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Author Topic: A masterpiece rumor of the Great War
snopes
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Word spread among soldiers up and down the trench lines that there was an alternative between death by the futile charge against enemy fortifications and death by being summarily executed for refusing orders. The rumor was that men were living inside the territory of No Man's Land -- and beneath it. They had found refuge in the underground caverns where neither side could get to them. They were, in effect, deserters from both armies who had, at first, fallen into the tunnels and bunkers while making the charge. But they had refused to climb out of their holes, and soon enough had organized themselves into a kind of third force -- not fighters any more, but mere survivors, at home in the caverns. Dozens of them, perhaps hundreds. Human beings caring for one another, no matter what uniform they were wearing.

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/07/10/a_masterpiece_rumor_of_the_great_war/

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Andrew of Ware, England
A-Ware in a Manger


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I am very sceptical. He doesn't give any references. Having read a couple of books of letters from soldiers in the trenches I have not seen any reference to these tunnels. How were the tunnels supported? How did the tunnels survive the frequent shell blasts? Where did the soldiers get the food? What did the soldiers do after the war? They would have been listed as 'killed in action' or 'missing'. They couldn't just suddenly appear without questions being asked.

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Andrew, Ware, England

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Unusual Elfin Lights
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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Andrew, I'm thinking that the chlorine gas that was used went down the tunnels and killed them all. [Roll Eyes]

On the other hand, this sounds like someone's utopian view of the camraderie of the trenches. Not based in reality at all.

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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I've read a spot on the Great War ( Yes, the one I still prefer, sir, is the war of 14-18 ) and I've never heard of that rumor.

Is this, perhaps, somehow conflated with the fantasy of the soldier from H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds," where an underground survival of civilization is (feverishly) envisioned?

Silas

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Andrew of Ware, England
A-Ware in a Manger


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Another thought has struck me. From the article linked to in the OP:

quote:
They were angels, the soldiers told one another ahead of each assault, who would take care of those who fell. The wounded who could do so would then be able to join the deserters in the safety of the caverns. When they recovered from their wounds, they, too, would be angels, emerging at night to rescue the fallen.
Do I hear echoes of 'The Angel of Mons' myth?

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Andrew, Ware, England

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Richard W
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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The area under no-man's land was fairly well tunnelled anyway, with squads of engineers building mines and planting bombs under enemy lines. Several of the large offensives started with the simultaneous detonation of charges beneath the enemy front line. The miners also built counter-mines and listened for enemy digging; there's no way there could be a network of tunnels that they didn't know about.

I've read that (despite what you may assume) being in one of the mining squads was a comparatively cushy job - it was out of the way of most of the danger, and since most of the people doing it were miners in peacetime anyway, it wasn't much different from their usual work. I suppose it only seemed cushy because their usual work was unimaginably nasty and dangerous to most of us, though.

(edit) I guess this is missing the point, though; the real question is how widespread this rumour was, not whether the tunnel community existed because it obviously didn't. I've never heard of it before, but that doesn't mean a lot.

(another edit) I'll recommend this book again:

Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the Great War by Gordon Corrigan.

It's billed as debunking the myths surrounding the First World War, and it disagrees with a lot of what's said about the Somme in that article.

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Jay Tea
The "Was on Sale" Song


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Hm. Geologically speaking these 'caverns' would have been in loamy earth and other superficial deposits, they would have been entombed the second a barrage hit.

That said, even if a suitable underground redoubt was discovered, i'd have sooner deserted to Paris [lol]

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This is where I come up with something right? Something really clever...

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Felessan
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Paul Fussell references this tale in his classic study, "The Great War and Modern Memory". He's in no doubt that it's a myth pure and simple.

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You fool! That's not a warrior, that's a banana!
- a surreal moment in a role-playing game

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Richard W
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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What's the myth, though? The tunnel community or the idea that many soldiers "believed" this rumour?
Posts: 8725 | From: Ipswich - the UK's 9th Best Place to Sleep! | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
   

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