In 2004 the Somme Association purchased Thiepval Wood, with the support of funding provided by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Thiepval Wood faces the Ulster Memorial Tower and is the location from where the 36th (Ulster) Division initiated its attack on the German Lines on the Schwaben Redoubt on the 1st July 1916.
The Somme Association’s aim is to protect and keep Thiepval Wood as a lasting memorial to the memories of all the soldiers who served there and of those still resting in the Wood, close to where they fell. Today Thiepval Wood is a very peaceful and tranquil place with a strong sense of the presence of the soldiers who now rest in peace and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
Shortly after purchasing Thiepval Wood, in October 2004, the Somme Association initiated an archaeological research project to excavate, preserve, examine and restore small sections of the systems of trenches and bunkers at the front of Thiepval Wood. The project involved support from soldiers of The Royal Irish Regiment, the direct descendant of the Regiments that fought in the Battle of the Somme.
As a mark of respect for the soldiers from the Division who fought at the Somme, soldiers from The Royal Irish Regiment, who took part in the initial project work held a small ceremony of commemoration in Connaught Cemetery which is beside Thiepval Wood and where many of the men of the Division now rest. This work continues today along with a team of professional archaeologists and volunteers from the Somme Association.
In 2006 on the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, a small part of Thiepval Wood was officially opened on behalf of the Somme Association by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester. Guided tours of the wood are available. Anyone wishing to go on a tour of the wood must book in advance through the Ulster Memorial Tower Visitor Centre.
Under French law Thiepval Wood is Private Property. It is used with permission from the Somme Association by the local French population for various activities such as timber gathering, hunting, etc. Anyone entering Thiepval Wood without the permission of the Somme Association will be trespassing.
Anyone wishing to go on a tour of the Thiepval Wood must book in advance and they must be accompanied by a Somme Association guide or staff member. Contact The Ulster Memorial Tower Visitor Centre for more information.
To determine the character and state of preservation of the First World War remains which have survived in the wood. This would assist the Somme Association in academic research and provide archaeological data, and help the Association with the future conservation, preservation and management of the site by providing them with details of the character and condition of the surviving features.
To enhance public understanding of the remains within the wood through exhibition within the Ulster Tower of the results of the excavations, and to provide additional interpretive material for their displays and publications.
To provide an opportunity for members of the Somme Association to become directly involved in the heritage of their site through participation in the archaeological process.
Through suitable publicity/media involvement to demonstrate publicly the importance and vulnerability of these remains, and the necessity for their controlled investigation, and protection from looting and vandalism.
To enhance the understanding of our knowledge of Thiepval Wood we have excavated some sections of the original trenches that remained in the 109 acres (52 hectares) of woodland. As a result of this archaeology we have unearthed some artefacts from the time the trenches were occupied. These artefacts are preserved and exhibited in the Ulster Tower Visitors Centre and further used for interpretation at the Somme Museum.