2016 Speaker abstracts


1.1 Rebecca Plumley, Cranfield University

War Horses of the Great War: The search for our fallen equine heroes

Approximately one million horses died in the First World War through artillery and machine gun fire, as well as from disease, dehydration, and malnutrition. With only 25,000 horses at the outbreak of war, the army desperately needed more and so requisitioned them from the home front. However, many more were needed so Britain turned to the Americas to source thousands more. Like soldiers, the equine army needed to be cared for so veterinary hospitals and treatment centres were established along the Western Front by the Army Veterinary Service (AVS) and the Mobile Veterinary Section (MVS). Meanwhile, at home, the horses were made ‘war ready’ by the AVS at large remount centres.

It was not only horses but also mules and donkeys that were essential to the war effort, for carrying soldiers into battle and for manoeuvring field guns, carrying ammunition and supplies to the front lines, and bringing dead or injured soldiers back to the field hospitals. They were the backbone of the British Army and were considered by many to be the reason the Allies won the war. Personal accounts show how badly affected soldiers were from seeing the suffering of their animals. Short of complete physical breakdown, equines were repeatedly worked beyond their limits.

My research investigates a purported Horse Isolation Hospital at Fargo Camp, Larkhill Garrison, Salisbury Plain, and also the Sick Horse Lines and horse cemetery at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, using Geophysical surveying and archaeological excavation. It also considers the care and treatment of equids during the War.

1.2 Krissy Moore, University of Sheffield

Intersecting Archaeologies: archaeological resource management and contemporary military archaeology on the Otterburn Training Area

The Otterburn Training Area (OTA) is the second largest defence training estate in Britain, established at Redesdale in 1911 and now second only to the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) in terms of size and functionality. The OTA is also an actively farmed rural upland landscape and, as part of Northumberland National Park, a significant and sometimes contested recreational landscape. While the SPTA is rightly known as a rich archaeological landscape, the OTA’s equally diverse archaeological remains have not had as much academic attention, despite thorough archaeological survey, comprehensive management plans and considerable environmental literature.

Several of the OTA’s 20th century military features, relating to WWI and WWII war preparation, have been Scheduled as significant monuments. More recent military training features are still in use and being reconceptualised and reconsidered as the political context which inspired their construction fades into recent history. Current and anticipated international conflicts are still shaping the archaeological landscape of the OTA: a Forward Operating Base mimicking Camp Bastion in Helmland Province is being rebuilt overlooking post-medieval farmsteads and Bronze Age Cairns.

My research investigations the spatial patterning of post-1911 training-related material culture, from bullet cases to bunkers, in relation to pre-1911 archaeological features as well as other military features, both active and decommissioned. This paper presents initial conclusions from two sessions of fieldwork in the live firing area (April-May 2016) and the dry training area (August 2016), showing how the ordered top-down processes of military training, estate management and farming interact with the individual, almost chaotic outcomes of decisions made by individual soldiers, farmers and range wardens, to create a mosaic of material culture reflecting contemporary training practice.

1.3 Alice Millard, University of Bristol

War Camps in Somerset: Landscape and memory of rural communities during the Second World War

This paper will examine the landscape and associated documentation for two Second World War sites in Somerset; Brockley in north Somerset and Goathurst at Bridgwater. Goathurst was a prisoner of war camp which held Italian and German prisoners while Brockley was an American base camp, a camp that accommodated the Polish Resettlement Corps, POW camp and a refugee camp that later housed local people whose homes had been destroyed by bombing. I have collected maps, site plans, photographs, archival and other records, conducted during site visits and ethnographic interviews with many members of the community about their memories and experiences from both sites, who were children when the camps were active. Some of this evidence includes personal photographs from a prisoner who stayed at Goathurst, material culture made by the prisoners, structural remains that are still in existence at both sites and engravings of names and dates on gate posts at Brockley.

Underlying this is a focus on landscape archaeology and theory. To the average onlooker both sites are now empty fields but to the trained eye they are landscapes entwined with social relationships, memory, conflict and historical importance. The idea of “don’t judge a landscape by its cover” could be best used to describe this approach, emphasizing the importance of an interdisciplinary archaeological and anthropological approach. I discuss the stories and memories from those in the community, alongside the documented and physical landscape in order to gain an appreciation and better understanding and to see it through the eyes of those that have lived it.

Charlotte Yelamos (speaker), Alfonso Fanjul Peraza, Carlos Bracero & Henry Hill, Archaeology of Violence in Asturias Group

Comparing Trench Material Culture: New archaeological data from the battlefields of Oviedo, Spain (1936-1937)

Since 2012, through our project, Archaeology of Violence in Asturias, we have conducted several archaeological excavations of fortified positions once occupied by both the Nationalists and the Republicans during the Siege of Oviedo. Having taken place over the course of one year, this battle is perhaps one of the most noteworthy, however least studied of conflict engagements during the course of the Spanish Civil War.

Preserved military documentation, in conjunction with relatively poor memory recollection from survivors, provide a muddled and partial view of life within the trenches during the conflict. In the case of documentation, many of these files from the Communists end were misplaced and have yet to be discovered – should it even be possible to recover such documents. Furthermore, survivors from both parties recollected extremely personal details of the conflict and only vaguely recalled everyday life within the trenches.

In this project – from an experimental perspective – we have attempted to recreate the various lifestyles within the trenches, from both the Nationalist and Republican sides, through materialistic evidence, supporting documentation, and limited first-hand witness accounts. The results demonstrate a social perspective of the conflict, along with aspects of identity, as in the case of African troops and, similarly, the local supply of Communist troops. Definitively, archaeological evidence permits us to view the two different mentalities between the Nationalists and the Republicans and their adaptation throughout the battle within the trenches.


2.1 Mike Relph, University of Bristol

Excavating a report on a visit to the battlefields in northern Italy: the evaluation of a textual object of conflict

Much has been written about Great War tourism (Lloyd 1998; Ryan 2007; et al) and pilgrimages to the Western Front, and to the war cemeteries and the memorials that sprang across Europe from a landscape recently “drenched in hot metal” (Terraine 1996). British tourists, some travelling in organised groups, others alone, came from a broad cross-section of society; representing the recently bereaved, former and serving soldiers, and the relatives and friends of those who fought and died – each hoping to “renew, recreate or capture something of the war and the experiences which defined it” (Lloyd 1998).

In contrast, beyond the confines of military history, relatively little has been written about the experiences of a small group of British army officers who visited the same battlefields during the 1920s and 30s: the military students who attended the Army Staff College at Camberley, who captured their thoughts in a series of evocative reports currently archived at the Joint Services Command and Staff College. Dismissed for focusing on battlefield tactics, and for lacking rigour and depth as “most syndicates at the time tended to head to France and Belgium, then on to the fleshpots of Paris or Brussels”, the College’s foreign tours have been largely disregarded by military historians (Caddick-Adams 2005).

Based on an analysis of a single report from the collection, this paper seeks to redress the balance by using the “multidisciplinary, anthropologically informed” lens provide by Modern Conflict Archaeology (Saunders 2012) to re-evaluate the reports as objects of material culture worthy of ‘excavation’ on their own merit, and so “reveal the world of their creators” (Saunders 2003; Taylor 2008).

2.2 Stephen Hurst, Independent Researcher

The Armoured Virgin: The use of female images for the recruitment of the living and commemoration of the dead (1914-1934)

Though this research started relatively recently, my interest was stimulated decades ago by a 1914-1918 war memorial in a French town. The sculptor had modelled two life sized figures, one in a reclining pose the other standing above him and bending forward. A scantily clothed young woman is about to lift a handsome soldier wearing an immaculate uniform. At the time this seemed to me such an odd symbol to commemorate those killed in battle that it stuck in my mind.

This paper concerns the use of female images for recruitment at the beginning of the Great War and in commemorative sculpture after the war ended. As all of the warring European nations used this principal in their recruiting posters, I had assumed that this was also true in works of sculpture. This research is still in progress but it seems that the use of erotic images in sculpture was confined only to France. The use of a Nike, or the Winged Victory, blended into the figure of Marianne, goes back to the 19th Century. Like her patron goddess Athena, Nike is the useful invention of a patriarchal society, symbols taken up early 20th century hierarchy of the German, French, Belgian and British Empires.

2.3 Robert Hackman, Independent Researcher

Monuments and Lapidar of Albania: A Photographic Presentation

Many Albanian memorials (lapidars) are appropriated to the people who lost their lives in resisting Italian and German fascist invasions during World War II. The installation of public art was abundant during Communist rule. This was a time of retrospective focus into Albania’s long rich past to collect names and events that could be appropriated to what the Communist Party termed as “the perpetual struggle of national liberation”. Only a narrative that was in keeping with the Communist Party became public art.

The process of ‘filtering history’ isn’t new in the concept of nation building. Rulers have always sifted through their national histories to propagate a material embodiment that supports their convictions. In Albania’s case there was no public art of a national agenda at the birth of this fledgling state in 1912. The Ottomans had no interest assisting in the promotion of any succession from their crumbling empire.

There is a line between what is considered appropriate and offensive. While a statue of a dictator would be considered by most as inappropriate, a monument to a soldier who sacrificed their life for the country’s liberation would be seen as appropriate. Within these two extremes is an ever moving line of decency dependent on individual context, national consensus and the political climate. Where each lapidar stands in relation to this line depends if it is glorified or vilified. The nationalism portrayed by the Communist regime is today being filtered by the citizens of this new democracy.

2.4 Stephen Miles, University of Glasgow

Contemporary tourism along the Western Front: pilgrimage, remembrance and ethical dilemmas

The ongoing Centenary of the First World War (2014-18) has seen a massive increase in interest in the landscapes of the Western Front, an area charged with meaning and a deeply-felt sense of place. Tourists come in a spirit of pilgrimage to visit the graves of their ancestors and the sites where they fought. They also come to visit the sites of war, its material heritage and a commemorative landscape of cemeteries and memorials. But overall they come to see and understand what happened and why.

This paper will examine the nature of the contemporary tourist phenomenon along the Western Front. It will demonstrate that far from exhibiting the shallow and frivolous nature of much tourist practice these tourists have deep and, in many cases, life-enhancing experiences. Tourism is a powerful validating agent re-inscribing and perpetuating the memory of landscape, the sites of war, artefacts and the practice of conflict archaeology itself. It can also reformulate and fashion new commemorative practices and instil new or renewed meanings into places. But its relationship to the area is not always harmonious and the paper will also explore some of the difficult ethical dilemmas that tourism brings particularly with regard to souvenirs and behaviour at sites of remembrance.

The paper will draw on the author’s own field-work where tourists, guides and local inhabitants were interviewed. It concludes with a strong advocacy for a practice which succeeds in drawing more people towards a better understanding of the conflict and the places where it was fought.


3.1 Bea Crayford, Kings College London

Things That Go Bump in the Night: Understanding the Gothic mode during London’s Blitz

The aerial bombardment of London during the Second World War introduced violence to the domestic interior on an unprecedented scale. The city was replete with potent absences during the Blitz: dead soldiers were corporeally absent and overnight one’s neighbours, along with half the street, could vanish. Air raids had the capacity both to destroy and create, and in destroying buildings, bombs did not always merely create new environments: they unearthed what was there before. Indeed, war-damaged London literalised numerous Gothic tropes; people were buried alive, nights were made eerie by the blackout and deadly sounds, and mutilated bodies and ruins were a fact of daily life. I contend that ghosts were not merely compatible with this landscape, but they also made sense of it.

In this talk, I examine Elizabeth Bowen’s wartime short story collection The Demon Lover and Other Stories, discussing how and why she adapts Gothic literary tropes inherited from earlier centuries to London’s bombed interiors. I investigate the increasing porousness of the city and the blurring of the boundaries between interior and exterior, life and death, personal and public, and explore the possibility that the damaged cityscape proved as inspiring as it did unsettling.

Laura E. Bennett, University of Durham

Examining the British Response to Illicit Cultural Property

This presentation, based on MA dissertation research, will discuss parallels and divergences between the collection and management of art connected to the WWII Nazi art plunder and other potentially looted antiquities, and the development of different attitudes and practices around them. It will also evaluate if and how art and antiquities connected to different eras of looting are handled differently in the UK by collectors and museums. Furthermore, it will discuss if there are any aspects of the attitudes and practices developed around the Nazi plunder could be effectively applied to objects connected to other instances of cultural plunder, specifically those connected to Daesh.

My research will examine the UK’s response to Nazi plunder from two viewpoints: the “public” response of heritage institutions – through changes to collections management policies and restitution legislation specifically addressing Nazi plunder and the more “private” response by collectors – through changing attitudes and ethics specifically in response to Nazi plunder. This response will then be compared to how the contemporary plunder of art and artefacts related to Daesh has been addressed in the UK so far, and explore how this response could be further improved through application of the previously discussed practices.

3.3 Anna Zalewska and Jacek Czarnecki, Institute of Archaeology and the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology and Collegium Civitas, Poland

From Festering Wound to Warning Monument: Former battlefield in central Poland as the embodiment of troubled pasts (1915) and the trigger for reflection (2015)

This paper will take forward the following assumption: that in exploring the ways by which uncomfortable histories re-appear today, in a material sense, can move us closer to essential reflections on the ferocity and totality of contemporary wars and enhance understanding (and reconciliation when relevant, among descendants of belligerents). This paper will explore to what extent, in our troubled times, it is worth studying and operationalizing the key dimensions of past and present through the connections and entanglements created by the materiality of conflicts and wars.

This premise is still mostly neglected from the perspective of eastern European archaeologists – specifically that of the materiality of those non-human witnesses of the troubled past, such as former battlefields and things (in general material remains) burdened with the suffering of individuals and societies, which can be treated as the triggers for beneficial reflection. In our paper, such reflection will be based on the recent outcomes of archaeological research conducted within the framework of the project “Archaeological Revival of Memory of the Great War”. By focusing on the material remains of the life and death of soldiers in the trenches and on the spatiality, endurance and condition of the ever changing former battlescape from WWI we will discuss current observations on advantages and disadvantages of confronting in 2015 human and non-human memories on the everyday life of soldiers and civilians during wartime 1915.

3.4 David Parry, University College London

#WEAREHERE: Counter-monumental hauntings in the Twittersphere

The first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916 saw one of the greatest losses of life both in British military history and the British national consciousness. A century later 1,500 voluntary participants, including the author, appeared before an unsuspecting public across the UK dressed in First World War military uniforms. Each man represented an individual soldier who had lost his life on that first day, silently handing out cards to members of the public detailing the soldier’s name, regiment and age of death, followed by the hashtag ‘#wearehere’. The performance was soon revealed to be a ‘contemporary memorial’ directed by artist Jeremy Deller and Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre.

The performance provoked emotional responses from many who encountered the ‘soldiers’, whether face-to-face or online. The immediacy and transience of the performance, paired with the silent humanity of the presence of the soldiers, contrasted many previous efforts at commemorating past conflict; which have often been subject to mediation or, at worst, sinister appropriation.

As well as building upon existing literature regarding counter-monumentality (James 1992, Moshenska 2010) and postmemory (Hirsch 1999), this paper employs an (auto)ethnographic approach, drawing upon participant interviews and discourse analysis of social media responses to the performance. Ultimately, it seeks to understand the success and limitations of #wearehere as an alternative and affective counter-memorial performance, and how new ways of commemoration may facilitate affective re-engagement with the heritage of conflicts beyond living memory.

Reserve Speaker: David Savage, University of Bristol

The Black Prince Cometh

The Black Prince was a Second World War Halifax bomber plane. It was named after Akin Shenbanjo a black African accepted for aircrew, who had volunteered to join RAF Bomber Command. To date this is the only conflict aircraft known named after a crewmember, an incredible statistic if correct? Nose Art as the name is painted prominently near the front of the aircraft, gave physiological protection and a sense of belonging and camaraderie to the crew.

Between 1939 and 1945 between 4800 and 6000 black Caribbean and African men and women volunteered to serve in the most dangerous section of the British armed services, RAF Bomber Command, and as was typical, only 10 per cent were accepted for aircrew.

There were of course race issues for example, as incredible as it sounds today, the RAF imposed a colour bar until 1939. However, many paid their own passage to get to the British Isles such was their determination ‘to do their bit’. This paper will attempt to look beyond the race issues (but not to ignore them) to assess what difference the volunteers made to the war effort through their culture, material culture, personalities and the like.

Using the interdisciplinary approach of Modern Conflict Archaeology, researching Afro/Caribbean photographs, recorded interviews, personal letter etc. It is intended to cast light on the difference these brave people made to the Commonwealth air forces effort against Nazi expansionism and tyranny in the Second World War.