perhaps the street name does have a joint Scottish/Indian origin.

      I am always interested in the Indian influences in British life and vice-versa. I particularly like the British word Bungalow for what my American friends call a ranch. You’ll know a bungalow isn’t at all British!

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      • Greg says:

        Lochnagar is an English mispronunciation of Lochan na Gaire which means ‘small loch of the noisy place’ I believe. I suppose Scots serving in India may have used ‘noisy place’ to mean settlement, I don’t know.

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