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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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Turning points

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
 
       

Our current trip to Belgium is something of a turning point in the story we are slowly revealing.
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Arriving on Wednesday morning the media team were soon installed in our home away from home, the Peace Village at Messines. The cameras were quickly unpacked and we headed down to Prowse Point to observe the Australian Army rehearshing the funeral service, timing every step to perfection. This rare opportunity to observe proceedings, ensured that we would be in a position to capture the best possible footage the following day.

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Soon afterwards the Mather family arrived for a tour of the battlefield, taking in Toronto Avenue cemetery, to hear the story of the 33rd Battalion’s struggle through the gas filled wood and to lay a wreath on the grave of another family member who lies there.
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Richard and Martin led a tour of our excavations in the small wood near ultimo crater and took family members into the field to stand at the place Alan had lain undiscovered for so long.
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There was a special poignancy in the Menin gate ceremony at 8pm that night, it was the last ceremony at which Alan’s name carved on the white Portland stone panel, would be relevant. Tomorrow he would no longer be counted amongst those with no known grave. After the service his family gathered around the wreath they had laid beneath the names of the 33rd Btn missing and his great great nephew was lifted onto the shoulders of his Australian Army colleagues to place a poppy beside the carved letters “A. J. Mather”.
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The funeral service was beautiful and very personal, the coffin being carried by bearers from the Australian Army, draped with the Australian flag and topped with Alan’s own medals, a bayonet and slouch hat with the patch of the 33rd Battalion. All of which were presented to his nephew after the coffin had been lowered and the volley fired, three haunting shots from the amassed rifles, which rang out across the valley and echoed from the trees of Plugstreet Wood.
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Alan’s family and invited guests went on to a reception hosted by the local Mayor and the public dispersed, leaving just a few of us in the tranquil cemetery, waiting for the road to reopen and vehicles to arrive to collect the equipment. As the workers from the CWGC brought the carefully bagged soil back into the cemetery and began their work, it felt like the closing of a vital chapter in the story of our project.

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Back in the Peace Village there was time to relax and reflect on events, with a presentation on the process of identification of our Australian followed by raised glasses and a brief pause before the 2010 dig began to open a new chapter….
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