In preparation for building Service Family Accommodation at Larkhill, Wessex Archaeology has identified and excavated a large array of WWI practise trenches. This complex of trenches is where British and Commonwealth soldiers were trained in advance of their mobilisation to the theatre of war and was in use from 1915 to 1918. The area was later used to train forces in advance of WWII and even into the 1970s.

In the process of excavation, archaeologists have identified graffiti left by some of the soldiers and have identified records of the presence of others through archived documents. These included a significant proportion of Australian signatures and details which have allowed us to identify some of the soldiers, research some of their stories, and on some occasions – contact their descendants.

The archaeologists have uncovered profound moments in time, written by soldiers before going off to the hell of the trenches on the front line. While many of these soldiers’ lives ended in tragedy, sometimes there is a happy tale to come out of the war. One such example is George John Bayley (identified via archive records) who travelled from country Victoria, Australia to Larkhill and back again. But in the travails of war, he found his sweetheart and took her home. 

George John Bayley from Ballarat, Victoria, in southern Australia, enlisted with the 37th Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and travelled to the UK on HMAT Persicleaving from Melbourne on 3rd June 1916. While training at Larkhill, George met and fell in love with Beatrice Ethel ‘Phyllis’ Parsons from Wilton, Salisbury, UK, and married her after surviving WWI.

The Persic, George and Phyllis, George in uniform

Copyright historic images

George took Phyllis back to Australia after the war and George worked as the Stationmaster for Sheep Hills Railway Station in country north-west Victoria and then Mont Albert Railway Station in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria. George and Phyllis lived a long and happy life, blessed with children. On the death of his wife, George went to live with his daughter, Berenice but he died of a ‘broken heart’ about four months later. 

The body of data from the Larkhill graffiti is likely to increase as the investigations continue and there are many more stories to tell, particularly those of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). In the centenary years of that horrendous conflict, we should all stop to remember those who made such sacrifices. 

Lest we forget on this ANZAC Day.

Simon Cleggett, Project Manager and Peta Knott, Archaeologist