The association was set up as a Franco British organisation dedicated to the preservation and protection of this iconic site. It was very important for it to be a bilateral group as the cooperation of the local population would be pivotal to the success of the project. The core group consists of archaeologists and historians, landscapers and engineers, all dedicated to the cause.
Our first move was to secure a 99 year lease on the craters, a strip of land around the lip and a wider pathway leading up to the Ridge to make visitor access easier, and to provide safe access into a designated viewing area inside the craters. Our timing with the lease was prodigious as a local farmer was about to use the site as a landfill site for potato waste, this would have been a disaster from a historical point of view. A secure fence was erected around our leased area to protect the surrounding farmland and livestock, at the same time providing a gated access to Hawthorn Ridge Number 1 CWGC cemetery to the south of the craters.
The craters themselves were, as many who have visited in the past will know, heavily overgrown. We had to decide on a scheme to reduce the foliage without putting the substance of the crater sides at risk, we are fortunate to have a landscape expert on our team who was able to designate diseased, dangerous or damaged trees which should be removed. This was duly carried out, alongside brushwood cutting back and rubbish removal from within the craters. Once this had been done the sheer size and definition of the craters became apparent for the first time in many years.
An annual maintenance scheme was created to ensure the craters stayed in good condition. This scheme consists of fence repairs if needed, strimming of weeds and undergrowth and a constant watch on all the remaining trees for damage or disease. We have new signage going in place but this will be kept to a minimum. We are looking at using technology as well as traditional methods to achieve a satisfactory outcome.
A vital part of the project is research, the full story of the site has never been told, just the bare outline. To this end we are conducting extensive archival research as well as physical research on the ground. We plan to carry out minimal invasive archaeology around the crater lips as well as ground analysis and electronic ground based and aerial scanning of the entire ridge area. We also are looking into the actual redoubt and how it was linked back to the village of Beaumont, with the wonderful cooperation of the residents we are building up a remarkable picture of how the redoubt operated and was maintained up to November 1916, and then through the “quiet days” up to 1918 and the Spring offensive days, which were far from quiet as we have discovered. We are also including in the research the battle on the other side of the Beaumont road as the two are inextricably linked, we have been extremely fortunate in being granted supervised access to the Bergwerk and its network of trenches and tunnels. This access has given us a new perspective on just why the Lancashire Fusiliers suffered so badly on July 1st ,the results of our ongoing work will be made public once we are satisfied that we are correct in our conclusions, again, without our French friends and landowners none of this would be possible.
As with all projects, finance is an issue. Work such as this costs money and whilst we fund our own travel, accommodation and costs we do need a source of revenue for maintenance and signage, etc. Become a member, and receive access to our main information site and other bonus benefits.
So what is the ongoing plan? Quite simply to maintain the awe inspiring dignity of the site for all for the years to come. We are fortunate in having some talented younger people within the Association who are as dedicated as the older ones in keeping the site secure and relevant, we actively encourage tour groups to visit and have already had many coaches visit ,clients of all ages and school groups feature among these. What is particularly pleasing to us is the number of French visitors we are seeing on site, there is now a genuine interest in the area and many previously unseen family albums and documents are being shown to us, an extremely valuable research resource.
We do not wish to see memorials/placards/mementos around the site but do not mind a small amount of dedications at relevant times of the year, by the same token we will always ensure important dates in the sites’ history are commemorated in an appropriate manner commensurate with the gravity of the craters.
Finally we would like to extend an open invitation to people to come and see this remarkable area, it will always be free to enter and when we are around we will continue to offer guided tours and explanations of the events that took place completely free of charge.