Monday, 9 November 2009

DDA return to Eaglesfield Park and Oxleas Wood

This is a retrospective bit of blogging as we had problems with our broadband connection last night and I couldn't upload any material.

So here is an upsum for the weekends activity at Eaglesfield Park and Oxleas Wood.

We opened up the trenches on Friday while our colleagues from Archaeophysica and their Certificate and MA students from Birkbeck College, were still working on the Geophysical Survey of the south east quadrant of Eaglesfield.  This was as part of a training course, but designed to complement the DDA Research Programme by extending the survey which proved so fruitful last year.  We also wanted to show the Birkbeck students that the work they do has a result in real world research driven archaeology.

It was also a real bonus that Roger Ward was able to come down on Friday afternoon and show the students how Ethical Metal Dectorists [EMD's to borrow Roger's acronym] working under archaeological supervision can make a valyuable contribution to fieldwork.  Metal Detecting is after all just another Geophysical Technique.

DDA's intention was to check the Zig Zag Trench we identified from a crop mark and in the Geophysics and try to confirm its dimensions and whether it had a formal, step down enterence.  We also wanted to check the relationship between the Zig Zag and the north south linear crop mark running across the Park and which was even more clear in the wetter soil conditions and low angle sun light of November.

With those research questions in mind we opened up two trenches at either end of the Zig Zag supervised by Chris at the east end and Cat at the west end of the feature. 

We will be reporting on these properly in the Archive Report for Eaglesfield, but like football [and we won't talk about the Charlton Athletic Northwich Victoria result in the FA Cup] it was a game of two halves and here I should also say the archaeology at Eaglesfield is tricky to dig with most of the contexts consisting of redeposited local sand and gravel where it is very hard to pick up features.

Chris's trench produced no clearly recordable slit trench at all, however there were some colour changes in the section and a post hole packed with Victorian period London Stock Brick.  After we re-checked the Victorian mapping for Eaglesfield we suspect the linear may be a Victorian Field Boundary which may have been fenced or hedged, hence the crop mark.  On the whole though, the relationship between these features and the precise nature of the linear is still debatable.

Cat's trench on the other hand produced-  well the trench, or at least one clear edge of it and probably the base.  There were clearly identifiable dumped deposits of foreign material from the back filling of the trench and some interesting vignettes of WW2 life in concrete.  Namely the concrete moulding of the base of a tin bucket and a concrete coping stone with the remains of an iron rail which seems to have been cut off with a gas torch, possibly during the salvage campaign early in WW2.  We also found more batteries, steel ropes and elsewhere on the site, one copper alloy ring which may be from the handling system of the Barrage Balloons.

We were also able to do some field walking around the site with a view to setting out some future research targets and that produced some interesting discussion, especially when we were joined on Sunday afternoon by Victor Smith from Kent County Council and New Tavern Fort, Gravesend and his colleague Phillip who has been researching the defences of the north west Thames Estuary.

It is beginning to look as though Eaglesfield was possibly employed as an anti tank stop on Anti Invasion Stop Line B in 1940-42.  The Natural Topography, coupled with some human interventions such as the terracing in of the road leading to a c3m Fall between the road surface and Eaglesfield Meadow, lends itself to this function and we know from contemporary documents that when the Stop Line system was laid out natural obstacles were used as much as possible.  If this is what happened then we will be examining the latest Geophysics with great care, because such obstacles would only be useful if covered by fire from the defending Regulars and Home Guard which could well mean prepared trenches and gun positions across the north south axis of the Park. 

All in all it has been a really useful weekend and we were also lucky with the weather, particularly on Saturday, which helped moral.  Also good for moral was the steady stream of people, young and old, who came over to talk to us and share information.  By a happy accident of TV scheduling the Time Team programme Rod and I were involved in making in 2007, Blitzkrieg on Shooters Hill, was shown again on Channel 4 last week so the whole subject was again fresh in the mind of the wider Shooters Hill community.

So as ever David Thorpe and I want to place the credit where it is really due...

Thanks to the Trench Supervisors: Cat and Chris.

Rod: Safety Officer and Photography.

The Fieldwork Team:  Michael, Stuart, Sam, Odette [finds and food] and James, not to mention Martin [Chris's Flat Mate who came by to help us back fill].

Guy sorted out the Standing Buildings aspect of the weekend which means we will now be able to report on an interesting group of surviving air raid shelters and an interesting very early Cold War Civil Defence Bunker.

Steve Maguire of our friends at the 10th Essex, brought his stove and provided coffee and sustenance [especially welcome to the carnivores on the team] and was joined on Sunday by son Robbie.

...and of course we have to thank the London Borough of Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces Department for letting us work at Eaglesfield in the first place.  This whole project and its various related spin offs are showing again and again what a fruitful partnership can be made when we as archaeologists share ideas and work with all the people who have a commitment to an area a landscape and a shared history. 

Now we have the results from this weekend we can complete the archive report on this years work at Eaglesfield which we will post this as soon as it is available; as well as lodging copies with the various public archives.  In the meantime please keep in touch with us via the Blog or the Facebook Group.

Our colleagues from the Great Arab Revolt Project including a number of the DDA Eaglesfield Team, are off to Jordan next week to carry out this years season of Fieldwork on sites associated with the WW1 campaigns in the Jordanian desert involving the Arab tribes, the Ottoman Turks and the British Army and RFC including T E Lawrence.  We would like to wish them a safe and successful trip-  you can follow their activities on the GARP Blog which you can link to from this site.

Monday, 19 October 2009

DDA on Facebook and news...

You might like to know that DDA has joined the Social Networking Revolution and now has a Group on Facebook.

If you are already a member of Facebook  just log in and look for the....

Digging Dad's Army Project

If not it is a really simple Registration Process.

The site content is open to the public and group members can upload photos and videos as well as take part in discussions.

If you do find us please tell your friends-  it's all about friends- as we hope to use the Facebook site as another part of our DDA Project Outreach effort and to publicise Fieldwork Schools and other research.  Most importantly, we want to try to get a dialogue going with other people who are interested in the subject.

Of course we need things to talk about and we are also looking forward to again working at Shooters Hill in November.  We plan to finish surveying the three Air Raid Shelters in Oxleas Wood and hopefully at least one new one which was notified to us while we were on site in June.

Our Colleagues from the Great Arab Revolt Project are also off to Jordan in November so we'll look forward to hearing about this years research along the line of the Hijaz Railway.

Reminding you that, closer to home there is  the Post Graduate Conference in Conflict Archaeology at the University of Bristol this Saturday [24 October] with contributions from Dr Nick Saunders. GARP/GWAG's John Winterburn, No Man's Land's Martin Brown and yours truely as well as a number of other colleagues working in the field.  It should be a fascinating day-  details from John Winterburn at Bristol...

...and there is a conference programme and blog at...

Looking ahead to November this looks like being a very interesting and important conference and is highly recommended-  particularly as again, amazingly in these days of rocketing prices for some academic courses and conferences, it is free...

Friday 13th November 2009
University of Bradford, UK
Specialists in battlefield archaeology of the pre Industrial period and of the 20th century, together with others specialising in finds analysis and conservation, will lead a series of session. Contributors will also include several representatives from the national organisations responsible for management of historic battlefields in the UK.
The meeting represents and important step in a project run this year at Bradford, led by Rob Janaway and funded under the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Research Clusters Scheme, which has the objective to promote the development of an integrated approach to the management, scientific study and conservation of battlefield artefact assemblages. Further details on the project are available at:
We would like to encourage all those with a practical involvement or professional interest in the subject of battlefield archaeology, relevant finds analysis and conservation, or management of the sites themselves, to take part. There is no fee for attendance.
For further details and to indicate a wish to attend please email Glenn Foard:

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend Dr Tom Buchanan's inaugural lecture for the Basque Children of 37 Organisation at Kensington and Chelsea Library.  It was a fascinating afternoon with an audience ranging from Ninos themselves and their families, to those whose relatives were involved in the efforts to Aid Spain and the Spanish Refugee Community and authors such as Nick Rankin who you might have seen on last years D-Day anniversary coverage on the BBC and has published books on the press coverage of Guernika and "Churchill's Wizards" about the scientific and deception campaigns in World War 2.
It was clear from what Dr Buchanan had to say that once again, for a subject which is still within living memory there is still much research to be done and conflict archaeology could make a real contribution.  Particularly in the fields of standing buildings and community based research.  I hope we will have some news on this aspect of the project in the very near future.

Andy B

Friday, 9 October 2009

SS Mendi and the SA Native Labour Corps

Some of you might have seen the story of the sinking of the SS Mendi and the survey of her wreck by Wessex Archaeology in the March/April 2008 edition of British Archaeology. It is one of those stories which brings home what the words "World War" really mean, but which, until recently, has been scarcely known in the UK, unlike in South Africa where the men of the Mendi are remembered and celebrated. It is the Black South African equivalent of the Sinking of the Birkenhead.

Southampton City Museums Archaeological Society are hosting a talk about the SS Mendi and the South African Native Labour Corps this Tuesday 13 October as part of their Black History Month programme, so if you have any interest in World War One, Black History, Maritime Archaeology, Forgotten and Overlooked Histories, or just want to find out more about a resonant and tragic episode do and you are able to be in Southampton on Tuesday evening do try to get along to St. Joseph's Hall.
to St. Joseph's Hall.

The details...
13th October 2009
John Gribble

‘The wreck of the Mendi and the SA Native Labour Corps: A Forgotten History’
The lecture will tell the story of the sinking of the Mendi off the Isle of Wight in February 1917 whilst she was carrying black South African labourers to France. The lecture will use the wreck of the Mendi to highlight the forgotten history of the South African Native Labour Corps (to which those aboard belonged), the Foreign Labour corps, and the larger British Labour Corps and will discuss some of the background issues to the formation and history of the SANLC.

Lectures are free to members and £2 per visitor. All lectures will take place in St. Joseph's Hall, unless otherwise stated, and start at 7.30pm (and generally finish by 9.00pm). Tea and coffee is served from 7.00pm. Please join us after the talk in The Duke of Wellington pub.

For further information e-mail or phone: 0781 285 1095

Friday, 25 September 2009

Standing Building Recording Course report

21 September

Another weekend of work behind us and once again I think we can show the need to record this kind of archaeology on the ground.  We have yet another example of what appears to be the case is not actually being the case once you look at it closely...

We have been looking at two apparently identical, rectangular,  brick and concrete blast shelters in Oxleas Wood, Shooters Hill.  Sited only some 30m apart, superficially they seem identical but...

Built we think between 1939 and 1942, they were situated in the grounds of on e of the large Victorian Houses which lined the Oxleas Wood side of Shooters Hill Road [now the A207] and it puzzled us why there seems to have been such an over provision of Shelter for what was a a relatively sparsely populated part of Shooters Hill, in particular why these two large buildings, which seem to be of a type most often found in public situations like streets and schools are literally down at the bottom of a, now very over grown, garden.

We still cannot answer that question over provision-  more work in the archive is needed-  but we can at least say that the two buildings are not actually built to identical specifications, with what we call BS1 [Blast Shelter 1], being a couple of courses of bricks higher than BS2 [Blast Shelter 2] its companion to the east.  So they are close together, built on roughly the same north/south orientation, with doors on the northern end of the western elevation and an escape knock out panel in the southern elevation but they are not built to identical plans; why? 

We have to admit we cannot answer that one yet either.  One possibility is we are dealing with provision for staff in buildings requisitioned by the Armed Forces, Local Authority, or another organisation.  Indeed,  we have anecdotal information that at least one house in the immediate area, Summer Court, seems to have been requisitioned for Woolwich Arsenal Drawing Office personnel and our shelters may fall within the land take for that House.  However this needs to be checked.

Anyway, leaving those tantalising questions hanging,  as ever thanks to my fellow co-ordinator Guy Taylor and to the weekend's recording team;  Richard, Theresa, Brian, Stuart, Tim, Claire, Stefan and Michael and as ever to LB Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces Department for letting us do the work.

Look out for an interim report on the survey coming soon.

24 September

This is a heads up for some forthcoming events which I hope will be of interest to the Digging Dad's Army Blog community...


3 October 2009

Basque Children of 37 Inaugural Lecture

"The Basque Refugee Children in Britain 1937-1939: Personal Memory and Public History"
Time:  14.30
Place:  Kensington and Chelsea Library Meeting Room, Philimore Walk, London W8 7RY
Dr Tom Buchanan will talk on "The Basque Refugee Children in Britain 1937-1939: Personal Memory and Public History"
This is bound to be fascinating as, not only is Dr Buchanan an excellent speaker, his subject ties in exactly with DDA's research on the Colony at Shornells and the influence of the Spanish Civil War on politics and local activism in south east London.  Do go if you can.

Saturday October 24th 2009

Post Graduate Conference:  Conflict Archaeology of the Modern

Time:  9:30 am to 5 pm

University of Bristol
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
43 Woodland Road
Bristol BS8 1UU

The conference scene is set by our own Dr Nicholas Saunders and Speakers include Martin Brown of No Mans Land, Jonathan Berry of CADW and John Winterburn of Bristol University and the Great Arab Revolt Project.  I am presenting a paper on the methods we have been using to research urban WW2 Stop Lines here at Shooters Hill and other subjects include, Battlefield Archaeology in Belgium,  Albanian Bunkers, the Stop Lines around Bristol and the use of Bone to produce Trench Art.  All in all a terrific cross section of research in one easily digested day.

Do come if you can because this subject will only live and grow if we meet, talk and argue, with each other. 

There is no delegate fee but prior registration is recommended as places are limited.

To register and to receive further details please email:

For further information please visit the conference Blog site at

November 2-6

Geophysical Survey Techniques-  A one week practical course at Eaglesfield Park, Shooters Hill.

This course is designed as a module on the Birkbeck MA Archaeology Course but is also open to non-MA students.  It is led by our colleagues from Archaeophysica and I will be introducing the site and helping with the interpretation and local liaison.
The course is very hands on and introduces the range of geophysical techniques currently used in archaeology. Using these techniques, you will collect and process data with the aim of providing information about the location and nature of buried features on archaeological sites.
Thanks to our partnership with Birkbeck, Geophysics has been central to our work at Eaglesfield and we expect more exciting results this November.  The work is also informing a proposed Eco development at Eaglesfield Park [so you will be helping the local amphibian population] and there will be the usual Open Afternoon for visitors [details later].

Mon 2 Nov-Fri 6 Nov 2009, 10am-5pm
5 meetings
£200 / £230
Martin J Rosevearne BSc, MSc, MEAGE

For anyone undertaking formal study the course is worth 15 CATS points at Level 4

To find out more and enrol...
tel: 020 7631 6627/6631
fax: 020 7631 6686

Course website archaeology/

...and another reminder that the excellent Forgotten Frontline Exhibition at Whitstable Museum runs until 16 November.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Digging Dad's Army

Standing Building Recording day 2

The recording course continued today with the team developing and using the techniques and skills introduced yesterday. Both of the blast shelters were measured and recorded using traditional, proven methods.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Digging Dad’s Army: Blast Shelters and the Bagnold Bunker

An Introduction to Standing Buildings Recording.

September 1 1939 

At 04.45 Local time the German Pre-Dreadnought Battleship KMS Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish fortifications at Westerplatte on the Baltic signalling the commencement of hostilities in Europe.

Later that morning, in London and other cities considered vulnerable to Air Raids, tens of thousands of children, my mother her twin brother, then aged five and their older sister  included, not to mention their teachers and many parents, particularly pregnant and nursing mothers, assembled in their schools and at Stations and bus stops, ready to participate in "Operation Pied Piper," the largest organised mass movement of people in British history.

Seventy years after the platforms of London's Main Line Railway Stations were packed with crocodiles of children with no idea where they were going,  the Evacuee Re-union Association [ERA] held a 70th Anniversary commemoration of Operation Pied Piper at St Pauls Cathedral.

I went to St Pauls to see the members of the ERA emerge into the late Summer sunshine and it was impressive and rather moving to see hundreds of people, now for the most part in their seventies, united by remembrance of a shared history and for many a sense that theirs is a simplified, romanticised or even untold story.  Not that it was going to remain untold that day.  There was a considerable media presence and to its credit the ERA had managed to get extensive coverage in much of the print and broadcast media. 

It is also interesting that the ERA has reclaimed the simple expedient of a Luggage Label being turned into an identification tag, as symbolic of their organisation and of the event it recalls.  The Luggage label is now just as much a part of the Heraldry of 20th Century Total War and just as resonant as an RAF Roundel on a Spitfire, the Lightning Runes of the SS,  or a yellow star of David.

I also found myself noting how complex our relationship with these anniversaries and this war is-  and perhaps that is as it should be?  Watching an impromptu rendition of "There'll always be an England," complete with Union Flags, I couldn't help reflecting on both the joy of the singers in the song and their togetherness, but also the questions that also come with such anniversaries and sentiments-  Which England and Who does it belong to?

Such thoughts were pertinent as I had just spoken to a member of the crowd outside the cathedral, who was politely protesting about the treatment of the Albanian minority in Greece and suggested that in his view, the kind of racism and ethnic discrimination WW2 and European Union was supposed to have ended was still endemic.

We must also remember that,on that Friday War was not inevitable, at least, some people still believed it was not.  Even as the children were being evacuated and the members of the services were going to a War Footing, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stood up in the House of Commons in the afternoon and made a statement suggesting that, if German armed forces left Polish Territory, then, in spite of the aggression, it would be diplomatic business as usual.  While Hitler himself still expected this was still going to be a localised dispute.  As we now know it was not to be.

When Chamberlain sat down he realised he had lost the House of Commons with this suggestion of an Appeasement too far.  As Labour Deputy Leader Arthur Greenwood stood up to reply Tory MP Leopold Amery Amery's was heard to say "Speak for England."  Faced by a Cabinet rebellion Britain issued the ultimatum which Hitler would reject that Sunday morning two days later. 

In a reflection of the impact of the war he supported Amery's two sons would both serve what they regarded as their cause; Julian as an Officer in the British Army serving as an SOE Liaison Officer with Albanian Partisans and the other, John, would be executed for treason on 19 December 1945, having made Propaganda broadcasts from Berlin and attempted to recruit British Servicemen into a British Frei Korps. The irony of such a history is even richer when you consider Leopold Amery's mother came from a family of Hungarian Jews.

On the way home I called in at Whitehall and walked past the Admiralty Building and across Horseguards Parade, glancing across to downing Street and the site of the Cabinet War Rooms.  Seventy years on the Sandbags of 1939 have been replaced by barriers against suicide car bombs, but wars are still being planned and fought here and British Armed Forces are still serving overseas, sometimes because of the legacy of events which can be traced back to at least 1939 and decisions made in these same buildings.  

September 3 1939

At 11.00 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the United Kingdom and gave the news that many had been expecting.  The German Government had failed to respond to an ultimatum to begin withdrawal from Poland and that "consequently, this Country is at War with Germany."

As many people who heard Chamberlain's broadcast recall, immediately the broadcast ended the Air raid Sirens went off.  Chief of the Imperial General Staff [CIGS] Lt General Sir Henry Pownall remembered that morning...

“The War Office staff left their offices for
the basement as the sirens sounded.
The slamming of doors sounding down
the lift shafts, convinced many in the
basement that an air raid was in

Lt Gen Henry Pownall recalled by his step son.
[The Old War Office Building A History: MOD 2001]

What is seldom heard is the last part of Chamberlain's very short broadcast.  It does not end with the chilling words, all the more chilling for their cool matter of factness "Consequently this Country IS at War with Germany." but with a reminder to members of the Armed Forces and Civilian Support Services to carry out their Call Up instructions.

Britain was already on a war footing and seventy years on, it is now up to us to reflect and research just how this community responded.

I think we should also remember a phrase which was quoted a number of times on the anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two in Europe particularly when the painful complexities of war lead some to question whether this kind of remembrance is healthy and why should we remember....

"Never Forget.  Never Again."

12 September

I spent this afternoon visiting Whitstable on the Kent Coast.  In particular I was visiting our sister project The Forgotten Frontline which is led by Mark Harrison.  Mark and his team have spent the last five years researching the Coastal Crust Defences around Whitstable on the north east coast of Kent and today, in glorious sunshine Mark was leading a walk around the town to interpret their findings to an audience of over 50 people. 

We were shown a cross section of the defences of the town including the remains of Anti Tank Cylinders at the head of the beach and the site of a Petroleum Warfare device in the harbour as well as the sites of bomb damage and civilian structures such as a Blast Shelter in a school playground and an Auxiliary Fire Station.

It was particularly enjoyable as the tour was joined by many of the local people who have provided information to the project team.  We were also able to look at some of the large collection of documents and photographs located by or donated to the project.  Many of them are the strictly illegal at the time, but oh so valuable, private photographs of people going about their war work including some rare images of the Observer Corps, a vital and often overlooked, element of the Command and Control system of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. 

You can see something of the team's work on line at...

...and the work is the subject of an excellent exhibition at Whitstable Museum which runs until November.  Do go and see it if you get the chance-  and enjoy Whitstable while you are at it.  Fascinating history, good shopping and excellent is much more than the latest Brighton wannabe for refugees from London.

"The Forgotten Front Line" exhibition runs until 14 November 2009 and is free.

Details from the Whitstable Museum and Gallery, 5a Oxford Street, Whitstable.

CT5 1DB. Telephone: +44 (0)1227 276998.

NB:  Unforeseen results of War

This week Dame Vera Lynn became the oldest person to have a Number One Album.  On September 3 She was quoted by the BBC as saying her first thought on the outbreak of war was "Bang go's my career."

17 September

The anniversary of the start of Operation Market Garden-  the Bridge Too Far operation

17 September 1944 was also a Sunday morning and my father was back in Dover having been evacuated to South Wales.  Along with thousands of others in southern and eastern England he watched the spectacle of some of the 1500 Transports and 500 Gliders heading east across the channel. In the case of Dover people were watching the American 82nd and 101st Airborne heading for Eindhoven and Nijmegan and what would become known as Hell's Highway.

NB  Unforeseen results of war

The failure of Operation Market Garden to end the war by Christmas led directly to the "Hongerwinter," Hunger Winter in occupied Holland.  The Dutch Government in exile called a strike on the railways and the Germans retaliated by embargoing food supplies until November, by which time a particularly harsh winter set in leading to the adult ration in cities like Amsterdam falling to around 1000 calories per day.

It is estimated some 18,000 Dutch civilians died in the Hongerwinter famine while the privations experienced by expectant mothers led to studies which showed the effects of malnutrition on the developing foetus such as an increased risk of diabetes and even schizophrenia.  Low birth weight babies often went on to have low birth weight children themselves-  an example of the issues of one generation having an impact on the next.

The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort study which carried out this work investigates the health of men and women born in the Wilhelmina Gasthuis in Amsterdam in the period between November 1943 and February 1947 and you can find out more at ... is a unique and fascinating study and a timely reminder of how the effects derived from what happened in the period 1939-1945 are still being played out today, even at the very personal level of the health people who were not even born until years after World War Two ended.

In this year of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two in Europe, those of us working on DDA believe we have the perfect opportunity to look at the impact of Total War through the microcosm of south and east London. Thanks to the work we have already done we know that on that Friday morning in September seventy years ago Plum Lane Schools [now named Plumcroft School] were evacuated via Woolwich Arsenal Station, [one of the local evacuees ended up in the Kent countryside near a place called Biggin Hill] while on top of Shooters Hill a series of Barrage Balloon sites had been identified by the Air Ministry and would be operated by a locally raised a Barrage Balloon Squadron, No 901 County of London with its HQ at No 1 Balloon Centre at Kidbrooke.

The London Borough of Woolwich had built Blast Shelters across the borough and had the basic infrastructure of the ARP Service in place while, as a reminder of the previous blitz, a few inches under the surface of Eaglesfield Park the concrete emplacement of a 3" Anti Aircraft Gun lay almost forgotten, except for the children playing football who occasionally tripped over its remains.

We are also discovering that a surprising number of families had the vision and the considerable amount of cash [at least £35.00 at 1939 values], to build their own Air Raid Shelters. However, as so often in research, we are discovering that the more we find the more there is to find, in the archive, in the memories of local people and in the ground.

That is why this weekend we have embarked on an "Air Raid Shelter Census." We have a team of DDA regulars and students recording a group of Surface Blast Shelters in Oxleas Wood as well as re-visiting the highly un-usual "Bagnold Bunker," which was investigated during the "Time Team," programme we made here in 2007. More about the work we have been doing this weekend tomorrow, but suffice to say we are trying to record the buildings for the Historic Environment Record and find out why this part of Shooters Hill was so heavily provided with Shelter accommodation [we know of at least three large shelters, while the bulk of the local population was several hundred metres away on the other side of the A207.

This work is a prelude to a full on appeal for information about Air Raid Shelters in Shooters Hill and Woolwich. For something which was both a fact of life and something of an iconic image of World War Two, Air Raid Shelters, have been subject to surprisingly little published research. The seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of war seems like the perfect cue to look at them again and ask what were shelters like to spend time in, how many types were there, how many people built private Shelters, and how Shelters were and are, used. As we are discovering in the twenty first century, as in the 1940's, discussing some of those uses requires the archaeological equivalent of an 18 Certificate in the Cinema.

We are working at Oxleas tomorrow- 20 September so do come and visit us if you are in the area. At 2pm I will be leading a guided tour of the Shelters and other WW2 sites on Shooters Hill.

And if you have any information about Air Raid Shelters and the people who built, organised or spent time in them in our area, please contact us. The more information we get the better the story we can tell.

Workshop Details
This weekend workshop, which is designed to study a series of air-raid shelters in the Oxleas Wood area of Shooters Hill, began today.

After introductions the morning began with Guy Taylor describing the background and rationale for the systematic recording of buildings of historical interest of all types and then specifically in the context of military buildings. This was followed by Andy Brockman explaining the formal levels and reporting methodologies currently in use and the tools we would be adopting this weekend in recording the shelters.

We then moved over to the main practical site area at Oxleas Wood, with Andy giving a terrain briefing and putting the general militarised local landscape in its context.

The afternoon was spent looking at the two blast shelters within the wood and examining the general structure, location, access and other characteristics of each building.

Finally today we moved over to the 'Bagnold Bunker' and again examined its general structure, location and main features.

Tomorrow the main focus will be to begin to actually record each building in turn and to develop the skills associated with accurately completing this task to a technically accurate and competent level.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Farewell Harry

I am writing this having just watched the TV coverage of the Funeral of Harry Patch in Wells and as soon as I finish I am off for two weeks holiday in Belgium and Germany and what an illustration of the trajectory of the 20th Century. from a generation forced to go to war to a generation which can go to the battlefields of the Western Front and Ardenne as tourists.

I was at the Kent Messenger War And Peace Show when the news that Harry patch had died began to seep through the site, thanks to the wonder that is Wi Fi. Ironically I was talking to our friends of 10th Essex Living History Group who cover the Great War at the time. Immediately plans were made to stand to with reversed arms and flags went to half mast. There was the real sense personal loss- most of the Essex lads had met Harry and Henry Allingham on their trips to the Western Front and of an end of an era.

It is also worth recalling that it was really only in their hundreds that Harry, Henry and the others began to bear witness to things that had not really been talked of for three quarters of a century with another World War intervening. It is surely no co-incidence that Conflict Archaeology has come about within a very similar time frame.

I began the month with a trip to the South Bank for the annual commemoration of the International Brigades Memorial Trust, a gathering of relatives, friends and supporters from all over the world including the USA, Germany and Sweden. Guests of Honour were two of the few surviving British veterans including Sam Lesser, who trained as an Egyptologist at University College London under Sir Flinders Petrie before ending up in the University District of Madrid, taking part in the bitter fighting to turn back the fascist advance on the City in 1936.

International Brigade veteran Sam Lesser at the International Brigade
Memorial Trust Commemoration.

Petrie did some of his first field work here in north west Kent and there we have some of the fascinating and unlikely human links which make this subject so moving and rewarding to work in and why we must work to put the human stories front and center of our Conflict Archaeology, while we still can.

The International Brigades Memorial on the South Bank by County Hall in London.

Salud Sam and the Cameradas.

and we salute Harry and the lost generations of all nationalities of the Great War as he wanted.

As they sang at the service- "where have all the flowers gone?" indeed.

Andy Brockman August 2009

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Post dig 2 - Up Wrap? Up Sum? Uphill Struggle? Something like that...

This is my last entry on the blog for the time being so I suppose it is time to do the up sum as they say on Time Team.

I will start with the archaeology which has been, in its way, spectacular. This is true of even the smallest items, such as the delightful and thought provoking piece of Trench Art which Roger reported on last night.

I won't pre-empt the interim and full report [which would offer too many hostages to fortune and be a bit of a breach of archaeological etiquette], but I can say that we have some fascinating material to report on and we have been able to hit the nail as far as a number of the research questions go.

In particular we have located a well preserved, probably multi phase WW1 AA Gun Position which is situated in a publicly accessible location and which could be presented to the public if Greenwich Council chooses to do it. If they do it would be a first.

We also have an assemblage of material [OK 1940's rubbish] from the latter half of WW2 which sheds light on the life of the Barrage Balloon site.

We have also built up a much more detailed picture of the nature of the occupation and exploitation of the landscape on the Eaglesfield site than hitherto existed. This will all go the the London Borough of Greenwich to assist them in promoting and preserving the Park for people to enjoy in the future.

Finally, we have show that by using Geophysics in conjunction with a little military know how and some technically skilled archaeology, it is possible to recover ephemeral military features such as trenches, which slipped through the Defence of Britain Project net and offers huge promise as we research 20th Century Military and Civilian sites in future.

Away from the Field Archaeology, I think we have also shown the efficacy and importance of involving the local community in such research. Just one example among many...Even after we finished work back filling and were unwinding in The Bull on Sunday evening, we were introduced to one of the local people who, not only was the son of a Captain in the local Home Guard, but was a relative of the former editor of The Daily Worker, William Rust, who wrote the first major book about the experiences of the British Battalion of the 15th International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. A subject which forms another strand of the Digging Dad's Army Project.

That thought just re-enforces what the Digging Dad's Army Project is all about. It is a Peoples Project about the People's War and whatever we do is on trust for the community who care about it, lived it, remember it or heard about it from those no longer with us. A particularly poignant thought as this weekend the Normandy Veterans Association held its last march past in Whitehall.

Credit where it is due...

I like to show the complexity of a modern archaeological project by crediting the people who have been facilitating the project, advising on finds and doing the sheer hard work on site. At Eaglesfield 2009 they were, in no particular order and with my grateful thanks and abject apologies to anyone I have left out...[let me know and we will add your name to the list]...

Neil Faulkner, David Thorpe, Odette Nelson, Roger Ward, Lisa Corti and family, Alison Baldry, Guy Taylor, Fiz Altinaluk, Catherine Edwards, Anna Gow, Richard Buchanan, Martin and Anne Roseveare and the team from ArchaeoPhysica [particularly Thomas], Rod Scott, Bev Bailey and Martin Brown of No Mans Land, Richard Finch, Richard Emmett, Theresa Emmett, David Gill (for coming on the last day only and helping with backfilling!), Keith Martin, Stewart Dickson, Tim Lynch, Brian M Powell, Neil [Rock] Webb, Tim Lynch, Graham Dixon, Chris Clarke, Dave Holden, Dr Richard Burt, Steve Maguire and the 10th Essex Living History Group, Chris Gosling, Kirstie Shedden and the A/S Level Archaeology Group from the Negus Sixth Form Center Plumstead Manor School [including James who came back for the rest of the week], James from Barnes, the staff and children of Plumcroft Primary School, Jeremy Shearmur, Locksley Douglas and Jonathan Bangs at the London Borough of Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces Department, Kathy Bagnall at Shrewsbury House, Martin Baker, Pip Pulfer and members of the Bexley Archaeology Group and Nick Saunders of Bristol University and Robert Whytehead and the team at the English Heritage Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service, including Mark Stevenson, the Archaeological Advisor for Greenwich.

What's Next?

As to the future, next on the DDA agenda is a Standing Buildings Course which will be held over a weekend, most likely in the Autumn, when we will be conducting a survey of surviving Air Raid Shelters in the Shooters Hill area [two previously un-recorded examples turned up while we were at Eaglesfield] and we will also be reporting on the excavations. Watch out on the Blog and The Digging Dad's Army Website, which should go live in the next month or so, with more background material and information about the excavations and the DDA Project in general. We also hope to publish versions of thse excavation reports on line.

We will also continue to Recce other sites with a view to recording them, either with the existing team, or, where appropriate as part of a Course.

From November 2nd to November 6th we will be back at Eaglesfield with ArchaeoPhysica, to carry out another Geophysics Course on behalf of Birkbeck College, looking at the other half of the Park. If you want to take part details are available from the Archaeology Desk at Birkbeck. If the results are half as good as last year it will be fascinating.

Here is the link to the Course Details

Nearer home this Saturday, 27 June 2009, ArchaePhysica are working with me on another Community Project at Shrewsbury Park, Shooters Hill, just down the road from Eaglesfield. I will be leading tours and you will see the site of another of 901 Squadron's Barrage Balloon beds and a surviving Gas Decontamination Building, as well as having the chance to try your hand at Archaeological Geophysics. It is all in the aid of The School In the Park Party, which aims to locate and celebrate the site of London's first permanent Open Air School which opened 101 years ago this July. This was a landmark in progressive, child centred education for children with special health needs and still informs education and paediatric care today.

Digging Dad's Army was a twinkle in our eye in the Museum Tavern just before Christmas, it was born in that seminar at Shrewsbury House at the beginning of March and now in June it has become a robust toddler charging off in all directions. It is certainly growing up and going places.

Thanks again to everyone who has helped along the way.

See you soon.

Andy B

Click on images for larger versions. All pictures today C Andy Brockman.

Archaeology without recording is vandalism - Richard Emmett recording the Gun Emplacement

Dr Faulkner sections the cake but will he over cut it

The Revolutionary Cardre of Back Fillers

Dr Faulkner applies the traditional Solstice Libation

The Gun Emplacement in its final excavated state

You would never know we had been there!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Post dig 1 - Very interesting find confirmed!

A few days ago this interesting piece came up from just below the turf surface within one of our test trenches. After a quick hand clean it looked like it might be a worked coin, and on further investigation it became clear that the edges of the metal appeared to have been filed cleanly.

It is in fact a French coin - the remains of the words égalité, fraternité can be seen along the bottom edge. It also looks like it has been deliberately cut in the shape of a silhouette.

On that thought, I sent a picture of the object to Dr Nick Saunders of Bristol University Department of Archaeology & Anthropology to ask if he had seen anything like it before. Nick is an expert in the field of 'Trench Art', which is 3-D memory objects that embodied the different experiences of war for makers and consumers between 1914 and 1939 (i.e. soldiers and POWs, and refugees and internees).

I am delighted to say that I received an email today from Nick confirming he had seen something similar before in France or Belgium, and that our find was indeed 'trench art', likely dating from WW1.

So now we have a story to unfold! One theory is that it was a lucky charm, made and carried by someone who had served in France and then later became a member of the Home Guard. Perhaps it was during this duty whilst serving at Eaglesfield Park in Shooters Hill in the defence of London that the piece was lost, only to be turned up by metal detector last week.

In any case it is a fascinating find, and if anyone knows of any other similar items please do get in touch and let us know.

There will be more finds reports over the next few days and weeks, so please keep checking back.

Roger Ward

Click on the image for a larger version
Who is the silhouette of?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Day 9 - The Final Day!

A day spent in the blazing sun with both the core team and the students (and two volunteers, one of whom was celebrating his birthday) furiously finishing off. The drawn record of all of our trenches was completed during the morning prior to the unenviable but inevitable backfilling of them all and replacing the turf.

The phasing was completed and double checked in the ack-ack trench, in spite of the fact that one very senior archaeologist had a minor headache. In the other trenches experienced team members completed the final recording and with it this week's training of our very keen. enthusiastic and able students.

Our photographer Ali rounded off many hundreds of technical photographs taken this week with some establishing site shots and final images of the trenches from an elevated position, before recording the small finds with close-ups. These photographs, together with the drawn record, plans, maps, measurements and notes will together form the archive of the work carried out by us during our time at Eaglesfield Park.

In the afternoon the team managed to overcome a week's tiredness and we set about returning everything to the condition it weas in before we started. This meant putting all the earth back in the, by now, somewhat large and deep holes, and relaying the turf. A brilliant effort by young and slightly less young alike, together with a seemingly unending variety of jokes and quips meant this was achieved by about 5.00pm, which was a fantastic effort. Top marks to our excellent finds keeper Odette for bringing in a huge chocolate cake, pictured below, which was devoured by the hungry shovellers.

A huge thankyou to everyone who made this dig such a success from pre-planners, directors, volunteers and students to the wonderful local folk who have attended and chatted with us throughout.

From my bloggers perspective - this was the first UK based dig that I have been involved with from the initial ideas stage through to planning and actually undertaking and completing the work. At times it wasn't clear exactly how, or indeed whether at all, this would all come together and be successful. Chatting to team members and students during the week of digging itself it has become clear to me that the overall success of ventures like this depends on the bunch of people that end up in the mix, and how they interact and work together. I have to say in this respect the experience has been fantastic, and a big thankyou to everyone who made the time fly and the work such great fun.

What's next? Well, the blog won't end tonight. Over the next few days, weeks and months I will be blogging more about some of the spin-offs from the week, with articles on the finds themselves, excellent reports from Gabe (is that the right spelling? - sorry Gabe!), our oral historian of the stories he has been told, more images and other information about the development of the project as we grow. Keep checking back, or why not Follow or Subscribe to the blog for automatic updates. Please see the links at the top and bottom of the page.

Until next time.

Roger Ward

Some more images from yesterday

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Day 8 - Open Day

Today's Open Day included displays by the Friends of Eaglesfield Park, two World War 1 British Tommy's, and an RAF sergeant, (World War two of course), with a collection of vintage armaments.

We were pleased to see large numbers of local residents come along during the day to find out about what we have been doing during our time here. Guided tours of the trenches and excavations were held throughout the day. The level of interest was fantastic and very welcome, with a real sense of community interest and involvement in the project. Indeed, several people indicated they would come along and help if ever we were to be back again, which is great.

Meantime work continued within the trenches themselves. Debate continued to rage regarding the sequence of events surrounding the site of the anti aircraft guns. The pit full of World War 2 rubbish continued to become deeper and wider and we found more interesting items. The zig zag trench back filled with sandbags also proved very deep and, despite much mattocking and hard work, no bottom was found. We also found that the presumed Home Guard firing position sited at the lower end of the park turned out to have been back filled with sand from sandbags at some stage.

Among the most exciting finds today was a large portion of a military vehicle tyre. This was excavated in the rubbish pit, but the fragility of the remains meant that it had to be recorded in situ. Fortunately however after excellent painstaking work by Anna in that trench she did manage to lift a fairly large section intact.

Beside the World War 1 gun platform we excavated an extent of armoured copper wire believed to be of World War 2 date. The possible line and direction of this was identified by metal detecting and about 45 metres down the hill was found to change direction. The new line was found to directly correspond with cable that had been previously found and photographed by the previous Time Team dig.

A great day and many thanks to all the organisations and their representatives who gave up their time to make it such. And a big thank you to the people of the locality who turned up in number to share the experience of Digging Dad's Army with us.

Tomorrow it's final bits of digging and patient recording of everything we have exposed before the daunting prospect of putting all the dug material back and returfing the site. All part of the archaeological experience!

Neil F/ RW

Not much to say tonight as I have been in PR mode all afternoon. The Open Day saw a great response from local people which just re-enforced the rationale behind DDA- it really is a people's project.

Our friends from 10th Essex WW1 Living History Group and Chris Gosling added period atmosphere and we joined our colleagues Sarah and Rebecca from Groundworks and Froglife in explaining the plans for the old Lily Pond/Quarry Pit at the south end of the Park to be turned into an environmental area and amphibian habitat. Archaeology and Ecology in tandem- after all we are all in the same game of understanding and improving the environment.

Clive Efford our local MP and Denise Hyland our Counsillor also visited us and stayed for the tour. It is really good to see this kind of work recognised in such a supportive but low key, no fuss way.

More on the archaeology tomorrow.

Andy B

Some images from today - more to follow