The signature of James Walter Hobbs Josey.
The signature of James Walter Hobbs Josey. Sam Flanagan

Write of passage: Soldier's signature found in French cave

A MOVING tribute by a Dalby soldier in World War I has been discovered in a French cave.

French archeologist Gilles Prilaux contacted the Dalby Herald this week after the discovery in caves of the Somme in the village of Naours, in northern France.

Mr Prilaux uncovered more than 3200 signatures, with Dalby's James Walter Hobbs Josey (regimental number 3388) among them.

It is believed James Josey survived the war and returned to Australia in 1919.

Mr Prilaux would love to get in contact with descendants of Mr Josey.

"I would be very proud to be able to transmit the picture of his signature to his descendants," he said.

"I discovered these graffiti three years ago ... The signatures were made by soldiers who came to visit the caves during periods of rest or convalescence for wounded soldiers.

"I can prove it with extracts of a diary which clearly indicate there were visits and guides for the soldiers."


Gilles Prilaux with Darren Chester.
FASCINATING DISCOVERY: Gilles Prilaux (right) with Darren Chester. Contributed

Mr Prilaux said he uncovered the signatures by accident after venturing into the caves for a different purpose.

"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.

"I discovered these signatures by the greatest chance during an archeological intervention whose purpose was to date the origin of the caves.

"I also discovered coins, musket balls, fragments of pottery - proving that the caves was occupied by men during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)."

Of the 3200 signatures discovered, Mr Prilaux said most belonged to Australian soldiers.

Other nationalities among the signatures include American, Canadian, English, Scottish, South African, Indian and French.

For Mr Prilaux, his lucky discovery is about to be rightly chaptered in a fitting way.

"For four years I have been working on their study and valorisation," he said.

"At the end of the year we will inaugurate a small museum dedicated to these graffiti, supported financially by the Australian Government."