WWI Soldiers Left Moving Legacy in French Tunnels

Huge collection of well-preserved notes found in Naours, France
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2015 11:40 AM CDT
WWI Soldiers Left Moving Legacy in French Tunnels
A name is engraved on the walls of a former quarry at the Cite Souterraine, Underground City, in Naours, northern France: "HA Deanate, 148th Aero Squadron, USA, 150 Vermilyea Ave, New York City."   (AP Photo/Jeffrey Gusky)

An archaeologist in France planned to study the medieval history of a quarry—but in the process, he made a much newer, and deeply moving, find. During World War I, soldiers made almost 2,000 inscriptions in the series of underground chambers, which were a tourist attraction at the time, the AP reports. Centuries before, they had served as a hideout for villagers during invasions. Today, the inscriptions offer an intimate and well-preserved portrait of men serving in the war. "HJ Leach. Merely a private. 13/7/16. SA Australia," one reads. Leach, 25, died a month later. Another inscription comes from a war hero who was also involved in an Antarctic expedition, Yahoo7 News reports—one Leslie Russell Blake.

The 2-mile tunnels are in Naours, about two hours north of Paris. The notes make up what appears to be "one of the highest concentrations of inscriptions on the Western Front," between Switzerland and the North Sea, says a historian, noting that the find "provides insight into how they found a sense of meaning in the conflict." The names include hundreds of Australians and Brits, as well as 55 Americans and many whose nationalities haven't been identified. "All these guys wanted to be remembered," says a photographer. For that to happen, the inscriptions will have to be carefully preserved, Yahoo7 notes—especially given a likely influx of tourists. (More World War I stories.)

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