Ageing punky sort of chap, who likes studying olden stuff & digging holes! Did a masters degree in 20th Century Conflict Archaeology at Bristol Uni, intends doing a PHD when life,confidence and intellect permit!

Wander around a WW1 Training School

Short blog this year….but…..

Last week I was excavating Roman stuff. Today I’m back on more familiar territory; back in 20th century looking for military practice trenches at the site of a WW1 training school, although I am not on my usual ‘patch’ which is the Aldershot area.

The site in question is in the south east – and, unusually, there is a contemporary sketched map of the trench system on this site, so having geo-referenced said map in some GIS software I now know roughly where the trenches should be. Having checked modern and WW2 era aerial photos I know a fair bit of the site now lies under ploughed fields, and the trenches no longer show in the photos. The remainder of the site lies in woodland, so, possible that some may survive there.

Arrived at site and loaded pockets up with GPS, camera, photo scales, notepad etc.

Overall plan is to look at the site, and asses its current state of preservation, and whether it shows potential for any field work.

The site lies on publicly accessible land, but car parking is about a mile away (and it’s raining too), So walked to site (thankful for my trusty Tilley hat keeping me dry).

Easily found the first location on the map; an old quarry that predates the training school, but a useful fixed point to navigate around the rest of the site from.
Not far from the quarry some very badly preserved trench still present – only about 5cm deep, but clearly following the correct pattern, and clearly in the correct location based on the map.

Further round the site some trees sticking into the fields indicate where a line of trench should be – in the woods just a few metres away, again, very badly preserved section of trench – following the line this trench would have taken across the field should indicate where further trenches would have been.

At the far end of the site, which again is in open fields, there are variations in grass colour where the map suggests there would have been a sap running off a trench, so again that looks promising.

Having taken GPS readings and scribbled notes – took a bit more of a wander round the area, and have now ascertained land ownership for different parts of the site.

That’s the best part of four hours looking at the site, so probably enough as a preliminary survey, so head back to the car.

So, overall plan now is to write a short project proposal to take to the land owners, looking at a proper survey to methodically identify and record all remaining sections of trench, together with resistivity survey over some of the fields to confirm location of trenches and training hut, and some field walking on another section which records suggest should potentially have some surface finds.  Then maybe, depending on results of that, a bit of excavation……..

WW1 Military Practice Trench 100 years on.

WW1 Military Practice Trench 100 years on.

No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes!

Section of WW1 military practice trench

Section of WW1 military practice trench

So…..Chose a site, and hatched a plan, and purchased my ‘this is what an archaeologist looks like’ t-shirt.  Last years ‘day of archaeology’ saw my plans somewhat ‘adjusted’ by a poorly pet cat – all cats seem their normal mischievous selves, so plans still look good.

Check the weather forecast.  It says rain, and lots of it.  I am informed that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes – so I check my clothes they don’t look bad (from a technical point of view that is, from a fashion point of view they perhaps don’t look so good and might be more fitting in the 80s!).

Load up my van with kit – tripod, dumpy, staff, ranging poles, tapes, clipboards, permatrace and such.

Last year on ‘day of archaeology’ I ended up walking around a piece of the local training area looking for WW1 military practice trenches.  I didn’t find them that day, but did since, so started surveying them with some local volunteers last autumn.

The plan today is to go back to the same area and meet up with volunteers to look for further features to survey, and also to carry out surveys on some features previously surveyed.

Corkscrew Picket

Corkscrew Picket

A walk through the site on arriving found four isolated corkscrew pickets with no immediate or obvious related features.  Further into the site a previously undiscovered stretch of around 65 metres of practice trench was found.  This was surveyed doing offsets from a 50 metre tape.

Waterproofs holding up well at this point, but time for a swift (possibly rather early) lunch stop.  The rain picks up tempo.

Lunch done and so to another piece of practice trench.  The section in question may or may not be part of a section which we have already surveyed; the two end about 12 metres from each other, disappearing underneath a more recent pathway.

We head into the undergrowth with tapes to survey.  This section is particularly overgrown, with some substantial areas of trench completely inaccessible.  So lots of taking bearings and triangulation to survey around bushes.  Nearly 2 hours and 92 metres later and this section is now mapped out.

Throughout the rain has got heavier (or my hat has got worse, it is leaking for the first time since I have had it over 10 years ago)

The trench seems to be WW1 in design, with the expected crenelated layout, and in places it is still 2 metres deep.

Given the weather we decide to ‘call it a day’ at this point.  We think we have now identified all the trench in this area, taking levels with the dumpy is going to wait for another day.

Some of the trench surveyed recently were found to very closely follow the high point in the landscape.  On looking at the location of the trenches investigated this afternoon, they also seem to follow the highest contour in the area, overlooking, rather than being associated with the nearby trenches.

A rough outline plan of some we did earlier.....

A rough outline plan of some we did earlier…..

So, job for the weekend, digitise today’s drawings and pop them into GIS software, and arrange dates to finish the survey – write up to got to HER soon after that, and at some point do something looking at their placement within the landscape, and what that tells us about how they may have been used, and how they compare to those on other parts of the local training area.

And if there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes – I seem to have a bad hat, so time to go hat shopping me thinks!……

A day in the life of an amatuer Conflict Archaeologist with a poorly cat!


So, I booked the day off work from the day job for Day of Archaeology. I bought the t-shirt, and planned things to do.  Then, Thursday, one of the myriad pet cats falls ill!  Two trips to the vet Thursday: injections, creams and special food.

Four o’clock this morning poorly cat told me it was time to get up.  She was already pre-booked for another appointment today, so plans had to change!

The original plan was to meet up with Peter, a nearby local historian. We initially made contact a couple of months back via twitter when Peter had historical evidence of WW1 military practice trenches in the area; as I have a Masters degree in Conflict Archaeology I contacted him, and we managed to trace some of the trenches. These have now been entered onto the Homefront Legacy website. Our plan today had been to look for another set of trenches nearby which have previously been identified via aerial photography with the hope of finding and surveying them and getting the existing HER record for them updated. Unfortunately the cat’s poor health required me to stay with her prior to her next vet visit; Peter helpfully agreed that cats come first, so we agreed to reschedule to another date (Peter, if you read this, thank you!).

So, with time to spend at home, it seemed a good idea to catch up on some of the archaeo tasks I have had on the ‘to-do’ list:

First up, several other sites to log on the Homefront Legacy website.

First one added was the WW1 German POW camp in Watlington: this one formed part of the basis of my Masters dissertation. I have a fantastic map I bought by chance. It’s a 1912 OS map which was annotated with notes and marks by the Camp Commandant at the camp in question. It’s a grand piece of material culture, and it enabled me to find the location of the camp when used in conjunction with records at the National Archives at Kew, so the location of the camp is now on the Homefront Legacy website.  Of the 500 or so camps in UK during WW1, very few are in the HER, so pleased to add another one and get it out in the public domain.

Also added two other sites to the website; both of them WW1 Auxilliary Hospitals run by Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments, both of them in Berkshire.

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(the line above was helpfully added by one of the other cats walking across my laptop!)

Anyhow, sites added to website, and now its time for cat’s next vet visit. Once she gets home she has her first meal in a nearly two days!

Home again, and back to another outstanding  task.

I have a cunning plan.  Normal handheld GPS is accurate to 6 or 7 metres; a nice GPS which is accurate to less than a metre costs thousands of pounds. I want one, but don’t have the cash, so I am going to make my own! I have a GPS chip, accurate to 25cm, but has no software interface and no logging mechanism of any sort. So the plan is: GPS chip, connected to a Raspberry Pi, a battery pack and and a small monitor, all mounted onto a surveying pole. So, theoretically 25cm-accurate GPS for about £400, about 10% the cost, the only problem being creating the programming to interface with the chip, and log the results.

I hate programming (I failed my computer studies o-level back in days of yore!), so I have been delaying doing this. After some time scratching my head over a piece of  freeware programming software, I now have something that interfaces with the chip and will record coordinates coupled with notes and time and date – so quite happy with that progress, still need to connect the pieces together, but the end is in sight.

That done, and the cat is looking much improved, so I decided that it would be in order to go out for a bit.

A WW1 document I have suggests there should be (yet more) military practice trenches a few miles away. I’m keen to find them; I’m a trustee of a local heritage and archaeology charity.  I’m looking for a feature which I could use to do some sort of community archaeology event over the heritage weekend in September.

The records don’t give a very clear idea of the location, and the site is 350ha; nonetheless, walking around the area and getting a feel for the landscape is always a good starting point (and given the sunny weather, quite pleasant regardless of the outcome).

I didn’t find WW1 trenches (but I didn’t expect to on the first visit!)

I did find out contact details for a local conservation organisation who work on the piece of land, so I have contacted them to see if they are aware of anything.

Whilst I didn’t find WW1 trenches, I did find something. I’m not yet sure what yet.  I found little underground dugouts (7 of them). By general condition of the metal I would think they are post WW2, and they don’t look dissimilar to one of the diagrams in my WW2 Royal Engineers manual. So, I am interested to find out what they actually are, and they may yet prove to be a suitable project instead of the trenches.

The cat is now much better now; I’m hoping if she continues to improve at the current rate she will be well enough for me to still go away for mesolithic excavations in a week or two.

All in all, didn’t do what I intended to; but still managed to do some useful stuff. I didn’t find what I was looking for; but did still find something interesting with questions to answer.