Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Battlefield not a garbage dump, French town told

DIRTY HISTORY The town of Auchy-les-Mines has been told to stop using a WWI battlefield as a dump after British media condemned the practice


A French town has been forced to stop using a former World War I battlefield as a garbage dump after a fierce campaign by British media and citizens outraged at what they called a "desecration" of the memory of their fallen soldiers.

The cross-Channel offensive against Auchy-les-Mines, population 4,500, took on a particular edge because of the belief that one of Queen Elizabeth II's uncles was among the thousands of soldiers who were killed fighting the Germans during the Battle of Loos in 1915.

A flurry of sharp newspaper articles, a petition by 1,500 Britons and protestations by the British embassy in Paris and consulate in Lille finally forced the town's mayor to this week sign a decree outlawing the dump, which had been legally operating since 1997 on private land.

The mayor, Jean Clarisse, visibly a little fatigued by the pressure brought to bear, underlined that the reports that the remains of the queen's uncle, Fergus Bowes-Lyon, were still on the land were "supposition -- there are still many question marks over that."

But he said he made the decision to close the dump -- used to hold construction waste -- was an effort to maintain good relations with Britain and with the groups of foreign visitors who come to see the historic site.

A British delegation was due to arrive next week to look at constructing a memorial to the fallen soldiers, the bones of many of which remain buried where they fell. As late as this month, newspapers such as the Leicester Mercury, the daily for the region from where many of the British soldiers came, had been pillorying Auch-les-Mines for what it called "the ultimate desecration."

Up to 60,000 British soldiers died in the Battle of Loos, which was an ultimately unsuccessful assault on German positions in northern France.

Bowes-Lyon, who was a captain in the Black Watch regiment, and Rudyard Kipling's son, John, were reported missing, presumed dead, in the battle, though their remains have never been identified for proper burial.

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