Staffordshire University fronts study on historic WW1 crater

“I have been leading the film team to capture the research as it unfolds as well as interviewing experts in their field to produce digital living history for people to see internationally and here in the UK."

Fiona Graham, Associate Professor of Film Technology

Forensic scientists and film-makers from Staffordshire University are to shed new light on a significant World War battle ground where many British soldiers lost their lives. The University is leading a multi-disciplinary team who have been granted special access to Hawthorn Crater in Northern France where thousands of British soldiers were killed and injured.

The explosion of the Hawthorn Ridge mine by the British on the morning of July 1, 1916 signalled the beginning of the most tragic day in the history of the British Army - the battle of the Somme.

Dr Kirsty Squires, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology, is the research lead on the project and is taking charge of the archaeology and anthropology aspects of the project. She explained: “The overarching aims of the project are to preserve, investigate, and interpret the site using different specialisms. It’s the first-time access has been given to investigate the site and we’re delighted to be joined by former Channel 4 Time Team presenter and historian Andy Robertshaw and a team of historians, scientists and engineers on the most intensive study of any Great War battlefield ever attempted.”

The project is being documented by Fiona Graham, Associate Professor of Film Technology who teaches on the BSc Hons Film Production Technology and BSc Digital Film and Post Production Technology courses at Staffordshire University. She said: “This is a one-off chance to capture for posterity what happened here at the crater. It was blown twice and was captured on film by one of the first war correspondents Geoffrey H. Malins. It is one of a rare few films which captured the crater exploding at very moment the battle started.

“I have been leading the film team to capture the research as it unfolds as well as interviewing experts in their field to produce digital living history for people to see internationally and here in the UK. We are bringing the battlefield back to Britain to see what Malins’ witnessed and try to discover what the men experienced on the first day of the battle. It is very humbling to be part of such a special project.”

Professor of Forensic Science Education John Cassella added: “This is a huge team effort with the intention of enabling many more people to learn about and visualise what happened more than 100 years ago at Hawthorn Ridge.”

  • The Battle of the Somme took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. More than three million men were involved in the battle and one million were wounded or killed making it one of the bloodiest battles in history.
    Hawthorn Ridge was one of 19 mines detonated on the first day of the Battle of Somme. The explosion was met by a barrage of machine gun fire by the Germans who held their position on Hawthorn Ridge. The day claimed more than 2000 casualties including 613 killed and 81 missing.
    On the 13th of November 1916 a new tunnel was dug and detonated.  This time, Hawthorn Ridge and the nearby village of Beaumont Hamel were captured and 2000 Germans were held captive. This marked the end of the Battle of the Somme.

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