First World War

Allan Kilpatrick – Historic Environment Scotland

As I stood on the rain-sodden hillside, soaked, surrounded by two-metre-tall ferns and being bitten by a biblical plague of midges who viewed me as a three-star Michelin meal, I wondered: Is archaeology really worth it? However, once I’d brushed myself down, killed a thousand or so midges and began to move again, I realised I wasn’t finished with archaeology yet. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that there is almost no other job like it. Where else can you find yourself walking across a bit of countryside discovering the history of the landscape? This particular day, I was an archaeologist with a mission. I was looking for something not from our ancient past but rather more recent: I was seeking the archaeological remains of the First World War.

The field work is part of a HES project to survey and record the defences of the Clyde from both wars, as part of the Discover the Clyde programme (http://discoveringtheclyde.org.uk)

The sites I was looking for were military blockhouses. These are timber buildings which housed soldiers and were surrounded by an earth and sandbag wall providing a fighting position or strongpoint to defend an area of ground. I had with me copy of a map from The National Archives on which was drawn the position of a number of blockhouses on the hill. I had many questions to answer: were the blockhouses actually built? What did they look like? How accurate was the annotation on the map? Had they survived or had forestry ploughing destroyed them? So many variables and combined with the new trees and suffocating ferns, it was going to be a challenge to find them.

With the start of the Scottish version of a monsoon, I made my way upwards to a low summit which I thought might be my best chance.  For me, the thrill of fieldwork is the finding of archaeology, be it a cairn or rig, a hut circle or blockhouse.

As I reached the summit I found a small square concrete hut base which was not quite what I was expecting, but I recorded it and moved on. I carried on through the undergrowth and stumbled upon a large, square enclosure with a partial earth wall measuring about 5m by 5m.

The first Blockhouse found © HES

The first Blockhouse found © HES

Was this what I sought or was it something else? Indeed it was close to the position on the map.  I needed a comparison. Some more scrambling and two thousand dead midges later, I found a second rectangular enclosure on the edge of a steep slope covered in dense ferns and fallen trees but measuring the same internal size. Success!

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

As it turned out, these were indeed the sites of two blockhouses. We discovered two almost identical sites about 2km to the north later that day (see https://canmore.org.uk/site/331613). We have now found six of these blockhouses which defended Ardhallow Coast Battery on the Clyde from landward attack. The quest will continue as somewhere in the dense forestry lie three more.

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

Is archaeology worth it, on a day like this one it really is!

The First World War archaeology of Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

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Our HLF funded WW1 project is currently gearing up for the University of York’s fourth season of archaeological research excavation at Breary Banks, Colsterdale. To date the University have been exploring the early twentieth century camp established for navvy workers and taken over for the War effort as Colsterdale Camp – training camp for volunteer recruits, including the ‘Leeds Pals’. Later in the War the camp served as a prison for German POWs.
Yesterday the project hosted a fascinating talk in Ilkley that focused on the impact of the War on the town through accounts in the Ilkley Gazette, and the potential for First World War archaeology in Wharfedale, to the south of our area, including at Farnley Hall, army training camp perhaps best known for hosting the Northern Command Gas, Grenade and Signal School.
On Sunday we are holding a First World War-themed event aimed at families to mark the Festival of Archaeology and reference the return of the archaeologists to Breary Banks, in the historic nearby town of Masham. The event will be held in Masham Town Hall, Little Market Place, and we hope to welcome everyone with a passing interest in history, archaeology or their local heritage. For more information about this event see www.nidderdaleaonb.eventbrite.co.uk
www.facebook.com/WW1andNidderdaleAONB
www.nidderdaleaonb.org.uk

First World War Friday

dayofarch

I am a research assistant at the University of Glasgow. Like all archaeologists, I’m an individual of many talents: I have degrees in archaeology, I’m based in the University Archives, and I’m technically a staff member in the Department of History.

I am the project officer for Glasgow University’s Great War, a research project led by well-known fellow archaeologist Tony Pollard that looks at the experiences of the university community during the First World War. The project is part of the university’s WWI centenary commemorations. I specialise in conflict archaeology and I’ve excavated on the Western Front, so the Great War Project is a good fit for me.

On a normal day I mostly do research, with a bit of admin thrown in (though there is the occasional day when that balance is reversed). Today I’m looking at material from Capt JAC Macewen RAMC, son of the famous Glasgow surgeon Sir William Macewen. I’m particularly interested in the younger Macewen’s letters home to his parents. Letters to his mother are cheerful:

I have written to Mary regarding Sydney coming to France. Of course he is in danger, but, at the same time, I would not be despondent. Of our total casualties, a big percentage are sickness of one kind or other – often slight gassing & a very large percentage of wounds are really not serious. …[T]hings are not as bad as they look. So try to cheer up generally.

I am surprised to learn that Capt Macewen was put in charge of treating German POWs. I’m particularly keen to pass along this info to another archaeologist at the University of Glasgow, Iain Banks, who is researching European POW camps. Capt Macewen wrote to his father describing the medical cases he saw:

I see all cases, including fractures, head injuries (I have operated on 4 of these today) & abdomens…. …[T]he Germans are much tougher than we are & survive the most appalling injuries. One man I did today has half of his face blown away & a large hernia cerebri of his frontal lobe – so that I see very much worse cases than the others do. Truly the suffering in this war is not all on one side.

One of the letters even includes seashells from Paris Plage sent home in May 1918.

macewen seashells

Wandering around the repository is always an adventure. I don’t have the honed knowledge of the collections like my archivist colleagues, so my trips to the shelves to pull material are usually more meandering, sometimes resulting in dead ends (I haven’t set off the alarm by going through a fire door in MONTHS). Exploring the stacks in this haphazard way is occasionally fruitful, discovering something I didn’t know I was looking for. Sometimes I come up empty-handed. Even if I do, the journey is always interesting.

archives

Wandering past a shelf, I spotted an over-size album of the Glasgow Archaeological Society. It’s full of photos, clippings, notes and drawings like this sketch of Rough Castle Roman Fort.

plan of rough castle

There are plenty of artefacts kicking about, too. I spotted a few from the Scottish Brewing Archive.

brewing archive

I also meandered past the (very large!) glass slide collection of Sir John Harvard Biles.

Biles slides

That’s my Day of Archaeology. Until next year, you can keep up-to-date on Glasgow University’s Great War Project by following us on Twitter and checking out our newly-launched blog.

We can be heroes, just for one day

Hello!  If you’re reading this perhaps you want to know what it’s like to be a HERO (Historic Environment Record Officer), just for this one day.  (I know it’s a bit tenuous but I wanted a quote for my title and I love David Bowie, so…!)

I last blogged as part of the Day of Archaeology in 2011.  If you want to read my blog from back then please read a day in the life of a HERO.  There’s a fair bit there that I don’t really want to cover again, like how I became a HERO.  I think today I’ll just blog about what I’m up to.

View from my office, County Hall, Leicestershire

View from my office, County Hall, Leicestershire

I work for Leicestershire County Council in the Historic & Natural Environment Team (part of Planning, Historic & Natural Environment, so we sit with various planning officers). The other people in my team consist of a war memorials project officer, conservation officer, 2 planning archaeologists and our team leader – we’re also in the same team as several ecologists. There used to be more of us but due to the ubiquitous cuts that’s the team at the moment.  The conservation officer and our team leader don’t work full time, also because of the cuts.  So they’re not here today.

I’m in charge of the Historic Environment Record for Leicestershire & Rutland, which is basically a database that attempts to record all known archaeological remains and historic buildings in the county.

The first job of the day is to check the Heritage Gateway upload that I set running last night. About 70% of our HER records are available on-line through the Gateway (our Heritage Gateway update page details what’s on-line at the moment). Yesterday I added some new records (and edited some old ones), so I thought I’d better upload them!  The new records include a rather interesting medieval cruck-framed house, 5-7, Market Place, Whitwick (MLE20894) that is due to be demolished as part of a scheme to build a new Co-op.  (It’s not listed.) Our planning archaeologists have been commenting on the scheme, hence the reports that have provided me with new sites.

Then it’s time to do some fun map regression!  I love the part of my job that’s basically detective work, though sometimes it’s infuriating not to get definitive answers to questions…  Yesterday the Principal Planning Archaeologist brought several things in Ashby-de-la-Zouch to my attention.  First is an early ‘tramway’ that ran from the Ashby Canal to Ticknall.  This was on the HER already, but the mapping wasn’t quite right.  Then there are a whole bunch of industrial sites dating from the C18th-C20th.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch

Historic maps (1735, 1837, 1888) and HER extract for Ashby-de-la-Zouch

The sites are (the links will work when I’ve done the next Gateway upload!):

The next job is something that brings in money – a commercial data search.  Searches are requested by land agents and solicitors as well as commercial archaeology units, to help inform land purchases, planning decisions and as part of fieldwork.  For a fee, I send various digital files (maps, GIS files, gazetteers etc) out containing all the archaeological sites and historic buildings on the HER.  (Non-commercial enquiries are free.)  Interesting sites in Appleby Magna, where this search was for, include Moat House (MLE10939), a C16th house that sits within a moat.  The moated site, along with formal gardens, fishponds and village earthworks, is a Scheduled Monument (National Heritage List Entry No. 1011458).

As a fun Friday afternoon activity I think I’ll go through a book I’ve just bought (another HER officer recommended it to me).  It’s called ‘Actions Stations: Military airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands’, by Bruce Barrymore Halpenny.  We’ve been trying to put World War I sites onto the HER in advance of the First World War Centenary next year and I’m hoping it can add a bit more information.

Short 184 Seaplane

First World War Short 184 seaplane built at the Brush Works, Loughborough

Reaching the end of the day, the book doesn’t contain much First World War information (I’m up to ‘L’ in the gazetteer), but it does have some information about the Brush Works at Loughborough (MLE8697), which built aircraft in both the First and Second World Wars, and Loughborough Meadows (MLE15968), where they test flew their planes. The updated information will be on the Heritage Gateway after my next upload.

As you can see, for an ‘archaeology database’ the HER contains quite a few records that are pretty modern, as well as things like castles and medieval houses.  It certainly makes for an interesting job, learning about all sorts of different things on a daily basis!  You never quite know what the day will hold…

Allan Kilpatrick (RCAHMS) – East Ayrshire

 

East Ayrshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

East Ayrshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

We’re Dooned, we’re all Dooned!

In the age of austerity that surrounds us today, government worry about wasting money on ventures which swallow vast sums of cash. Often we look back when things seems more straight forward, where everything was built without the problems that modern projects seem to encounter. But was that really the case?

During the First World War the conflict in the air was changing fast and Britain was having real problems. There was a requirement to teach pilots and aircrew the art of aerial gunnery. Colonel Sefton Branker convinced the government to establish a gunnery school, based on a site in France. What was required was an inland body of water with steep hills surrounding it for target ranges.  Loch Doon in East Ayrshire was selected for the new school.

The location was remote, lying on the border of East Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway. Construction started in September 1916 with a railway being built to supply the material. The level of Loch Doon had to be raised by 6ft to provide a suitable area for seaplanes to land and take off and to provide hydro power to the site. 15000 construction workers and 500 servicemen had to be transported and accommodated as well as the illegal use of 1300 German PoWs. They all required buildings, power, heating, water, food, entertainment and of course toilets with requirement for sewage works.

View of part of the extensive camp site with trackways or possible tramways, building foundations and sewage plant (bottom left by the Lochside). Copyright RCAHMS (SC1004880)

View of part of the extensive camp site with trackways or possible tramways, building foundations and sewage plant (bottom left by the Lochside). Copyright RCAHMS (SC1004880)

A piers and dock for boats can be seen at the water line near the top of the photo. Foundations of at least three buildings are visible, the largest of which may be the camp cinema. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

A piers and dock for boats can be seen at the water line near the top of the photo. Foundations of at least three buildings are visible, the largest of which may be the camp cinema. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

On the east side of the loch, a flat area of boggy ground was chosen as the airfield. A seaplane hangar was built to the north of the main airfield site.

Target ranges were to be built on the remote west site of the loch with piers and jetties constructed, before the ranges could even built. But this massive project started to go wrong, very wrong indeed.

At the airfield, the hangars and associated buildings were built whilst attempting to drain the bog. But after 56 miles of drainage pipes and tonnes of soil, the bog refused to be drained.

The concrete base of the former seaplane hangar. The slipway leading into the water can just be seen below the water. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

The concrete base of the former seaplane hangar. The slipway leading into the water can just be seen below the water. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

The airfield was abandoned after 6 months work, the hangars dismantled and a new airfield built almost 8km to the north by Dalmellington. The problems mounted up; the site was too remote, the new airfield too far away, the weather and topography limited the amount of flying time.  Additional work was required at the new airfield to divert the River Doon in a new channel lined by tiles, to allow the level of Bogton Loch to be reduced.  With improvements to aircraft, the techniques to be taught at Loch Doon were no longer valued. Finally, the need for the railway to be extended to Loch Doon by means of a tunnel was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The government called a halt to any more work and as quickly as it came it was dismantled and abandoned. The costs were never revealed in total but between £350,000 and £3 million was spent, which is between £16 million to £137 million at today’s prices.

 

The site of the abandoned airfield on the shores of Loch Doon. The concrete bases for two groups of hangars can be seen at the top of the photo. The network of parallel lines are the drainage for the airfield. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

The site of the abandoned airfield on the shores of Loch Doon. The concrete bases for two groups of hangars can be seen at the top of the photo. The network of parallel lines are the drainage for the airfield. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

Much of the site was lost when the Loch was raised some 10m in a 1936 hydro scheme. But recent aerial images taken when the water was extremely low, down to 1916 levels, revealed much of the site. In particular the hangars for the airfield and for the seaplane have been revealed. Detailed examination of these images have allowed us to record the true scale of this site and identify key parts of the site which have been submerged for decades. The Commission in partnership with Historic Scotland have recorded this site in more detail as part of The First World War Audit Project to record the surviving remains of the great war.

This massive construction project was a complete and utter failure, ill-conceived and over budget. What it does leave us with is the physical remains of a very ambitious scheme and a unique perspective of the remains of an extensive complex of sites for civilians, military personnel and prisoners of war.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.