Thursday, 26 November 2009

Christmas Gifts

Martin models the SOS hat and wristband in a British trench at Plugstreet 2009.

We find evidence of gifts for the troops in the trenches at Plugstreet, including toffee tins and the like. It was an important part of trench life, getting parcels. The most famous gifts were the Queen Mary tins that included cigarettes and chocolate but colonies sent chocolate and individials sent the men on all sides presents to keep their morale up.

This Christmas gifts for the troops on deployment are as important as they were in 1914. If you would like to contribute to gifts to our boys then go to:

and make a donation.

The Project has donated to the charity before and sent some more money to them this evening.

We wish them all safe home, but in the meantime we remember them and use the insights from the archaeological evidence to reflect on the soldiers' experience, far from home, eating boring food and having, at best, an unusual Christmas...

Support SOS

Merry Christmas

Happy Reading

Hello Readers

As Christmas is coming and you're no doubt stumped for gift ideas why not consider a copy of "Digging Up Plugstreet" by Martin Brown & Richard Osgood. It's a cracking read.

On the subject of great reads, you could also have a look at the "Chroniques de l'Archaeologie Wallone" 26, 2009. It's published by the Province of Wallonia and includes short reports on work undertaken in the region in 2007, including Plugstreet.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Finds from 2009

In a recent post we promised to show a few of the finds recovered from the site this year. Here is a small selection.

Thanks are due to Rob, Egon, Shirley and their team in the findsroom who cleaned, catalogued, conserved and generally made things recogniseable again.

A set of German ammunition pouches.

The plate and badge from a Saxon pickelhaube helmet.

A patent medicine bottle - troops often took their own cold remedies and lice powders into the line.

Lots of cartidges, mostly fired, which are probably evidence of battlefield salvage that someone dumped in a position when he couldn't be bothered to carry them to the rear!

Our star find,the German 1915 snipers face mask. This is a particukrly evocative artefact as it leaves no doubt about its evil intent. No aesthetics, just malevolence. It is also very rare, only one of 1500 made.

And we found all this rusty munition but thanks to Gontrand and Rod it wasn't a significant problem. There are German stick grenades and trench mortar rounds, as well as a British Stokes mortar bomb and someother bits and pieces. DOVO have now removedthem from the safe area on site.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Recording Methods

Those of you that have visited us on site will know of all the many methods we employ for recording our work. One of these is to film our work to provide detail on decisions made and methods employed. This has the added benefit of the potential for producing documentary work on the excavations. Angela and Derek have filmed all of the fieldwork so far and Angela has now put together a 1 minute clip of the work as a trailer for a documentary proposal. We hope this leads to further work for the project!

The Project was selected as one of five finalists for the National Film Board of Canada Cross-Media Challenge 2009 competition at The Sheffield Documentary Festival. Angela delivered a presentation to the international judging panel and gathered audience, which was well received. Unfortunately we didn't scoop the main prize, but were very pleased to have reached the final and obtained some useful feedback and encouragement.

An Irish Memorial

The team was fortunate enough to have Billy Quinn working with us this summer. Billy has posted his thoughts on the excavations here:

In other news - there is the possibility that this week we will hear the results of the stable istope work that was undertaken on the remains of the Australian soldier recovered in 2008. Was he from Western Australia, New South Wales, England, Scotland or.....Sweden?

Lastly, it is confirmed that the volume on the project so far is now out: you can purchase at many book stores or Amazon...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Food & Drink

Without the assistance of Claude and Nelly at the Auberge in Ploegsteert we wouldn't have the succesful, nor as well fed project that we do.

For amazing moules or the best carbonade of beef, you should visit the Auberge, just opposite the Ploegsteert memorial to the missing. Claude will also do amazing vegetarian food!

Thanks again, from the whole team!

Over the Parapet

As promised, here are some photographs of the project, these are of the trenches excavated but there will be more, including finds coming soon!

The blown off roof of the bunker in T3. The small scale is in the alcoves for used to store German stick grenades, ready for use in an attack.

Remains of the battered German bunker in T4

The remains of the collapsed shelter in the side of the crater investigated in T6. More to see there next year, I feel!

The intercutting German Trenches in T5. These had been filled by the upcast from the mine! The postholes were supporting the revetment of the walls and were almost a metre deep!

Part of theamazing architecture in T1.

Brian, Avril & Egg hard at it with trowels in T2, only to discover in was empty - still, even negative evidence is evidence!

Henry and Bev working in Trench 4.
As you can see the team were pretty busy. Next time, more images of the treasure uncovered!

Ave atque Vale II

As Richard and Martin were on the ferry out to Belgium they caught the end of Henry Allingham's funeral in Brighton on a TV in the ship's lounge. Meanwhile, Harry Patch was buried in Wells while we were actually engaged in work on site.

How poignant to be engaged in a project as the events it investigates pass from memory into history. Harry Patch would have heard, or felt the Messines mines go off, as he was nearby at the time.

We wonder how long it was between the death of the last Roman, Saxon or English medieval monk and the first archaeological excavation of their sites? We feel strangely priveleged to stand on the threshold.

Our work is driven by academic considerations but it also embodies acts of remembrance for in the action of investigation we remember, respect and commemorate the people involved here, of all nationalities and whether in uniform or civilian clothes and in some small way restore them to history by our narratives.

Changing the Geography

The Plugstreet Project team was on site between Friday 31st July and Thursday August 6th. Unfortunately, rather intermittent internet connections at the Peace Village in Messines meant that we were unable to blog while actually out in the field. However the next few entries will give you a flavour of what happened, as well as a few thoughts and reflections on the site, the Project and some of the wider issues attendant on Great War conflict archaeology.

This summer the main team was based, once again, in the field by Ultimo Crater, where we opened a number of trenches, some more confusing than others. Meanwhile we were ably supported by the Finds and Conservation team back up at the Peace Village. Meanwhile Team Colonel was primarily out on Hill 63 at Le Rossignol surveying features around the Chateau de la Hutte, getting bitten by horseflies and trying to avoid the field with the bull in!

Trench 1 produced the most spectacular results, architecturally speaking, as Steve's team uncovered a very nice right-angled fire trench dug into the lip of the mine crater and overlooking no-mans-land and the German positions.

Trench 2 was a speculative test pit and produced nothing.

Trench 3 crossed two sections of German trench and also revealed the roof of a demolished German concrete shelter. This area also included a rather nice midden deposit that included the star find (of which more later)... as well as bottles, tins and a number of stick grenades.

Trench 4 was intended to find the in-situ remains of the German concrete shelter, which it did. Unfortunately we got the front face and the breastwork cast up around it, rather then the rear, which was the target, so that we could see the relationship between trench and bunker.

Both trenches 3 & 4 were in the trees and suffered from very hard ground, as it hasn't rained as much in Belgium as in UK, so the trees have taken up much of the groundwater! All credit to both teams. However, they did have shade, unlike trenches 1 & 5 - until I put team 4 into the crater!

Trench 5 saw the redeployed team from T2 opening an area on top of German communication trench. The maps and air photos were unclear about whether it had continued in use following the capture of the area in june 1917. They actually produced remains of at least 2 German trenches, as well as communications wire, post holes and trench boards. Both trenches appeared to have been filled by upcast soil from the mine, as there was no evidence of post-war clearance debris in them. So the date of the fill is between 03.30 and 03.35 on 7th June 1917 (so for any Prehistorians reading that's a really secure date, without need for Bayesian analysis)

Trench 6 saw the T4 team go down beside the water-filled Ultimo Crater where they uncovered the remains of what is probably a collapsed shelter dug into the face of the crater following its capture by the Anzacs. Such utilisation of craters was common, with shelters in the crater and defensive positions on the lip.

Photographs will follow later, once I can upload a few.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Digging Up Plugstreet

We have just been told that "Digging Up Plugstreet" by Richard Osgood and Martin Brown will be going to press this afternoon.

This account of our research to date is published by Haynes and is available through Amazon, as well as from all good bookshops.

Rest assured that Martin and Richard will be rearranging the displays in bookshops to give themselves more prominence. I am assured it's the perfect Christmas gift for the Great War obsessive in your household.

Ave atque Vale

With the death of Harry Patch it seems that the last living link to the trenches has gone. Harry knew the world we are excavating and reconstructing through our work. To him the trenches were newly built, the tins weren't rusty and all those names on the memorials were real, living, young people.

How appropriate that the man whose passing marks this moment of shift should be one who did not want to fight but was conscripted and who held off killing for as long as possible.

Harry Patch, plumber, fireman, gentleman and soldier.

Standing To!

It's that time of year again.

We will be on site from Friday 31 to Thursday 6th August at St Yvon.

The main team will be looking for further evidence of the Australian fortification of the mine crater and of ground held following the Messines attack. In addition we hope to investigate the entrance to a German concrete shelter to see something of the architecture and stratigraphy of the acess to it from the trench.

While the main thrust of fieldwork will concentrate on the 33 Bn objectives from 7th June 1917, The Colonel will be leading a recce party to look at Hill 63 and carry out geophysical survey that we hope will inform work in coming years.

As ever we will be joined by our Belgian friends, including members of the Comines-Warneton Historical Society.

Not all the regulars will be with us in Belgium, we'll be missing James, Chass, Lesley, Birger and Jon, but we do say "Congratulations!" to Sylvia who isn't coming out on the paltry excuse that she is getting married!

We hope to be continuing with the blog while we are away. Watch this space.

Monday, 22 June 2009


The dates for the August season at Ploegsteert have been announced and the likely team members alerted. It's nice to be looking forward to another week in the field.

Meanwhile our friends from GWAG and our own Rod have been busy looking for the traces of WW2 anti-invasion defences and WW1 anti-aircraft defences at Shooters Hill, near Woolwich in London. You can see what they've been up to here:

And finally...
Richard and Martin hosted a Bristol University Masters group for a week of excavation on part of the Bustard practice trench system. While one area opened gave inconclusive results, apart from as a rubbish dump, the other revelealed a beautifully dug, deep trench cut into the chalk.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Lost in Flanders

Anzac Day is almost upon us - April 25th. Some my recall the filming of the first season of excavation back in 2007 - well this will form part of a documentary, 'Lost in Flanders', that is being aired in Australia tomorrow. A link to a ste with a promo of the programme is here

Along with Jo, Becks, Martin (and perhaps others?!) the film will include two members of the team from 2007 - Mat and Michael.

Left: Mat, right: Michael

Thursday, 26 March 2009

What they carried

The first object photos

Amongst other grenades and framents was this tin for rifle grenade fuses, found in the British fire trench

Given the NML recovery of the remains of the Australian soldier in 2008, the find of this shoulder title as part of the topsoil machining was especially poignant.

The Value of Archaeology

Some time to reflect later..

An amazing amount was packed into the No-Man's-Land rescue work at St Yvon. Survey using GPR (radar) and other geophysical techniques were excellent in locating some of the mine shafts in the region - excellent news for the overall project research.

Radar in Operation with Peter and Becs

The top of the bunker we found was viewed in full by the farmer who thinks he will only need to move a small part of it to prevent damage to his plough and there should be no risk of damage to the British trenches. The true value of archaeological research was thus shown.

Working on the trenches, bunker and trench boards

As mentioned earlier - many finds. From butterscotch tins, pipe stems and mirrors to medicine bottles and an Australian shoulder title and (?) Fusilier shoulder title.

A sandbag filled with concrete and still showing the original weft

We always work with the highest standard of bomb cover, essential both in dealing with live ammunition and also in identifying some of the other elements of spent ordnance we uncover. Cheers to Rod and Gontrand once again!

Justin and Gontrand at work

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Beneath Flanders (or Wallonian) fields

The Traverse in the British trench, St Yvon 2009

The team is now back from an enormously successful piece of rescue archaeology at St Yvon. For three days we recorded the remnants of a bunker that lay on the front of the British line. In association with this concrete structure was the multi-phase British fire trench, initially with brick footings and then with trench boards, corrugated iron revetting and A-frames. A concrete-filled sandbag also survived. As one would expect, the trench had hundreds of spent .303 rounds, along with rum jar and more personal items such as a pipe, mirror and some printed material; perhaps part of a racy magazine story at first glance! Much more to follow...

Remnants of the Bunker

Thanks to the Comines-Warneton history Society, Mnr Delrue, Messines Peace Village and (of course) Claude and Nelly at L'Auberge in Ploegsteert. the weather was fine, the beer good and the team excellent. Hurrah!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Ground Penetrating Radar

The Project team want to say a very big thanks to Geomatrix and to their owner Chris Leech.

The company (Geomatrix Earth Science Ltd) offers one of the largest hire pools of near surface geophysical instrumentation in Europe. They are exclusive sales representatives for many of the leading geophysical instrument and software manufacturers. Their instruments are world renowned for their emphasis on providing high data quality and instrument reliability in the most arduous of field conditions (which now includes former battlefields).

Geomatrix are loaning us GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) equipment to help us survey the British line, and to have a look at Jon's German position, that we started to excavate last year.

We welcome Geomatrix as the first Corporate Sponsor of the Plugstreet Project and welcome their contribution to our on-going research into both the battlefield itself and into the use of geophysics on this sort of site.

We hope to be able to post results of the survey soon, so you can see their amazing kit in action.

Back Into The Line

On Friday a small party of us will be going out to Belgium.

Last year during ploughing the tenant discovered the remains of a British concrete bunker. Unsurprisingly he wasn't happy about a bent plough and a load of rubble in the potato field so plans to remove it. Fortunately the landowner told us that this will happen and has given us the opportunity to undertake rescue recording of the bunker and do a limited amount of excavation around it in the British Line.

Previously we have never had opportunity to look at the British trenches so this is both exciting and very useful for our research into the development of the battlefield.

As usual we will be staying with our friends at the Peace Village in Messines and enjoying the excellent food of Claude at The Auberge at Plugstreet -

We hope to be updating the blog during our stay.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Day Thou Gavest

Well we survived the conference.

Thank you to all the wonderful speakers for their excellent contributions and for sticking to their allotted timeslots. Also a big thank you to tha audience for a stimulating set of questions and discussions points,as well as for being generally nice people who wantedto talk and even buy us beer!

It was good to see a few of the Plugstreet regulars in the audience,as well as our friend Eric,who will be joining us: Welcome Back from "Over There" mate!

Meanwhile we're planning a short foray to record a concrete shelter on the British line before the potato crop goes in. More breaking news soon!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Conference on Saturday 28th

Following a presentation of project findings to the Society of Antiquaries of London last week, several of the project team will be addressing this conference at Oxford University on Saturday.
Nick, Peter, Martin, Richard and Jon will all be giving papers which will draw in aspects of our work at Plugstreet. for any readers brave enough, you might also be able to find us at the Eagle and Child pub on St Giles on the evening of Friday 27th....

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Lost in Flanders

Those of you that followed the project in 2007 will recall the presence of an Australian tv film crew on site. The fruits of their labours will be shown this year (date and time to be announced) and will follow team members Mat and Michael as they look at the discovery of remnants of the Great War in Belgium. Some of this film will examine our excavation and the flyer seems to show two of the dig team on the cover...step forward Jo and Becks...

Martin and Richard are still liaising with the Australian Govt in attempts to gain an identification of the soldier we found