A headlamp cuts through the darkness of a rough-hewn passage 100 feet underground to reveal an inscription: “James Cockburn 8th Durham L.I.”

It’s cut so clean it could have been left yesterday. Only the date next to it — April 1, 1917 — roots it in the horrors of World War I.

The piece of graffiti is just one of nearly 2,000 century-old inscriptions that have recently come to light in Naours, a two-hour drive north of Paris. Many marked a note for posterity in the face of the doom that trench warfare a few dozen miles away would bring to many.

“It shows how soldiers form a sense of place and an understanding of their role in a harsh and hostile environment,” said historian Ross Wilson of Chichester University in Britain.

Etchings, even scratched bas-reliefs, were left by many soldiers during the war. But those in Naours “would be one of the highest concentrations of inscriptions on the Western Front” that stretches from Switzerland to the North Sea, said Wilson.

The site’s proximity to the Somme battlefields, where more than a million men were killed or wounded, adds to the discovery’s importance. “It provides insight into how they found a sense of meaning in the conflict,” said Wilson.
Old underground city

Naours’ underground city is a three-kilometre-long complex of tunnels with hundreds of chambers dug out over centuries in the chalky Picardy plateau. During the Middle Ages villagers took shelter there from marauding armies crisscrossing northern France. By the 18th century, the quarry’s entrance was blocked off and forgotten.

In 1887 a local priest rediscovered the site and it eventually became a tourist attraction. That’s what likely drew the soldiers to it during the war, said Gilles Prilaux, an archaeologist for France’s national archaeology institute. He began a three-year study of the tunnels last July, intending to focus on the site’s medieval past — only to stumble upon this more recent slice of history.

“It was a big surprise” Prilaux said of the discovery of the World War I graffiti left by soldiers from Australia, Britain, Canada and the U.S.

Soldiers left similar inscriptions in tunnels at Arras and Vimy. But unlike those sites, Naours is well back from the front lines. And it wasn’t known to have been used as a shelter or hospital like other Western Front quarries.

Photographer Jeff Gusky has tallied 1,821 individual names: 731 Australians, 339 British, 55 Americans, a handful of French and Canadians and 662 others whose nationalities have yet to be traced.

“All these guys wanted to be remembered,” Gusky says, pointing out examples from Texas and Florida.
Taking break in the caves

Naours is a short distance from Vignacourt, a town used as a staging area for troops moving up to and back from the Somme battlefields some 40 kilometres to the east. Prilaux thinks that the young soldiers from distant countries would have heard about the famous “Naours caves” and taken advantage of a break from war to do some sight-seeing.

That idea is backed by an entry in the diary of Wilfred Joseph Allan Allsop, a 23-year-old private from Sydney, Australia. “At 1 p.m. 10 of us went to the famous Caves near Naours where refugees used to hide in times of Invasion” Allsop wrote on Jan. 2, 1917.

Wilson said the importance of studying graffiti like this has only emerged in the last 10 to 20 years.

“What were previously regarded as incidental acts that occur away from the battlefield have been shown to be highly important in understanding the lives of those who experienced the conflict,” Wilson said.

One of the most moving inscriptions at Naours was made by Herbert John Leach, a 25-year-old from Adelaide. His inscription reads “HJ Leach. Merely a private. 13/7/16. SA Australia.”

Barely a month after Leach added his name to the wall he was killed in action on Aug. 23, 1916, during the Battle of Pozieres.

On his grave, in the Australian cemetery in nearby Flers, his father inscribed “Duty Nobly Done.”


So I was going to re-start painting my second Dystopian Wars fleet, but then, as usual, Stu gets us interested in something new. This time it’s Outrider, a post apocalyptic car battle that requires you to make your own models. Well, by make I mean purchase some Hot Wheels cars and scratch build/convert them into Mad Max style warrior vehicles.

Seemed like a sensible project to throw myself into at the time, and Hot Wheels are on special at the moment…

fow fireflyKicked of the year with our first gaming night at my newly organised garage space. It was supposed to be two games of Flames of War Tank Aces, as a precursor to kicking off a campaign, once we had motivated Stu back into the love of Flames of War. Unfortunately Stu didn’t bring his tanks, rather his newest purchase, Memoir ’44. Aaron and I had already started the first game however so Stu watched our game, arriving at the point where the game swung decidedly in my favour and the dice failed Aaron.

It was great to be back to playing Flames of War, and the fast paced Tank Aces format meant that we had plenty of time to try out Stu’s board game.

memoir44Memoir ’44 is a game I’ve wanted to play for many years, and whilst it wasn’t quite what I had expected, it was a very enjoyable game with a great system for restricting tactical choices and making you think a lot more about your decisions. We played the Pegasus Bridge scenario which is pretty much the intro mission. I played the British against Stu (Germans) and won, they played the Germans against Aaron (British) and lost, proving the game historically accurate!


smash upWe managed to fit in three different games tonight, starting off with a new game, Smash Up.

Smash Up is a “shufflebuilding” game that is easy to get into: Take the twenty-card decks of two factions, shuffle them into a forty-card deck, then compete to smash more Bases than your opponents. Each faction brings a different game mechanism into play – pirates move cards, zombies bring cards back from the discard pile, dinosaurs have huge power – and every combination of factions brings a different play experience.

During play, Base cards (each with their own difficulties and abilities) are in play. You attempt to have the most power on the Base from your minions when the Base is smashed. Sounds easy? How easy is it when an opponent’s Alien-Ninja decides to Beam Up your minions to other Bases – flat out Assassinate them? What about when the Pirate-Dinosaur player Full Sails in and releases King Rex to stomp your minions into the ground, or when the Wizard-Zombies use their Mystic Power to create an Outbreak, suddenly flooding minions onto the Base from the discard pile? Or what if you faced a Zombie-Dinosaur player instead and he created an Outbreak of massive beasts all at once?!?

When a Base is smashed, each player in first, second and third place scores points.

Smash Up proved to be an enjoyable, easy to get into game, that had just enough tactical play to keep things interesting, without over cumbering the games with complex rules. With 8 different factions, there is plenty of replay value as you can try different combinations of factions, and the random nature of the shuffled decks mean you can never predict where the game is going.

If I had one complaint, it would be that the game winning score of 15 seemed a little low for our first game and it was all over way too soon.

I’d happily play this again.

« Older entries