Friday, 19 December 2008

Of Peace and Christmas Truces

A Very Happy Christmas
Joyeux Noel
Vrolijk Keerstfeest
Froheliche Wienatchten
Nodlaig Mhaith Chugnat
Buone Feste Natalizie
Kala Chrristouyenna
Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!

We at the Plugstreet Project wish you all the compliments of the Season and pause to remind you that it is our study area that the famous Christmas Truce between British and German soldiers took place in No Man's Land.

Finding the Archaeology of such an event may be impossible but we hope the spirit of this event pervades your Christmas and New Year.

In the spirit of international cooperation that pervades the project we wish you a Happy Christmas in English, French, Flemish, German, Irish, Italian, Greek and Basque.

We also think of our friends who are far away, some of them in dangerous places and wish them Peace.

All Good Wishes

The Project Team

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


11:00 hrs on the 11th November.

Our last surviving veterans in Whitehall, Prince Charles at Verdun and silence across so much of the world.

We Will Remember Them!

As archaeologists in this sector we are become agents of remembrance as we excavate the sites and reveal the human stories.

Jakob Hones,Albert Thielecke, Leopold Rotharmel, our Anzac and others, as yet un-named, we in No Mans Land are proud to have brought in from the cold...

We remember you.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Conference Announcement

Dear all
a chance for those of you that have been following the blog to come and meet a number of the key players and learn more about the archaeology of the Great War, with Plugstreet featuring prominently! Oxford University is holding a day school on Saturday 28th February 2009 at Wellington Square. The programme is detailed below (with an astersik adjacetn to Plugstreet project team members...)

The Great War: the archaeology of the first of the 20th Century's Great Conflicts

'Our knowledge and understanding of the First World War is considerable and yet much remains hidden. As we rapidly approach a time when there will be no surviving veterans of the conflict, the Great War through its archaeology offers a relatively new phenomenon that utilises familiar methodologies as well as innovative approaches to gain a better understanding of the war. This day school draws together a number of leading experts on Great War archaeology to examine a broad range of themes - from the sands of the desert war to the mud of Flanders and the material traces of those who fought

09:45 - Introduction
10:15 - Dr Nicholas Saunders* - Trench Art: Material Culture and the Antrhopological Dimensions of Great War Archaeology
11;15 - Coffee/tea
11:45 - Richard Osgood* & Martin Brown* - 'We shall Certainly Change The Geography: Soldiers, civilians and the battle of Messines
12:45 - Lunch
14:00 - Peter Chasseaud* - 'Imaging Golgotha - Aerial Photpgrahs and Trench Maps of the Western Front'
15:00 - Coffee/tea
15:30 - Dr Neil Faulkener - 'Trains Trenches and Tents: the Archaeology of Lawrence of Arabia's War'
16:30 - Jon Price - 'Rise and Deride This Sepulchre of Crime: The Role of Archaeology and the Missing Dead of the Great War'

Programme Fee
Tuition: £40.00
Hot lunch: £10.00
Baguette lunch: £2.50

Join online:
For an application form, click here:

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Fields of Conflict

Over the past few days an number of the project team have been attending the 5th Fields of Conflict conference in Gent (Belgium). FOC exists to bring together specialists in Conflict Archaeology from around the globe. Delegates included Doug Scott, who virtually invented battlefield archaeology when he investigated the site of Little Bighorn, Glenn Foard, who has worked on Civil War sites from the UK and Susana andAchim Wilbers-Rost from the site of the Varian disaster (AD9) at Kalkriese. Inevitably the range of papers was wide, diverse and stimulating.

Project members Peter Masters, Birger Stichelbaut, Jon Price and Martin Brown all presented on Great War Archaeology, heavily drawing on the Plugstreet Project. Peter and Birger spoke on their remote sensing work, marrying geophysics, aerial photographs and map regression work, wowing the audience with their results. Jon spoke about methodological approaches to excavation. Martin spoke on the subject of looking over the parapet, which explored the wider frame in which excavations on the Western Front exist - militarised landscapes, civilians, training and the international links of the war.

Also speaking was Veerle Hendricks from the Flemish Heritage Institute, the VIOE. Veerle is writing up the A19 excavations arouns Ieper from 2002 onwards, including sites dug by No Man's Land. It was her first major conference paper and she performed very well and wasn't fazed by the eminent panelof delegates.

It wasn't all work and we did enjoy some lovely Belgian beer, including some rarities and oddities, while Oude Druide is nice we weren't so keen on Spook! Birger was an excellent local guide and we especially salute the Ratz Bar, opposite the Opera House!

Friday, 10 October 2008


You may well ask...

It's a term used in the Indian Army (pre 1947) by officers of other junior officers who were seen out with ladies without their Commanding Officers' permission.

One team member was accused of it by the University Officer Training Corps' regular officer when at Cambridge.

We were surprised to see it here:

In an article of forgotten words you still love...

Friday, 3 October 2008

Photographs by Frank Hurley

Frank Hurley was the photographer on the Shackleton expedition to the South Pole and then went on to accompany Anzac 3 Div at the Battle of Messines, where he took some remarkable photographs of the battlefield.

Hurley felt that his pictures did not capture the full horror of the things he had seen so manipulated images, creating composites of scenes. Some thought this was clearly wrong but others feel it was an appropriate artistic response to the war.

An new exhibition at Charleston Farm outside Lewes in Sussex addresses this issue and displays a number of his images.

Charleston has its own Great War heritage of a kind in that the Bloomsbury Set holed up there to avoid zeppelin attacks and to be pacifists. Meanwhile the nearby Firle Place was used as a hospital for Australian troops.

You can see Hurley pictures on the AWM website:

You can also find examples elsewhere on this blog where they are accompanied by photos of the archaeology, landscape and team inspired by Hurley's work and taken by Ian, our own photographer, who was using a plate camera, just like Hurley's own.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Read All About It

The Plugstreet Project is featured in this month's "Britain at War" Magazine - available in the UK via WH Smith and Sainsbury's and all good newsagents.

BAW includes a double page spread on the discovery and excavation of the Australian casualty. It includes both text and a number of photographs of the site, the finds and archaeologists at work.

Thanks to our good friend Mark Khan for the publicity and for his journalistic skill in drafting the story.

Britain at War will include a larger piece on the dig in a coming edition. In the meantime this month includes interesting pieces from both World Wars, including a fascinating article on the siege of Tsingtao in 1914, when a combined Anglo-Japanese force assaulted and took the German colony in China. I suspect I'm not alone in never having heard of this action before!

Down the Road...

According to newspaper The West Australian:

"Details about a new cemetery for 400 Australian and British World War I soldiers found in a mass grave in France are set to be unveiled later this week."

The paper then goes on to report the plans to exhume the bodies of the soldiers from Fromelles, south of Plugstreet on the Aubers Ridge. Once exhumed there will be attempts to identify the bodies before all are reburied.

The budget is rumoured to be $10 million Aus. and some of that money will be coming from the UK as just over half the bodies are Brits, even though the Australians have led on the project following pressure at home from descendants.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Across the site

Although incredibly powerful, the find of the Australian soldier was not the only part of the site this year. The team also worked very hard to accomplish many other elements. Even more of the battle site was subject to geophysical survey and four other trenches were opened. These showed:

1) the complete plan of the German bunker seen in part last year

2) more of the Lewis gun position on the eastern lip of Ultimo crater

Avril records the Lewis gun post

3) a major wriggly-tin-lined redoubt was located on the south edge of Ultimo crater

Moving into the redoubt
4) at some depth, a massively-engineered timber structure was encountered. Large timbers were found revetted with timber uprights. A gas cape or similar was present here too. Is this a dugout? A German trench mortar position? Something else? Whatever it is, the timbers all appear to have been pushed over in one direction - the blast of the mine?

Keith and Jon working with the German feature

What they Carried

In addition to all the military elements that the Australian soldier had with him, there were some other effects.

His toothbrush - Flexadent France

His wallet - some French Francs clearly 1916 dated

His spoon (with razor on the top)
Finds like these added still more to the overall picture of the man.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Dogs in Hats

This post is more serious than it sounds from the title. I have been considering the pickelhaub we found with the body and in an effort to find out more information about it went here:

Yes, there are pictures of dogs in hats and, indeed, helmets on it but it contains lots of lovely information about spiked headgear and the like.

Essentially our man had acquired a Hessian helmet. We had wondered if the fluted spike and fishscale chinstrap were indicative of rank and status but it appears that all Hessians had this style, although the scales differed in some cases, with Dragoons apparently having rounded scales.

Very useful.

Friday, 22 August 2008

A couple more images

We shall aim to post some images of the other main excavation trenches at Plugstreet 2008 at some point over the weekend, but in the meantime, a couple more images of items found with the Australian.

An image of one of the pockets of ammunition with chargers of .303 rounds and webbing attached to the pocket.

This is the interior of the brodie helmet note the buckles of the straps at the edge - with the mineralised strap thus up over the outer rim of the helmet

The components of the PH hood following initial conservation work

The entrenchment tool found at the back of the man, below his pack

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Some of the finds

In the following days we will aim to post some of the images from other important parts of the excavations of 2008. Today perhaps it would be worthwhile to show some of the finds with the man that was excavated

Proof of nationality (Collar badge and shoulder title)

Box respirator and iodine under conservation

Button and Boot

We have posted these images as only a TINY portion of the kit found with the man to illustrate the quality of the surviving elements. Other parts of his panoply of arms are as well preserved and his remains too tell a story. We shall post more over the coming weeks

Ministerial Announcement in Australia

THE HON. WARREN SNOWDON MP Minister for Defence Science and Personnel

Wednesday, 20 August 2008117/2008

The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the Hon. Warren Snowdon MP, today announced the remains of an unidentified Australian World War I soldier have been unearthed in Belgium.The human remains were discovered along with pieces of Australian equipment and clothing during an authorised excavation by a British archaeology team at Ploegsteert; the site where the Battle of Messines took place in June 1917.“I can confirm the remains of one of our courageous World War I soldiers have been uncovered in Belgium,” Mr Snowdon said.“Two British archaeologists undertaking an official excavation unearthed the remains, along with evidence they are of a fallen Australian Digger who fought in the Battle of Messines.”The bones, which are reported to be in reasonably good condition, were exhumed under the supervision of the Belgian Police and Army, who are housing the remains at a Belgian Army Barracks until further notice from Australian authorities.“The Australian Government is firm in our commitment to honour our war dead, and is already undertaking historical research to establish any initial identification links,” Mr Snowdon said.“We are also hopeful that some of the equipment located with the remains, such as badges and buttons, may assist with identification of the soldier and will consider the possibility of DNA testing if there is reasonable chance of a match.”It is likely the remains will be re-interred at one of the existing Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Belgium later this year.

An Announcement

Ladies and Gentlemen it is with some pride that I am able to now make this announcement...

No Longer Missing in Action:

No-Man’s-Land Archaeology recovers the body of an Australian soldier of the Great War

On 6th August 2008, No-Man’s-Land Archaeology, a multi-national archaeology group who specialise in the First World War, found the body of an Australian soldier of the Great War whilst excavating German trenches near St Yves in Wallonia, Belgium. The soldier was in full battle order with all his well-preserved equipment, medical kit, weaponry and parts of his uniform. His shoulder and collar titles identified him as an Australian. The area was attacked by the Australian 3rd Division on the morning of 7th June 1917 as part of the Battle of Messines, a prelude to the better known battle of 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele). Unlike recent discoveries at Fromelles, this was a battlefield casualty in full kit buried where he fell rather than a burial in a grave behind the lines.

The work is part of a wider landscape project to examine the effectiveness of the training of the Australian 3rd Division on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire with the actuality of battle through archaeological excavation of trench systems, historical studies, aerial photography, map work, geophysical survey and other techniques. The project has run for four years so far, with this being the second season of fieldwork in Belgium and the first time that significant human remains were recovered. The work has been accomplished by a multinational team in collaboration with a number of academic departments and local partners.

The remains of the soldier tell a significant story of one man’s involvement in a major piece of world history through his personal kit and effects including the evidence for the taking of trophies in the form of a German pickelhaube. The body was recovered with scientific techniques; geophysical survey, forensic archaeology (techniques familiar to viewers of CSI), and on-site conservation from our mobile lab.

The group is very proud to have recovered a previously missing soldier with the highest scientific skill and appropriate levels of respect; this was a man who endured unimaginable hardship and met a violent end.

Over the years, there has been strong Australian involvement in the project with assistance from the Australian War Memorial, fieldworkers from Australia, and the presence of the Australian Army at commemorative events.

All of the artefacts, along with the remains of the soldier have been taken by the Belgian Army to be given to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission prior to attempts to identify the man.

Contacts: Richard Osgood and Martin Brown Co-Directors, the Plugstreet Project.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Ploegsteert Blog

A link from the website which has some details in French on some of this year's results...including hints on the announcement which will soon follow.
Martin (back row in middle), Glen (back row, second from right), Henry (front row, on left) and Kirsty (front row on right) from the dig team are all present.

Monday Announcement???

Dear readers,
well the best laid plans of mice and men...sadly no press release by Australian Defence today and thus our team has to hold back its press release. Fingers crossed that the coverage of the Olympics in Australia isn't keeping the story from the news - perhaps the powers that be are waiting for Australia to once again climb above GB in the medals table before issuing their statement. Thus, Plugstreet Project blog announcement will follow that made in Canberra.

On another note, it was heartening to see this blog linked into 'Bonekickers' when Prof Mark Horton was discussing real Great War archaeology on BAJR!!!...

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Setting the scene

Two images that may or may not seem pertinent. The first is something I took in Canberra - the battle order of an infantryman of the Australian 3rd Division from France in 1918. This was given to the Australian historian of the Great War, Charles Bean - mud and all. You will note the ammo pockets, webbing , water bottle, collar dogs etc.

The second image is of the Menin Gate and depicts the names of all those missing men of the 33rd Btn, 9th Brgd, 3rd Div. Some 20 of these men fell in the attacks of the Battle of Messines in 1917 in and around the fields in which we worked. A sobering thought.

Remember, there will be a major announcement on the findings of our project tomorrow.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Major announcement on Monday

Dear readers,
on Monday there will be a major announcement on one of the findings from this summer's excavations for those of you that weren't on site. The excavation team has been waiting for the Australian Army to reveal the news to the press in Australia before we issued our press release. Those of you on site will know what this discovery was and I hope that Monday's announcement will prove to be the first on many revelations on the subject. Apologies for being so cryptic but you will appreciate the sensibilities on next announcment.

Damn Bonekickers/ Ploegstreet 2008 thoughts

After having left the UK for 10 days, I return and discover that my local bowling team has given me the nickname "Bonekicker", at which point I ranted for 10 minutes at my disgust of the final, terrible episode. Who was the grey haired man at the end? Who knows? Who cares?

Onto more relevant business:-

This year's dig was, once again, extremely enjoyable and a great success. My highlight of the week has to be (rather strangely) being up from 4am - 7am on Thursday morning. I woke up at 3:15 to frequent flashing blue lights which I assumed to be an alarm going off in the main building, only to discover that it was infact a deadly silent thunderstorm. Only once before have I seen weather of such awe and beauty. Those thoughts evaporated soon after when myself, Peter C. and Henry arrived at the site, when the heavens began to open, and continued to do so for the next hour. Enduring the weather was worth it though for the spectacle of a sunrise surrounded by more silent lightning all around.

Being in that field, in that severe weather, and at that time of the day (not long after what would have been the beginning of the pivotal attack at 3:10am June 7th 1917) gave me a small glimpse of what conditions and life would have been like in that area during the days of the Great War. I remember exiting the tent at around 5am and seeing Kirsty's trench in front me, which had become muddy with many puddles, not unlike models of landscapes ravaged by warfare that I had seen in the Ypres museum a couple of days before. The experience has certainly changed my perceptions of the Great War, and left me feeling emotional at the Last Post at the Menin Gate later that day and also at Toronto Avenue Cemetery in Ploegstreet Wood on Friday.

I was pleased to be given the pleasure of working with Jon and Team Nosferatu again this year. I am happy to say upon discovering a 4 and a half inch Howitzer shell in the ground I didn't smack it with a mattock this time! I am also pleased that after 5 days of hard work they discovered the remains of a collapsed dugout. All other trenches produced fine work also: Team Slither proved again their capabilities of conducting excellent archaeological excavation. Team Steve R. worked tirelessly despite digging the wrong side of the tin(!), and Team Avril refused to be disheartened by the discovery of THAT danmed hand shovel! Team Concrete succeded in discovering a new species- Archibould Titch will be sorely missed. My work for Team Colonel has been valuable experience and thoroughly enjoyable, my thanks go out the rope monkies who helped later on in the week.

I look forward to next year and seeing you all again.

P.S- The World Premiere of 'Daisy Gets Duked' will be taking place shortly on YouTube and Facebook.

Coops £:)

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Artwork and Landscape at Ploegsteert, Messines, Wytschaete

Photo: copyright Peter Chasseaud 2008

Landscape and phenomenology

After a week on site (there or thereabouts) with the No Man's Land group at Plugstreet, I've started to post some drawings, photographs and writing on my blog:

Some of my work is a continuation of my Willows project, which resulted in an exhibition in Lewes, Sussex, last year, and also in a book: Willow/Wilg/Weide/Saule (Ypres Willows), which I produced under the imprint Altazimuth Press, which I use for my artist's books and poetic photobooks.

There's also a link from my main blog to one I've set up for landscape, maps and air photos, and this will include some images and interpreatation of the St Yvon (Factory Farm/Reebrouck/Ultra Trench, and also Ultimo Trench/Ultimo Crater.

Peter Chasseaud (The Wanderer).

Sunday, 10 August 2008

On reflection...

Back in Blighty (Where the internet works and the keyboard isn't confusingly Belgian)...

It's been a roller coaster of a week. Great teamwork, unforgettable experiences and lots of working hard and playing hard (working behind the bar until 2.45 am on the last night resulted in almost falling asleep standing up on the ferry home!).

Top experiences? Well, lying on my top bunk with my head out of the roof light, at 4am on Thursday morning, watching the bolts of lightning and listening to the thunder crashing all around, gave me a taster of what being under shell fire must have been like. Being periodically baked alive and then soaked wet through in the flax field was a test of true grit and determination (not least when doing the YMCA as part of "Team Colonel" when we couldn't Geophys due to the rain and lightning).

Again the last post ceremony at the Menin gate saw us without a dry eye in the house, especially when we realised we had chosen a spot standing in front of the Australian panel - spooky.

The finds too have been fascinating and I fear I am going to become a sad expert in "bits of rusty crap". The "show and tell" on our second evening brought everything to life and really helped us identify finds in the field. The boot studs found on day 2 in Trench 12 were amazing and the area of fire step I unearthed in the same trench, with what appeared to be the remnant of a cape lying on the top were a special find (until the rain came in and created a lovely pool).

All of the trenches have had finds which start to piece together a story, adding to the discoveries of 2007. We've had glass bottles, tins, ammunition, bits of clothing and personal kit as well as wriggly tin and timbers from a dugout which may have collapsed as a result of the shock wave from the mine which created Ultimo crater.

Of course the final part requires literally digging deep to backfill the trenches, but the team spirit and singing helped!

I am already looking forward to seeing everyone again next year!

Jo x

Team Nosferatu gets serious

With five days to concentrate on one trench Team Nosferatu finally found serious solid Great War artefacts in the deepest hole on the site. Despite having to dig out two metres of fill we uncovered the solid timbers (preserved because previously berlow the water table) of a trench mortar emplacement, with an exciting live improvised demolition charge for Rod and Gontrand to work their magic on.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Lehen Mundu Gerra Ikerketa

Aste honetan gure nazioarteko arkeolojia taldea ikerketa bat egiten ari da Messinesen, Belgikar hiri bat Ypreseren ingurumenan.

Plugstreet, herrialdeko herri txiki bat (Belgikaren hiri txikiena!), oso ospetua da Erresuma Batuan. 1917'ko Ekainaren 7etan bataila haundia piztu zeren. Bataila honetan oso interesgarria da Lehen Mundu Gerran. Ingalaterra eta bere Inperio Koloniala Alemaniaren kontra.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


In the command bunker we are still smiling... It is all going very well and the team are mostly well-behaved!!!!!

The local TV came out today to interview Martin and Paola about the site - Paola is the better looking and speaks French! Look out for us on a Walloon television set near you!

More news tomorrow.

Day 2 - confusion reigns

Well what a day - mystery and mayhem have ensued!

The `back to front trenchers´ aka Steve R´s crew, found that they´d spent two days digging their trench in the wrong place. Av´s team discovered an amazingly well preserved hand shovel circa 2007! Cheers for that Dan!

The bunker team found some remnants of trench board, while Chris the gravedigger found an 1898 bayonet. Team Nosferatu spent all day digging the deepest trench in the world and found nothing until the amazing discovery of "the bottle of Messines" at 5.30pm!

Meanwhile, Team Slither strike again. Bags and bags of finds including webbing, mauser rounds galore, 4 18lb shells, various tins, leather mush with rivets still attached, angle irons and finally a full wine bottle until Gontrand used his chink, chink, smunch excavation techniques resulting in eau de sulphur.

All in all a good day!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Day 1 - the beasting begins

Well, the rest of the Plugstreet crew have spent the first day on site, after much drinking the night before!

We now have 7 trenches open and even on day 1 we have had some interesting finds. Of course Team Slither have come up trumps, as we did last year, and despite only starting `Trench 12´ after our usual large baguette lunch we´ve already found parts of a German pickelhaub!! Just the rest of the untouched German frontline to find in a baking hot flax field! No pressure!

As for the rest of the group, well we have discovered a few interesting facts about Coops´ biological makeup which reacts unusually to a metal detector (see Facebook for those on it) and we´re all waiting to see Daisy Duke in his hotpants.

The beer supplies are disappearing fast but we haven´t yet had to resort to the pink stuff! And for those absent friends who couldn´t make it back this year we are all enjoying wedding style buffet dinners of smoked salmon, but we are thinking of you and drinking to your health!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Plugstreet 2008

Well 'The Colonel' has been deployed. Bar takings last night totalled 66 euros but only 6 team members were present!. We are expecting to drink the bar dry yet again!. The Colonel this year is going to concentrate on surveying around the Ultimo Crater in order to locate the other lewis gun emplacements and Company Headquarters.

The advance party is now esconced in the Peace Village at Messines. Last evening we hooked up with the excellent Claude at the Auberge and said hello before going off to eat in Ploegsteert. Sadly Claude had just come back from holidays so his kitchen wasn't open so no moules yet!

And now it's time to hit the landscape and get out, meet some of our other key players like the farmer and the Historical Society ready to start laying out trenches tomorrow and digging on Monday. Meanwhile there are tools to collect, geophysical surveys to do and a supermarket run to chase.

Meanwhile... we say CONGRATULATIONS to Louise from the Peace Village who is a new mum to Dylan, two weeks old!

We also wish Caroline the PV Manager a good weekend at the Dranouter Folk Festival! Top Brit folk acts Billy Bragg and the Men They Couldn't Hang are on. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


As the first day of the dig draws nigh the No Man's Land team have been pipped to the post with exciting discoveries by the Wessex University "Bonekickers". For readers not familiar with them the group are stars of a BBC TV drama set in a fictional university department. You can tell it's fiction as they drive nice cars, live in the Royal Crescent at Bath and are all attractive and witty. Oh and they found the True Cross, Boudicca's body and the Tablet of Destiny (gasp!).

Anyway this hugely enjoyable tosh is broadcast on a Tuesday evening and next week's episode centres on the discovery of a First World War Tank near Verdun. We shall all be watching to see how one should really do Great War Archaeology!

If you do watch let us know what you think via the comments!

You will be able to see Martin and Prof Mark Horton (Bristol University, adviser to the series and alleged model for "Dolly" Parton) talking about tanks and Great War Archaeology on the Bonekickers website after the broadcast of next week's programme. It was worth it to crawl around tanks at Bovington's excellent Tank Museum.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Approaching Zero Hour

we aer delighted to be able to announce that the project now has official permission for its excavations at St Yvon this summer. The team will be on site for a week in August and will update this blog with news of finds and thoughts as we did last year

Monday, 14 July 2008

Spreading the Word

Yesterday Richard and Martin gave a presentation to the annual Conflict Archaeology conference at the Royal Logistics Corps Museum at Deepcut. It was good to present to an audience of interested amateurs and fellow practitioners in the field and the responses to our multistrand approach to the landscape and the individual sites was well-received.

The event was a mixture of ancient (Ramesses II) and modern (WW1 & 2 and Bosnia) with an interspersing of post-medieval (English Civil War). Tal Simmons paper on Bosnia was hard viewing and listening but ultimately worthwhile, not only because of her powerful delivery but also because it served to remind us of the reality of conflict, including injury, sickness and death in traumatic circumstances. Meanwhile Neil Faulkner's paper on the Arab Revolt and TE Lawrence threw up some interesting differences withour work, although Plugstreet and Lawrence were contemporary. However there were marked similarities too, including the German trench systems.

The cross current in several papers was that this is essentially a community endeavour, whether those communities are close to the sites in UK, in Jordan or at a remove in a second or third country, as we are for this project. The nature of conflict means that it may have resonance and meaning years after the event for those affected, even indirectly. Archaeology gives some people the opportunity to engage directly with that heritage and, we hope, offers everyone the chance to hear something new about the events and people in the past.

Thanks and credit to Andy Robertshaw and his staff at the RLC Musuem.

Zero Minus 3

Three weeks that is!

We have agreed the trench locations with the farmer and are set to launch our next season of excavation and survey at Plugstreet.

Once againa crack team of archaeologists and fellow-travellers is set to embark. This year the team includes some new faces, including two more American friends and our first representative from the Republic of Ireland. Kat has a missing relative so joins the members of the team with that particular attachment to the battlefields. We are also pleased to have Rod on board, after his absence last year due to a more modern war. Welcome to you all.

As we have said before the idea of No Man's Land is an international venture and so we go on, our common purpose being to investigate something that once divided us.


How could I let the media event of the year go by unremarked?

Bonekickers started last week on BBC1 in the UK. If you didn't watch it you missed out. The new series follows the story of fictional archaeologists from the University of Wessex and each week they will be involved in a plot centring around a site.

I suggest you read the reviews for yourselfs. Particularly amusing are the pieces in The Guardian...

But why am I telling you this?

If you watch the episode coming up in a couple of weeks you'll see a dig on a wreck of a Great War Tank and the recovery of its crew. I'll say no more so I don't spoil the surprise.

Tales of the Bustard

Apologies, dear reader, for leaving you hanging with the tales of the Bustard - our heroes in the rain with only a cake to sustain... Unfortunately the rain meant that we had to work twice as hard on the remaining 3 days to achieve our ends, so blogging rather suffered.

So, I hear you cry, what DID happen?

We opened several areas, some of which were blank and one of which had the most marvellous section of trench in it. The picture is here:

Image Copyright:Defence Estates

Scale is 1m vertical and 2m horizontal. The stain running along the base of the trench is believed to be the marks left by a rotted trench board.

Oddly there were no 1914-18 finds, by contrast to the 2006 dig when we found lots of materiel. This suggests that the soldiers were made to clear up after their exercise.

One find that did turn up was a Prehistoric flint in the backfill of another comunication trench. It just goes to show that the archaeological landscape is indeed a palimpsest, layered and full of artefacts stories and meanings.

Copyright: Defence Estates

Happily the Bristol students were still smiling when they left us (maybe with relief at leaving) and all agreed that it had been an interesting and useful week.

We would have prefered to have found more evidence of the use of the trenches but the excavated section does show that the soldiers were digging proerfeatures to the prescribed deoth to afford head cover and to keep you relatively safe in the battlespace in Flanders or France. Good training? It looks like it!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008


It was raining all night and it is still raining now.

At 8 we decided to stay off site for the morning and see what the weather 12.30 "rain stopped play" and the day was binned.

Tomorrow everyone will work harder to make up for lost time ;-)

There will be a cake though, as your correspondent had occassion to go the the excellent bakery on the A303 near Yeovilton.

More news as it happens!

Back to the Bustard

Monday 2nd June and we were joined on Salisbury Plain by a team of Bristol University students, ably led by Nick Saunders. They have joined us to spend a week digging on the site of the Anzac 3rd Division training trenches at The Bustrad on Salisbury Plain. The site takes it's name from the large bird and from the nearby pub named after it.

In 1916 the Australian soldiers took over, adapted amd trained in a series of trenches dug on Salisbury Plain to instruct and inform soldiers in the practice of trench diggin, maintenance, routine and life. The Australians are known to have spent days and nights in the trenches familiarising themselves with trench life. They are known to have been involved in exercises with live fire and the blowing of a small mine, which they seem then to have "captured" and fortified, just as they were to do at Ultimo crater, during the Battle of Messines.

The dig is designed to do a number of things. It will see what can be discerned in the archaeological record of the activities of these and other soldiers. The dig will also assess the survivial and condition of the remains. Information gained here will add to the picture of preparation for War in 1916/17.

Richard and Martin led an NML team here in 2005 but since then there has been neither opportunity nor resources to return so the help given by Bristol is invaluable.


Steve L is a key member of the No Mans Land team at Plugstreet. Steve is one of the core team excavating the mass grave at Fromelles. The grave was dug in July 1916 by the Germans to bury bodies of British and Australian troops killed in an attack on the Aubers Ridge. For 90 years the bodies have lain undisturbed as they seem to have been overlooked during clearance in the 1920s.

Excavations are now underway to confirm that there are bodies in the large holes identified from aerial photos and geophysical survey. News reports suggest that bodies have been found. However the project is heavily political, as its impetus comes from campaigners in Australia who wanted to find their fallen. This pressure means that the focus is biased one way! The connections felt by descendants in these situations is not like that with any other relative who died in 1916 and who may feek rather remote. Rather the war dead still hold a mysterious power and in connection with them individuals (and not only at this site) develop attitudes more akin to first nation groups than 21st century westerners. This is not to criticise anyone's opinion but is worh remarking upon. In a culture which does not deal well with death and in which the dead are usually not accorded stature the war dead are fetishized to an unusual extent. However, as I have written here before the emotional dynamics are complex and strange.

Two Pints of Leffe and a Packet of Frites...

Your intrepid correspondents were in Belgium at the weekend. The intention of our trip was to meet once more with M. Delrue, whose land we are investigating, Claude, chef-patron of the Auberge and all round good chap, and our friends from the Warneton Historical Society.

We are pleased to report that all the signatures are in place and that we have now formally applied for the permit to dig again. We hope the Wllon authorities will look kindly on us again!

While we were out there we stayed at the Messines Peace Village again and look set to use them as Dig HQ again this year. As ever we got a very warm welcome and we salute Louise, who is customer-service personified. Good luck with the pregnancy!

We are several steps closer to another season at Plugstreet.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Here we are, here we are, here we are again

Dear Readers (If there are any left out there)

The lack of posts does not reflect lack of activity on behalf of the Plugstreet Project team! Since last posting we have been busy working towards a 2008 digging season in Belgium and securing a second tranche of works on the Anzac 3 Div training trenches on Salisbury Plain.

In addition we have been finalising further reports, including one for the annual round up of archaeology in Wallonia. Last year we published our research objectives in "Cahiers de l'Urbanisme" so it was nice to be able to report our first years findings in an interim for the Belgian archaeological community.

At the end of the month we will be undertaking a recce to Belgium to secure the permissions for this year's work and look set to be over there in August.

In the meantime our friends from Bristol University, including Project member Nick Saunders, have agreed to come down and work with us on Salisbury Plain to excavate further sections of the Australian training trenches. As discussed in earlier posts these were part dug and used by 3 Div in preparation for the Messines battle and include a defendeed mine crater, similar to but smaller than the one we worked beside at Ultimo Crater last year.

The team will be here 2nd to 6th June, so watch this space for regular dig updates during that period.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

In Despatches

Digging is only part of the story...the site work is fun but ultimately meaningless without reporting. Accordingly Richard and Martin have been working to collate the records from the summer and a report on the 2007 work is now complete and has been sent to our key partners in Belgium. The report is rather large as it includes integrated photos and illustrations so please don't ask us to email you a copy (all 26MB of it). We are very grateful to anyone who helped us in compiling this - you know who you are (and so do we)! Team members who want a copy should ask and we'll burn a copy to disk or do some illicit photocopying.

Now that we have submitted a report we can seek permission to undertake further work this year and already the landowner has received a letter asking where we can dig.

More news when we have it. I hope that soon we will be in a position to start talking in firmer terms about the 2008 season!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Emotion and Archaeology

At times this blog has delved into the issues surrounding our work, including issues of emotional engagement. Anyone interested in this aspect of our work might like to seek out Martin's latest paper on this subject, which appears in Archaeological Review from Cambridge.

Brown, M. 2007 "The Fallen, the Front and the Finding: Archaeology, Human Remains and the Great War", Archaeological Review from Cambridge, 22.2, 53-68

This edition of the journal is subtiteld The Disturbing Past: Does Your Research Give You Nightmares? Martin's paper is concerned with the emotional stresses engendered during the discovery and excavation of human remains. Although he does not cover the work at Plugstreet there were emotional issues enough raised in our work there. However he does consider personal responses to bodies found on other NML projects at Serre and Loos, where bodies recovered were identified and in two cases members of the families of the dead were contacted.

The human remains we uncover are likely to have died chaotic, traumatic deaths, sometimes in prolonged agony. If one takes this fact and considers it alongside the possibility that we could use forensic techniques and careful research to identify them then the reader may begin to understand why this is an issue and why it is significantly different to dealing with bodies on a more conventional archaeological site.

Readers wanting to know more about the process of researching a casualty should seek out the paper written by Martin and another team member Alastair Fraser in Journal of Conflict Archaeology:

Fraser, A.H. & Brown, M. 2007 "Mud, Blood and The Missing: Excavations at Serre, Somme, France, JCA, 4, 147-171

As the abstract says:
The article gives a description of archaeological excavations at Serre and a brief historical overview of the German position south of Serre known in the Great War as the Heidenkopf or Quadrilateral. The remains of one British and two German soldiers were discovered during an excavation there in 2003. The process of identification is discussed and biographies of the two German soldiers are provided.

While some might seek to see archaeology as emotionally detached and pretending it is scientific we believe that dealing with humanity in such an intimate frame and considering such traumatic issues makes such extreme detachment impossible and pretence to it an abdication of responsibility to not only present results but also to explore the processes and engagements inherent in the study of humaity, especially in time of conflict.


The British Museum in London was the venue for the first British Archaeology conference over the weekend just gone. It was organised by magazine Current Archaeology as a "festival" of, as they put it "The best of British Archaeology, at home and abroad". In truth, the speaker list was impressive enough to substatiate this strap line with some of the big names and big themes under discussion.

On Sunday there was a session on Conflict Archaeology in which two of our project members spoke: anthropologist Nick Saunders gave an overview of the rise of "Conflict Archaeology" and made clear its difference to "Battlefield Archaeology". It was nice to see that Nick's second image was of the team at work on Jon's trench beside the Factory Farm crater.

One of our intrepid leaders, Martin, presented on "Mud, Blood & Archaeology" and sought to look at No Man's Land projects on the Western Front (by which he meant France, Belgium and the training areas of UK). Inevitably the Plugstreet Project featured heavily in the presentation due to its innovative use of such a wide range of techniques and its belief in looking beyond the battlefield to the wider world affected by the war.

There was some interesting discussion and comment we have subsequently received also showed that the full lecture theatre had thoroughly enjoyed it and continued to think about it afterwards.

We have nothing but thanks for the organisers for this opportunity to present in such a remarkable venue and at such a prestigious and well organised event and wish them all success in trying to make this conference an annual event.

Monday, 28 January 2008

The BBC News website is carrying a report from Germany. It states that a man believed to be the last German veteran of the Western Front has died.

The phrase "believed to be" is important because Germany has no records of its veterans. As the article points out this is due to the country's 20th century history and it's role in the two world wars.

Whatever else this passing marks another sure step toward the War ceasing to be memory and becoming History. The people who were there are disappearing and we must seek other ways to explore, understand and commemorate the events. We are trying to show how archaeology can do this.

We say commemorate and mean it: whether German or Belgian or Indian or whoever the War was a tradgedy that has effects at national and personal levels that can still be felt today. To commemorate the War is not to glorify it or celebrate national triumph, rather it is to mark an event that still has resonance today. Above all we remember that we are all people.

Friday, 25 January 2008

O For a Muse of Fire

Yesterday Martin gave a lunchtime lecture about the Plugstreet Project at the National Army Museum. There was an audience of about 50, including two team members. The lecture was well-received and stimulated both interesting questions and enjoyable discussion both in the lecture theatre and the NAM's cafe afterwards.

Thanks to anyone reading this who did come along and thanks to the Museum for giving us the opportunity to give the first major presentation on our work.

If your archaeological/historical society would like to hear about our work then get in touch via the blog and we'll see if we can arrange a lecture for you.

Martin also included the project in a presentation to Stafford and Mid Staffordshire Archaeology Society last Friday to an audience of about 100. He was actually talking about training camps on Cannock Chase and the New Zealanders but used the project as an example of how we can follow techniques and units from training to combat. It helps that the New Zealanders were assaulting Messines at about the time the Anzac 3 Div were attacking "our" German trenches.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Opportunities to Hear More...

Happy New Year folks.

Readers in London wanting to hear more about the project have an opportunity to see Martin give a presentation on the project at the National Army Museum in Chelsea on Thursday January 24th at 12.30. This forms part of the NAM's lunchtime lecture series and we are grateful to them for this opportunity to present our results.

The Museum lecture series is listed here:

The NAM is situated on Royal Hospital Road, next to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London. The nearest Tube station is probably Sloane Square. From the station walk down the King's Road and turn left at McDonalds (yes they do have one on the King's Road) and follow your road until you see the Hospital. The Museum is the 1970's block on the right!

Meanwhile this blog will continue, describing our efforts to deal with last year's results and set up another season of digging for 2008.