Unlocking the Secrets of Underground 'City' in the Second in a Series STEVEN MOORE Marks the 80th Anniversary of the End the First World War with a Look at Plans to Restore a German Fortification Taken by the Ulster Division in 1916

Article excerpt

THE grandfather clock, tucked in behind the door, almost symbolises the paradox of the Somme.

Time, quite literally, had stood still for it. Life for those who live on the battlefields of the First World War, however, has moved on.

The landscape about the Ulster Tower, built on what had been the German frontline during the Ulster Division's assault on July 1, 1916, and dedicated to the memory of the fallen, has been radically altered in the intervening years.

A pledge by the Provost of the region, made in 1921, to preserve the trenches so that future generations could see for themselves the horror which had taken place there, could not be kept.

After the land had been stripped of munitions and bodies, it was returned to the farmers, who restored the rolling pasture land and produced sustenance for life where once there had only been death.

Thiepval Wood, in which the Ulster Division sheltered, still bears the scars, with the outline of trenches clearly visible and the deep recesses of shell holes and dugouts easy to find.

The timber, destroyed by shell fire so that only stumps remained, has been sufficiently replaced to allow considerable forestry to take place.

For more than 80 years that clock - now retained at the Ulster Tower - had sat underground, deep within the chambers of a concrete tomb above which the Ulstermen had fought and died.

Forsaken by the German troops which had scavenged it from a French chateau, it lay uncared for in the vaults of the Schwaben Redoubt, sunk deep into the French clay.

In the 1960s, when French farmers, frustrated at the stream of souvenir hunters who risked their lives to plunder the fortifications,covered the remaining entrances, it and its contents were lost forever. Or so it was thought.

The Somme Association, however, has different plans. Created out of a cross-community scheme for young people, it has grown into a formidable campaigner dedicated to preserving Ireland's part in the First World War.

In the early 1990s, having discovered that the Ulster Tower had been allowed to decay to a dangerous state, it raised the cash to restore it. …