The Souterrains

The chalk areas of northern France contain numerous underground quarries (carrières) from which, since Roman times, stone has been extracted for buildings. At depths of between ten and twenty metres firm chalk can be ‘slabbed’ away and easily cut into suitably sized blocks. On exposure to air these harden into a soft limestone. Away from the former battle areas, where reconstruction was done with brick, the visitor to northern France can readily observe that many churches and the older buildings are made from chalk. It is self evident that, close to the front lines, these souterraines offered potential as extended dugouts or concealed and secure barracks for troops, headquarters locations and storage accommodation. The engineers on both sides sought them out.In the plain immediately west of Vimy Ridge and south of Notre Dame de Lorette there are at least eight souterraines that were brought into use during the Great War. Several were initially occupied by the Germans and were the scene of bitter fighting in the 1915 Battles of the Artois as the French drove the Germans back onto the heights of Vimy Ridge. In Neuville St Vaast it is said that the souterraines were interconnected and in turn linked to the cellars of houses in the village.  Underground War
 group Beneath Flanders
Journalist Richard Foote (left) and members of the 15th Battalion
Memorial Project with Durand group member Phillip Robinson (centre) at
the entrance to Maison Blanche. 2011
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