Read All About It

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008
 
       

The Plugstreet Project is featured in this month’s “Britain at War” Magazine – available in the UK via WH Smith and Sainsbury’s and all good newsagents.
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BAW includes a double page spread on the discovery and excavation of the Australian casualty. It includes both text and a number of photographs of the site, the finds and archaeologists at work.
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www.britain-at-war-magazine.com
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Thanks to our good friend Mark Khan for the publicity and for his journalistic skill in drafting the story.
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Britain at War will include a larger piece on the dig in a coming edition. In the meantime this month includes interesting pieces from both World Wars, including a fascinating article on the siege of Tsingtao in 1914, when a combined Anglo-Japanese force assaulted and took the German colony in China. I suspect I’m not alone in never having heard of this action before!

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Down the Road…

Thursday, September 18th, 2008
 
       

According to newspaper The West Australian:
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“Details about a new cemetery for 400 Australian and British World War I soldiers found in a mass grave in France are set to be unveiled later this week.”
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The paper then goes on to report the plans to exhume the bodies of the soldiers from Fromelles, south of Plugstreet on the Aubers Ridge. Once exhumed there will be attempts to identify the bodies before all are reburied.
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The budget is rumoured to be $10 million Aus. and some of that money will be coming from the UK as just over half the bodies are Brits, even though the Australians have led on the project following pressure at home from descendants.

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Across the site

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008
 
       

Although incredibly powerful, the find of the Australian soldier was not the only part of the site this year. The team also worked very hard to accomplish many other elements. Even more of the battle site was subject to geophysical survey and four other trenches were opened. These showed:
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1) the complete plan of the German bunker seen in part last year
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2) more of the Lewis gun position on the eastern lip of Ultimo crater

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Avril records the Lewis gun post

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3) a major wriggly-tin-lined redoubt was located on the south edge of Ultimo crater
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Moving into the redoubt

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4) at some depth, a massively-engineered timber structure was encountered. Large timbers were found revetted with timber uprights. A gas cape or similar was present here too. Is this a dugout? A German trench mortar position? Something else? Whatever it is, the timbers all appear to have been pushed over in one direction – the blast of the mine?
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Keith and Jon working with the German feature

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What they Carried

Thursday, September 4th, 2008
 
       

In addition to all the military elements that the Australian soldier had with him, there were some other effects.
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His toothbrush marked – Flexadent France
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His wallet – some French Francs clearly 1916 dated
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His spoon (with razor on the top)
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Finds like these added still more to the overall picture of the man.

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Dogs in Hats

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008
 
       

This post is more serious than it sounds from the title. I have been considering the pickelhaub we found with the body and in an effort to find out more information about it went here:

www.kaisersbunker.com

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Yes, there are pictures of dogs in hats and, indeed, helmets on it but it contains lots of lovely information about spiked headgear and the like.
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Essentially our man had acquired a Hessian helmet. We had wondered if the fluted spike and fishscale chinstrap were indicative of rank and status but it appears that all Hessians had this style, although the scales differed in some cases, with Dragoons apparently having rounded scales.
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Very useful.

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DNA testing could reveal WWI Digger’s identit

Thursday, August 28th, 2008
 
       

DNA tests could reveal the identity of a World War I Digger whose complete remains have been unearthed by British archeologists at an old battlefield site in Belgium.
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The remains of the Australian soldier, thought to have been serving with the 3rd Division, were discovered on the site of the Battle of Messines, fought in June 1917.
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War historian Mat McLachlan said the discovery was unique because the soldier was wearing his full battle kit and appeared to have been buried as a result of an artillery shell exploding nearby.
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“This is unusual and important because it gives us great insight into the articles actually carried by Australian soldiers into battle,” Mr McLachlan told The Australian yesterday.
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Mr McLachlan, a member of the archeological group No Man’s Land, said the soldier was found with his hand still grasping his standard-issue Lee Enfield rifle, which had the bayonet attached.
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“It really is a snapshot of an Aussie soldier because he was killed, fell to the ground and covered with dirt and that was the last anyone saw of him until 90 years later when these guys dug him up,” he said.
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Defence Minister Warren Snowdon said the Digger’s remains were held by the Belgian army and it was hoped that DNA tests could reveal his identity. It is likely his remains will be interred at one of the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Belgium later this year.
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Mark Dodd
The Australian

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A couple more images

Friday, August 22nd, 2008
 
       

We shall aim to post some images of the other main excavation trenches at Plugstreet 2008 at some point over the weekend, but in the meantime, a couple more images of items found with the Australian.
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An image of one of the pockets of ammunition with chargers of .303 rounds and webbing attached to the pocket.
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This is the interior of the brodie helmet note the buckles of the straps at the edge – with the mineralised strap thus up over the outer rim of the helmet
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The components of the PH hood following initial conservation work
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The entrenchment tool found at the back of the man, below his pack

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Some of the finds

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008
 
       

In the following days we will aim to post some of the images from other important parts of the excavations of 2008. Today perhaps it would be worthwhile to show some of the finds with the man that was excavated
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Proof of nationality (Collar badge and shoulder title)
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Box respirator and iodine under conservation
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Button and Boot
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We have posted these images as only a TINY portion of the kit found with the man to illustrate the quality of the surviving elements. Other parts of his panoply of arms are as well preserved and his remains too tell a story. We shall post more over the coming weeks

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Ministerial Announcement in Australia

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008
 
       

THE HON. WARREN SNOWDON MP Minister for Defence Science and Personnel
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MISSING WORLD WAR ONE SOLDIER DISCOVERED IN BELGIUM
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The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the Hon. Warren Snowdon MP, today announced the remains of an unidentified Australian World War I soldier have been unearthed in Belgium.
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The human remains were discovered along with pieces of Australian equipment and clothing during an authorised excavation by a British archaeology team at Ploegsteert; the site where the Battle of Messines took place in June 1917.“I can confirm the remains of one of our courageous World War I soldiers have been uncovered in Belgium,” Mr Snowdon said.“Two British archaeologists undertaking an official excavation unearthed the remains, along with evidence they are of a fallen Australian Digger who fought in the Battle of Messines.”
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The bones, which are reported to be in reasonably good condition, were exhumed under the supervision of the Belgian Police and Army, who are housing the remains at a Belgian Army Barracks until further notice from Australian authorities.
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“The Australian Government is firm in our commitment to honour our war dead, and is already undertaking historical research to establish any initial identification links,” Mr Snowdon said.“We are also hopeful that some of the equipment located with the remains, such as badges and buttons, may assist with identification of the soldier and will consider the possibility of DNA testing if there is reasonable chance of a match.”
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It is likely the remains will be re-interred at one of the existing Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Belgium later this year.

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An Announcement

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008
 
       

Ladies and Gentlemen it is with some pride that I am able to now make this announcement…
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No Longer Missing in Action:
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No-Man’s-Land Archaeology recovers the body of an Australian soldier of the Great War
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On 6th August 2008, No-Man’s-Land Archaeology, a multi-national archaeology group who specialise in the First World War, found the body of an Australian soldier of the Great War whilst excavating German trenches near St Yves in Wallonia, Belgium. The soldier was in full battle order with all his well-preserved equipment, medical kit, weaponry and parts of his uniform. His shoulder and collar titles identified him as an Australian. The area was attacked by the Australian 3rd Division on the morning of 7th June 1917 as part of the Battle of Messines, a prelude to the better known battle of 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele). Unlike recent discoveries at Fromelles, this was a battlefield casualty in full kit buried where he fell rather than a burial in a grave behind the lines.
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The work is part of a wider landscape project to examine the effectiveness of the training of the Australian 3rd Division on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire with the actuality of battle through archaeological excavation of trench systems, historical studies, aerial photography, map work, geophysical survey and other techniques. The project has run for four years so far, with this being the second season of fieldwork in Belgium and the first time that significant human remains were recovered. The work has been accomplished by a multinational team in collaboration with a number of academic departments and local partners.
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The remains of the soldier tell a significant story of one man’s involvement in a major piece of world history through his personal kit and effects including the evidence for the taking of trophies in the form of a German pickelhaube. The body was recovered with scientific techniques; geophysical survey, forensic archaeology (techniques familiar to viewers of CSI), and on-site conservation from our mobile lab.
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The group is very proud to have recovered a previously missing soldier with the highest scientific skill and appropriate levels of respect; this was a man who endured unimaginable hardship and met a violent end.
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Over the years, there has been strong Australian involvement in the project with assistance from the Australian War Memorial, fieldworkers from Australia, and the presence of the Australian Army at commemorative events.
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All of the artefacts, along with the remains of the soldier have been taken by the Belgian Army to be given to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission prior to attempts to identify the man.
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Contacts: Richard Osgood and Martin Brown Co-Directors, the Plugstreet Project.

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