Butte de Warlencourt

WWI Somme Battlefield Sale To Be Reversed

The Western Front Association had previously announced it had sold the Butte de Warlencourt.

Butte de Warlencourt

Critics said the sale had been "completely mismanaged"(Picture: Rolf Kranz/Wikimedia Commons).

The sale of a Somme battlefield is to be reversed following a negative reaction among a charity's members.

Earlier this week, the Western Front Association (WFA) revealed that it had sold the Butte de Warlencourt to former chairman Bob Paterson.

Outrage at the decision has led to four trustees of the heritage group resigning and an investigation from the Charity Commission.

The Butte, an ancient artificial mound in France, was the site of fierce fighting during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 as British troops sought to dislodge well-defended German forces.

It was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War claiming the lives of around 20,000 British soldiers on the first day alone.

The WFA, a membership organisation that furthers interest in the First World War, bought the Butte in 1990 for around €7,500 with the support of member donations.

WFA members were left surprised by its sudden sale and vented their anger about the lack of transparency around the process on social media.

Following the original announcement of the sale, the WFA said Mr Paterson met the "necessary criteria" for ownership and it had not considered any other offers or consulted with its membership.

It is understood that trustees had become increasingly concerned over their personal financial liability for the land under French insurance law.

A quick sale was sought with Mr Paterson considered a good candidate as he had previously led a renovation project at the Butte and lives part of the year nearby.

An FE.2b two-seat fighter pictured high above the trenches on the Western Front
An FE.2b two-seat fighter above the trenches on the Western Front.

Military historian Taff Gillingham said that the sale had been "completely mismanaged" by the charity and called on trustees to resign.

Providing updates on social media he claimed that four trustees had resigned over the row and that Mr Paterson had decided to sell back the Butte.

Mr Gillingham wrote on Facebook that he had "received an email from former WFA Chairman, Bob Paterson, to say that the situation, through no fault of his own, has been a complete nightmare for him and his wife, Julia.

"He points out that it was never his intention to upset anybody and his intention was always to finish the work that he had started on the Butte and that he is certain that he would have made a superb custodian."

Mr Paterson said he has offered in writing to sell the Butte back to the WFA.

A statement on the charity's website said details of the resale are to be arranged and members will be kept updated.

Former WFA legal trustee Richard Hughes, who previously labelled social media criticism of his colleagues as "absolutely disgraceful", said he had resigned over the Butte row.

"It's clear that this decision has not been well received by lots of members," he said.

"Unfortunately well-intentioned people are being crucified on social media.

He added: "I've committed thousands of hours to the association over a decade and it's very sad it ends like this."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "We are aware of Mr Paterson's intention to sell Butte de Warlencourt back to the Western Front Association.

"We will be contacting the charity to ensure all appropriate steps were taken in decision-making around the sale of the land."