War Horses of World War One: The identification and characterisation of battlefield trauma

Rebecca Plumley, Cranfield Forensic Institute, Cranfield University

It was not just men that were needed to fight the Great War, but also animals. Horses and mules in particular were essential to the war effort, not just for carrying soldiers but also for transporting supplies and recovering dead and injured soldiers. When war broke out, the British Army consisted of just 25,000 cavalry. For a successful offensive to be launched, this number needed to be dramatically increased, so domestic Equines of all kinds were taken from the land by the Army. Britain alone lost over a million equines to artillery and machine gun fire, as well as to disease, dehydration, and malnutrition.

In order to keep the supply of horses to the front as high as possible, veterinary hospitals were constructed across England and the Western Front. Short of complete physical breakdown, equines would be repeatedly worked beyond their limits. Many accounts tell of the distress soldiers experienced in seeing their animals suffer. Many animals were shot in order to relieve their misery.

This study seeks to investigate a Horse Isolation Hospital at Larkhill, Wiltshire, and examine any remains found buried there for disease and trauma, and comparing them to horse burials recently recovered near Ypres, Belgium.

Shell Shocked Society: Gender relations and artillery shells in the First World War

Gabrielle Day, University of Bristol

Using theoretical material culture frameworks surrounding the use of industrialised weaponry, this paper will explore how the close examination of one type of object can reveal changing gender relations in the First World War. This paper follows the ‘social life’ of an artillery shell from its production in munitions factories, use on the Western Front and the resulting destruction of human bodies and subsequent medical treatment. At each point it explores how men and women were both affected by this iconic weapon. Whilst much has recently been said about the war’s effect on women, this paper hopes to investigate how one object can destroy and then reconstruct ideas about masculinity as well as femininity in a time of crisis.

Bodies/Objects/People? The complex entanglements of human bodies and material culture in twentieth century conflict

Susie Callow, Cirencester Sixth-Form College / University of Bristol

This paper will give an overview of the complexities of the interrelationship between the human body and material culture of modern conflict, especially in relation to the creation of identity and the perceptions of ethnicity. Several case studies will be utilised to highlight how objects serve to influence the identities of people in conflict.

Military Identification systems of the Major Combatants of World War One

Sarah I. Ashbridge, University of Bradford

The early 20th century saw the development of identification systems amongst military organizations in response to the rapidly increasing number of soldiers. The most rapid development of these systems occurred during the early 20th century, with both methods and administrative systems in a state of constant change. This paper will discuss the systems used by major combatants: the Belgian, British, French and German armies during the First World War, with a particular focus on the use of identity discs.

War on this scale was unprecedented, meaning that the size of armies increased dramatically in a short period of time; and with this it became apparent that systems for identification were inadequate given the number of casualties, and therefore needed improvement, to ensure that as many soldiers as possible were correctly honoured for burial. During this period we see forces using systems from other nations and learning from the mistakes of previous conflict, for example, the system used by the Americans during the Civil Wars, which saw the introduction of the first official system of identity discs would be of great influence across Europe.

Following a discussion on methods of identification of the war dead, the systems of each force will be described, giving visual examples. By understanding the differences between the intended procedure, and the action procedure under war conditions of the past we can attempt to understand the requirements for the present. By identifying the materials used for identity discs we can conduct further research to assist with archaeological excavation.

An unusually complicated piece of equipment, given that it’s essentially a leather edged bag of coloured wool felt”: A study of the beret as a display of Socio-Cultural Identity within the modern British Army

Joel Geraets, University of Bristol

In 2010 the Strategic Defence and Security Review outlined Britain’s Defence requirements in the face of an uncertain world, with an uncertain future beyond Afghanistan. The rise in variable and unpredictable security challenges across the globe mean that the British Army has been left requiring a major overhaul in its “vision, structure, composition and capability” (MOD 2014) to ensure that it can rise to face these future challenges efficiently and effectively. Although this fundamental and “imaginative” (MOD 2014) change in the structure of the British Army may suit the future style in which it is to be deployed and the future conflicts it may face, it cannot be expected that such major changes in structure and role will only affect the functional capacity of the Army, also having a profound effect upon its identity. However, with the origins of some units dating as far back as 1537, and a future of increased reliance upon the part-time Army Reserve (TA), identity within the modern British Army can be a rather complicated and very individual affair.

This paper will explore the layers of identity, internalisation and organisational commitment that exist within the British Army through the medium of the iconic beret and how these “different coloured hats with badges on them… tells the rest of the [British] Army exactly who you are and what you do” (Anon HAC Trooper 2013).

Tank Island: An archaeological and phenomenological investigation of a town at war, Marlborough 1940-1942

Mike Relph, University of Bristol

The nation’s popular memory of its anti-invasion defences is characterised by lines of static concrete pillboxes and anti-tank barriers, absent signposts, and mined beaches whose access was blocked by anti-tank defences and swaths of barbed wire entanglement – all designed to defend England, London and the country’s industrial heartland from enemy invasion.

Less well known is Britain’s revised defence plan, adopted once General Alan Brooke replaced General Sir Edmund Ironside as Commander-in-Chief Home Forces in July 1940. Brooke favoured more mobile and aggressive defensive tactics, and the emphasis quickly switched from Ironside’s stop lines to a network of defended towns and villages, and locally constituted, mobile, offensively minded and energetically led Strike Forces, each tasked with observing, harassing and destroying the potential German invader.

In north Wiltshire the town of Marlborough was given a key role in the county’s defence and designated an ‘anti-tank island’; a term which was quickly abridged to ‘Tank Island’. This investigation seeks to engage with Marlborough’s early 1940s legacy: its conflict landscape and surviving archaeology, and the memoirs, letters and war diaries, photographic images and other artefacts which exist as sources of primary evidence to explore a hitherto neglected dimension of the Second World War. What exactly were the plans for the town’s defence, and how successful might they have been? And what was it like, for both civilians and military personnel, to live through those difficult years?

A Surgical Approach to Insurgency: Blockhouses, fortified lines and (re)concentration camps

Alberto P. Martí, University of Nottingham

The nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of a series of innovative military responses to the so-called small wars. Especially in colonial contexts, western armies had sometimes to deal with the opposition of a large proportion of the local population and the spread of guerrilla warfare. In many cases, this unconventional and ‘uncivilised’ tactics led to the application of ruthless and indiscriminate measures against those who were perceived as rebels. Once the classical distinction between combatants and civilians vanished, this counter-insurgency violence started to explicitly target the non-combatant population as part of the strategy to undermine and defeat the armed resistance. This rationale also justified the systematic destruction of the local economic and social base that guerrilla fighters needed in order to operate without a formal military structure.

From the Peninsular War in 1808 up to the mid-late twentieth century, some of these actions have left a deep imprint on the landscapes and memories of these conflicts. Thousands of blockhouses and small posts were built all around the world in a desperate effort to dominate and control hostile territories and critical lines of communication. At some point in the mid nineteenth century, this concept evolved into a more sophisticated solution, involving the complete isolation and gradual ‘disinfection’ of the areas dominated by the insurgents. These pacification processes usually included the construction of fortified lines, acting as a condon sanitaire, and the adoption of aggressive scorched-earth and forced relocation or internment policies. In this paper I will offer an overview of the intellectual development and possible historical precedents of the reconcentration camps built in late c.19th Cuba, a phenomenon that is usually referred as the ultimate origin of the modern concept of concentration camp.

The Bone White Rock: Exploring the materiality of the Barren Island prison complex

Milica Prokic, University of Bristol

Built in the early years of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, the prison complex on Barren Island in the Croatian Adriatic literally embodies the country’s internal conflict from the times of the Cominform. The inmate dissidents to Marshal Tito’s regime built their own prison, interrogation rooms, watchtowers, workshops, torture constructions, underground and overground bunkers, as well as the residencies for the prison authorities, all out of the stone material of the island.

According to the survivors’ testimonies, the bones of the deceased inmates had sometimes been merged with rock and concrete and used as a building material. Local people have reported seeing human bones across the island and former prisoners recall burying their fellow sufferers in unmarked graves. This has created an unlikely combination of the elements resembling ossuaries, gibbeting constructions and foundation sacrifice practices. This prison, on a rock with barely any vegetation, has now been abandoned by humans and left to ruin.

This paper aims to explore the stories of human bodily remains which became integral parts of both the soil and the building constructions on Barren Island, within the wider context of historical uses of human corporeality as an architectural staple in the Balkans and beyond.

The Battle of Aslıhanlar Battlefield Research Project: a Case Study of the Turkish War of Independence

Can Aksoy, University College London, Qatar

This presentation provides an archaeological insight into the study of the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922) in Anatolia. The research site is the zone of the Battle of Aslıhanlar, which took place between the Turkish and Greek Armies in the triangle of the villages of Çalköy, Allıören and Yüğlük in Kütahya/Turkey from 29-30 August 1922.

The preliminary results of the first survey conducted at the site is going to be provided in relation to military reports of 1922, the timeline of the conflict and interviews with the locals. The results of the survey reflect the impact of a short period of the battle of annihilation on the landscape, on previously unrecorded episodes of activity during and after the conflict. This research explores “the cause and effect” relationships and cognitive stages of the conflict by revisiting the timeline of the battle with regard to the material culture of the conflict.

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