Thursday, 21 October 2010

DDA After Action Report: Summer 2010

Eaglesfield Park EFP09

In June we were back at Eaglesfield Park to complete the evaluation of the World War One anti aircraft gun position.

The objective this year was to obtain the full dimensions of the gun platform and assess its state of preservation with a view to possibly getting it put on display, or at least getting it interpreted for the public at some point in the future.

We had a smaller student team than last year, perhaps that is down to the recession, which meant we were restricted to working on the gun platform itself, but the results were still impressive and useful.

It is now clear that the whole footprint of the gun platform remains in situ.  It looks as if attempts were made to remove it as the top of the slab has been broken up on the north east side, but it seems this was rapidly given up as a bad job and the site was abandoned.

In terms of phasing it still looks as if we probably have two WW1 phases with the second hold fast cut into the original platform.  There is currently no documentary evidence for the change, but there is a suspicion that the weapon fit was changed when responsibility for the Anti Aircraft Defences in London switched from the Navy to the Army under Field Marshall Lord French, in early 1916.

We also picked up telephone cables hinting at the command and control system in place at Eaglesfield and possibly also hinting where the Battery Office/Command Post might have been situated.  We still don't have the location of any of the ancillery elements of the site which actually enabled it to function, the CP, ready use ammunition storage location and the accomodition [and probably the Latrines] for the duty crew.
Eaglesfield AA Gun Site

We will be carrying out more research and producing the archive report of the excavation so far, this Autumn.

Thanks to the regular DDA team and particularly to our students and volunteers, Rachel, Naomi, William and Richard.  Also to our friends in the local community, particularly the Eaglesfield Neighbourhood Watch, the Friends of Eaglesfield Park and the Shooters Hill Safer Neighbourhood Team.

OSTERLEY PARK OSP10 Osterley Park wasn't strictly a DDA Project, the idea to mount a project at Osterley was around before DDA existed and Osterley is in west London rather than in DDA's more regular patch in south east London.  However I am including it here because, first and foremost it is a fascinating site, but also because it reflects my ideal way of working and a way of working which I hope DDA can develop.  That is working in a collegiate way with not just fellow archaeologists, but also groups interested in interpretation and education and being innovative in bringing the story to the public and giving it a future life.  So, when we are normally dealing with concrete and slit trenches, why were we at a Stately Home with Adam interiors and a wonderful Tudor Stable Block?

Home Guard School Number One at Osterley Park is one of those stories you couldn't make up.  Where else would your average patriotic middle class Briton, gather for a weekend course in guerrilla warfare taught by the former commander of the British Battalion of the International Brigades, "Basque Bombers," a Russian Spy, a Surrealist Painter who used images of his partner to demonstrate camouflage and the Boy Scout Movement's Head of Fieldcraft.

But not only is Osterley a fantastic story and one of the most remarkable to come out of that remarkable Summer of 1940.  It is right there at the heart of the debate about how to employ the Home Guard and how to counter the new mechanised warfare of Blitzkrieg.  However, perhaps surprisingly the site of the school, while an iconic one to researchers looking at the Home Guard and often appearing  in documentaries, most recently Andrew Marr's "History of Modern Britain," has not been looked at archaeologically before.  We set out to change that with a crack digging team drawn from both DDA and our colleagues from "No Man's Land," specialists in Great War archaeology who have vast experience in digging training areas and front line trenches in the UK, France and Belgium including Rob Jannaway of the University of Bradford and a leading forensic finds conservator.

Because it is DDA Policy not to excavate on a known military site where ammunition and explosives might be present we also included No Mans Land and DDA Archaeologist and EOD Operator Rod Scott, as our Safety cover.

That would have made for a rewarding weekend in its own right.  However what made Osterley so special was the fact we were able to tie the archaeology to real time Living History in a partnership which dates back to the origins of the Project.

For me the Osterley Park 70th Anniversary Project began life back in 2006 when I interviewed a Home Guard veteran, the late Geoff Pendergast, who recorded that his father had attended the Home Guard School at Osterley Park and had been taught explosives by a "Spaniard."

Geoff recalled his father saying "The Spaniard is a good explosives man but one day he will make a mistake."  Because of this, and because I was also researching the involvement of people from Greenwich and Woolwich with the Aid Spain  Movement and Basque refugee children in the period of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, I had also begun working with "La Columna," an excellent Living History group who specialise in impressions of the Spanish Civil War and the Aid Spain Movement.  Veterans of the  Spanish Civil War were intimately associated with Osterley Park making developing a project there something of a a "no brainer."

La Columna have taken part in, and latterly organised, a living history event at Osterley Park every year on the anniversary of the opening of the Home Guard School Number One and this year, the 70th Anniversary fell on Saturday 10 July, the actual anniversary to the day of the first intake of students, so La Columna and the National Trust who own the site, planned a special anniversary re-creation of what went on at Osterley during that momentous Summer of 1940.

This represented a opportunity to tie commemoration of the HG School to the anniversary of the founding of the Home Guard and to look at something which had never been looked at before archaeologically.  We submitted a project design to the National Trust for an evaluation of the surviving archaeology of the Home Guard School and several drafts and site meetings later we were granted a licence and so the archaeology team gathered on site on Friday 9 July.

The weather over the anniversary weekend was baking hot, which was wonderful for the visitors, but less so for the diggers, particularly as one of our trenches turned out to be on top of a wasp nest, but even so we managed to stay in one piece, un-stung and to produce some archaeology.

With only a limited evaluation possible an area which was believed to contain practice trenches was selected and our colleagues from the Bexley Archaeology Group attempted an indicative resistivity survey to augment a close study of the topography and its relationship with 1940 photographs and newsreel and air photographs from 1942-1944.

However, in spite of heroic efforts in a limited space and on uneven ground, the resistivity survey failed to identify more than a possible area of disturbance.  When we put in the two evaluation trenches we found out why.

Having hacked through at least 30cm of hardcore probably left over from the construction of the M4 [Note to the Project Manager-  next time book a mini digger] we did come down on what may be the 1940 ground surface, and a possible 1940 cut feature in the second of our evaluation trenches.

The archaeology from such a short lived period in the site's history was always going to be ephemeral, but careful excavation by Cat', Martin, Bev and Brian suggests we may have picked up at least the base of one of Tom Wintringhams practice trenches and we have certainly identified the main practice area of HG School number one.

Like Eaglesfield there was little in the way of small finds although there were some fragments of brass, possibly shell case and Roger identified a possible artifact scatter in an area of interest for next time.

We are committed to producing the Desk Top Study and Report by Christmas and there will also be a video so watch this space.  It is also becoming clear that, HG School No 1 apart,  Osterley Park has a significant amount of additional surviving Conflict Archaeology and had a significant life in both World Wars encompassing the Army Service Corps, POW Camps and Army and Home Guard Training as well as the odd Luftwaffe bomb and anti invasion defences areas which will be addressed in the desktop study and which can hopefully could be developed as a long term study.

Thanks to Bev Bailey, Ali Baldry [who turned out on her birthday and above and beyond the call of duty on the morning after too!], Martin Brown, Cat Edwards, Mark Khan,  Brian Powell, Rod Scott [mention in dispatches for being on site on a week after major back surgery], and Roger Ward on the dig team; Rob Jannaway on finds; Pip, Martin, Clare and the Bexley Archaeology Group for attempting Geophysics under very difficult conditions; Martin,  Anne and the team from Archaeopysica Ltd and Angie Jobson and Derek Smith on the video; and not least all to the staff and volunteer team from the National Trust who let us come and play at such a remarkable site.  We could not have been made more welcome.


For the NT the whole thing was coordinated by Emily Toecher, Karina Swann of the Osterley Park management team and, on the archaeology side, by Gary Marshall of the Trust's regional archaeology team and the National Trust press office co-ordinated a number of TV and Radio spots which meant we were able to bring the weekend to a wider audience, including the viewers of British Forces TV, where ever in the world they are stationed.

4.43pm September 7 2010

September 7th was the 70th anniversary of "Black Saturday" the first day of the Blitz on London, an event which would leave a permanent mark on the City and by the time the last V2 fell in March 1945 would kill over 20,000 Londoners.

All Summer we have been running a partnership called "Digging The Blitz" with our colleagues at Firepower- the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich Arsenal combining our archaeology, shown in a video diary, with the collections of Firepower and Greenwich Heritage Centre. As part of DTB we decided that it was important to mark the anniversary as close to the time and place it started and in a way which allowed people of all ages to simply remember and reflect in the way they chose.

We decided that simplicity was the most appropriate way to approach the event and so we invited anyone who wanted to take part to join us for two minutes silence at 4.43pm, seventy years to the minute since the sirens sounded for that first deliberate raid on targets in London.

The afternoon was full of resonances.

The silence was begun by Steve Hookins of Firepower who sounded an original hand cranked air raid siren wearing his grandfathers ARP Overall and whistle and it was ended by members of the Royal Artillery recently returned from Afghanistan, firing a salute to all the victims of the Blitz where ever they were, from a WW2 vintage 25 pounder field gun from the Firepower collection.

The gathering included the deputy Mayor of Greenwich, Cllr Jim Gillman, himself a wartime evacuee from the Isle of Dogs and three generations of one family, the oldest an eye witness to the events of that Saturday afternoon whose mother had been a worker under the bombs at Woolwich Arsenal and the youngest who was studying the war and evacuees in Primary School.

You could not really have a better illustration of why the Archaeology of Modern Conflict and communicating it to the wider public, is so important.
Sheila Manix, five years old when the blitz started summed up the human response to such an awe inspiring exhibition of Total War and perhaps of the victims of war of every generation and nationality when she told the "Greenwich Time" reporter who covered the event...

"There was tremendous camaraderie, but it really was Hell and absolutely horrible."

DDA Sitrep

One of the best things about being involved in a Project like Digging Dad's Army is the possibility of making connections and letting the research take off in directions led by the evidence we are discovering and the enthusiasm of colleagues.

Aside from our first published reports we are currently looking forward to hearing about Stuart Dickson's research at Teddington and Richard and Theresa Emmett's work in the borough archive at Greenwich Heritage Center and I hope there will be more to come.

Of course research is useless if it is not published and made accessible.  That means publishing and this Autumn we have another avenue for publication in the new magazine MILITARY TIMES, edited by our own Dr Neil Faulkner.

"Military Times" is a joint venture between Current Publishing of "Current Archaeology" and "Current World Archaeology" and Chelsea Magazine Company who specialise in consumer magazines.  The new title is available in the high street [I picked up my copy in W H Smiths and another colleague found his in Sainsbury's] and by subscription with a not inconsiderable 35% saving at
DDA must remain impartial so, as the BBC always says, other magazines are available, but it is a brave venture to launch any magazine in the current financial climate and a plurality of voices is clearly important in an area as popular and growing as fast as the archaeology of modern conflict.  Particularly a voice which, like MT if the launch issue's discussion of the origins of irregular warfare, Lawrence of Arabia and the Taliban is anything to go by,  recognises that the events of the past also have resonance in the present, a factor that we as researchers and communicators forget that at our peril.

And on that note, David Cameron has just used the formula "Your Country Needs You!" in his speech to the Tory Party Conference.  Having already come a cropper over his less than accurate allusions to the Anglo US relationship in World War Two perhaps someone should have reminded him of what happened to the Kitchener volunteers who answered that call the first time it was made.  On 1 July 1916 they took part in a certain action in the Somme, the most disasterous day in the history of the British Army.


English Heritage is appealing for the return of a torpedo hatch stolen from the protected wreck HMS Holland V six miles off the Sussex coast.

You can find more details about the theft at...

...but here is an extract which gets to the core of why catching the thief and returning the torpedo hatch is important.

"Diver Jamie Smith, who holds a visit licence for the site, said that he was “saddened and shocked” at the removal by “the few that tend to spoil it for the many”.

“This is not a diving trophy from the deep but a historic piece of protected wreck,” he said. “Please return it.”

He added: “If you wish to dive the wreck you can apply for a visitor’s permit; this is not too complicated. You can then dive her and take your memories home with you.”

English Heritage is appealing to the “diving community for help in locating this important piece of theHolland 5”.

Those who think that they may have useful information are asked to contact Sussex Police or Crime Stoppers on 0800 555111."

MOVEMENT ORDERS DDA members and blog readers might be interested in these forthcoming events.
Our Colleagues from Osterley Park , La Columna have an event at Firepower on Saturday and Sunday 23 and 24 October.  If you have not met them yet please go along and discover where Living History meets Conflict Archaeology.

La Columna at Firepower- The Royal Artillery Museum

Britons in the Spanish Civil War

Saturday and Sunday 23-24 October- 10.30-17.00

Nearest public transport:  53 Bus to Woolwich from Central London, Woolwich Arsenal overground from Charing Cross and Cannon Street, via London Bridge and Woolwich Arsenal DLR

Free entry to the fully licenced cafe

Museum entry charges may apply

La Columna is one of the UK's most experienced living history groups.  They set out to celebrate and commemorate one of the most important, but little known stories of 20th century Europe, the Spanish Civil War and the thousands of volunteers who went to Spain to help the Spainish people confront Fascism between 1936 and 1939.

This weekends impression of the life of the volunteers will be set in 1938 around the time of the Battle of the Ebro and La Columna will demonstrate the clothing and equipment of the British Battalion of the International Brigades

 as well as the activities of the many thousands of ordinary Britons made financial or material donations as part of the Aid Spain movement.

Digger of La Columna explains how to deny your enemy the
 use of a bridge on a previous visit to Firepower in 2008

This weekend is part of the Firepower "Nine Days in History" programme-  see the Firepower Website for details