Karen Nichols's blog

WW1 Trenches Beneath Wiltshire Reveals an Australian Hero

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Lawrence Carthage Weathers VC
Wessex Archaeology working in Wiltshire has identified a unique network of First World War tunnels under Salisbury Plain. The tunnels are part of a First World War battlefield used to train men to fight in and under the trenches of France and Belgium. The soldiers have left the mine galleries deep in the Wiltshire chalk but they have also left their names – over a hundred inscriptions written by soldiers training on Salisbury Plain between 1915 and 1918.
 
Martin Brown (WYG) Archaeological Consultant to the Army Basing Project said:
This is the first time anyone has found and excavated tunnels used to train the sappers and miners before they were deployed overseas. We have found them as part of the largest single investigation of First World War training trenches anywhere in the world. Our excavations have revealed this story for the first time. That we didn’t expect these underground remains shows that much is left to be discovered, even from only a century ago.
 
The tunnels are beneath a network of trenches that recreate the battlefields of France. Wessex Archaeology has cleared 8 km of trenches, working alongside bomb disposal specialists Bactec as significant numbers of grenades were still live.
 
Men from Australia, New Zealand and Canada travelled to Larkhill in their thousands to train on this unique battlefield alongside British troops after their enthusiastic enlistment. 
 
In the process of excavating the trench systems, our archaeologists often came face to face with graffiti carved into the chalk entrances to tunnels. Many of our archaeologists are of a similar age to that of the soldiers who left their mark here, and to stand in their footsteps and read their names almost a hundred years to the day was a deeply profound experience.

 

A significant proportion of the graffiti was left by Australian soldiers – often recording names, service numbers, unit details and on some occasions, cartoon-like figures. 
 
We hope that further research will enable us to understand the stories of these men. It is hoped that descendants of the soldiers will take part in this endeavour by adding greater levels of detail through stories, diaries and photographs. 
 
The Australian War Memorial hold service records for huge numbers of servicemen and already, Wessex Archaeology staff have found themselves looking in to the eyes of the graffiti artists by finding photographs! This has been an incredibly moving experience.
 
The Australian War Memorial reminds us that:
For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
 
Having signed their names on enlistment in Australia, these men travelled nine and a half thousand miles to Larkhill where they signed their names in the chalk of Salisbury Plain. Their emblem ‘The Shivering Kangaroo’ provides an insight into the positively balmy temperatures the Aussies endured during their training here!
 
That training prepared the men for warfare above and below ground before their embarkation for the horrors of France and Belgium. Grenade training at Larkhill produced highly efficient ‘bombers’ who went on to clear enemy trenches whilst in the thick of it.
 

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As Australia commemorates ANZAC Day, we would like to share an amazing find with you.
 
Corporal Lawrence Carthage Weathers was born in New Zealand before moving to Australia as a boy. After leaving school, Lawrence worked as an undertaker in Adelaide. In early 1916 and at the age of 26, Lawrence enlisted with the 43rd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force and embarked for training at Larkhill in June 1916 and reached the Western Front by November 1916. 
 
Lawrence was wounded several times and gassed in his time in the trenches. On 2 September 1918 near the village of Allaines during the battle of Mont Saint-Quentin, Lawrence- armed with grenades- stormed the trench parapets of well-defended enemy lines. Under withering fire, Lawrence delivered his grenades with great effect and ran back to his lines to collect more. Returning to finish the job, Lawrence cleared the enemy trenches allowing the capture of three machine guns and 180 German prisoners!
 
For his most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, Lawrence was awarded the Victoria Cross but sadly, he was killed during an artillery barrage on 29 September 1918 without knowing he would receive the honour. 
 

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Our archaeologists discovered a list of names pencilled on to a block of chalk at Larkhill that included that of L.C. Weathers.
 
Clearly then, his grenade training at Larkhill stood him in good stead, but no amount of training can provide bravery of that calibre. For our archaeologists it has been an awe-inspiring season of excavation. It is not every day that an archaeologist can stand in the footprints of people like Lawrence Weathers, read their names and know their fates. 
 
There will be many, many more stories to tell of lives lived and lost during the tumultuous days of First World War. The unique Larkhill battlefield echoes with voices into the centenary years and we look forward to ensuring that you hear all of them.
 
 
Copyright historic images Australian War Memorial.

Unique First World War Battlefield Found Beneath Wiltshire

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Archaeologists working in Wiltshire have identified a unique network of First World War tunnels under Salisbury Plain.
 
The tunnels are part of a First World War battlefield used to train men to fight in and under the trenches of France and Belgium. The soldiers have left the mine galleries deep in the Wiltshire chalk but they have also left their names – over a hundred inscriptions written by soldiers training on Salisbury Plain between 1915 and 1918.
 
The trenches and the tunnels beneath them have been found during archaeological work in advance of new Army housing at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. Archaeologists have been working alongside specialist engineers and tunnel specialists to investigate the underground battlefield.
 
The First World War is famous for its miles of trenches. Trench systems also included dug-outs − underground chambers used as troop shelters, headquarters, medical posts and stores - that were relatively safe from the bombs and bullets on the surface but mining also had more malign purposes. Both sides dug tunnels under no-man’s-land between the opposing trench lines. Once under the enemy trenches they laid large explosive charges to blow holes in the lines of trenches. Both sides played cat and mouse, digging towards each other and trying to stop the enemy from placing their explosives.
 
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At Larkhill there are dug-outs and underground mines snaking under no-man’s-land with the defenders’ counter-mines seeking them out. There are listening posts, where soldiers used stethoscopes to hear the enemy miners’ pick axes at work. There is also evidence of soldiers learning how to lay small charges to blow the enemy tunnel and bury the enemy soldiers alive.
 
Martin Brown (WYG) Archaeological Consultant to the Army Basing Project said:
 
This is the first time anyone has found and excavated tunnels used to train the sappers and miners before they were deployed overseas. We have found them as part of the largest single investigation of First World War training trenches anywhere in the world. Our excavations have revealed this story for the first time. That we didn’t expect these underground tunnels shows that much remains left to discover, even from only a century ago.

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The trenches and mines are directly related to battles fought 100 years ago: The Somme in 1916 began with a number of mines blown, as did Arras, which began on Good Friday 1917, while the Battle of Messines was heralded on 7 June 1917 by the detonation of 19 mines under the German trenches. As one officer remarked before the Messines attack, the mines would ‘change the geography’.
 
Leaving their mark – 100 years on
Soldiers training in the trenches have left their names to be found by the archaeologists. Over one hundred pieces of graffiti have been found written on and carved into the chalk of trenches, dug-outs and tunnels. The names include men who died, others who survived, decorated heroes and one deserter. The names come from Wiltshire men in the Wiltshire Regiment, from West Yorkshire coal miners, drafted in to work underground for King and Country, from the two Halls brothers who signed their names and wrote ‘Semper Fidelis’ (Ever Faithful) beneath. A poignant ‘RIP 19 Manchester Scouts’ may recall friends from pre-war Scouting adventures killed in action. 

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Soldiers from all over Britain wrote on the chalk and there are lots of Australian names too, recording men from the Australian Third Division, who trained on Salisbury Plain in 1916.
 
Steve Thompson, Senior Archaeologist from Wessex Archaeology said: 
 
This project has been very important in bringing the names and faces of young men who volunteered to fight; without really knowing what they were letting themselves in for, back into the public eye. Many of these men paid the ultimate sacrifice after travelling half way around the world to train on Salisbury Plain before heading to the Western Front...
 
The fact it's the centenary this year of many of the bloodiest battles of the First World War and that we know men training here saw active service during these battles is all the more poignant. Each time a new piece of graffiti was uncovered or a new name revealed we would search for the individuals...
 
The First World War was a European and international conflict and our archaeological team comprises people from the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Poland and New Zealand. All these nations were greatly affected by the war and its aftermath. It is unlikely the archaeological team will ever get to take part in excavation such as this again – to excavate, almost in its entirety, an unknown WW1 training battlefield.
 
Si Cleggett, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology said: 
 
Larkhill has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for our Wessex Archaeology teams, it has been a humbling experience for archaeologists to stand and read the names of young soldiers in the very spaces they occupied before embarkation to the horrors of the trenches.
 
It may be a cliché but, having stood in their footprints a hundred years after their days of training at Larkhill, we really will remember them.
 
Australian Victoria Cross Winner Trained at Larkhill
Most exciting was the discovery of a chalk plaque inscribed with the names of Australian Bombers − soldiers specially trained to use hand grenades to attack and clear German trenches. One of the names is of Private Lawrence Carthage Weathers, who won the Victoria Cross in September 1918 for attacking a German machine gun post with grenades, capturing guns and taking 180 prisoners.
 
Martin Brown said ‘The chalk plaque and the large number of grenade fragments found show that Weathers learned his deadly skills here, on our site. He was one of thousands who learned soldiering at Larkhill.
 
Trenches
The tunnels are beneath a network of trenches that recreate the battlefields of France. The archaeologists have cleared 8 km of trenches, working alongside bomb disposal specialists Bactec, as some grenades used in training were still live! They have found relics of training from food tins to ammunition and even a tin that once held an Australian brand of toffees, while a bucket had been turned into an impromptu brazier to keep men warm and boil water for all-important mugs of tea!
 
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Hobbits and poets
JRR Tolkien was a young officer on the Somme. He lived in dug-outs and knew about the mines. The beginning of the Hobbit describes an idealised dug-out, while goblins, fight in the darkness and the fear of monsters living in the deeps (including fire-breathing dragons) have their origins in Tolkien’s war service.
 
War poet Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting talks of a dead soul wandering lost in the tunnels beneath the battlefields and reflects the poet’s fear of burial alive following his being trapped in a dug-out after an explosion.
 
By Martin Brown, Principal Archaeologist WYG
 
 

Canterbury Christ Church University Partnership

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Over the past year Wessex Archaeology has been working with Canterbury Christ Church University to develop a series of work placements and projects for their second-year students. These form part of their new module for 2016/2017 – Applied Humanities Employability in Practice – for students in the Humanities Department. The aim of the module is to complement the theoretical elements of their undergraduate studies with practical, work-based experience. This will give them the opportunity to develop a valuable understanding of a business and work environment.
 
Mark Williams, Regional Manager London & South East at Wessex Archaeology, said ‘This is an excellent opportunity for a professional organisation like Wessex Archaeology to work with a respected teaching establishment, to help students prepare themselves for the workplace. We have had a very positive response from the students and look forward to our continuing work with them’. 
 
Watch this space in the coming weeks for updates from the students themselves.  
 

European Award Win for Wessex Archaeology's SAMPHIRE Project

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Wessex Archaeology is delighted to announce that SAMPHIRE, our marine heritage project, which used a unique crowd-sourcing method to map archaeological sites along the west coast of Scotland, has won the prestigious European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards 2017. SAMPHIRE, which was funded by The Crown Estate, was devised and run by Wessex Archaeology, using the expertise of Dr Jonathan Benjamin, and former Wessex Archaeology Manager John McCarthy who is now based with Dr Benjamin at Flinders University in South Australia. 
 
Our award win comes in the Education, Training and Awareness-raising category, since the project team worked with local communities along Scotland’s west coast to help find previously unknown archaeological sites in the marine environment. This was done through face-to-face meetings with harbour masters, scallop divers, recreational divers, fishermen and others, as well as with local residents in the coastal towns and villages. Once the identified locations had been recorded, the most promising were visited by teams of professional and volunteer archaeological divers to verify the information received.
 

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The European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards was launched by the European Commission in 2002, and has since been run by Europa Nostra. It celebrates and promotes best practices related to heritage conservation, research, management, voluntarism, education and communication. In this way, it contributes to a stronger public recognition of cultural heritage as a strategic resource for Europe’s economy and society. The Prize is supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. Independent expert juries examined a total of 202 applications from 39 countries across Europe, and chose just 29 winners in a number of different categories.
 
Chris Brayne, Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology, said:
 
"We are delighted to have been announced as a winner of this prestigious European prize which celebrates best practice in heritage conservation, research, management, education and communication. This was an innovative, collaborative, project which involved over 100 members of the local community along the coast of West Scotland. We were very fortunate in being able to partner with a great many local and national organisations including community dive clubs and scientific partners such as the Scottish Association of Marine Science"
 
Wreck sites recorded by the SAMPHIRE project include:
 
The Yemassee (an American cargo ship lost in 1859) 
The schooner Medora (lost in 1860)
The Falcon, a previously unlocated paddle steamer built in 1860 and lost in 1867 with great loss of life
The Lady Middleton (a schooner lost in 1868)
The Iris (a brig lost in 1874)
The Lord Bangor (a wooden ship lost in 1894)
The Cathcartpark (a steamship lost in 1912 near the island of Iona)
The Hersilla (an armed iron naval yacht lost in 1916)
The SS Viscount (lost in 1924)
The Sheila (an early MacBrayne ferry built in 1904 and sunk in 1927)
The Mafeking (a salvage vessel lost in attempts to recover the Sheila)
The SS George A. West (a wooden steam trawler lost in 1927)
The Thalia (a steam yacht lost in 1942)
The Carrigart (a steam drifter lost in 1933).
 
Full details of the project’s discoveries are available online, and reports for each year contain detailed accounts of the discoveries made. These can be seen on the SAMPHIRE website here. Data gathered during the project will be archived with Historic Environment Scotland, and also be made available through their Canmore website, ensuring that the knowledge passed on is permanently stored and accessible for future generations. 
 
Chris and the SAMPHIRE team will be presented with their award by EU Commissioner Navracsics and Maestro Placido Domingo at an event in Finland on 15 May 2017.
 
 

Archaeology Visiting the Classroom

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On 27 February Wessex Archaeology’s Senior Community & Education Officer Rachel Brown travelled to Plympton, Devon to run some sessions in a local school based upon the archaeological findings from the nearby Sherford site, funded by the Sherford Consortium. We have previously run a number of outreach events to share the discoveries at the site with the local community on behalf of the developers and the school visit was a part of this on-going work.
 
Rachel worked with Year 6 and Year 3 students at Goosewell Academy. The Year 6 students investigated artefacts that had been found at Sherford, to discover what can be learnt from the finds about the people who had inhabited the land over the last c. 8000 years. They also looked into the Bronze Age round barrows discovered on site, which deepened their understanding of prehistoric activity at Sherford. The lesson allowed the students to learn about their local environment, how landscapes change over time, and also supported the National Curriculum work they will be doing in the summer term based around prehistory. The Year 3 students also learnt about finds from the site and discovered how the archaeologists at Sherford conducted the excavation, this linked to earlier work the Years 3 students had been doing on archaeology.
 
The visit provided an excellent opportunity for students to engage with their local history and environment.
 
 
 

Kirkthorpe Weir and Hydropower Station

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In 2015 Yorkshire Hydropower Limited and Barn Energy, began the construction of a new low head hydropower station adjacent to the Grade II listed Kirkthorpe Weir and Sluice Gates, on the River Calder, Wakefield. The hydropower scheme will use the flow of the river to power a single 500kW axial turbine to generate approximately 2.3 million units of electricity per year. 
 
During November 2016 Wessex Archaeology carried out a photographic survey of the Grade II listed weir and sluice gates as part of the works, when the opportunity to record the structure arose during a time when an unprecedented amount of the structure was visible. 
 
The extant weir and its sluices were constructed in 1827, replacing an earlier original weir dating to the early 18th century, and was granted Grade II listed status in 1986. The weir was constructed at Kirkthorpe as part of the Aire and Calder Navigation, when in 1699 an Act was passed in Parliament to improve the navigability of the River Calder from Castleford to Wakefield, essential for trade and the development of the area. 
 
The weir and its sluices have remained largely intact for the last 200 years almost and are the property of the Canal and Rivers Trust. The construction of the new hydropower station symbolises a new era for the site.
 
The new hydropower station was officially opened on 13 March 2017 by Sir John Armitt, Deputy Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, in a ceremony at the site which Wessex Archaeology were kindly invited to. We are privileged to have been part of such a fantastic project.
 
Further information on the prestigious project can be found at:
 
By Lucy Dawson, Project Manager
 
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Sheffield Witch Flies to New Home

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One of the more unusual artefacts that Wessex North inherited from ARCUS was a large wooden sign from a building on Corporation Street in Sheffield, removed during the demolition phase of sites along the ring road. Affectionately known as ‘The Witch’ the sign comprises a silhouette of a witch on a broomstick with the word MAGIC underneath. Discussions on local forums suggest that the sign was erected as part of a Halloween promotion advertising mattresses at ‘magic prices’. Since it was not directly relevant to the building it came from, Sheffield Museum didn’t want to add it to their social history collection. After some quick research, I found a museum in Cornwall called ‘The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’ and I thought they might be interested in having the sign. It turns out they are! So after a long stay in the basement in the Sheffield office, she is finally flying down south to her new home in Boscastle. 
 
Here is a link to the museum should anyone be in the vicinity, one of the more unusual repositories Wessex has sent finds to!
 
Assiciated Links
 
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Wessex Archaeology (Scotland) have moved!

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After nearly seven years we have left our old premises at North St David Street and moved to 21-23 Slaters Steps, in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, near to the Scottish Parliament! The new building boasts a large open-plan office space over two levels, a laboratory space, storage unit, and conference room. With the addition of some plants and decorations depicting some of our key projects, the team have started feeling at home.
 
Following our recent recruitment drive we will be increasing the size of our team, in our shiny new office!
 
 
 

Iron Age Flax

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This huge quantity of flax capsules and stem debris has been recovered from an Iron Age ring gully near Doncaster, and are thought to be the by-products of flax retting.
 
Flax – Linum usitatissimum –  is a plant first brought into cultivation during the Neolithic in Europe and south-west Asia, and for which two main uses have been recorded in archaeological, historical and ethnographical sources.
 
First came the use of linseed and linseed oil for cooking, of which we have abundant evidence since the Neolithic in many sites across Britain and the rest of Europe. Later came the use of fibres for textile production. 
 
Before they can be used for textile production, flax fibres need to be extracted through a process called ‘retting’, which consists of soaking the flax stems until they partially break down and the fibres can be extracted. This is known to have been done in features such as pits, ditches and even river channels. There is archaeological evidence for that process in Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age sites in Denmark but little evidence exists in Britain until the Saxon and medieval periods. Most archaeobotanical evidence in Europe is preserved in a carbonised state, because organic matter does not usually survive in archaeological sites unless there are special conditions such as waterlogging, freezing, desiccation or mineral replacement (as in latrines). For that reason, only in very few occasions we can recover evidence from activities unrelated to the use of fire, such as the extraction of fibres for textile production.
 
This is a really exceptional piece of evidence and we are thrilled about having the opportunity to study these lovely waterlogged samples.
 
 

HMS Caroline

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Members of the Edinburgh team visited HMS Caroline, the last survivor of the iconic Battle of Jutland (1916), at her mooring at Alexandra Dock, Belfast in early February, following her return from dry docking at Harland & Wolff. Caroline, part of the collection of historic ships held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, has been undergoing a full restoration and advanced conservation to return the ship to as close a representation of her 1916 Jutland appearance as possible. The project also concentrated on developing interpretation to the public, educational facilities, improving access, safe-guarding historic fabric and enhancing the understanding of the ship, following her decommissioning as the floating base for Ulster Royal Naval Reserve in 2011.
 
Wessex Archaeology have been involved with the project since early 2014, where Dan Atkinson, Graham Scott and Rosemary Thornber conducted an extensive archaeological survey, the most comprehensive to date, and produced the first Conservation Management Plan for the ship and the associated Alexandra Dock. Since then the refit has been underway, with more recording work required on the exposed deck planking of the starboard waist, potentially dating to the WWI era. 
 
The most recent visit by Ben Saunders followed the return of Caroline after extensive hull repairs in dry dock and the repainting of the hull to bring her back to the Battleship Grey colour she would have worn at the Battle of Jutland, with a smart deep red below the waterline. The refit work is almost complete and Ben is currently updating the Conservation Management Plan to account for the fantastic work that has been completed during restoration; exposing original fabric throughout the ship and bringing her back to life. A particular highlight are the four 1914 Parsons steam turbines within the now accessible engine rooms, which have been carefully cleaned and conserved, exposing fascinating insights into their installation on the ship.
 
Dan and Ben will also be working on a Maintenance Plan for HMS Caroline, helping her keepers to ensure the ship continues to be in first class condition. Many thanks go to Victoria Millar, HMS Caroline’s Curator, and to Billy Hughes, the Ship’s Keeper for all of their help and support.
 
 
By Ben Saunders, Archaeologist
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