MCA Conference 2015 Speakers


It has become an established principle that understanding the human experiences of twentieth century conflict requires an anthropological archaeological approach to be adopted that combines the study of the landscapes and material culture of conflict, documentary research, and ethnographic evidence. Twentieth century conflict archaeologists have traversed many frontiers of time and space over the last decade. They have produced insightful research into diverse aspects of conflict including Great War landscapes and material culture (Saunders 2001; 2004; 2003; 2009; 2010), internment of soldiers and civilians during the First and Second World War (Myers et al 2011), the occupation of the Channel Islands (Carr 2010; 2011), the experience of British civilians during the Second World War (Moshenska 2008; 2010), and memory work and ethics in twentieth century conflict archaeology (Moshenska 2006; 2018). However, the idea that there could be an ‘archaeology of neutrality’ has not previously been suggested by twentieth century conflict archaeologists who have so far tended to focus on the landscapes and material culture of belligerent nations. This thesis defines a concept of the archaeology of neutrality, a distinct but integral part of twentieth century conflict archaeology, that adopts an anthropological archaeological approach to the study of the landscapes, material culture and heritage of nations remaining neutral throughout a period of global conflict.

This talk applies the concept archaeology of neutrality to the landscapes and material culture of the Promenthouse Line of Second World War defences in Switzerland, the ideal location for the first study of this kind. This research demonstrates that the role of neutral Switzerland in the Second World War is a highly contested intra-Swiss multi-vocal landscape.

Biography – Fiona Ross is currently studying for a part-time PhD at Bristol University having graduated with an MA in Archaeology from the university in 2012. Having had a successful international legal career which involved living and working in Switzerland, she became interested in the differences between the neutral multi-vocal Swiss experiences of the Second World War compared with the experiences in the United Kingdom. Having developed a concept of the “archaeology of neutrality” for her MA dissertation, she is further developing and exploring this concept for her PhD.


Many previous studies of war memorialisation have focused on the creation and use of memorials by those with direct autobiographical experience of the events and individuals being commemorated. This paper presents a new methodology for the study of war memorials, one which challenges assumptions that memorials are only important to the generation responsible for their creation. Moving beyond an understanding that is based wholly on the conflict specific circumstances surrounding their construction, it presents a new methodology which conceptualises memorials within a framework of three parallel time scales. Through the use of war memorial examples from the eastern regions of France this methodology is used to demonstrate that these objects continue to have meanings for many years after the conflict they commemorate.

Conceptualising memorials within this framework allows an understanding of memorials that moves far beyond their construction and the autobiographical memory associated with the conflict. It allows war memorials to be viewed, not as static objects, but as malleable modes of cultural transformation; illustrating the many ways in which multiple user groups continue to engage with war memorials, appropriating and re-appropriating them and transforming their meanings as time passes from their construction. Furthermore, this approach demonstrates that themes can be defined within the memorialisation process, and that these themes are not bounded by geographical context or period of time. By exploring conflict memorialisation in this way, as a notion beyond the parameters of specific wars or conflicts, we can develop a new approach to the cultural heritage of conflict which moves beyond the socio-political and conceptualises war memorials within a shared citizen cultural experience.

Biography – I have recently completed my PhD at the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, University of Birmingham. My research seeks to understand war memorialisation as a long term process, comparing practices in the UK, France and the USA. By moving beyond memorials that are constructed at the time of the conflict I hope to understand the ways memorials are reused and re-appropriated as time passes from their construction. I am particularly interested in the processes of memorialisation which take place many years after the conflict has ended.


Alcoholic beverages such as rum have long been associated with the navy. But alcohol was more than just a comforting tipple in the trenches for soldiers; it became embedded in the very structure of the British Army serving on the Front Line. In war conditions, alcohol was seen to fortify the morale of soldiers, giving them extra bravado to stay motivated in the face of combat, helping them to bond with their comrades, assisting them in sleep, suppressing their fears, and providing comfort and warmth when sleeping fearfully in cold, wet trenches. It also helped enforce the hierarchical structure of the army: alcohol was issued by senior ranks, and could be withheld as punishment. Small doses of rum would be passed along to soldiers before going over the tops of the trenches. Alcohol served as a stimulant in this context- as an aid to help steady the nerves of men when faced with industrial warfare. Lt Colonel J S Y Rodgers observed “had it not been for the rum-ration, I do not think we should have won the war” in a 1922 enquiry into shellshock.

Rum became a part of everyday life for soldiers of the British Empire, which was in stark contrast with the temperance movement taking place in England at the same time.  In January 1915, Lloyd George declared that Britain was “fighting Germans, Austrians and Drinks, and as far as I can see, the greatest of the foes is Drink”. Yet alcohol was considered medicinal on the front line, helping to numb the nerves of those in shock, providing mild anaesthesia for those with injuries. Alcohol helped men deal with the transition between warfare and trench life. As a substance we now take for granted, alcohol was an essential part of daily life for the WW1 soldier, which would also influence social patterns in post-war Britain. ‘

Biography – Having completed my MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation in 2013, I have begun to focus my academic research on identity discs, and the identification of war graves 1914-18. This has led to further work on the daily life of the soldier in the trench. Having written for DigVentures.com for a year, I am currently working on papers with Mr Rob Janaway and Dr Emma Brown following a successful presentation of our work at the 2013 AHRC/EPSRC sustaining Science & Heritage Research Event. I have spoken at the University of Bradford and the University of Bristol, having also developed my own 8 week course in Forensic Archaeology as part of the ‘College+’ programme at Calderdale College. I hope to take my research through to PhD in the near future.


The First World War opened Europe to a scale of bloodshed she had never before seen. The Great War saw the death of estimated 9 million people. Upon the centenary we are compelled by some ardent desire to come to grips with what this legacy has become and what it means in Britain today.

Last July marked the centenary of the First World War, and the Tower of London’s Remembrance Project enlisted Paul Cummins and Thomas Piper to install an exhibition to mark the occasion. The theatre designer and sculptor found a muse in the poem of an unnamed soldier who wrote the words shortly before his death. Aptly titled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, they made a visual allegory of the transience of death.

The exhibition offered more than just a display, but rather an experience that had all the markings of a public war memorial service. These aspects drew visitors in hoards not for passive viewing, but rather to participate through a sense of obligated observance, as one would attend a Remembrance Sunday service. Paying their respects through reflection and acknowledgement, viewers walked around the Tower of London in quiet reverence.

The exhibition even in its dispersal remains true to the nature of the relationship of the art and public memorializing, thus acting as a new form of war memorial: the temporal exhibition. This exhibition epitomized the value of memory and national conscience in a way more meaningful in its appeal to those wishing to commemorate in a more poignant manner for the centenary. Understanding this manner of commemoration both culturally and artistically is necessary to create true engagement with the public. In so doing, museums and galleries are in a position to commemorate in a way that speaks to the identity of their audience.

Biography – Originally from the United States, having attended University of Pennsylvania, I am now currently finishing the MA Cultural Heritage Studies Program at University College London. My thesis is entitled: “The Old and ‘New’ War Memorial in British Cultural Heritage: Collective Memory of the First World War Explored through the Centenary.” It compares the Tower of London Remembrance Project exhibition Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red to the Winchester College War Cloister against the backdrop of ritual tied to Remembrance of the First World War. It looks at the transient nature of war, but the enduring of its legacy past living memory through collective memory and the physical and temporal cultural heritage landscape in Britain. I have presented at the UCL Annual Archaeology Conference on the subject of Remembrance and British Identity, and as of yet have no published work.


In a nation that evokes the spirit of the Blitz, during times of terror, where do civilian losses fit within commemorative landscapes which otherwise strongly recall military operations and casualties?

This paper investigates the nature and variability of the material culture of civilian remembrance and asks: What does civilian remembrance in a range of locations and contexts look like? How has the commemorative landscape evolved since 1945? And what are the past and current processes driving civilian remembrance in Britain?

Underlying this research is an impression that civilian remembrance stands apart, existing on an altogether different collective level from military remembrance with its adoption of the unifying symbolism springing from the aftermath of WW1. War memorials do not always carry the names of a town’s civilian dead and the UK’s 67000 civilian fatalities have as yet no major set-piece collective memorial, no focus for national remembrance.

My approach combines field survey and recording of commemorative material and engagement with those involved in remembrance processes. Fieldwork is underway in commemorative landscapes in London, Portsmouth and Bath and in smaller communities between London and the coast affected by the V bombing campaigns.

Extraordinary stories are emerging from conversations with survivors and their families whose work has contrasting commemorative responses, reflecting the multiple motives and meanings at work. In Bath a campaign group successfully placed the civilian dead by name on the town’s war memorial. In one tight-knit community, Bethnal Green, there are two commemorative processes culminating this year. In Columbia Road a small plaque will recall 50 fatalities in an underground shelter on the first day of the Blitz. Nearby, in 1943, when no bomb fell, at the tube station shelter, 173 people were suffocated on a dimly lit stairway. Their memorial campaign, vested in a search for justice, will also be completed this year.

These examples are a small sample of an extensive civilian material culture, inherently local, incident-specific, often reflecting a hasty response in the aftermath of war. Memorials and plaques that challenge a simplistic notion of national collective remembrance and reflect instead the personal contesting of memory by individuals and communities, survivors and kin, whose lived and inherited experience of conflict is still being channelled to recognition and redress for events, if not already forgotten, feared lost as they pass from living memory.

Biography – I came late to the field of Archaeology after a long career in the food industry. My foundation studies were at Birkbeck, University of London where, through evening study, I successfully completed the Certificate and then the Diploma in Archaeology. In 2011 I completed the Archaeology MA at the Institute before embarking on PhD studies in 2013. An important element of my MA studies was Dr Moshenska’s module on Modern Conflict Archaeology where my research into the contested remembrance of the women of SOE contrasted markedly with a dissertation on the prehistoric landscape of West Dorset.  This will be the first public presentation of my preliminary findings in pursuit of civilian commemoration, its artefacts and processes. It has proved to date to be an active arena of post-war experience; seventy years on the loss of loved ones and the manner of their remembrance is still keenly felt.


I am not contemplating the use of British Combat Forces because I think it would be the wrong thing to do, I think the lesson to learn from previous conflicts is we should play the most appropriate role for us… – David Cameron, 2014.

With the British Army resetting itself to contingency planning at the close of two long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan the British public’s view on the deployment of UK armed forces overseas is marked in its difference compared to the Second World War or even the Falklands Conflict. It is interesting to note that when the 60th anniversary of VE day was celebrated this May it was a celebration not only of military victory but of a resolute contribution from the home front and its tireless support of the war effort. However, the close of UK deployments in Afghanistan have been a stark contrast and are tarnished with the death and injury of service personnel personalised by detailed obituaries resulting in a public with a deep rooted scepticism and concern over the deployment of UK forces overseas. This study explores how the modern national memory has changed following a long and complex deployment in the Middle East where the focus for many was on the sacrifice of those in theatre rather than the success of those exercising foreign policy. Ultimately the focus on death and life changing injury, culminating into the public repatriation of British soldiers through the town of Wooton Bassett, may have played a role in the turning of the general public’s opinion from supporter to sceptic and ultimately changed the British soldier from a volunteer completing a task agreed to by themselves, from a victor to a victim.

Biography – After completing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) History Degree from the University of Nottingham in 2012 Maxwell Lowe worked at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds. In 2013 he completed a Master of Arts (MA Dist) in Conflict Anthropology at the University of Bristol; which explored the anthropological links of modern warfare and the role of small arms. Maxwell joined the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in 2014 primarily working in the Dismounted Close Combat (DCC) domain.


The Jianchuan Museum Cluster, Anren, Sichuan, is the first private museum of the Cultural Revolution and modern conflicts in China. Opened in 2005, the cluster now consists of 25 museums, organised by four major themes, namely the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Red Age (Cultural Revolution), the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake and folklore and culture.

Fan Jianchuan, the founder and director of the museum, was a military officer and politician before becoming a successful businessman in real estates. Since early 1990s, he has collected more than 8 million artifacts and documents related to the 20th and 21st Century conflict and warfare in China, and created a visual and material display of private, local and national histories that challenges the moral and political claims of the dominant official narratives. Distinct from the top-down, UNESCO-inspired heritage projects of the state government, Jianchuan Museum presents alternative perspectives on commemorating and interacting with the events of Chinese modern conflict.

Meanwhile, the town of Anren was a site of acute political intensity during Cultural Revolution, where the collection of clay sculptures ‘the Rent Collection Courtyard’ was created. Jianchuan Museum has sizable investments in the local tourism development, being a major impetus to the gentrification of the place, which has brought significant changes to the locality.

I’ve done four months’ fieldwork in Anren, working at the museum with Mr. Fan and his staff members. My research probes into the details of the heritage practice at Jianchuan Museum, with particular concern to the ethics of remembrance and oblivion. By analysing the intersecting actors, discourses and events in this particular case with recent advances in the theorisation of psycho-sociality and ordinary ethics, I attempt to reveal the social and political connotations of modern conflict commemoration in contemporary China.

Biography – I am a research student (MPil/PhD) at UCL Institute of Archaeology, and research assistant of the programme ‘Conflicts in Cultural Value: Localities and Heritage in Southwestern China’ funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Phil Rowe & Richard Israel – DIGGING BRISTOL’S OWN

‘2015 saw the 100th anniversary of when local troops from the 4th / 12th (Imperial Service) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment departed Bristol for France and the ‘Western Front’.  Billeted at the ‘White City’, the former International Exhibition Centre once located near Ashton Gate, it was whilst undergoing basic training in the Bristol area late 1914 / early 1915 that soldiers were to excavate practice trenches on Brandon Hill.

A site synonymous to a previous conflict, that of the English Civil War, the construction of fieldworks on Brandon Hill had all but been forgotten in the historical record until last year when the Bristol Evening Post published an image of soldiers digging ‘crenelated style’ practice trenches as part of their centenary commemorations.  Absent from the Historic Environment Record, the published image could offer no clue as to the trenches exact location within the landscape despite several publications pertaining to Bristol during the First World War confirming the use of Brandon Hill for the digging of practice fieldworks.

With the First World War being ‘just’ beyond the realms of the contemporary past, it falls to the investigative techniques utilised in the study of modern conflict archaeology to help provide the missing locational data absent in the documented / pictorial record.  By undertaking primary fieldwork on Brandon Hill, the work contained within this paper effectively demonstrates the usefulness of empirical fieldwork in the study of modern conflict, providing as a result a direct physical link to the lost generation of Bristol men who fought and died during the First World War’.

Biography – Dr Philip R Rowe is an archaeological ‘Conflict’ Landscape Investigator by profession. Philip’s main area of interest/research is the social archaeology of modern conflict, in particular Britain’s home defences of the early to mid 20th century. Richard Israel is a PhD student at the University of Bristol, focusing upon landscape archaeology and fortifications of the English Civil War.

David Savage – THE PHOTO: GILL’S WAR

This paper is a biography of a funeral photo, taken in wartime Germany to commemorate the act. On the night of 9th August 1944 Flight Sergeant James Ellis Jones DFM was on his forty- third mission when his Halifax Bomber was shot down near Manheim, Germany. He was one of two crewmembers to survive and was eventually interned in Stalag 4b in eastern Germany. Possibly unbeknown to him at the time, he was to become a father, but it was a child he was never to meet.

During the last two weeks of March 1944 Flt. Sgt. Jones was shot in the abdomen by a prison guard and on the 2nd April 1944 he died of peritonitis. There are several possibilities for his shooting, but the end result was his death and burial on the 4th April 1944. By arrangements made by the ‘Joint War Organization’ an official photo was taken of his burial, and was sent to Flt. Sgt. Jones family, eventually becoming a possession of his illegitimate daughter Gill Sarsby.

This paper will describe the process of authentication and trace the dynamic journey of the artefact. Also by using a multi disciplined anthropological approach, and attempt to describe the effects both intentional and unintentional on its recipients. It will be shown that for Gill, as for many others, the 2WW did not end on the 8th May 1945. While the photo possibly brought closure to some, it presented more questions and frustration to others. Finally the next stages of research are explained; including building a framework of emotional effects caused by such material culture. Plus anthropology of P.O.W. interment and photography are to be further researched.

Biography – I have life long interest in all 20th Century Conflict, with my main area being Second World War air warfare. At the age of 50 and semi retired, I took on studies with the Open University finishing in 2011, and graduating with a B.A. Honours in Humanities with History. In 2014 I commenced studies at the University of Bristol for a MA in Archaeology with a specific Conflict Archaeology pathway