A craft workshop trench was uncovered during excavations ahead of the creation of the Actiparc business park near Arras. One trench in particular, identified on British maps as ‘Tilloy Trench’, contained a large number of unusual offcuts from copper shell casings and aluminium drums. Further investigation of this detritus turned up a number of small objects such as match-box holders and belt buckles, allowing archaeologists to retrace their fabrication processes.
Shell casings were collected from the nearby battlefield. These copper cases were then cut and rolled out to obtain smooth sheets of metal, used to create a variety of objects: letter-openers, belt buckles, match-box cases, ink wells, candlesticks and scale models of British tanks. The sheet metal and aluminium recovered from drums and canteens was primarily used to produce non-regulation, oval identification tags. Tools from this workshop have also been found: punches, files and small hammers, ingeniously crafted from heavy artillery firing pins.
Detailed study of this workshop reveals that these objects were most likely produced by German prisoners of war, held here until 1919 in order to get the Arras-Lens railway line back up and running. The line passes less than 200m away from the trench where these objects were found.