Report by Sandra Millsopp
Bangor Historical Society held its last meeting in the Good Templar Hall on 12 November 2015, as it has been sold by the local council. Chairman Ian Wilson noted that the society had moved there from Seacourt about 30 years ago and said that the next venue would be the North Down Museum.
Former Chairman Bob McKinley had retired at the end of the last season and a special presentation was made to him to thank him for over thirty years of excellent service to the society, most of which was as chairman. Ian praised him for the way in which he had entertained us with his wit and historical erudition. He had always given a warm welcome to all members. Bob then thanked everyone for the gift and said that during his time there were some 240 talks and at least 60 outings. He paid tribute to all the committee members he had worked with, the tea makers and all the members. He ended with good wishes for the future.
Members then enjoyed an excellent lecture by Colonel Bennett on ‘The Archaeology of Thiepval Wood’. He is now a trustee of the Somme Association. He explained that he was serving in the Royal Irish Regiment when the Somme Association enlisted support for a project to excavate at Thiepval Wood. He then outlined the events of the First World War involving the Irish divisions and the 36th Ulster division in particular.
Thiepval Wood in France had been put up for sale and the Association got funding and made a sealed bid under the French system in 2004. They were successful and it was decided to undertake an excavation. Carole Walker of the Association then asked him to bring a team of soldiers who would join volunteers and professional experts. The wood consists of 57-58 acres and initially Scottish regiments were stationed there before the 36th Ulster Division. It is still a very dangerous place with munitions and live shells underground.
The trenches were excavated back to the natural chalk and restored with sandbags and trench boards. There were firesteps which enabled soldiers to stand at the right level to fire at the enemy. A sap connected the frontline trenches with No Man’s land. Trench bunkers were used for storage and the white walls are still blackened from candle flames and stoves. There were bunkers at the front where soldiers left their surplus kit before ‘going over the top’.
We were shown pictures as well as actual objects which were found when the trenches were excavated. Munitions included the Stokes mortar, a very dangerous weapon. There were also Mills grenades which are now badly corroded. The ‘toffee apple’ was a trench mortar fired from a tube by a team which moved to a new position after firing. The speaker found a Lee Enfield rifle, the only intact one to be recovered. A live phosphor shell looked like a wine bottle.
More personal items were also recovered. A spoon with a bullet hole may have saved a soldier’s life when he was shot in the leg. Cutlery was kept in their puttees for handiness. They also found a wedding ring and a small silver envelope for photographs. One soldier had carved a cross from chalk.
It is hoped to carry out more excavations if funding can be raised.