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Plugstreet Blog

This is the new blog of the Plugstreet Archaeological Project.

   A Great War themed project exploring sites around Comines-Warneton and Messines in Belgium.    The project is being led by members of No Man's Land - The European Group for Great War    Archaeology and the Comines-Warneton Historical Society.

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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.

Please contact us for more details.

If you enjoy this website please consider making a donation towards the costs of the project.

Operation Kiwi

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

For our 2013 Season we will be undertaking work a little closer to home, but with a strong link to our work at Plugstreet. Between the 7th and 29th of September 2013, No Man’s Land will be working with Staffordshire County Council to excavate the Messines Model on Cannock Chase.

During the Great War significant training camps and attendant facilities were established on Cannock Chase. These included two Divisional training camps, roads, railways, power station, ranges, training trenches and instructional models.

One of the most unusual Great War features identified is a scale model of a sector of the Western Front. Such models are known from Allied Reserve areas where they were used for instructional purposes ahead of an offensive. A well-known example was created south of Ypres in advance of the 1917 Battle of Messines, and the Australian War Memorial holds a number of photographs of troops inspecting the model. A second example is said to have been created ahead of the Battle of Cambrai (Peter Simkins, pers. comm.) also from 1917. However, neither model is believed to have survived and, more significantly, no other examples are known from the UK.

The Cannock model is believed to have been constructed by members of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB) who captured the village of Messines during the battle. The model is known to have survived into the inter-war years when it became a tourist attraction with an attendant who acted as guide to the site. With the onset of World War II, and the return of military training to the Chase the site became overgrown and was lost.

We are looking for volunteers to join us for this unique opportunity, please telephone 0121 449 6563 or email cannockwwiexcavations@gmail.com to register your interest and book a place.


94th Anniversary of the Battle of Messines

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Ninety Four Years ago today the Allied forces launched the opening attack of the Battle of Messines. Many months of hard dangerous work by the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers along with careful planning and preparation by all involved led to a successful attack.

Ultimo Crater, the result of the explosion of just one of the mines beneath the German Front Line.

Ultimo Crater, the result of the explosion of just one of the mines beneath the German Front Line.

The objective of the battle was to push back the enemy from a curving front line, which had barely moved since the trenches were established in the later stages of the Battle of Ypres in late summer of 1914. By straightening the front line between Ypres and Armentieres, the Allies gained control of the higher ground of the Messines Ridge, including the towns of Messines and Wytschaete and the infamous Hill 60, leaving them in a strong position for the planned Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as Passchendaele.

Objectives of The Battle of Messines

Objectives of The Battle of Messines

This map shows the curving front line, with the objective shown in black dots.

Although the Battle was a success, many casualties were suffered on both sides. The tactic of exploding massive mines beneath the German front lines, inevitably caused thousands of deaths, and many more were injured or killed as the infantry advanced to capture objectives.

As the Team prepares for the 2011 field work, we remember on this day those who took part in the battle.

The Cross of Sacrifice at Prowse Point

The Cross of Sacrifice at Prowse Point

Please see our History Section for more details of the battle and those who fought in these fields.


Ave atque Vale

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

With the death of Harry Patch it seems that the last living link to the trenches has gone. Harry knew the world we are excavating and reconstructing through our work. To him the trenches were newly built, the tins weren’t rusty and all those names on the memorials were real, living, young people.
How appropriate that the man whose passing marks this moment of shift should be one who did not want to fight but was conscripted and who held off killing for as long as possible.
Harry Patch, plumber, fireman, gentleman and soldier.


We are all people

Monday, January 28th, 2008

The BBC News website is carrying a report from Germany. It states that a man believed to be the last German veteran of the Western Front has died.
The phrase “believed to be” is important because Germany has no records of its veterans. As the article points out this is due to the country’s 20th century history and it’s role in the two world wars.
Whatever else this passing marks another sure step toward the War ceasing to be memory and becoming History. The people who were there are disappearing and we must seek other ways to explore, understand and commemorate the events. We are trying to show how archaeology can do this.
We say commemorate and mean it: whether German or Belgian or Indian or whoever the War was a tragedy that has effects at national and personal levels that can still be felt today. To commemorate the War is not to glorify it or celebrate national triumph, rather it is to mark an event that still has resonance today. Above all we remember that we are all people.


Match of the Day

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Christmas draweth nigh…as if we didn’t know it.
Christmas moves the thoughts of many of us to that moment in 1914 when elements of the armies facing each other along the Western Front declared local, unofficial truces between them. Famously officers hosted their opponents for dinner, German barbers set up shop in no man’s land and the world’s strangest, most inspirational football international took place. I met someone who had interviewed a veteran who’d been involved in one of these matches and he said that the Germans won on penalties!
You know all this. What you may not know is that the truce didn’t take place everywhere but it did take place at Ploegsteert, in fact Bruce Bairnsfather records it in trenches immediately north of our site. Is it possible that the fields we traversed during our work saw the Match of the Day 1914?
So may the Peace of 1914 be yours at Christmas, especially to readers in “hot spots”, dear reader, and good things follow you through the year. This blog will be resting over the Festive Season but will be back shortly with exciting news, such as the 2008 season and our plans to dig more holes, as well as conferences, lectures and miniature battlefields that are connected with the project. The mini battlefield isn’t a wargame by the way but I can say no more now.
Happy Christmas
Frohe Weinachts
Joyeux Noel
Goioe Kerstmis (I think that’s right for Flemish)


The Australian War Memorial

Monday, July 9th, 2007

The AWM are a key partner in the project and were instrumental in its inception (actually it was in a pub near the UK National Army Museum where Pete Stanley of the AWM and Richard and I were discussing the Anzac practice trenches at the Bustard on Salisbury Plain, after that things just growed).
The AWM has a very good page leading to all sorts of information about the 1917-2007 Messines anniversary here:
I commend it to you.


Poetry Corner (Not Leighton’s Violets…)

Friday, June 1st, 2007

Further reading round the subject has produced the following verse. It shows us a number of things:
1. Great War Poetry isn’t all Owen and Sassoon;

2. The description of defended shell-holes and craters might give us some indication of what to look for;

3. Our EOD cover might be busy if the references to shells and gas are accurate (as we suspect).
The verses, which express a truth of the battlefield as authentic as the more famous poets works, come from a history of the Anzac 3 Div.
I particularly like the stanza describing the blowing of the mines.
However, this verse does show one side of the action. If there is a contemporary German riposte we would love to see and post it.
The poem comes from:



JUNE 7, 1917
A shell-struck souvenir of hellish war,

A monument of man’s stupendous hate!

Can this have been a Paradise before,

Now up-blown, blasted, drear and desolate?

Aye, once with smiling and contented face

She reigned a queen above a charming place.

But soon the sport of leaders and of kings

Transformed her to a resting-place for guns,

Rude scars across her breasts the worker flings,

To shelter countless hordes of hell-born Huns,

The while, upon the next opposing crest,

Our men died gamely as they did their best.

And thus for years, with cold, relentless zeal,

With fiendish science both sides fought and watched,

From loop-holes or from clouds which half conceal,

Or in deep tunnels all their skill was matched.

On sentry in the firebay, or the hov’ring ‘plane,

Mining and countermining yet again.

And far behind such scenes, great engineers

Pondered o’er problems without parallel.

And planned with wisdom of a thousand years,

To blow the other to eternal Hell.

Their calculations left no callous scheme untried,

To slaughter hundreds of the other side.

But hush! the whole machinery’s complete,

All plans are folded and the great work’s done,

The work of building up to cause defeat—

The lever’s pulled, and, lo! a new work has begun.

The task of falling on a shattered foe,

And doing things undreamed-of years ago.

Hush! hark! A mighty rumbling roar breaks thro’,

And see! Her crest-line leaps into a flame,

The foul disease within her bowels she blew

High into the air to rid her of her shame;

In one huge vomit she now flings her filth,

Far o’er the country in a powdered ’tilth.’

And so the vassals of a fiendish foe

Are scattered far and wide into a dust.

Those who have revelled as they wreaked red woe,

A shattered sample of their own blood-lust.

Whilst from our hill-crest and its catacomb,

A new life comes a-pouring from the tomb.

Eager, and burning with the zeal of youth,

Our Second Anzacs sprang from out the ground,

Bound by their mateships and their love of truth,

The Third Division its new soul has found;

Straight o’er the top amidst a hail of shell

To their objective which they knew so well.

On, on, thro’ poison gas and rattling roar,

Past ulc’rous craters, blackened foul and deep,

These comrades ‘stuck’ as ne’er they had before.

And kept together in their rushing sweep;

Deafened and rattled, hung up in the wire,

Helping each other thro’ such fearful fire.

On still until they reached the furthest goal,

There to dig in and hold the new-won line.

By linking up each torn and shattered hole—

By no means easy, but their grit was fine—

They fought and worked like demons till the dawn,

Harried and pestered by the ‘Kaiser’s spawn.’

And, baffled from his gun-pits far away,

Low-down, well south, an angry foe doth roar,

He opens out again upon another day

And rakes the slope with shrapnel as before.

But only working parties on the top are found,

The rest, save A.M.C., are underground.

Strange sights are seen upon that battle-ground,

But stranger still are unearthed from below;

Here many supermen may now be found,

Just watch those stretcher-bearers where they go,

And see those parties bearing food and drink,

Past all those blizzard shells—then stand and think!

But one poor shell-crazed loon roamed far and wide;

Sweat-grimed, wild-eyed, and now bereft of all.

‘Me mates? W’ere is my mates?’ he plaintive cried,

‘They’s in that ‘ole with me when it did fall.’

We took him to three huddled heaps near by,

But he roamed on as tho’ he wished to die.

And as the sun’s great light bursts o’er the scene,

La Petit Douve, one-time a sparkling stream,

Now sluggish slides, red-tinted, she has been

Past horrors thro’ the night and did not dream.

For many days she’ll, silent, strive to bear

Such human wreckage down a path once fair.

G.P. Cuttriss and J.W. Hood.


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