Traces of Our Footsteps

At first glance, when I surveyed the area around L’Epinette, it seemed all traces of the war had been wiped from the landscape.  Nothing that looked like the trench map I’d found (Fig. 0, courtesty http://www.4thbnff.com) was visible on the present day map of the area (fig. 1, courtesy Google) at first glance.

Fig. 0: http://www.4thbnnf.com/Images/maps/1915aug1_armentieres.jpg

Fig. 1: Image

However, when I lined the two images up (using the roads as guidelines) and highlighted the trenches in red, I was able to produce an approximate map of their location, which immediately revealed that although the German front line (the lines nearest the town of Le Bleue) is long gone, the waterway behind it in fig. 0 is still there and currently used for irrigation (fig 2):

Image

Zooming in, we find that traces of the British trenches are hinted at in the modern landscape (fig. 3):

Image

 

Curious about this particular area, I used Gimp to take my screenshot from Google and turn it into a high-contrast black and white image to see what the landscape might reveal in sharp black and white, the same way British and German intelligence units would have seen it back in 1915.  This revealed several features, marked on the map by numbers (fig. 4):

Image

1.  The waterway immediately behind German lines

2. Linear/right angle depressions which appear to be shallow puddles or ponds.  These resemble some of the defenses near the railroad track in Fig. 3.

3. Linear depressions resembling those in (2).  These do not correspond with anything on the 1915 map, but run roughly parallel to the location of a communications trench known as Lothian Avenue.

4. Discolored soil with bald patches.  In one plot, the mostly-green field is interrupted with blotches of light brown; in the light brown field south of it, there is a large dark brown blemish in the soil.  The region has several such features, which hint at possible scarring/bald spotting in the soil from the effects of artillery; the shape of the bald spots resembles battlefield scarring I have seen elsewhere in aerial photography.

5. A line running perpendicular to the road, now used as a drainage ditch, that almost corresponds with the trench lines in figure 3.  This could be the result of a placement or scaling error on my part and may be part of the trench network.

In all, it’s been interesting to finally be able to interpret this data.  I think just learning a little about archaeological methods is helping me orient myself on the old battlefield again; a lot of the defenses where the earthworks are most intricate (such as right by the railway line padding out a 90 degree bend into a flat front line) are so intuitive to me in their function and strategic significance.  I think a good bit of the old trench system was probably shoveled in and completely undisturbed for nearly a century in L’Epinette, which means much of the site is probably intact beneath the surface.

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