Fringe Box



Preserving The Largest Crater Ever Made By Man In Anger: Remembering Its War Dead

Published on: 26 Jun, 2017
Updated on: 26 Jun, 2017

It is another busy year for Richard Dunning, who owns a significant feature of the First World War Somme battlefield – the Lochnagar Crater.

Richard Dunning MBE. Picture by Bob McShee.

Richard, who lives near Guildford, received his MBE from Prince Charles in February for his work in conserving the historic feature that was the result of a huge mine exploding on the German front line by the Allies at the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

He bought the area of land in 1978, realising its great importance in the history of the Great War and as a memorial to the hundreds of soldiers who died or who were injured in and around it.

This year sees continued conservation work at the crater by volunteers, the Friends of Lochnagar, with a number of new information panels being installed ahead of the 101st anniversary of the explosion that created it.

July 1st 2010. The congregation forming a complete circle around the crater by holding hands, symbolising fellowship and reconciliation.
Image courtesy of Georges Vandenbulke © 2011. From the Lochnagar Crater website.

Speaking to The Guildford Dragon NEWS, Richard said that more than 200,000 people visit the site each year, including 90,000 children. It therefore requires a good deal of conservation and repair work on the walkway around the perimeter and to stop erosion of the soil and by burrowing rabbits, as well as cutting back vegetation.

The crater is named after a mountain in Scotland and is in the rolling chalk down land of the River Somme valley. Just over one hundred years ago it was the site of bitter fighting as Allied troops once more tried to force the German army back and to gain ground from them.

To tell the story of the crater and perhaps more importantly the stories of the men who fought and died there, 20 new information panels are being installed. They will create a labyrinth; and as visitors walk through they will learn about the men who dug tunnels into which the explosives were placed that formed it, and what it was like to be there through personal memories.

Richard said that visitors will be taken on an emotional journey of information, compassion and reconciliation.

Friends’ working party. Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2009. From the Lochnagar Crater website.

His own passion for the crater, preserving it and using it to explain the horrors of war never falter. From when he first owned it he made contact with men who had fought there – although now of course there is no-one alive who fought in the First World War. In conjunction with the Western Front Association Richard visited many of those survivors listening to their stories. He was the Surrey branch secretary of the association for six years.

He also arranged for a number of them to revisit the crater. He said: “That was a privileged time, to stand with them on the edge of the crater and hear their tales and feelings 70 years later.”

Two photos of the Lochnagar Crater taken 90 years apart. Picture from the Lochnagar Crater website.

Other features visitors to Lochnagar Crater can see are several memorials. Last year, a granite memorial to women was unveiled and this year there will be the unveiling of a memorial to the tunnellers.

Once again, Richard will be at the crater later this week, on Saturday, July 1, for a service of remembrance, marking the time at 7.28am when 101 years ago a huge explosion made the ground tremble, sending earth hundreds of feet into the air. It is expected he will be joined by many others also paying their respects to those who died and suffered there.

The site is free of charge to visit and open to visitors during daylight hours.

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