WWI Soldiers Leave Haunting Graffiti In Underground City Near Somme Battlefield

No one wants to be forgotten. Perhaps that’s why nearly 2,000 WWI soldiers assured their legacy with some haunting graffiti, carving their names in a chalk quarry not far from the Somme battlefield.

The graffiti was recently discovered by archaeologist Gilles Prilaux, added CBS News. He found the WWI soldiers’ names while searching the two-mile long underground city in Naours for signs of the tunnels’ notoriety as a Middle Ages hideout. Villagers in those days used the tunnels to keep away from armies passing through northern France, the Independent reported.

WWI soliders have left similar marks in tunnels in Arras and Vimy, but Naours is unusual because it’s far from the front lines and was never used for shelter or as a hospital.

The answer may be in the underground city’s role as a tourist attraction in the late 19th and early 20th century. Despite the conflict, WWI soldiers would likely have visited the site whenever the battle calmed, Prilaux theorized. Naours isn’t far from the Vignacourt, which was a staging area for troops fighting on the Somme battlefield, added CNN.

During the month-long conflict, a million men were killed.

All told, the graffiti includes the names of 731 Australians, 339 British, 55 Americans, a handful of French and Canadians, and 662 more of unknown nationality, the Independent added.

“These cities beneath the trenches form a direct human connection to men who lived a century ago. They make hundred years ago seem like yesterday,” wrote photographer Jeff Gusky on his website.

The finding is a testament to how the soldiers wanted to make sure they were remembered; they knew an underground, out of the way place like the Naours tunnels would be the perfect place to do that, said historian Ross Wilson.

“It shows how soldiers form a sense of place and an understanding of their role in a harsh and hostile environment.”

But for Aussie soldier “HJ Leach,” his haunting graffiti was a way to remind the world he existed. “Merely a private,” the soldier carved his name on July 13, 1916. He was killed only a month later at the Battle of Pozieres.

[Photo Courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images]