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Amateur Explorer Uncovers 250 Designs Carved Into WWI Tunnel Walls

Decades after Allied soldiers put down their weapons, an amateur battlefield explorer has uncovered the secret tunnels these brave men used during World War One. Paris’ Marc Askat found the winding eight-mile underground network used by the American Expeditionary Force in the forests of Northern France. "After several months of research on the war diaries and the position of the trenches on maps, I found a quarry that was exactly on their target,” Askat says.

The American Expeditionary Force was deployed under President Woodrow Wilson to aid British and French forces battling Germany’s assault on the Western Front. Camera in hand, Askat captured these stunning photos of over 250 military insignias, soldier portraits, and more carved into the tunnel walls.

Marc Askat

“Many names, nicknames, masonic logos, and city names were etched into the walls,” Askat says. “This place was very rich with finds, I didn't even check my watch during almost eight hours underground.”

Marc Askat

The underground network remains a dangerous place as shells, bombs, and grenades were found littering the floor. 

Marc Askat

"I left quickly after finding a rusted mortar with mustard gas bottle pieces in it locked on the floor,” Askat says. “You really don't want to breathe that even after one hundred years."

Marc Askat

During WWI, Allied forces dug tunnels underneath opposing armies' trenches where they would set mines.

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Laying a groundwork of mines was a key battle component of the Battle of Messines between 1914 and 1918. The attack kickstarted with the simultaneous detonation of 19 mines planted in the shafts beneath enemy German lines.

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The tunnels often provided shelter to the allied soldiers as they braced themselves from German attacks.

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Holed up for hours, the men resorted to carving portraits of themselves and their horses into the rock to take their minds off the battle above them.

Marc Askat

“I have spent a lot of time exploring the limestone quarries used by soldiers during the first and second World War,” Askat says.

Marc Askat

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“The fact is that very few remains of U.S. and Commonwealth soldiers are visible.”

Marc Askat

Among the bevy of military insignias lies Boston's 26th Infantry Division.

Marc Askat

American soldiers landed in Saint-Nazaire, France in September 1917 to support British and French forces.

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Boston's 26th Infantry Division was the second division deployed by the U.S. during WWI.

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This would be the America's first intervention in Europe.

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All of the division's recruits hailed from New England, earning them the nickname "Yankees."

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The Yankees endured 210 days of combat, during which 1,587 lost their lives while another 12,077 were wounded.

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The surviving soldiers returned home on May 3rd, 1919 and were awarded six campaign streamers - military honors - for their service.

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Unfortunately, these photos may be the last glimpses the public will get of these rare finds.

Marc Askat

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The hope of turning the site into a museum might not become a reality. Extensive de-mining must take place before anyone can safely re-enter the tunnels. 

Marc Askat

The process of the cleaning the tunnels is an incredibly costly and dangerous one. A few of the tree roots embedded in the tunnels still house live ammunition. 

Marc Askat

"This location is invisible on maps and very few people even know of its existence,” Askat says. “It is very deep into a forest and if you don't know where it is, you have no chance to find it by accident as no one goes there."

Marc Askat

For the time being, Askat’s photos are all we have to preserve these monuments from the brave individuals who risked life and limb for their countries.

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"Places like these need to be preserved with respect for those who fought, died, and now remain there, as the ground is still full of lost soldier's bodies," Askat says.

Marc Askat

"This place is sacred."

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Don't forget to SHARE these rare photos with your friends and family.

H/T: Daily Mail

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