History

The îlot at the heart of the First World War

The Îlot is situated on the edge of the village of la Boisselle; it was not until the First Wordl War that it was given the name “îlot” by the French and “Glory Hole” by the British. The owner at the start of the 19th century was Jean-Baptiste Gribauval who had a farmhouse built there.

The young Arthur Berchon, last in line of the Gribauvals, left la Boisselle for a career in Paris as a notary's clerk. The vacant farm was then placed under the protection of M. Gaston Lejeune, who live in the neighbouring farm.

© Collection Guy François

1914

Fighting at the Gribauval farm

Fighting first broke out in the village on 28 September when the 64th and 137th infantry regiments stopped the advance of the German troops, who were heading for the town of Albert.

Under the 119th and 120th Wurtenburg regiments, most of the houses in the village were fortified, and in particular a farmhouse alongside the road to Contalmaison.

After several unsuccessful attacks, the French troops managed to capture the farm on Christmas Eve.

© Collection Guy François

1915

In the trenches of the îlot

At the beginning of the year, there was fierce fighting in the ruins of the Gribauval farm. Mine explosions, surface offensives and bombardments were the daily lot of the soldiers. But no significant advances were made, and the surface fighting stopped, giving way to underground operations.

At several places, the Germans went much deeper than the French and used explosive charges of up to 3000 kg (3 tons). No man's land was reduced to a continuous line of mine craters along a 400 metre stretch.

At the end of July, the British relief forces took over definitively from the French on the Somme front. Battalions 1/6 and 1/7 of the Black Watch occupied the îlot trenches. Men of the 179 tunnelling company took over from the French miners.

The tunnellers dug out new underground entrances to burrow deeper into the ground under the îlot. In reprisal, the Germans led a devastating underground attack at the end of the year.

1916

The sector in allied hands

Preparations for the battle of the Somme began to the east and west of the Îlot with the planting of two large mines underground. The îlot was judged to be too dangerous for an assault.

On 1st July, at 7:28, the tunnellers sprang the mines in the Lochnagar and Y tunnels, situated to the east and west of the village, together with two smaller mines under the îlot.

At 7:30, the British 34th division went on the offensive, but failed to capture the village. La Boisselle was only taken three days later, on 4 July.