The Plugstreet Archaeological Project
Exploring, through forensic archaeology,
the human story of the Battle of Messines.
We are currently seeking a sponsor for this website as it follows the progress of the excavations on the battlefield, with contributions from established historians and well known experts, as the team attempt to match the historical evidence and family history to the archaeology on the ground.
Welcome to the website of The Plugstreet Archaeological Project, this site is currently in development.
Follow the PlugStreet Team as they uncover the secrets of these Flander's fields.
The Plugstreet Project is an international collaboration, led by No Man's Land - The European Group for Great War Archaeology. The Team aim to explore the rich Great War Heritage of the Western Front between Ypres and Armentières, a nine mile stretch of front line which bore witness to the June 1917 Battle of Messines. The attack was the first all arms battle in history and the first substantial Allied victory.
The Team are currently working in the southern most sector of the battlefield, in the area of Ploegsteert Wood and St Yvon, which was the attack front of the 3rd Australian Division. This area was selected as our first target as the project began on Salisbury Plain; examining the training activities of the newly formed Australian Division as they prepared for the carefully planned offensive. The Team focus moved from Britain to the Western Front with the aim of investigating the effectiveness of this training.
However, before the Battle of Messines, the Western Front in this area remained almost static since the autumn of 1914, the two lines of trenches facing each other across a narrow strip of No Man's Land, changed and evolved over almost three years, but hardly moved. The massive attack in the early hours of the 7th of June 1917 changed the geography and pushed the German lines back, leaving the higher ground in Allied hands and straightening the front line south of Ypres in preparation for the next phase of the offensive; The 3rd Battle of Ypres, more commonly called Passchendaele.
The area under investigation remained in Allied hands until the German Spring Offensive of 1918, when the land gained by the Allies was lost and the front line to the south of Ypres was pushed back beyond the slopes of Kemmelberg almost to Hazebrouck in the Battle of the Lys.
Ploegsteert was not retaken by the Allies until the 4th of September 1918 as they pushed the German forces back to the heavily fortified Hindenberg Linem which would be broken a month later, with the Armistice following on the 11th of November.
But that is not the end of the story of the war in these fields. The soldiers returned home, leaving a landscape devastated by four years of conflict, the fields intersected by deep trenches, speckled with concrete bunkers and the soil contminated by unexploded ordnance and the remains of those who had lost their lives. It was to this wasteland that the local population returned and began the long process of recovery.
Can archaeology reveal evidence to expand upon the story of each of these phases?
Follow the Team's progress through the Blog, articles and videos as they deciper the clues.
Project Director, Richard Osgood gives an overview of the origins of the project and the initial work undertaken on the training grounds of Salisbury Plain in England, in a talk to team members before the excavation in Wallonia begins.
© Copyright stills in this video are used with kind permission of:
- The Australian War Memorial
- Defense Estates
- J Fuller.
Scroll down for link to next video
DVD Now Available
On the 22nd of July 2010 Pte. Mather was laid to rest with full military honours in the presence of members of his family, almost two years after his remains were recovered from the battlefield at St Yvon by members of the Plugstreet Archeological Project.
The film of the burial service and wreathlaying at the Menin Gate is now available to purchase on DVD.
This broadcast quality video runs for 60mins and is region free.
The footage was taken by the Team's own film crew, who had priority positions at both the funeral service at Prowse Point and at the Menin Gate on the previous evening when members of Alan Mather's family and representatives from the Australian Military laid wreaths. An emotional time as it was the final ceremony at which Pte. Mather could be counted amongst the missing, as the following day he was laid to rest in a marked grave.
All profits from sales of this film will be used towards the post-production costs of a documentary detailing the archaeological process of his discovery and identification which will be available to pre-order soon.
Book Now Available
"Digging Up Plugstreet" by Richard Osgood and Martin Brown, an indepth account of our research to date is now available.
The compelling story of the Australian soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division who journeyed to England in 1914, and who fought and died on the Western Front during the First World War. Using archaeology as the vehicle for their story, Martin Brown and Richard Osgood follow in the footsteps of the 'Aussies', from their training on windswept Salisbury Plain to the cheerless trenches of Belgium, where they 'dug-in' north-east of Ploegsteert to face the Germans. It presents a unique window into the world of the men who marched away to fight the so-called 'war to end wars
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