Morning Session: Memory, Commemoration and Cultural Identity

Not just Number, Rank and Name

Our view of WW1 has been considerably coloured by political histories written by individuals eager to exonerate themselves and place the blame on others for the conduct of the war.  Satirical films, TV comedy series together with the later views of the war poets have all contributed to the formulation of our perceptions of the war and the men who fought it.  Whilst the men who were engaged at the front were very reluctant to talk about their experiences they have left behind a legacy of material culture that can help archaeologists and anthropologists gain a view of their inner most feelings, associations, loyalties and fears.  One such culture is the graffiti left behind on a variety of medium.   Generally the study of WW1 military graffiti has centred on the view that the individual wishes to leave personal details behind for posterity.  We generally find that when individuals can be fully identified, graffiti is used to track down relatives and to discover what happened to the individual, a picture of their life both before and if they survived after the war can be built up. But it tells us nothing of the individual whilst they were on active service.  In this paper I would put forward the concept that the individual soldier is telling us much more about himself his fellow soldiers, their current beliefs and affiliations, social, personal and political thoughts and how they view themselves within their environment.  The study material is drawn from over 2,500 recorded items predominantly written from around May 1916 to June 1917 and is associated with the British Tunnelling Companies and the Canadian Corps during their preparations for the Battle of Arras 9th April 1917.

Andy Hawkins

Arnos Vale South Bristol: A Wartime Cemetery

A designed Victorian garden cemetery and active almost continuously ever since; Arnos Vale is a commentary on historical events both in and beyond Bristol over the last 175 years. It is the final resting place to an estimated equivalent of one third of the population of the city today. Within it, around 600 individuals who lost their lives serving during the two World Wars are also part of this ‘deathscape’ and many more memorialised. Little focus has been placed on the cemetery itself during wartime and on those who interacted with it on a regular basis during these periods. Nor how it affected both the landscape and the individuals who lived and worked there; those who came to mourn and the local community. This paper highlights some of these issues, exploring their significance and considers aspects such as air raids and the reserved occupations of employees. The necessary business associated with death needed to continue, if not intensify during wartime. Insight into events and occurrences specific to the wartime cemetery will be examined to place emphasis on this type of site and investigate some of the complexities raised during a conflict situation.

Lindsay Kenston-Udall

To what extent do physical remains contribute to our knowledge of thankful villages in Somerset?

Across Britain, memorials to the dead of the First World War have become as iconic as the post box, bus stop and phone box. However, 51 villages in England and Wales do not have such a memorial. These are the thankful villages, those that sent all their men (and in some cases, women) to the war and all returned alive. Despite this astonishing fact, few people know about these villages and their unusual history. My paper focuses on the thankful villages of Somerset, where 18 per cent  (9) of these villages are located, and looks at how these communities have commemorated their thankful status, and what the upcoming centenary means to them. Through fieldwork, interviews and archive research, I found that roughly half the villages were ‘proud villages’ –they have some kind of memorial to their lucky status, whilst the other half I have called ‘reluctant villages’ where the locals either felt embarrassed by their luck compared to their neighbours, or did not feel lucky as they had lost friends and relatives elsewhere. My undergraduate dissertation was the first academic work to focus on this fascinating area of modern conflict archaeology, and I am keen to share what I have discovered.

Pippa Shawley

Lunchtime Session: Second World War

Ghosts in the Landscape – the impact of military airfields on land use in Second World War Norfolk

Too many airfields but not enough land was the essence of military airpower manifest in the rural landscape of East Anglia as the Second World War progressed. Popular perception presents a scenario of military personnel happily existing cheek by jowl with local communities in a unified cause.  And it is not an inaccurate image; it was however fraught with problems of scarce resources, competition for land use and the longer term legacy in an already changing landscape. Whilst military exigencies and the availability of suitable topography made the eastern counties the ideal platform for air warfare between 1939 and 1945, a serious dichotomy arose between land desperately needed for ever-intensifying agricultural production in the wartime economy and the strategic will to pursue an end to that war. Negotiations and diplomacy involved in the selection of sites for airbases were complex and often protracted, particularly with the ominous threat of compulsory requisition and dispossession. What remains is a fascinating meeting of archaeology, history and the machinations of government agencies and the military, all swept up in the then relatively modern concept of total war.

Steve Nunn

Paper, scissors, stone: Assessing the contribution and role of archaeological and historical source evidence in investigating Second World War anti-invasion defences in Wales

This paper explores the issue of the value, contribution and role of archaeological, documentary, aerial photographic and cartographic sources of evidence when investigating Second World War anti-invasion defences in two case study areas in Wales.  It addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the individual evidence types and assesses their individual and collective contributions.  Is archaeology capable of revealing the full story independently or is the discipline destined forever to be the handmaiden to history? Can this commonly portrayed binary opposition be laid to rest and can a consensual and inter-disciplinary approach prevail?

Jonathan Berry

Packing for Trouble: supplying the European Resistance during the Second World War

During the Second World War, resistance within occupied countries was coordinated by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Following the entry of the Americans into the war, the Office of Strategic Service (OSS) was established with a similar function to SOE. Essential to the operational capacity of the European resistance was the provision of supplies: without war material, the ability of the resistance to contribute to the wider effort would have been limited. In order to ‘pass’ in occupied countries, supplies often had to be cleverly camouflaged so that they would not draw attention to the operative. SOE became proficient at disguising material from their facility in Hertfordshire. These supplies were stored in purposely designated sites prior to being packed in containers to be transported to occupied Europe. This paper will examine the facilities established by both SOE and the OSS in order to supply the European resistance with the material required to undertake an operational role. It will also examine the changing nature of these facilities as the war progressed and as SOE gained operational experience.

Derwin Gregory

Afternoon Session: Material Culture

Four Men and a Lion: Community of Modern War – The 21st Century British Army’s Military Material Culture

“Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely”. – Du Picq, 1921.

The purpose of this study was to explore how British military material culture, namely the weapon of choice, the Heckler and Koch SA-80A2, has been developed in order to create a sense of military community between soldiers. Furthermore it reflects on how a rifle, so often thought of as the basis for statistical and technical study, truly influences the life of and defines the modern British soldier who uses it; ultimately affecting the way in which they fight their enemy, protect those they fight alongside and approach battles which they believe they can win. The study examines how the weapon system used by the British army, the SA-80A2, was adopted in order to design a change in the nature of the soldier structure in the army through developing group cohesion. This process of change has influenced the ability of soldiers to take the lives of their enemies, when necessary, and has revolutionised the world of small arms and how small-arms units fight. Ultimately this study argues how a rifle, often characterised by statistics of its use, can actually be explored and characterised through ideas of material and bodily culture, and that the modern British soldier is defined through the biographical object which protects his life; his weapon.

Max Lowe

War or Peace? Out of step with the French 1914-1918

There were many cultural challenges facing the British army on the Western Front of the First World War. From simple tools that seemed entirely alien, the importance of a good meal, and the difficulties with marching songs. However, one of the most persistent was the repeated instance of British soldiers struggling to understand the variable nature of the French will for a glorious offensive and their tendency to form lasting truces on some parts of the line.

This paper will look to highlight and examine some of the many cultural difficulties and confusions that marked Tommy-Poilu relations during the First World War and how whilst some gaps could not be bridged, some French approaches began to have an influence on the behaviour of British soldiers.

The content is drawn from my recently completed PhD thesis ‘Unwilling Allies?: Tommy-Poilu Relations on the Western Front 1914-1918’. It features research conducted at the Imperial War Museum London, National Archives Kew and the Archives de l’armee de terre Vincennes, along with published diaries and memoirs from British and French Soldiers who fought alongside each other in France across the war.

Dr Chris Kempshall

From Byzantine to Banksy: A material culture study of the hand grenade

The hand grenade has a long history; potentially dating back to the Byzantine Empire in the 8th    century, its usage spreading to Europe in the seventeenth century.  With the development of trench warfare the hand grenade came into its own as a weapon, with the now familiar design of the Mills Bomb ‘pineapple’ grenade being developed in 1915 and around seventy five million being manufactured during the first world war.  During the twentieth and twenty first century the imagery and design of the hand grenade have been reused for myriad purposes from cigarette lighters to health supplement packaging to depictions in artwork by artists such as Banksy. In some instances the apparent popularity of the reuse of the grenade design is at odds with its origin as a weapon. This paper will look at the history of the hand grenade and the reasons for the subsequent reuse of its imagery in apparently unconnected contexts, and also the reasons for its popularity as an image.

Richard Alexander

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