Avril's Front Yard Hole Report

                         By:     Willis S. Cole, Jr.  "Sam"
                                   Executive Director/Curator
                                   Battery Corporal Willis S. Cole Military Museum
                                   www.ww1.org                          ww1@ww1.org

                                Last Modified:  10/18/06 09:54:27 PM

She kept us "toiling and toiling in 'er 'ole all day long."

        When Avril first took possession of the farm compound that was to
become her Bed And Breakfast, she found a small hole in the yard covered
by a board.  The hole continued to grow, first just a few inches across, then
a foot and then two feet and so on.  When I first saw the hole in 1994, Avril
told me about how, "One day soon, she is going to find out what is at the
bottom of the hole."  A fellow, a guest at that, had lowered himself past the
metal and ground blocking most of the hole and at some distance down, he
had seen tunnels sloping off in two directions.

        As the years passed, the hole continued to grow, forming a cone with
a large open top and a small hole at the bottom. partly blocked by metal
rails.  One year, I found the large hole had a new surrounding wall of large
blocks, mostly by from an old WW1 memorial that had deteriorated so far
it was removed.  The bottom of the new enclosure was partially cemented
over, but the hole below was still growing.

        Each year, Avril's voice would be determined in stating, "That I'm
going to dig it out someday."  Finally, while on one of my visits to France,
during which I was staying with a French friend so miles away, but still
spending some of most days at Avril's I decided it was time to "cut bait"
and I told Avril I would be there next day to start the excavation.  A planned
situation had fallen through and now I had a few days to start something
new.  She even volunteered the help of an Australian, Jim , who was staying at
her sister's B&B just down the road.  Besides Jim Dyer, she volunteered Cyril
who was to become her son-in-law in early September, 1998.  She even said,
she might be able to con her brother, Richard, who was visiting from England
into helping some before he left to go home to 'old Blighty  About the only
thing the three of us agreed on that day, was that we would not be starting
very early in the mornings.  An agreement that proved to most correct as I
had to drive about 15 miles each day to get to there and no matter how
hard I try for early starts they just don't seem to happen.  Of course, you
see, I was on vacation!

            wpe78382.gif (98952 bytes)
                                    Cyril, Sam, Jim and Richard
                                    Photo:   Haydn Rhys Thomas

        Late one May morning, 1998, I arrived at the B&B with borrowed
rope, strapping for harness and great hopes to accomplish something
fast.  We knew some guy had been down quite a ways, so it had to be
open under the partial blockage.  First, we figured out a way to make
the strapping a safety harness and with one end of the long rope tied to
the nearby telephone pole and the other tied to the bucket we were going
to use to remove the spoil dirt, it was time for the first hero(?) to start
down in "Avril's 'ole."

        Being the instigator, I had to go first or admit I wasn't as excited
about going down in a well as I put on.  So gingerly down the sloping
side went the "old coot."  Once, I got my feet on the blocking iron rails
and felt their strength, I wasn't quite as worried.  You see, I felt and still
do that we have about three things that could happen.

1.    It could be a regular old well and with the water table in this high
     lands area of France being over 100 feet down, it could be a long drop
    to the bottom of "Avril's 'ole."   However, the safety harness should
    keep me from falling more than three or four feet before it jerked me
    to a stop.

2.    It could be an old well with two blocks.  The first at the level the
    tunnel floors began with and the second the rotten one that had
    obviously broken through allowing the earth to fall through until the
    large hole was made that I was working in.  The French or the English
    which ever were responsible for the tunnels, would have lowered a
    digger down on a rope who would have made holes in the side of
    the well to make the bottom block and installed the blocking material.
    After that, they started the two supposed tunnels off the sides of the
    well shaft.  Once the tunnels had been dug, using the well shaft to
    remove the spoil, they made the bombproof blockage at the top of
    the chalk where the clay earth stretched another seven feet up to the
    surface.  Then, they filled in the rest of the shaft with dirt to hide the
    tunnel system below.

3.    It could also be an entrance into the old caves that had been dug
     under many of the old villages in the area to get chalk building materials
    in the far past, as the surfaces of this area of France does not offer any.
    The entrances to the caves dug this way became very important to the
    villagers, as they learned to use the caves to hide from the many warring
    enemies that came to rape and pillage.  As soon, as they heard they were
    coming the villagers would all go below the ground into the caves with
    their hidden entrances and live until the bad guys left.  The nearby town
    of Doullens offers a large system of caves of those days that you can
    visit on a day trip.

        Once the bad guys left, up they popped up to continue their life.  Often
    these systems were quite well prepared, with chimneys built in such a
    way to diffuse the smoke from their under ground fires for cooking and
    warmth, so that the invaders could not tell where it was coming from.

    It seemed to me, that we could not go wrong.  If we found a World War
one tunnel system and it came up near Avril's home, she would have great
advertising.  It turned out to be an old cave system, the same was true and
if we just ended up with a well, she could hook up a pump and use the water
to make her yard grow and even flush the toilets, as the water from the water
systems is fairly expensive.

    So, with Jim on the rope and bucket, I began digging out the blocking rails.
Soon, it became obvious that we would be a lot longer than we had thought,
for the dirt from the large cone area in the dirt above chalk well shaft was
in the well shaft as I opened it.

    Before long, I had managed to loosen the blockage area to find it was of iron
pieces made up of an old WW1 caisson axle, a length of light rail from
the war period and a length of heavy rail.  It was obvious that someone had gone
to a lot of effort to block off the well shaft at the chalk top level.  They had dug
out the chalk in a square shape on either side of the shaft, going about two feet
down into the chalk.  They had placed the iron into the steps and then built their
blockage on top of it.  I figured, we would find that stuff down in the hole.

                  wpe09519.gif (92100 bytes)
                               Mark Williams showing his enthusiasm in the 'ole.
                                               About 15 feet below the surface.
                                                 Photo: Haydn Rhys Thomas

    Three days later, when my time had run out and we had all spent our time in
the hole and pulling up the spoil, we were down about 22 feet from the surface.
The digging had not been very easy because we kept running into all kinds of things
that had been thrown into the hole.  One thing we did find, were quite a few large
and long lag screws.  They had obviously been in wooden beams that had been
placed upon the top of the iron supports to hold the blockages above.

    When I was digging and reached the 18 foot level, I found that the well shaft
was changing.  On the side toward the house and the side away from it, the side
of the well began to slope in.  At the end of the day, when my time was up and
all had to go on to the rest of our life, I was 22 feet in the main shaft and I had
dug into and down at an angle on either side another three feet in and two feet
down.  It was discouraging, at the 22 foot level I had hit a lot of large blocks of
chalk which filled the well shaft.  I knew now, that they been had placed over the
wood pieces that had rotted away, allowing the chalk blocks to fall past the iron
supports, to end up where I was standing on them, as we completed digging the
dirt out, that had been placed over the chalk blocks, wood and iron.

    When we quite that day, we felt we had made a good start and I promised
Avril that I would do some more digging when I returned, with Carol, to visit
and stay in September.  We covered the hole to keep the rain out and extra stuff
from being thrown in and called it a good beginning.

    Wouldn't you know it, when we got there in September, Jim had gone back
and left his "Walk About."  Cyril had gone and married Cathy, Avril's daughter
a few days earlier and Richard was smart enough to head right back to Blighty
when the wedding was over.  The only person to pull the loaded pail up, was my
wife, Carol.  And, somehow she did not seem as excited at the prospect as I was.

    As a wedding present, more to Mom that daughter, Carol had promised to help
Avril in the tea room during the day.  So, I had to pull her from that when I wanted
to dig.  Seemed kind of funny now, how she appeared to love kitchen work more at
Avril's than she does at home, for some reason.

    I had wised up a bit and took lots of rope and a good digger with me from home
and after weaving a safety harness out of one end of a rope and attaching the heavy
new bucket I bought there, I was ready to attack the well.  Carol joined right in, in
helping me make the harness and getting ready to enter the deep hole.  When it came
time to start the dig, it did seem like it was hard to get her to the edge of the hole and
ready to pull up buckets of spoil.

                          wellsam1.tif (403994 bytes)
                         Down in the partially bricked up hole, it sure seems deeper with the
                         bricked top.  Standing about 2 1/2 feet closer to camera than I would
                         have been in May.        
                  Photograph: Helen & Jim Hunter

    Down into the hole I went, ready to dig away and what did I find?  I found myself
standing on clay, not chalk as I had left it.  It was apparent that during the start of the
bricking in of the shaft from the top of the chalk toward the surface that much dirt
had re-entered the hole.  As I jammed the shovel into the clay, I realized that things
had changed and not for the good.  What was a five pound shovel full of dirt in May
was now more like twelve pounds.  It had been a very wet summer and the newly
fallen dirt had turned into heavy clay, impregnated with all that extra rain water.

    One can't complain though, poor Carol pulled and pulled and the dirt filled bucket
slowly went up.  Me, I hid behind the long ladder we had lowered for access to the
bottom, as I wasn't so sure that bucket might not come right back down and fast.   When
she managed to clear the edge of the boards over the hole, you could hear her huffing
and puffing and muttering as she dumped the wet dirt over the side of the block wall.

                    wellsam2.tif (400805 bytes)
                    Some fellow guests got conned into helping get the spoil out of
                    Avril's 'ole.  Helen and Jim Hunter helps with the pull.
                    Photo: Helen and Jim Hunter - Jim's a retired Royal Navy man.

    As much as we begged the guests, only a few did volunteer to pull for a while and
that still did not speed us much.  I did find out what they meant when they discussed
'clay kicking' in the books about making the tunnels in the battle areas.  I had to place
my back against the ladder or well sides and push like heck to get the shovel to go into
the clay.  I found, that I could only get a two or three inch layer, kind of like cutting a
pie or cake.

    Well, three days later, with it raining often during each day, all I had managed to do
was to get almost back to where I was when I quit in May.  I did get to pry one large
block of chalk out of the bottom before I quit this time and I didn't manage to get out
the dirt that had washed and rolled into the previously dug out side tunnels.

    Well, that is the hole report for 1998.  Avril has promised that she would see that a
cover would be placed, not only over the well head, but also over the outside wall she
had built a few years earlier.   She hopes to have the hole bricking, at least to the surface,
finished and with a proper cover, the sun will create a hot surface under the roof at times
during the winter, setting up air currents deep into the well and helping get the dirt and
chalk down there dry again, so we can continue the excavation of 'Avril's 'ole' during
our next visit.   And, if we can't, perhaps some kind hands in that foreign land will
'toil and toil in Avril's hole' next year, so that we can solve the mystery!

November 24, 1998

    It was not a lie, I swear it was not a lie.  I thought for certain that the
above was the last of "Avril's 'ole" for 1998.  But, a sudden research
opportunity for the Web Master called me back to France on October 29th
and before I left Avril's on 16 November, I covered the 'ole with a good tarp
I 'auled 'over there' from the U.S.A.

    Avril's 'ole is well covered for the winter of 1998/99 and with luck,
the breathing openings on the side will dry out Avril's 'ole so that our
hoped for first visit in/of 1999, will enable us to continue down Avril's 'ole
the next 6 to 8 feet to determine if she really has something special or
its just 'another 'ole that turned out to be a well.'

    We still believe it is something very special, Avril's 'ole is!''

February 11, 1999

    Avril has reported that her brother, Richard, has been somewhat busy
this winter and that he has completed the bricking up of the well (tunnels?)

    This should finish the falling in of the shaft, as the brick work is supported
on the solid chalk the shaft is sunk through.  With the well head being covered
against the winter weather, the bottom should stay somewhat dryer, which
will permit easier digging during the next trip to the bottom.

    One more good day, two at the most, will release the secrets of the well
shaft in front of Avril William's B & B.

    The latest information on the converting of the one building to living
quarters for Kathy, Cyril and Seb, is that Seb's room is done, they are
living there as they complete the finishing.  Also, the conversion of the
bottom rooms to become the Tea Room, is on the normal French
schedule, slow by perhaps - sure.  It should be ready for the surge in
summer visitors.

April/May, 1999 Report  -  Finally entered on August 25, 1999

   The problem when one is learning new things.  Changed Web Host location
and began learning HTML editing directly.  Worked fine, until I came back and
found I had forgot everything and had to start almost at the beginning.  Then
due to upgrades not fitting each other, it took two over two months to be able
to access the site for editing purposes.  Computers and the Web are wonderful,
that is, until they decide to get you.  They can lose more information in a second
than will file many file cabinets..  Sometimes it is gone forever and other time,
like this, you can get it back.   Sorry, Web Master!
    I arrived in France at the end of April, full of great hopes and expectations.
I was joined by Carol for the last two weeks and we left France on June 8th full
of frustrations.  With the major goals of the trip unfulfilled.
    First, no research at the
Lady Jeannette crash site, as the French government
is still withholding the required permission to meet French legal requirements.  As
unbelievable as it is, the French have a law that says, World War Two Aircraft
Sites are so much French history, that the people from the country from which the
crew came cannot research the sites.  Even when the true identity of the aircraft
is at question.  It can be done, but it must be done on the quite and illegally.  A step
that our military museum refuses to follow.  We have now been waiting for 11
months for the French government to give its permission.
    Second, now to Avril's 'ole.............
    As the Royal Engineers have shown an interest, Avril's 'ole is off limits to us
Yanks.  However, I can report, that the brickie has completed the lining of the
'ole to the surface and bricked it up to proper well height.  Richard, Avril's
brother, has emplaced heavy timbering over the 'ole head and the 'ole is
blocked with a heavy lid to prevent guests from touring the 'ole by accident
after a Saturday evening "Barbie."  Australian Style, that is!
    However, I did spend a solid 8 days with the car never leaving the grounds,
cleaning out building where the museum and new basement entry area will be.
And, though we cannot plumb Avril's 'ole any more, she gladly allowed me to
shovel her chicken's S&%@.  I toiled long and hard on improving the fence
and other little tasks Avril lined up.  Might as well do that, as I waited and
waited for the promised French permission that never came.
    Had a good time though, ate well, drank well and met lots of "guests of
Avril's.  Took some on tours and helped others search out their special places.
Took pictures of areas where relatives were killed for people we have helped
research such places on our museum's web site at http://www.ww1.org
   All is not lost though.  One day, as I worked around the place, I saw a
guest with a talent sitting at one of the lawn chairs.  After looking over her
shoulder, I quickly asked her to draw a picture of the well for me.
    It good and it beats a regular picture for this report.

Quite, serious artist at work!
Pat Howe creating drawings at Avril's.  The pictures
below are photographs of Pat's drawings.

Avril's 'ole, May, 1999.  Its secret still held!

From this shed, the chicken S&#@, I did
fling.  The other end is the museum to be.

What one misses, if one does not stay at Avril's for
her Saturday night "Aussie Style Barbie."  Avril,
the grill and her 'ole in the background.

Avril's B&B current lunch room entrance and the
facilities for use by visitors and the Barbie crowd.
Held by the artist herself, Pat Howe.


Due to problems beyond control, the well has not been working on
for some years.  It is still a hope that sometime in the future
we will be able to return to Avril's and re-open the well, to see
if we can get past the blockage that was found.

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