Fosses Farm Cave and other Arras Caves
From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
June / July 1917
“Stobie and Arrowsmith, with their personnel, received a high explosive notice to quit, and their descent into a wrong-facing shaft was next followed by the partial destruction or their only exit. They escaped safely and arrived in a state of pardonable excitement at the deep cave under Les Fosses Farm, where my Company Headquarters and many others were. This cave,perhaps, will bear a short description. In Artois and Picardy, where chalk strata prevailed, deep subterranean passages and caves abounded. Under Arras itself sufficient room existed to hold many thousands of out troops, who were housed underground before the battle opened.
The Germans more than ourselves exploited this feature of geology. Under Gommecourt and Serre their reserve troops had lurked deep in caves. In the Champagne more striking instances occurred of whole battalions issuing from hidden passages and exits to the fight. The cave below Fosses Farm was about 40 feet below the ground. Of most irregular shape, it branched and twisted into numerous alleys and chambers through the chalk. In it lived representatives of the Artillery, Royal Engineers, New Zealand Tunnellers, the whole of B Company, parts of Headquarters, the Doctor’s personnel, and my own Company Headquarters.
The cave was dimly lit by a few candles. Throughout the day and night there were perpetuaI comings and goings, and it was common to see men, dazzled by the outside sun, come stumbling
down the stairs and tread unseeing on the prostrate forms of those asleep below. The bare chalk was floor, bed, and bench to all alike. The shadows, the dim groups of figures, and the rough pillars forming walls and roof, gave the impression of some old cathedral. At one end a hole communicating with the ground above served as the only chimney for the incessant cooking that was going on. The fumes of this huge grill-room, which did duty, not only for the 400 men or so within the cave itself, but for as many situated at a distance in the outside world, lent a primeval stamp to the surroundings. We were cave-dwellers, living in partial darkness and lacking even the elements of furniture. Caves, cellars, and deep dug-outs had a demoralising influence upon their occupants. The utter security below, contrasted with the danger overhead–for often the entrances to these refuges
were particularly shelled–and the knowledge that at any moment the former might have to be exchanged for the latter could deal a subtle injury to one’s morale. It was a golden rule, one per- chance followed by many of out leaders, to make each day some expedition afield before the sun had reached its meridian. On the whole one was happier without deep dug-outs–and safer, too, for to become a skulker was equivalent to death. In quoting things to show how little picnicing there was in the war I feel it opportune to mention a fresh shape in which danger now appeared, not only for the Infantry, but for others formerly
immune in sheltered positions far behind the front.”
Inside the amazing cave city that housed 25,000 Allied troops under German noses in WWI is a great article in the Daily Mail, 16th March 2008.
France reveals British WWI cave camp is a BBC article from 5th May 2008.