2017 Speaker abstracts

Martin Barry, University of Bristol – ‘Directions of Memory’ contained within Princess Mary’s Gift Box to the troops, Christmas 1914

Princess Mary’s Gift Box (PMGB) is one of the most recognisable objects of material culture from the First World War of 1914 – 1918. The embossed brass box was given to all those members of the armed forces ‘wearing the King’s Uniform’ on Christmas Day 1914. It was made of strip brass with a double-skinned lid that created a moisture seal and of a size specifically made to fit into a military uniform jacket pocket. The Gift was given to the troops with a Christmas card, photograph of the Princess, cigarettes and tobacco, a pipe and a cigarette lighter or pencil made from a bullet, all of which were designed to accompany the box. The brass box was designed to have a use beyond that of a holder of ‘comforts’, it was envisaged that the soldier or sailor would use it to store letters, photographs, souvenirs and other memorabilia and be able to keep them on his (or her) person. By the time the Gift Fund Committee finally finished their work in 1921 around 2.6 million PMGB’s had been issued. Many still exist today and a significant number have contents.

This paper seeks to show the direction of memories as evidenced by the artefacts placed within three individual Gift Boxes. Each group of artefacts clearly represents a flow of memory landmarks with each representing an important or memorable event from the life of the soldier or his family.


Barbora Brederova, University College London – Jára Cimrman: the role of a totalitarian era myth in the contemporary Czech nation

Although unconditionally presented as a real person, Jára Cimrman is a fictional character that was created in the 1960s, in the times when Czechoslovakia was under repressive control of the USSR. Through theatre performances, his persona has been elaborated into the image of a universal genius; an untouched hero of multiple talents. The Theatre of Jára Cimrman played a role of disguised cultural resistance, uplifting the depressed national psyche and strengthening the disrupted social cohesion and identity. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 the totalitarian era myth has flourished and the number of related sites and events has grown. The theatre actors are no longer the sole creators of the myth, and, in fact, the entire nation yearns to become involved in the mystification process.

While the dominant reason behind the expansion of this phenomenon is most likely the commemoration of the victory over Soviets, I explore the connotations of repression and resistance embedded in relevant heritage sites and analyse their meanings to Czech nationals today. By applying a combination of questionnaire survey, interviews and participant observation as well as theories related to cultural heritage, nostalgia and resistance to heritage discourse analysis, I hope to reveal the seemingly invisible tensions in the modern Czech society. Thus, through the lens of critical cultural heritage studies, I aim to make a valuable contribution to the discourse of contemporary Czech identity, as well as of the current social, political and economic realities of the Czech nation.


Krystyna Truscoe, University of Oxford – Conflict, Past and Present: The use of historic military imagery in the EAMENA project

The Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project is supported by the Arcadia Fund and the Cultural Protection Fund, and based at the Universities of Oxford, Leicester, and Durham. EAMENA was established in January 2015 to respond to the increasing threats to archaeological sites in the Middle East and North Africa. This project primarily uses satellite imagery to rapidly record and make available information about archaeological sites and landscapes that are under threat, but also makes use of historic imagery and documentary evidence.

This paper will discuss how historic military images are used in the EAMENA project, both to document change caused by modern conflict and as a landscape survey tool. Many of the historic images have their origins in times of previous conflict: aerial photographs taken in the periods during and after the First and Second World Wars; and declassified satellite imagery from programmes developed throughout the Cold War, such as CORONA. A major part of our recording process is the documenting of past events, which have affected archaeological monuments, and identifying future threats. In some cases the historic military images can be used to demonstrate the effects of modern conflict, for example, the extent of the damage to the Roman to Sasanian city Sinjar (Iraq) caused by conflict in 2014 could be identified through comparison of modern satellite imagery with photographs taken by the RAF in 1938 and CORONA imagery from 1967.


Luisa Nienhaus, University College London – Visiting Battlefields: The Public and Contemporary Commemorations of the Napoleonic Wars

This paper studies the contemporary commemoration of the Napoleonic Wars. It examines the questions: Why does the public visit sites which are associated with the Napoleonic Wars? What meaning does commemoration have to the visitors and what values do they ascribe to the commemoration of the Napoleonic Wars today? Does the visitor’s national identity influence their attitudes towards war commemoration?

To address these questions I have chosen two battles; the Battle of Nations (1813) in Germany and the Battle of Waterloo (1815) in Belgium.  Both sites are significant turning points in European history and are focal points for commemorative events as well as tourism. This research draws on a mixed methods approach including both literary and ethnographic research such as visitor observations and surveys as well as museum studies.

My preliminary results indicate that there are a variety of motivations for visiting sites associated with the Napoleonic Wars reaching from ‘The thing to do’ to a specific interest in the topic at hand. Ideological as well as material values of contemporary commemorations of the Napoleonic Wars and the selected case studies are of significance for the wider public and appear to parallel those of more recent conflicts. Moreover, the results indicate that the ascribed significance is not necessarily bound to an individual’s nationality, but, also to their European identity. This research has implications for the study of war commemoration, dark heritage and tourism.


Mike Relph, University of Bristol – Investigating the Second World War Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery site at Stubb’s Hill, Blunsdon near Swindon

This paper draws upon a recent landscape investigation of the Second World War Heavy Anti-Aircraft site at Stubb’s Hill, Blunsdon near Swindon.

Designated a Vital Point during the Second World War, the defence of Swindon against German air attack was important to the war effort. The surviving gun emplacements are the most complete remaining example of the four semi-permanent heavy anti-aircraft sites which defended the town between 1941 and 1944, and are of local and regional significance.

The Stubb’s Hill site offers an illustration of the tactical deployment and use of static (rather than mobile) anti-aircraft defences during the War, utilising the 3.7 inch heavy anti-aircraft gun attached via a holdfast to a concrete platform; a tactic which dominated UK-based air defence from 1941 to 1944.

The site is also noteworthy as an example of the unique role of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Designated a ‘mixed site’ from 1941, the remaining buildings stand as a testament to the pioneering work of British female service personnel during the 1940s. The four gun emplacements are in good condition, which is almost certainly due to their setting in a rural landscape; as evidenced by their physical condition, the total lack of graffiti, and the survival of some of the original internal paintwork.

The work effectively demonstrates the contribution made to the study of Modern Conflict Archaeology by primary fieldwork – revealing a direct physical link to the generation of men and women who defended Swindon from German aerial attack during the Second World War.


Melanie Winterton, University of Bristol – Matters of Emotion: Lucky mascots and First World War aviators

Imagine a surreal world of men ruled by luck, superstition and ritual. In this world were good omens and bad omens as men participated in rituals as a means of encouraging and attracting good fortune. Their families lived elsewhere but they sent their men lucky mascots as well as postcards of naked baby cupids. The men painted black cats on the aeroplanes they flew at night. Their world was frightening and unpredictable and they had a precise set of unwritten instructions for survival. They believed that misery would befall them if they did not follow the rules and forgot to take their protective mascot with them.

This paper unravels this surreal world. It focuses on First World War pilots, three quarters of whom it is estimated carried some form of lucky mascot, as they were driven by the human instinct to survive at all costs as their aviator mind and body faced danger on a daily basis – not just from the enemy but also from the chance that their flimsy aeroplane would break up in the sky sending them to an inevitable and untimely death. I explore how the materialisation of superstition is turned into actual physical reality in the form of rituals, omens and objects thus illustrating how ideas, beliefs and emotions are afforded tangible forms for all to see and touch.


Dr John Winterburn, University of Oxford – Taking the Shetland Bus

In time of war and conflict communities look toward old friends and alliances for help. It was no different in April 1940 when Nazi Germany invaded Norway.

Men and women of all ages, refugees and the persecuted looked westwards for an escape route to safety and for ways of mounting a resistance to German occupation. They called on 400-year-old, possibly much older, connections across the North Sea and to the Shetland Islands 300 km away.

To Norwegians these islands, with Norse place-names and familiar words in the dialect, were ‘England’ and their nearest place of safety. Those who made the perilous journey on any boat they could find were said to have ‘taken the Shetland bus’. Once established the Shetland Bus became a two-way operation bringing refugees to Shetland and returning arms, spies and agents to Norway. Later in the war, in 1943, a gift, from the USA of three ‘Submarine Chaser’ boats helped to ensure the continuing success of the Shetland Bus.

This paper will explore the origins, archaeology and memorialisation of the Shetland Bus operations and how the connections re-established during the war continue to flourish today. It will examine the transformative medium of the sea-passage and seek to explain the hundreds of Norwegians who travel to Shetland as a ‘pilgrimage’, some in open-boats, to keep the memory of the journey, made by their families, alive.

The talk will be illustrated with contemporary and modern photography together with extracts from a 1950s, Norwegian documentary-drama film, ‘Shetlands Gjengen’ (Shetlands Gang). Additionally, it will draw parallels with the plight of twenty-first century migrants escaping conflict and making the journey across the Mediterranean.


Matt Savage, Independent Researcher – The Legacy of 20th Century Conflict in Modern Culture

This presentation seeks to analyze the massive influence modern conflict has had on one aspect of popular culture. Not only did the Second World War have a huge influence on the look and tone of the first Star Wars movie. Weaponry and uniforms from this turbulent period can be found in many aspects of the Star Wars canon. From the design of the Millennium Falcon cockpit, resembling that of the Superfotress B-29, to the Sterling machine guns carried by the Stormtroopers on the Death Star. It will be shown that familiarity with deadly 20th century objects was key to the success of this whole movie genre.


Julia Richardson, Independent Researcher – Beyond the muddy trench: an ethnographic study of the subterranean graffiti of the First World War

The First World War was a unique conflict in many ways. One of which is the enduring strength of the collective memory in the years and decades that have followed. Even standing as we do now a century after many of the key battles, and with the centenary of its end fast approaching, the image of the British Tommy in a muddy trench still dominates in the mind of many.

This research follows in the footsteps of many over the past decade that have successfully widened the horizon of First World War studies. It looks at the experiences of men not within the trenches but in the tunnels below them and does this by examining marks of graffiti left by their own hand.

This approach pulls from historical, anthropological and archaeological techniques to explore the remains of the subterranean landscapes of the First World War. Using an ethnographic approach the graffiti that was created during the war will be examined. It will show how the study of graffiti in such a way gives us the potential to enrich our understanding of the use of space and the shaping of places, as well as giving us a glimpse into the morale and ‘military culture’ that existed among the ranks. The graffiti from three different subterranean sites across the Pas-de-Calais region of France will be used as case studies to highlight the potential further research could bring.


Dr Phil Rowe (On behalf of Catherine Rowe) – Finding the Missing

View any image of a Tommy and his uniform becomes an assumed item. Creating an identity for the fighting forces by distinguishing friend from foe, the uniform gave the enlisted man respect, a sense of unity whilst at the same time stripping away his identity. Turning a civilian into a soldier, men lived, worked, slept, fought, died and survived in their uniform.

Worn by all ranks, the story of the British Tommy is often told through the battles they fought. Bullets and Bombs tell us little of the soldier, his uniform though does. Differences within the uniform help to identify a soldier in an old family photograph, allowing for the beginnings of a search. Items of a soldier’s uniform can become a way to remember and are often cherished by families, creating a tangible physical link with the past, but the durability of cloth to withstand time can create an important legacy. The fallen are still discovered today and remnants of uniform can help to identify them, at the very least the colour of cloth or type of hob nail can give the individual his nationality allowing them to be given a final resting place.

The cemeteries on the Western Front themselves conform to a uniformity, yet each identical white headstone is about an individual among the many. Men that were brought in from the battlefields to lay together. But how did all the men get there? How did they know if they were British or German from the remains found? Who were the people that built the cemeteries? These were all questions that appeared from researching the production and logistics of uniform. Men from Grave concentration units are a huge untold story. They are the men that created the cemeteries, who found and exhumed the fallen, transported them to newly established cemeteries, and who reinterred them. These men were the fore runner of the forensic archaeologists, volunteers who delayed demob to undertake this gruesome job. All without the use of DNA. This is the story of their extraordinary job.