Wednesday, 6 June 2007

More crucial links

One other crucial link for anyone interested in the project is this one:

Richard and I, as well as many of the team are members of NML. A visit to the site will give you some idea of the range of projects we are involved in. NML members will be providing the backbone of the digging team at Plug Street.

Readers may also have seen our work on "Finding the Fallen" on Discovery Channel, which looked at Great War soldiers stories through Battlefield Archaeology. The series was rebroadcast on UK Channel 5 as "Battlefield Detectives".

Monday, 4 June 2007

Some links to sites that are integral with the project below. Those on the calling notice will have seen them already but its worth re-highlighting them: This is the Venue for the Dig meal, and Claude will be providing lunches to the team. His assistance has enabled the project to take place The site of the Comines-Warneton History Society, our partners in the Plugstreet project This is the accommodation for most of us in the team The venue for the 'Last Post' ceremony on 3rd August

Friday, 1 June 2007

Family Ties

We asked the team for their family connections to the Great War and to the area where we will be working this morning and already have had a few responses so far including grandfathers in the Royal Garrison Artillery, relatives in a number of Scottish units, a medic and a number of Australian connections. However the tie so far for the best connections is between an ancestor pinned down by De Valera's men during the Easter Rising in Dublin 1916 and another who served in a Hapsburg Viennese regiment.

This question of connection is a more serious issue than my introduction suggests. In researching Great War sites we are entering a relatively recent and well-documented period from which some of us can still remember our own family members who served. In recognising our own family connections we must interrogate our motivations for seeking to enter the world they inhabited during their service - what makes us want to do this? We must also recognise that the project may elicit responses different to those we would have on more traditional archaeological sites. In acknowledging our connections we can factor them into our responses to the processes of excavation, interpretation and dissemination. We can also recognise that we may develop a feelig of ownership for places or events that may not be appropriate in academic discourse. Or is is in appropriate?

More on this subject as we go forward, no doubt.

Poetry Corner (Not Leighton's Violets...)

Further reading round the subject has produced the following verse. It shows us a number of things:
  1. Great War Poetry isn't all Owen and Sassoon;
  2. The description of defended shell-holes and craters might give us some indication of what to look for;
  3. Our EOD cover might be busy if the references to shells and gas are accurate (as we suspect).

The verses, which express a truth of the battlefield as authentic as the more famous poets works, come from a history of the Anzac 3 Div.

I particularly like the stanza describing the blowing of the mines.

However, this verse does show one side of the action. If there is a contemporary German riposte we would love to see and post it.

The poem comes from:


JUNE 7, 1917

A shell-struck souvenir of hellish war,
A monument of man's stupendous hate!
Can this have been a Paradise before,
Now up-blown, blasted, drear and desolate?
Aye, once with smiling and contented face
She reigned a queen above a charming place.

But soon the sport of leaders and of kings
Transformed her to a resting-place for guns,
Rude scars across her breasts the worker flings,
To shelter countless hordes of hell-born Huns,
The while, upon the next opposing crest,
Our men died gamely as they did their best.

And thus for years, with cold, relentless zeal,
With fiendish science both sides fought and watched,
From loop-holes or from clouds which half conceal,
Or in deep tunnels all their skill was matched.
On sentry in the firebay, or the hov'ring 'plane,
Mining and countermining yet again.

And far behind such scenes, great engineers
Pondered o'er problems without parallel.
And planned with wisdom of a thousand years,
To blow the other to eternal Hell.
Their calculations left no callous scheme untried,
To slaughter hundreds of the other side.

But hush! the whole machinery's complete,
All plans are folded and the great work's done,
The work of building up to cause defeat—
The lever's pulled, and, lo! a new work has begun.
The task of falling on a shattered foe,
And doing things undreamed-of years ago.

Hush! hark! A mighty rumbling roar breaks thro',
And see! Her crest-line leaps into a flame,
The foul disease within her bowels she blew
High into the air to rid her of her shame;
In one huge vomit she now flings her filth,
Far o'er the country in a powdered 'tilth.'

And so the vassals of a fiendish foe
Are scattered far and wide into a dust.
Those who have revelled as they wreaked red woe,
A shattered sample of their own blood-lust.
Whilst from our hill-crest and its catacomb,
A new life comes a-pouring from the tomb.

Eager, and burning with the zeal of youth,
Our Second Anzacs sprang from out the ground,
Bound by their mateships and their love of truth,
The Third Division its new soul has found;
Straight o'er the top amidst a hail of shell
To their objective which they knew so well.

On, on, thro' poison gas and rattling roar,
Past ulc'rous craters, blackened foul and deep,
These comrades 'stuck' as ne'er they had before.
And kept together in their rushing sweep;
Deafened and rattled, hung up in the wire,
Helping each other thro' such fearful fire.

On still until they reached the furthest goal,
There to dig in and hold the new-won line.
By linking up each torn and shattered hole—
By no means easy, but their grit was fine—
They fought and worked like demons till the dawn,
Harried and pestered by the 'Kaiser's spawn.'

And, baffled from his gun-pits far away,
Low-down, well south, an angry foe doth roar,
He opens out again upon another day
And rakes the slope with shrapnel as before.
But only working parties on the top are found,
The rest, save A.M.C., are underground.

Strange sights are seen upon that battle-ground,
But stranger still are unearthed from below;
Here many supermen may now be found,
Just watch those stretcher-bearers where they go,
And see those parties bearing food and drink,
Past all those blizzard shells—then stand and think!

But one poor shell-crazed loon roamed far and wide;
Sweat-grimed, wild-eyed, and now bereft of all.
'Me mates? W'ere is my mates?' he plaintive cried,
'They's in that 'ole with me when it did fall.'
We took him to three huddled heaps near by,
But he roamed on as tho' he wished to die.

And as the sun's great light bursts o'er the scene,
La Petit Douve, one-time a sparkling stream,
Now sluggish slides, red-tinted, she has been
Past horrors thro' the night and did not dream.
For many days she'll, silent, strive to bear
Such human wreckage down a path once fair.

G.P. Cuttriss and J.W. Hood.