Controversial plan to put three 650ft wind turbines on First World War battlefield where remains of fallen Lincolnshire soldiers are buried
Campaigners are urging a French energy company not to build wind turbines on the site of a First World War battlefield where 357 Lincolnshire soldiers were killed in a single day.
InnoVent wants to erect three 650ft tall turbines in northern France on land where the British and French fought the Germans during the Battle of Loos from September 25 to October 18 1915.
It is believed that the remains of thousands of ‘missing’ soldiers from all sides still lay buried under the ground.
And campaigners fear the land which is effectively their graves will be churned up to lay the foundations for the turbine towers.
The British suffered a total of 60,000 casualties during the battle, compared to 30,000 among the Germans.
About 1,400 Lincolnshire soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in the fighting.
The 8th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment suffered 500 casualties on September 26, 1915.
And this tragedy was followed by 880 casualties – including 357 dead – from the 1/4 and 1/5 Lincolns during the infamous charge on the Hohenzollern Redoubt German stronghold on October 13, 1915.
Now, Metheringham architect Mike Credland, who designed the battlefield memorial at the redoubt, and a local French historian, say InnoVent must find somewhere else for its turbines.
Mr Credland, whose uncle Frank was Company Sergeant Major and survived the battle for the redoubt, said: “To us, this land is where the graves of the missing are.
“The company is going to have to dig deep to build the foundations for these turbines into the battlefield where the remains of hundreds of British, German and French soldiers can still be found.
“Beneath the battlefield is a labyrinth of tunnels and underground workings where many more will have been entombed.
“We are saying don’t build these on the battlefield where loads of our lads are still buried.”
Historian Jean Luc Gloriant is looking for support from the UK to stop the windfarm plan.
He said: “The company ignores the English and Scottish soldiers who fell to the ground in Auchy-les-Mines – it does not interest them at all.
“Imagine all those bodies scattered and thrown away after excavations.”
A spokesmen for InnoVent told Lincolnshire Live: “We have a lot of respect for all the people whose came to France and gave their lives for us.
“Today, my job is to implement renewable energies for the future of our children.
“We have to create creative and sustainable relations between the past and future.”
The Lincolnshire lads who saw action at the Hohenzollern redoubt were part of 46th (North Midland) Division which suffered total casualties of 3,763 including 1,308 deaths on October 13, 1915.
Back in November 2004 it emerged that the site was being used as a rubbish dump.
However, following a campaign by the Lincolnshire Echo, landowner Eugene Bernus promised the dumping would end.
A memorial to the 46th Division was unveiled on October 13, 1915 thanks to Lincolnshire Co-op and the Friends of the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
So what was it like for the Tommies who had left their jobs back home to fight?
A pithy entry in the battalion diary neatly sums up what was achieved on October 13, 1915: “Redoubt taken but at heavy cost.”
The journal of the 1/4 Lincolns states that the men left the trenches in support of the 1/5 Lincolns and 1/4 Leicesters at 2pm, after a two-hour artillery bombardment had rained down on the enemy.
Crossing over the front line trenches, the troops advanced across no-man’s land in four lines.
The smoke and gas released by the British had merely alerted the Germans to the fact that the infantrymen of the 46th (North Midland) Division – all volunteers – were about to attack. And the enemy was ready.
The battalion withdrew from the redoubt on October 14 when it was relieved by a Notts & Derbys battalion, reforming in its original second line trench and “shelled all afternoon” before again pulled back.
The 1/5th Lincolns and the 1/4 Leicesters had led the attack on the north face of the redoubt.
And the battle account of the 1/5th Lincolns records how its troops “passed over the redoubt and owing to heavy fire took up a position in Little Willie and North Face [trenches]”.
“About 6pm we had to retire to the redoubt owing to the tenability of the former position. Only 160 men returned safely.
“This position we held. The battalion showed the greatest bravery in the attack but suffered very severely, 10 officers being killed and 12 wounded. Only about 160 men returned safely.”
The men of the 1/5th Lincolns came from Gainsborough, Louth, Alford, Spilsby, Skegness and the north of the county, and the battalion suffered 483 casualties including 188 deaths.
Sixty Gainsborough men were killed or died of their injuries, of which 36 worked at Marshall’s iron works in the town.
The 1/4 Lincolns – men from Lincoln, Woodhall Spa, Sleaford Boston, Grantham the south of the county – lost 169, with an additional 228 wounded or taken prisoner.
Their division also comprised battalions of the North and South Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Notts and Derbys and Monmouthshire regiments. Casualties amounted to 3,763 in total.
The regimental diaries challenge the modern perception that the men were used as pawns by aloof and uncaring senior officers. Several letters from the top brass were communicated to the officers and men expressing “admiration for the manner in which the attack was carried out”, with “great bravery and dash”.
And the general in charge of the division said he “deplores the loss of so many gallant officers and men, whose names will be inscribed in the roll of honour”.
Looking at the diaries, the preparation for battle makes interesting reading.
The 1/5th Lincolns’ entry from October 8 tells how senior officers did a recce of the trenches opposite the redoubt.
“No guides appeared to be available, and the occupants of the trenches, including officers, seemed to know very little about them,” the diary notes.
“Most of them had no idea about the number of the trench they were occupying, very little information gleaned from this visit, except what could be seen through periscopes.”
‘They cried for mercy but I shot them’
Like so many thrown into the mud, bullets and bombs of the First World War, William Rainsforth was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things.
The former grocer’s boy, who played football for Gainsborough Trinity, told how he and his comrades took four lines of German trenches and captured a dug-out as enemy soldiers begged for mercy.
He wrote of the terrible loss to his home town and how he saw his mates killed all around him, yet somehow he kept his nerve and survived without a scratch.
Private Rainsforth’s letter to his wife Nellie, who bore him nine children before, during and after the war, describes the murderous charge on the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
He wrote how they took four lines of German trenches. And after seeing his pals shot to pieces and blown up, he told how he raided an enemy trench and shot two Germans who begged for mercy.
He wrote: “Gainsborough will always remember 13th October – you don’t know the half yet. It is awful to think about and I don’t know what Gainsborough will think.”
Miriam Bailey, of Bernard Street, Lincoln, great niece to Mr Rainsforth, said: “News was very slow getting through to the local townspeople, who were all desperate to know who had been wounded, survived or lost.
“It must have been agonising for families waiting to hear news, so if any local townspeople received a letter, they took it into the local paper who invariably printed it, which is why a letter to his wife was published from William Rainsforth a week or so after the battle.
“This battle affected so many families – including ours.
“I feel that we should pay tribute to them all – brave lads.
“They are gone, but not forgotten.”
After the war, Mr Rainsforth went back to working at Marshalls in Gainsborough and he died in 1973. His son Sid has just celebrated his 103rd birthday and after living in his own place until he was more than 101, has only just gone into a care home in Gainsborough.
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