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
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
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.