Tuesday, 31 July 2007
Australian TV are happy that we can tell stories of the Anzac battle and Michael M is so excited to be here in the landscape - as he says you cannot write about a battlefield without seeing it and walking round it to experience the terrain.
Last night James plqyed his pipes in the bar and the Irish/Ulster guests at the Peace Village got out a fiddle and there was music and even a little dancing. The music theme continued when John Tomlinson the uber bass of Wagnerian opera came to visit Peter C, the site artist!
Also Franky Bostyn and Bert Heyvaert fron the Passchendale museum in Zonnebeke visited. Their work is excellent - visit the museum!
And the sun is shining...
Monday, 30 July 2007
Mithilfe der Geophysik konnte der Verlauf der Schützengräben rekonstruiert werden. Zudem wurde das Land mit einem Theodoliten vermessen und in entsprechende Planquadrate eingeteilt. Damit wird die Aufteilung der Arbeit vereinfacht, gibt eine Übersicht der Umgebung und dient zu einer besseren Orientierung. Nach Anreise aller Teilnehmer am Sonntag, wurde ein kurzer historischer Überblick über die Situation und die Beteiligten Parteien im Zusammenhang mit der Ausgrabungsstelle gegeben. Im Anschluss an die Vorträge erhielten wir eine Sicherheitsunterweisung und damit Verhaltensregeln für den Umgang mit den damals verwendeten Gefahrenstoffen.
Mit dem Wind im Rücken und ohne Regen konnte nun, am heutigen Montag, die Grundlagenarbeit begonnen werden. Das vollzählige Team wurde dafür in Gruppen eingeteilt, die nun an vier verschiedenen Bereichen arbeiten. Die Arbeit geht gut voran und die ersten kleineren Funde wurden auch schon gemacht (z.B. Munitionshülsen, Schrapnelle, Gläser, Zahnbürste) und treiben die Motivation an, um tiefer zu graben. Eine erweiterte Berichterstattung findet auch über das Fernsehen statt, da ein australisches Fernsehteam die Arbeit an der Seite dokumentiert.
Sunday, 29 July 2007
So we couldn`t dig the British Front Line due to the crop in the field but we have got access to the woodland and the Factory Farm area. We began with the continuation of the geophysics near Ultimo Crater and a chat with the film crew fron ABC and Matt and Michael from Oz.
Cleaning of the Factory Farm area started under Jon's capable leadership, and a contour survey of the crater lip was also started.
Early finds include:
parts of a sniper shield (German)
Coolant system from a maxim gun
incoming.303 rounds from Factory Farm and
large calibre shell splinters.
Dinner was "interesting", especially for the veggies who got peas (hello justin).
After dinner we had a short briefing seminar for the team about the site and its history. Thanks especially to Ralph who got off a plane from Baltimore and a train from Brussels and almost immediately gave a paper on the Bavarian Army at Messines.
So, here we are then.
If the spzlling is q bit squint its becquse Iµn using a continentql keyboard. Anyway...
After coffee at length with the farmer and a good breakfast at the Peace Village we hit the site. Peter (AKA the Colonel) did great service with his magnetometer and found us all manner of anomalies, many of which appear to be Great War features. Meanwhile Michael Molkentin appeared with mega jetlag and a plan of the Anzac defnces of the Ultimo crater. Strangely the two seemed to tie together.
Richard and Martin also went off to see the Comines-Warneton Historical Society. After an informative meeting and a beer/coffee (you decide) they returned, having seen treasures by the score and having been given the heqds-up on the site and its context.
Dinner in various establishments in Ieper - the eels were magnificent.
"I'll get you to put your tongue on that..." Ref the resistivity probes (allegedly)
Thursday, 26 July 2007
And the Auberge has announced that the mussel season has started, so that's tomorrow's dinner sorted out.
As my partner says "It's like a job". Well it would be but Richard and I are taking leave... it's more fun than the beach!
Keep watching and don't forget to leave comments for us.
The rain has abated, let's hope it hasn't all gone south-east to Flanders.
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
In der Woche vom 30. Juli bis 3. August werde ich an der Seite von Engländern, Belgiern, Franzosen, Deutschen und Australiern an einer archäologischen Ausgrabung in Ploegsteert (engl. Plugstreet), ein kleiner Ort in der Nähe von Ypern im Süd-Westen Belgiens, arbeiten. Dieses Team arbeitet gemeinsam an einem Projekt von „No Man’s Land“, einer europäischen Vereinigung, die sich mit historischen Kriegsschauplätzen aus dem Ersten Weltkrieg archäologisch beschäftigt und dadurch versucht Hintergründe und Zusammenhänge zu ermitteln. Die Leitung über dieses Projekt wird von Martin Brown und Richard Osgood, zwei Archäologen des Britischen Verteidigungsministeriums, übernommen. Der Schwerpunkt der Arbeit wird darin bestehen Informationen über die Dritte Division der Australier zu erlangen, die damals in Messines kämpften. Die Schlacht um Messines gilt als eine der blutigsten Schlachten des ersten Weltkrieges. Die Gegend ist durch gewaltige Krater gezeichnet, erzeugt durch massive Minenexplosionen. Am 7 Juni 1917 zündete die Britische Zweite Armee 19 Minen, mit einer Sprengkraft von ca. 600 Tonnen, unter Deutschen Linien. 10.000 Mann verloren damals während der Explosion ihr Leben. Die gewaltigen Explosionen waren angeblich bis Dublin zu hören.
Mit Spannung erwarte ich das Projekt und hoffe, dass das Wetter angenehm sein wird, so dass wir in der kurzen Zeit vernünftig arbeiten können, und dass wir neben Artefakten auch Überreste finden, die wir gegebenenfalls identifizieren und zurück in die entsprechenden Länder überführen können. Zudem hoffe ich, dass ich in einem netten, internationalen Team einen Beitrag zur Geschichte leisten kann.
Like us they have a blog and it includes details of two Great War exhibitions, as well as photos of the Flanders Giants, which are quite a phenomenon.
We intend that the excavation report will appear in the Society's Journal.
Monday, 23 July 2007
At 19:15 tomorrow (Tuesday) 5 will be starting a re-run of the series "Trench Detectives" which was their edited version of "Finding the Fallen". The series concentrates on our group No Man's Land and our work on five archaeological projects from the Western Front, including Serre, Loos and Beaumont Hamel.
Actually the series gives a fair idea of the process involved in excavating sites of this type and in the backstories one can uncover about individuals whose bodies and possessions are uncovered on the battlefields.
A number of the team who will be out at Plug Street are featured in the programmes, including a bizarre moment of Jon and Martin singing a Baptist hymn.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
For those who do not know me my name is Ralph Whitehead and I am what can be described as an historian with NML. I am quite pleased to be able to attend another NML dig and hopefully assist in identifying any finds the group makes. The Australian contingent is well represented and I look forward to meeting old friends and make some new ones. Some of you already know me and my interest in the German army. Hopefully all of the different perspectives of the fighting will allow us to piece together a better idea of the fighting and events that took place some 90 years ago.
In looking over the German side of the battle we will probably be running into men who served in the 9th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, an active regiment in the 4th Bavarian Division. This regiment or the others in the division, the 5th Bavarian IR and 5th Bavarian RIR held this portion of the line for some months prior to the attack. On
I looked over the available records for these units (9th and 5th Bavarian have regimental histories while the 5th Bavarian RIR did not publish anything in the post-war years). The 9th Bavarian IR had seen service in all main areas of the Western Front other than the fighting at
An example of this was the time they served on the
These losses required replacements and as such the men who were manning the trenches on 7 June were between the ages of 18 and 39. The losses suffered by the German Army required calling up the 1917 and 1918 Class of men early. 36 of the III Bn losses on 7 June were from these two classes.
In looking at the total losses for the regiment in the war the 9th Bavarians lost 3,758 officers and men killed; 134 officers and men who died from disease or accident; 346 officers and men missing; 8,630 officers and men wounded; 1,260 officers and men captured for a total of 14,128 casualties in the war.
In looking further at the losses I noted that one man from the 12th Coy listed as killed and presumed dead was a man born in
I will have additional details on the names of the men who have known graves and those we might possibly come across during the excavation as well as details on the uniforms and equipment most likely to be found as well. If anyone has any specific questions or inquiries please let me know over the next week or so and I will make sure I bring this information with me.
See you at the end of the month, possibly in Comines, possibly at
As a historian who has only experienced the Battle of Messines through paper records, I am curious to see how archaeology can contribute to our understanding of the battle. Pouring over the multitude of maps, war diaries and private accounts of the 33rd Battalion's advance at Trench 122, I have often struggled to visualise things like fields of fire, distances, the impact of flanks etc. These things should become clearer by just walking the ground, but given Flanders apparently (now) featureless geography, getting down into the dirt is probably the only way that we will really be able to appreciate the layout of the battle.
From an Australian perspective I also hope that this project will ignite some popuar interest in Western Front operations. Here in Australia most people tend to think that Australia's First World War experience began and ended at Gallipoli in 1915. Where there is some interest, it is usually based on a series of 'Blackadder' or Wilfred Owen style stereotypes. For example, when I recently spoke with a well-read ex-school principal about his grandfather who went missing during the Battle of Messines he commented "Tactics in the First World War? What tactics?". Believe me, after trawling through hundreds of pages of operations orders for the Messines operation there were certainly tactics employed. Major General Monash is reported to have even specified the distinct movements of individual sections in his scheme for the attack!
I have attached some results of some of my recent work at the Memorial. Firstly there is a sketch map of the crater that was consolidated by A Company on 7 June 1917. As it was right on the exposed flank of the entire operation it came under heavy fire. Most of the platoon tasked with taking it were killed and it was held throughout the day by seven men. That night, help arrived and established wired posts armed with Lewis guns.
The second map demonstrates the 33rd Battalion's objectives for 7 June 1917, all of which it achieved. Remarkably, the black line that the troops managed to dig very closely matched that prescribed in the operation orders before the attack.
Dan is at Queen Mary College, London and has written a number of key First War texts. He was also involved in the BBC Radio 4 programme on the "forgotten victory" of 1918 in a series entitled "Things we forgot to remember".
They have been great supporters of our work.
Meanwhile in the Kaiser's Bunker...
Actually the site www.kaisersbunker.com isn't quite as frivolous as it looks as it's got spottery detail on all manner of stuff but you know the real reason to go there is because of the pictures of the dachshund in a spiky helmet.
It's not all futility, you know (again, don't get me started on futility).
I was alterted to this excellent site by my chum Lucy on her blog http://livesbythewoods.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
The photos seem to show a British line that doesn't alter much but a German line that is constantly being strengthened and refortified. Until the 28th June 1917 AP that is. The Ultimo mine has clearly shattered the line and spread its upcast across the trenches, it was also possible to see hints of the refortification done by Anzac 3 Div. The picture was taken a fortnight after the mine was blown and shows how it became part of the fortifications. We know from written accounts that the Australians had practiced this type of work on Salisbury Plain (the British Army's main training ground) and have seen the crater there but it's interesting to see trenches. Digging might show what they actually did. We couldn't look closely at the crater here in UK because it has badgers living in it and they are protected by law!
Anyway thanks to Peter. Now we look forwards to Birger's results - he is our Belgian partner who is studying air photos of the front for his PhD.
By way of thanks to Peter we took him out to see some of our archaeology on the Plain, including some lovely practice trenches on Beacon Hill and some rather nice hillforts and burial mounds (we know how to entertain!).
In a sense it doesn't really matter so long as the events and the fallen are comemorated but the innacurracy was very poor. I also heard the usual stuff about poor command and control and futility. One of the key things we have seen from the very inception of this project is that Messines was a model of preparation and of execution. Old General Plumer might look like Colonel Blimp but he knew his stuff and the troops were well prepared for the battle, which is why they did incredibly well. And that, my best beloved, is why the battle is forgotten - it doesn't fit the popular paradigm of the First World War.
Friday, 13 July 2007
We now have confirmation that the Film and TV office in Australia has agrees to provide funding so that the excavations at Messines will be filmed. WE hope to use this as the basis of a documentary for screening in Australia on the archaeological work. Obviously the storyboard of the programme will develop depending on what the excavations uncover. Still - very exciting news!
Monday, 9 July 2007
The AWM has a very good page leading to all sorts of information about the 1917-2007 Messines anniversary her:
I commend it to you.
The map appears to be on the fron page now but if it vanishes again, as it did earlier, go to the July menu in the bar on the right hand side of the screen to find and open it. The map is quite remarkable and well worth your perusal.
Exciting news from one of our Australian team members, Michael. One of the main project aims is to see how training on Salisbury Plain influenced (if at all) the effectiveness of combat units at Messines, specifically the Australian 3rd Division. We already have a large number of trench maps and aerial photos of the site from the Great War (thanks to another team member, Peter Chasseaud) but now have a specific map from the attacks of 7th June.
Michael has been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and has located the 'Consolidation' map of the 33rd Btn; the unit that was detailed to capture the German lines at 'Ultimo' and 'Factory Farm' craters. This shows the re-wiring and new trenching of the 33rd Btn following their Messines success. This map is produced below with new work (as of post 7th June 1917) shaded.
We will build this into our survey work and will hope to explore further this summer...
Thursday, 5 July 2007
In the piece he describes the difficulties of arriving at any identification for the bodies that are still being recovered from the Western Front. He describes visiting the "Finding the Fallen" exhibition at the National Army Museum last year and learning how the smallest details could help identify a man.
I am proud to say that the exhibition was based on the work of No Man's Land http://www.no-mans-land.info/ and took it's title from a TV series that featured our work. NML is, of course, the lead body in the Plug Street Project and many of its members are key people in the August dig.
The BBC article underlines what I was trying to say yesterday - that attention to detail is important because it is those small clues, like the position of buttons on a cuff, that could make all the difference.
Wednesday, 4 July 2007
The men all fell during World War One and one of them has been identified as Private Richard Lancaster of the 2nd Battalion, who was killed near the dig site. The men are to be buried in Prowse Point Cemetery, en route to site. I imagine this means we will call in to pay our respects during the dig.
The BBC have also published a photograph of Mr Lancaster on the net. This is always something I find remarkable and difficult - in more normal archaeology is is far from usual to see the face of the person one has carefully exhumed but I have now had the experience of seeing the face Jakob Hones, who I helped recover in 2003. The frisson is remarkable but it really punches home the responsibility the excavator has to seek out each clue that might lead to a positive identification. If you want to know more about Jakob Hones then go to the No Man's Land pages and then look at the links.
Some people think the dead of the War should be left where they are but in an age of major development and agri-business that isn't an option so what you are left with is a responsibility to do the best job possible and to be respectful of the person in front of you as you try to recover their earthly remains and the artefacts that can help identify them.
Cheery stuff but at least you now know it's not digging folk up for fun!
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Papers include the Plug Street Project's own Peter Masters, who will describe the geophysical survey he undertook on a Great War landscape in ... Wiltshire! Salisbury Plain is still a major Army Training Area, as it was in 1914. Out near Shipton Bellinger there are the in-filled remains of practice trenches. They are visible on aerial photographs but no longer extant as earthworks. Peter undertook a magnetometer survey of a large part of the site and his results are amazing. Come along to find out more.
Other papers will include the No Man's Land Project at Thiepval Wood on the Somme where we are working alongside the Somme Association to open, record and reconstruct trenches in the Wood from which the 36 (Ulster) Division attacked on 1st July 1916. There will also be something on the Zeppelin offensive and contributions covering Neolithic warfare, WW2 chemical weapons (British!) and the contribution made by archaeology to the study and crime scene analysis of combat and war crimes sites in the Balkans.
Tickets are £20 but it'll be worth every penny!
Next year we'll have the first Plug Street Project to talk about! Scary Thought!
Last Friday Richard and I were pleased to see Dr Rob Janaway from Bradford University, who gave us some invaluable advice on conservation of finds. Although some of the techniques are standard for archaeological sites the relative newness of some of the materials, notably the organics, means that care and flexibility may be the order of the day. Between Rob and NML finds supremo Luke have excellent support.
In the meantime we are watching the weather and hoping that the pea crop in M. Delrue's field will be lifted in time for the launch of the project. Watching the weather is a common preoccupation at the minute. Belgium has been having similar weather to the UK and Claude (patron of the excellent Auberge) has told us to bring our wet suits. Mind you, they were saying on the TV that it was the wettest June since 1914 and I keep comforting myself with the thought that July and August 1914 were remarkably good, giving that image of the Edwardian Summer that ends on 4th August (a bit like the project).