Modern Conflict Archaeology, Beneath The Killing Fields, Exploring The Subterranean Landscapes Of The Western Front

This book takes a careful look a the subterranean life of many WWI soldiers and the important role of archaeology in uncovering what is still recent historical events. The extensive use of illustration adds greatly to the text, with photographs of digs in progress helping to convey the work of the archaeologist – Very Highly Recommended

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NAME: Modern Conflict Archaeology, Beneath The Killing Fields, Exploring The 
Subterranean Landscapes Of The Western Front
FILE: R2911
AUTHOR: Matthew Leonard
PUBLISHER: Pen and Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 192
PRICE: £19.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Trench warfare, tunnel warfare, mining, trenches, bunkers, shelters, life 
underground, subterranean, Loos, Verdun

ISBN: 1-78346–306-6

IMAGE: B2911.jpg
BUYNOW: tinyurl.com/y2wq9pn4
LINKS:  
DESCRIPTION: This book takes a careful look a the subterranean life of many 
WWI soldiers and the important role of archaeology in uncovering what is still 
recent historical events. The extensive use of illustration adds greatly to the 
text, with photographs of digs in progress helping to convey the work of the 
archaeologist –  Very Highly Recommended

This is a most interesting book on several levels. Considering the high level of 
literacy on both sides during WWI, the tons of paper records, the miles of published 
books, magazines and newspapers, and the thousands of miles of film, both stills 
and movies, it might be thought that there is no period of history less deserving of 
the attention of the archaeologist. In fact, it underlines the fragility of accepted 
history even when it is just beyond a lifespan. Never before have veterans been so 
extensively interviewed and recorded and never before have so many of those who 
were there written down their experiences, and yet there is still so much to learn.

When we think of WWI and the trench war on the Western Front, most will think 
of neatly dug trenches, not much deeper than the height of a man, but the reality 
was very different after the first few months when the Germans had just enough 
relief to stop retreating and dig in. The first individual trenches on both sides linked 
up to form virtually continuous parallel lines of trenches stretching from the Channel 
coast to the Swiss border. The machine guns and artillery moved in and 
communications stretched back out of direct sight of the enemy trenches. Then as 
the ground was raked by machine gun fire and artillery kept up an almost continuous 
barrage the soldiers dug deeper and prepared for a long fight to the death.

From relatively simple trenches, the soldiers had to build underground areas where 
they could eat and rest in relative safety. Light railways were built to maintain 
supplies and ammunition, and dressing stations and hospitals were built 
underground to match the dining areas and dormitories. Then the miners moved 
in because the ever deeper trenches were much more difficult to shell and storm. 
That began a second deadly war underground as miners dug towards the enemy 
and to piled explosives under the enemy trenches, and counter miners tried to break 
into the tunnels and kill the miners. As the trench systems became even more 
sophisticated with gas curtains and telephone exchanges, the underground world 
kept expanding.

This now provides a fertile area for archaeologists to explore and catalogue because 
so much was left undocumented. In 1918, all the soldiers wanted to do was to get 
as far away from the trenches as possible and rejoin the world. Politicians did not 
want to spend a penny more than they had to. The result is that so much was left in 
place, stores and magazines were not emptied and some of the huge mines were left 
as they were, a number later exploding dramatically when struck by lightning.

This book with its many illustrations shows just how much is still to be learned and 
that it requires the attentions of the archaeologist. By implication, it shows how much 
has to be learned of older military history and how much of established and accepted 
wisdom may yet be overturned as archaeology continues to expand and cover more 
ancient sites. 

One recent example of outstanding questions that this reviewer came across was the 
story of MTB 102 in WWII at Dunkirk. Admiral Wake Walker transferred his flag to 
this small warship after his last destroyer was sunk under him. In the transfer, no 
cloth flag was transferred and one had to be fashioned by the MTB crew. One crew 
member described how he made the flag from a tea towel, a story that he recounted 
many times in the years that followed. Another crew member had a very different 
recollection and his seemed to be supported by a home made Admiral's Flag that 
was keep on the MTB after it was restored. However, we may never know whether 
the flag that exists today is really the same flag that was hurriedly made in 1940 
while the MTB was dodging bombs and bullets. There is a possibility that someone 
later made a flag to replace the original. That is just one question from a recent 
episode of military history to which a definitive answer may never be established. 
It provokes the thought of how many more of the details of the past were not as we 
accept today. Archaeology may never answer the question of the Admiral's Flag but 
it will question so much more established wisdom and offer proof of alternative 
answers, or fill in important gaps of accepted wisdom.