Deep mystery

A FRENCH archaeologist is searching for the family of a Fremantle soldier whose signature is one of thousands left by WWI Anzacs on cave walls deep beneath the Somme.

More than 3000 signatures were recently discovered by Gilles Prilaux, director of the National Institute of Preventative Archaeological Research, and with Australian government help they’ll soon be recognised as part of a small museum.

Greatest chance

“I discovered these signatures by the greatest chance during an archaeological intervention whose purpose was to date the origin of the caves,” Mr Prilaux told the Herald.

The caves date back to the Roman era and started life as a limestone quarry, but in the intervening years locals from the village of Naours used them for storage and to hide from encroaching armies.

“I discovered coins, musket balls, fragments of pottery, proving that the caves were occupied by men during the Thirty Years’ War (1618/1648).

“In December 2013 I had the idea to observe the walls of the caves to search for engravings and this day it was a real shock to discover all these signatures.

• Pte William Truran sits in the middle of this portrait, taken just before leaving for the front, with his brother Victor at his left shoulder and three other Freo soldiers.

“The signatures were made by soldiers who came to visit the caves during periods of rest or convalescence for wounded soldiers.”

Mr Prilaux says after four years of study, a small museum dedicated to the graffiti will open later this year.

Pte Truran

He says most of the signatures are Aussies, but there’s also a smattering of Americans, Canadians, English, Scotts, South Africans, Indians and French.

Mr Prilaux says he’s searching for any descendants of Pte William Howard Truran who left Fremantle  on September 2, 1915. His battle baptism came in the hellish trenches of Gallipoli, but after the Allied retreat his unit was reorganised and sent to the Western Front in 1916, where he made his mark on the walls of the cave.

• Pte William Truran’s signature carved into a cave deep under the French village of Naours. Photo supplied

Pte Truran was one of four brothers who served in the Great War, and somewhat remarkably they all returned home relatively unscathed. William was a member of the 16th Battalion’s 8th Reinforcements and served in the Australian Army Medical Corps, returning to Australia on February 5, 1919.

If there are any family of William around, they can contact the Herald on 9430 7727 and we’ll put you in touch with Mr Prilaux.

by STEVE GRANT

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