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Last Updated: Monday, 10 November, 2003, 10:57 GMT
Ypres dig reveals trench horror
By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC, Ypres

Archaeologists excavating the route of a planned motorway near Ypres in Belgium have uncovered a series of trenches very little changed from the day they were abandoned at the end of World War I.

They contained the bodies of some soldiers, together with weapons, and objects used by the troops to help pass the time.

Trench scene from the Somme in World War I
Trench warfare was a horrific feature of World War I
This is the first time the battlefields of Ypres have been excavated professionally, with a team of Belgian archaeologists working alongside military experts from Britain.

The dig has revealed a network of trenches which were home to thousands of British, Australian, Canadian and Indian soldiers between 1914 and 1918.

Excavation workers have filled a ship's container with artefacts from the period which include rifles, rum jars and newspapers.

YPRES BATTLES
Ypres and its Flanders surroundings were the scene of three major WWI battles
UK and France suffered estimated 500,000 casualties
German losses put at more than 420,000
55,000 UK and Commonwealth soldiers who died have no known grave
Their names are recorded on Ypres' Menin Gate, where the Last Post is sounded nightly
Five bodies still in uniform have also been recovered.

The MoD is now trying to trace the relatives of one man who they believe died fighting with the Fifth Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.

But this important historical site is soon to be bulldozed to make way for a motorway.

War graves protection groups are campaigning to get the road re-routed but historians warn that there would be nothing gained from changing the building plans.

Ypres was such a significant World War I battlefield that the whole area is riddled with trenches and unmarked graves.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Robert Hall reports from Ypres
"Some answers at least for new generation trying to understand the past"



SEE ALSO:
Last post for Great War veterans
25 Jul 03  |  Magazine
WWI soldier finally laid to rest
31 Oct 01  |  England


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