Mine Craters on the Somme

Remembrance at Lochnagar Mine Crater, Somme.

Lochnagar and Hawthorn Ridge

Standing at its edge the mine crater of Lochnagar dwarfs all those who stand beside it staring down into its depth at the circle of poppy crosses at its base. The crater was created July 1, 1916 when the explosive packed mine was detonated by the Royal Engineers at 7:28 AM on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The tunneling units of the Royal Engineers detonated ten mines on that day, the two largest mines using 24 tons of ammonal, an explosive made of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder.  These mines were located near La Boiselle to either side of the road from Albert to Bapaume, the Y Sap mine to the north and Lochnagar mine to the south. Lochnagar is easily viewed and frequently visited, thanks to the interest of Richard Dunning who purchased the ground in order that it might be preserved for future generations.

The wood on the far horizon. Hawthorn Ridge Mine Crater.

Another of the famed mines from that first day is located on Hawthorn Ridge, to the west of Beaumont Hamel, and where 18 tons of explosives were packed. The crater is now heavily regenerated with trees rising from the gap in the ground and is not as easily viewed as Lochnagar. Still, with the steady descent into this pit, one cannot help but think back to the hurtling earth launched skyward from the explosion and captured by the Great War photographer Ernest Brooks.

Film cinematographer Geoffrey Malins also captured the explosion with moving images and later reported, “The ground where I stood gave a mighty convulsion. It rocked and swayed. I gripped hold of my tripod to steady myself. Then for all the world like a gigantic sponge, the earth rose high in the air to the height of hundreds of feet. Higher and higher it rose, and with a horrible grinding roar the earth settles back upon itself, leaving in its place a mountain of smoke.”

Lochnagar Mine Crater with poppy crosses at base.

I often recall my visits to these craters, and at time have returned to these great poxes on the earth reintroducing myself to that one day in July. Returning to Lochnagar I recall my first visit, the memorial introducing visitors to the spectacle, and as I wander around its crest, the visitors who come a bit afterwards and who, like myself, cannot help but stand in awe at this gap in the ground where earth and men were flung from their base heavenwards.

Did you know?

Lochnagar is the name of a mountain in Scotland located near Balmoral.

For those interested in learning more about tunneling units of the Great War, visit your local library and check out “Beneath Flanders Fields: The Tunnellers’ War 1914-1918” by Peter Doyle, Peter Barton and Johan Vandewalle.

If possible try to locate the film, “Beneath Hill 60”, an Australian film that tells the true story of Oliver Woodward MC and Two Bars a legendary Australian tunneler and the men whose war occurred not only above but below ground.

A Youtube video is available that shows the explosion of the Hawthorn Ridge Mine.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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