Findmypast has found transcriptions of the original records for soldiers who scrawled their names on the walls of underground caves near the Somme.
This self-made memorial, comprising nearly two thousand names written across the chalky tunnels, has recently been unearthed in Naours, France.
The immaculately-preserved graffiti now serves as a lasting tribute to the men who took shelter there, a few dozen miles west of the battlefields where many would later lose their lives.
One young soldier, Herbert John Leach, wrote on the stone wall: “HJ Leach. Merely a private. 13/7/16. SA Australia.”
Our records show that Herbert died just a month later, on 23 August, during the Battle of Pozieres. He appears in the South Australia, Heroes of the Great War, Chronicle newspaper collection, which holds notices placed by relatives in memory of their loved ones.
There are over 1800 names inscribed on the walls of the Naours Caves in France
The transcription on Findmypast reveals that Herbert was the second son of Mr E and the late Mrs D.N Leach of Hyde Park, an employee of the Lion Timber Mills, and had served at Gallipoli for four months before he was transferred to France. He was just 25 when he died in action.
Another soldier, Alistair Ross, an Australian who fought in the 9th Battalion, chalked his name on the cave wall in July 1916 (see the photo below). He appears in Findmypast records on the Australian Imperial Force Embarkation Roll 1914-1918.
The record reveals that he was a private, and his service number was 2008. He was born in 1895, and would have been about 21 when he took shelter in the cave. Before the war, Alistair had been a labourer. He was single, and listed his religion as “Church of England”. His mother, Emma, was from Hilton of Cadboll in Scotland.
Here, you can see the record left by 9th Batt Australians, G. Fitzhenry of Paddington, Sydney from 1916 July and Alistair Ross, Lismore, Australia
The caves were a famous refuge during the Middle Ages for villagers hiding from the armies ransacking local villages and towns above. They were closed off in the 18th century and largely forgotten until 1887, when a local priest stumbled across them again. By the onset of World War 1, they were a known attraction, and a natural draw for soldiers waiting to fight nearby.
Australian troops at Vignacourt, photographed by Louis Thuillers
Many of the soldiers who left their mark in Naours would've been based a couple of miles away in the town of Vignacourt, a significant communications hub and centre for Australian troops during World War 1.
Beyond artillery range, but close enough to the fighting to be an ideal training area, billeting spot, and rail centre, Vignacourt was a hub where soldiers took respite between battles, and occasionally had some free time to visit the local cafes, estaniments.... and caves. The area evolved into the British sector of the front as the war continued.
Over the Easter weekend, Associated Press reported that graffiti comprising 1,821 names of World War 1 soldiers had been discovered by accident by historians in northern France. Photographer Jeff Gusky was investigating the two-mile ling tunnel complex in the hope of discovering more about its older history when he found the names on the walls.
Jeff is now photographing the name of every soldier from Australia, Britain, Canada and the US who is represented there.
Vignacourt, where many soldiers sought respite between battles on the Western Front