Book on clearing WW1 battlefields

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by davidbrent, Jan 20, 2008.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. Having read quite a few books on WW1, I was thinking, after such a massive war, how they went about clearing the battlefields. I'm sure I remember being told that thousands of Chinese were employed to clear the battlefields but I don't know how true this is.

    Does anyone know of any books that give detail of how they cleared the trenches of all the debris and how the locals tried to get on with life after the war and also, how they came to set up the commonwealth graves.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. I can't think of any specific books concerning battlefield clearance but Chinese Labourers were used in huge numbers during and after the Great War. If you have the opportunity to tour the battlefields of France and Belgium you will always find their graves in Commonwealth cemeteries.

    For a history of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission check out their website Information concerning Sir Fabian Ware, the founder of the then Imperial War Graves Commission, can be found there along with information on other publications.
  3. The Chinese Labour Corp were used throughout the latter stages of the war for various odd jobs which would have removed fighting men from the front lines, not sure how much they were used afterwards. I know a lot of it was done by regular forces; there are the graves in one of Ypres' cemeteries, I forget which, of four soldiers on grave duty who were killed by a UXB in 1919.

    With regards to the Commonwealth War Graves there was no hard and fast rule about how and where cemeteries were set up. Many were concentrations of burials at dressing stations (Tyne Cot started this way), others were started at casualty clearing stations (Brandhoek, Ypres Salient) some were set up where men were buried on the day they fell (Devonshire Cemetery, the Somme), some were specifically set up after the war for the relocation of bodies from other parts of the battlefield or are extensions of existing civil cemeteries (Ypres Town Cemetery Extension) and some were hospital burial grounds (Faubourg D'Amiens, Arras).

    Major and Mrs Holt's guide books give some basic history to each of the cemeteries they highlight and the CWGC website has a brief history of each cemetery which is very useful (example).

    If there are any books on the clearing of the battlefields I would be most interested as well.
  4. Just found this:

    CWGC PDF document

    about the Chinese Labour Corps. It is always a moving experience to see their graves in cemeteries and to think that whilst there are many corners of foreign fields that will be forever England, there are many which will be forever Chinese, forever Indian and so on.

    One of the CLC's epitaph's "A Noble Duty Bravely Done" is one that I have, conceitedly, always considered as an epitaph for myself, should the worst happen on ops.
  5. Thanks for the info, I'll keep looking for a book and keep you posted if I find one.
  6. Killing time by Nicholas J Saunders is all about Archaeology and the WW1 battlefields.
    Hope this helps!......
  7. Reaching into my trust bookcaase I find:

    Gavaghan, M. (1995): The story of the British Unknown Warrior, Le Tourquet, France, M & L Publications.

    Although a small book of 86 pages it does outline how the battlefields were cleared and how the bodies were dealt with.
  8. In the Poppy Travel library we have...

    After the Ruins: Restoring the Countryside of Northern France After the Great War Hugh Clout University of Exeter Press 1996 ISBN 0 85 989 491 6

    I think the 90th Anniversary book about Passchendaele by Frankie Bostyn has quite a bit about battlefield clearance in the Passchendaele -Zonnebeke.
  9. An old schoolmaster of mine described how his father had joined the army as a fresh 18-year old subbie in the closing months of WW1. The medical board uncovered the fact that he had no sense of smell - not even with smelling salts, etc. In earlier war years this would have probably disbarred him from service, but now he was snapped up and immediately posted to a pioneer (or labour corps) company. He subsequently spent his two years' service supervising exhumations....

    That must have been a profoundly horrible and depressing job. 8O
  10. Not much has been written about such a major logistical exercise. I came across the following very brief reference in an article, 'When I was Demobilised', by Henry Williamson, published long after WWI, in Strand Magazine, Sep 1945:

    "The battlefields were cleared up. Tens of thousands of Poles and Italians filled in the craters with long-handled shovels; tens of thousands of tons of rusty dud shells and fragments of steel were collected into dumps. We used to say during the war that it would take a hundred years to clear up the Somme battlefields; actually it was done in little more than half a hundred months".
  11. A very close relation is a retired Major who served RAOC in Belgium and lived in Lier Quarters.

    He was very much involved in disposal - I will speak to him soon. If only you could meet him, a great character.
  12. Have just joined and saw this whilst on web searching CLC have come across 3 books which may be of interest
    no labour no battle
    China and the Great War
    With the chinks
  13. Found this on Amazon

    ." . . a pathbreaking contribution to the literature. . . The effects of the war on land use, mechanization, dispersion of the population and their resettlement have never been as carefully treated. There are powerful and telling surveys of the negotiation between local residents and official organizations over the extent of damage, and the appropriate levels of compensation for the devastation brought about by the war. There are original interpretations of the use of Chinese labour on reclamation projects, on the presence of workers from Italy, Belgium, Poland, Spain and Portugal, as well as resistance to the notion that German workers might rebuild where previously their brethren had destroyed. There is interesting detail on these fields as the repository of huge necropoli, and the commemorative efforts which organized the cemeteries which are still sprinkled liberally across this diagonal linking Belgium and Switzerland." -Journal of Historical Geography, 1997

    Product Description
    Using both official and unofficial records, this text explores a relatively ignored aspect of recent rural history: how the fields, farms, villages and market towns of Northern France were restored during the 1920s in the aftermath of the Great War.