Monday, 30 September 2013

Casualties of War

One of the most important aspects of the war, is one which is sometimes overlooked when visiting the battlefield, even in miniature. The official histories speak of heroic deeds and hard fighting, success and failure, the white portland headstones of the Commonwealth War Graves are a stark hauntingly beautiful reminder of those who lost their lives in these blood soaked fields. But what of those who were injured?

To the families and soldiers the Royal Army Medical Corps is perhaps one of the most vital of the support services on the battlefield, something which is as true today as it was in 1917.

The Battle of Messines was planned in every detail and the medical support was a massive part of this plan. The New Zealanders had a well co-ordinated network to assist the injured both on the battlefield and to evacuate them back to the hospitals on the coast of France or in England.

The Main Dressing Station was situated at Westhoft Farm with the Advanced Dressing Station at Kandahar behind the British Lines, they also used the Australian Advanced Dressing Station at Underhill Farm, all lined by tramways and motor car ambulances. There were two Regimental Aid Posts at Fort Osbourne and Boyles Farm, which were moved forward into captured territory after the Town of Messines had been captured at 7am. Captain Nelson, the RMO of the 1st Aucklands, opened his RAP in a captured concrete dug out in Ulcer Sap and Capt Addison opened his RAP at Moulin de L'Ospice a German strong point on the site of the Windmill belonging to the Institution Royale on the western edge of Messines, now the site of the CWGC Cemetery.

The NZ Medical Corps Report of the preparations for the battle and the events during the action is available online and makes interesting reading: The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918

The German army employed a very similar system, with their main aid post being situated close to the Institution Royale with further facilities in the cellars. The German RAP was demolished during the preliminary bombardments before the Battle, killing many of their medical personnel, leading the attacking troops to conclude that the enemy had scant regard for their injured comrades.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The final day (almost).

Firstly a massive thank you to all our volunteers,  members of No Man's Land, Staffordshire County Council, Natural England, Jaguar Landrover, our administrator Jo for running the volunteer registration, Richard and Lee for their historical research, Angela for updating the blog, our aerial photographers, all our visitors, locals who have helped in various ways and last but my no means least Kirsty Nichol for all her hard work in organising the project and for leading the field work along with Martin Brown.  This has been a wonderful unique project and its sucess is down to all those who took part with such enthusiasm. 

Although today was the last day of excavation,  members of our team and some volunteers will be on site for the next two days completing record photography and preparing the model for the 3D scanning team who will take over on Wednesday. 

We expect to begin the process of covering the model on Monday 14th October 2013, (this has been delayed due to the filming schedule of BB1's Countryfile who want to feature the model in their Remembrance Sunday programme). If any of our volunteers would like to assist or any new volunteers would like to help it would be much appreciated. Please email Jo  on to let us know which day(s) you can help.

If you haven't volunteered on site during the excavation,  please contact Jo on to register before arriving on site.

Once again thanks everyone for your help in making this project so successful. 

Tanks in Action

During the Second World War, Channock Chase was used to test tanks built in the factory nearby, we have discovered a nice link to this fact as one of the best surviving features of the Great War Model at Brocton Camp is a fortified farm, known as "Fanny's Farm". The farm is shown as an L shaped block right on the edge of the model, the back corner clipped as as not to impede the drainage channel, the circular trench system surrounding the buildings is very clear and survives well, being buried a little deeper than other areas of the model.

Lee & some of the volunteers checking the map at Fanny's Farm.

The farm was situated on the northern boundary of the New Zealand Division's sector on the 7th of June 1917. As the troops advanced they were held up for a time by machine gun fire from the farm. This enemy strong hold was over come when a Mk IV tank arrived to assist the infantry, and holed the wall, allowing the capture of the machine gun crew and other enemy soldiers within.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Successful Saturday

Today has been a great day on site with lots of volunteers including a group from the young archaeologists club, organised by the Friends of Cannock Chase. 

We have also had a huge number of visitors throughout the day.

This afternoon the last turf was lifted from the model and, despite some incorrect reports in local newspapers,  the project is on schedule and the model will be ready for the 3D scanning team next week.

Site photography is now under way to record the archaeology and will also be used to create a texture for the digital recreation of the model. Though we hope the weather forecast for tomorrow is wrong as bright sunshine makes photography more difficult and slows progress was we have to use a shade screen to create flat areas of shadow.

Have we answered the puzzle of the Messines Church Model?


Records reveal that the German artillery spotters were using the bell tower as viewing platform to guide their guns onto the British lines to the east and south of Messines in the early months of the war. The enemy being able to direct his fire with precision was a huge problem for the British Forces and in October or November 14, a well placed artillery shell sliced the bell tower from the stone tower, depriving the enemy of the high viewing platform

Further investigation of archive sources may have revealed the answer to the style of church, we have located a photographic post card of the church dated 1914, which shows the tower without the embellished bell tower on top, giving the appearance of a square Norman style tower.

This image matches more closely with the photos of the model, though legend has it that the model included a pocket watch in the tower as the church clock. A feature that is absent from the actual church, though today the Peace Bells chime with a different melody every quarter of an hour and a full peel on the hour. Well worth pausing to listen.

We  are also pleased to report that we have also been contacted by the family who had the model church in their garden for many years.  They have also been able to provide us with some photographs which confirm the story of the pocket watch embedded in the structure. Unfortunately the model of the church no longer survives but at least we can now tell it's story in full.

The Last Days

The excavation of the model of Messines on Cannock Chase are almost complete. We have a small area left to uncover and then the cleaning of the model needs to be finalised as the 3D scanning team will begin their work on Wednesday.

Over the weekend and early part of next week our team and volunteers and will be very busy. As well as finishing the last few metres of the model,  we also need to photograph it to record it and to provide images to be used as a texture for the digital model.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Puzzle of Messines Church Model

Messines Church with the distinctive tower dominates the landscape today, as it did before the Great War, having been rebuilt to almost the same design.

As an obvious land mark, it also formed the centre point of the Model of Messines here on Cannock Chase. However as we can see from the 1930's photographs of the model, the interpretation of the building appears very different.

This raises an important question, why did they depict what appears to be a square towered Norman style church as the centre piece for the model?

We are in possession of two images of the model which include the church, both show this configuration. Unfortunately for our investigations, the model of the church is missing, having been rescued from the decaying model many years ago, it was last seen in a garden in the village of Brocton, does anyone know where it is now? It would be helpful to our project to be able to view it, are there any photographs of it in the garden?

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Remembering the Dead

Although the Battle of Messines was a great success the loss of life was still very significant. Many men lost their lives in the advance and the hand to hand fighting to take the fortified towns. At Messines, the success of the New Zealand Division also contributed to their losses. In taking and holding the town well before the appointed hour to move forward to take the second line of German defences, resulted in a large number of troops gathering amongst the newly captured ruins of the towns. Before the order to advance was given, the enemy artillery regrouped and launched a barrage of shells on the town, causing many casualties.

Messines Ridge Cemetery, resting place of many New Zealanders.

As with all the major battles of the Great War, some bodies were never recovered and over the intervening years the remains of men are discovered during archaeology and building work. 

In 2012 a New Zealand soldier was discovered during work in Messines, he was laid to rest with full military honours.
Video from the ceremony.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

School children visit Messines Model

Today 100 school children aged between seven and ten made a visit to our site to view the Messines Model on Cannock Chase and Freda's Grave. The four classes were given a tour of the site and an overview of the Battle of Messines by Angela, Jon and Lee.

The archaeology is going well with the excavation extended by a good few metres, thanks to a stirling effort by our volunteers. The team have located three sides of the model and hope to find the extent of the area covered by the model tomorrow.

Family History and the Great War

Today the scale of the Great War is difficult to comprehend, the lives of every family in every town across the whole world was affected by the conflict. Almost every family had someone serving in the armed forces or the munitions and war effort factories.

Do you know what your family were doing 100 years ago?

The Wartime Memories Project are developing a Guide to tracing your Family in the Great War which you may find helpful, their website is also a huge resource for sharing stories of the conflict, with links to many other useful websites.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Men of Messines

 Looking back through time, it is easy to look at the major battles of the Great War from the point of view of tactics, landscape and politics, but these were battles fought by individuals who formed the Platoons within Companies, which made up the Battalions, which formed the Brigades, which made up the Divisions of the Army. It is the stories of these individuals which reveal the details of the battle and the lives of people at that time.

No Man's Land, have a website which follows the progress of our work in Belgium, included in the site are pages dedicated to the men of Plumer's Second Army and also the men of German Army at Messines whose role in the battle must not be forgotten.

If you can add the names of any men who took part in the Battle of Messines, please use the forms on our website to add their story.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Community links via the Cannock Great War Project.

Today we have had a visit from Lt Colonel Mike Beale of the New Zealand Defence Force, who travelled up from London to see the site and strengthen links between the local community here in Staffordshire and the islands of New Zealand. He was very impressed with the work we have done on site and the historical research and was able to provide our team with information on how the NZ Forces use training maps today and historical information about their part in the 1917 attack on Messines. He was also able to liase with a colleague via mobile phone, to pin point the location of Frickleton's VC action.

Lt Col Beale also laid a wreath in the corner of the site.

We were also joined on site by a group of sixth formers from a local school who helped with the excavation.

 Today's guard dog, Buddy.

7th June 1917 - The Capture of Messines

The fighting at Messines was heavy, the enemy had held the town for three and a half years, during which time they had fortified the cellars and built concrete bunkers inside some of the buildings as well as an extensive trench network with machine gun posts and pill boxes. All situated on the crest of the hill, giving a huge advantage to the defenders.

Messines today from the Allied observation post on Hill 62.

The New Zealand troops were faced with machine gun fire and vicious hand to hand fighting to take the ruined town. An account of the New Zealanders at Messines tells the story in greater detail than we could cover on this blog.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A Busy Day

Sunday was a very busy day at the Messines Model with a lot of visitors from near and far, quite a few also had personal connections to Brocton Camp or the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and it was great to hear their stories as we worked. For part of the day we also had musical accompaniment from Robert Owen, who played tunes from the Great War and New Zealand. In the afternoon we had an aerial visit from Peter Martin who kindly agreed to take some air photos for us. We were also visited by a birthday party group of youngsters who enjoyed Martin's explaination of the Battle of Messines and the model.

Progress on the excavation is going well, with some key points in the geography of the battle being revealed.


This part of the model shows the trenches at what is now the New Zealand Memorial.
Charlie keeping watch.

7th June 1917 - The Battle Begins

At 3.10am on the 7th of June 1917, nineteen of the huge mines planted beneath Messines Ridge were detonated. The huge explosions signaled the start of the attack and along the ten mile front, Allied soldiers who had moved into position during the night, got to their feet and advanced behind the creeping barrage of their artillery. Unlike many other battles, the first wave of troops did not climb out of the trenches in the classic "over the top", the effect of the shock wave of the explosions was expected to cause damage to the trenches, as the front lines were so close together. Rather than wait in the trenches, the men waited lying flat on the ground close to the trenches.

The advance to the front lines during the night did not go completely as planned. The enemy were well aware of the impending attack and in most cases of the tunneling work to lay the mines. In the Australian sector, the men of the 33rd Battalion made their way through the tracks of Plugstreet Wood and were subjected to bombardment of German gas shells, which resulted in a number of casualties, including some dead, who now lie side by side in Toronto Avenue Cemetery within the wood.

Over the months leading up to the battle, the German's had dug their own tunnels in an attempt to prevent the Allies from laying the mines. In the New Zealand sector, the mine at Petite Douve Farm was discovered by the enemy and the river diverted to flood the underground workings and render the explosives useless. At the northern end of the salient, the hand to hand fighting in the vast tunnel network beneath Hill 60 is well documented. At the southern end, the team from No Man's Land, have been undertaking archaeological investigations in the area attacked by the Australian 3rd Division and in 2011 uncovered the entrance shaft to a German counter tunnel.

 Members of No Man's Land excavating a German tunnel shaft.

For the troops of the British Second Army, the blowing of the mines was an awesome sight, for the enemy just a few hundred yards away, it was terrifying. Reports tell of the once stoical men of the German Imperial Army so badly shaken that they were reduced to tears, disorientated and deafened.

However not all had been disabled by the blasts. The geology of the land restricted the placement of the mines and the fortified towns of Messines and Wytschaete escaped the destruction from underground, the mines being placed on the German front line down slope of the towns. Here the New Zealanders and Irish men were engaged in fierce fighting to secure the ruined houses and their fortified cellars.

Twin craters from the mines near to Wytschaete

Due to the loss of the mine at Petite Douve, the New Zealander Division only had one mine in their sector, at Ontario Farm close to the Wulverghem to Messines Road. Here the soil is very sandy and the explosion had very different effects, the shockwave causing the enemy fortifications to sink due to liquefaction, instead of a distinct crater, the sand settled back and the men reported the site of  the explosion bubbled like porridge for many days as trapped gases found their way to the surface. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Another good day on site.

Today has been another good day on site, with a good number of volunteers and a lot of visitors.  Including one who brought along his father's war record detailing an injury sustained on the 7th of June 1917 at the Battle of Messines whilst serving with the Cheshire Regiment, who were part of the Anzac Division. We were able to show him the model of the area his father's battalion had attacked. The British units of the Anzac Corps are often overlooked and it was a pleasure to hear the story of one of the local men who had taken part. 

Over all we are making excellent progress, and after a few frustrating days are once again uncovering areas  of the model which are in very good condition. 

Let's hope tomorrow is another great day.

Preparing for Battle

"The men who fought in the Great War signed up at the town hall and were sent straight to France without any training, went over the top and were killed."

The above quote is a common held view, but is far from the truth.

The ordinary men who joined up in their masses in late summer 1914, began their training straight away. Many were shop assistants, bank clerks, teachers or the many non manual trades that were typical of Britain in the early 20th century, their fitness levels were far below that required for life in the army. Alongside them were men more accustomed to manual work, agricultural laborers, miners, delivery men and factory workers, the first task of war was to bring all the men up to the required standard of fitness. Much of the first few weeks of army life was devoted to physical training.

Across the parks and sports grounds of the British Empire, new recruits found themselves engaged in the type of activities they had last undertaken on the school field. Swedish Drill, running, route marches, gymnastics, boxing and football all played a part in lifting fitness levels.

There was also much to learn about military life, from maintaining discipline, uniforms and equipment, to rifle and bayonet practice, cookery, crossing rivers and digging trenches. It was these skills that were taught in training camps such as Brocton. Even today Cannock Chase, like many other sites across Britain, still bares the marks of this training. 

Far from going "straight to France", the men who joined, for example, the New Battalions of the South Staffordshire Regiment in August and September 1914, remained in training in the UK until July 1915, almost a year of intensive training before they would embark overseas to face the enemy.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Tried and Tested Methods

Plumer's plan for Messines Ridge included a very ancient tactic to overcome the fortress of the enemy. He would tunnel beneath the lines and lay massive explosive charges beneath the key strong points to destroy them at the moment of the attack.

This tactic had been used on a smaller scale from early in the war, most famously at Hill 60, the much fought over high point close to Ypres, well known for the underground war as each side tried to out flank the other with silently dug tunnels, explosives and counter mines.

The mines at Messines Ridge were carefully planned, the geology studied in detail and small scale tests were carried out by the Royal Engineers in the UK and France. Tunneling for the Messines Offensive began in early 1915, no easy task in the dense blue clay of Flanders.

All the work had to be done in secret and in silence. Specialist Tunneling Companies were formed in the Royal Engineers, made up not of soldiers, but of miners, men who were used to working underground in the coal mines of the north of England, Canada and Australia and the men who worked on the tunnels for underground railways and canal systems. They began work behind the British Lines, with mine engineers sinking deep shafts through the layers of sand into the firmer clay below.

As the Second Army prepared in the training camps of Britain, including the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Brocton Camp, the workers of the explosive factories prepared 600 tons of deadly ammonal, the miners extended the tunnels, inch by silent inch.

By the spring of 1917 Twenty Four mines had been laid, from twelve tunnels crossing No Man's Land 70 feet below the surface.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Lions & Donkeys or Plans well made?

Lions led by Donkeys, is often the view of the Great War, men sent over the top with no hope of any gain. This view may be true of the Battle of the Somme, as the attack was brought forward and launched without support, but the Battle of Messines is one of the most successful allied attacks of the entire conflict. 

Even before the Pals Battalions were mown down in the attempt to capture the chalky downs of the Somme, plans were being made to dislodge the enemy from Messines Ridge.

The city of Ypres, famously held by the Allies, was not only a symbol of the stand against the enemy, but also a key point of the transport hub in Flanders, well connected by rail, canal and the road network, but also on a salient, a bulge in the front line, vulnerable to attack from three sides. To the north of the city the landscape is almost flat, to the south a ridge of small hills form a curve.

This topographical map from the No Man's Land website shows the city of Ypres in the low, darker, areas at the top and the front line marked in brown curving around the western edge of the high ground shown in lighter shades. This map centres on Wytschaete, the highest point of the ridge, with Messines occupying the next high point and Plugstreet Wood marked in dark green at the bottom.

In the spring of 1915 a plan was hatched to take back the ridge. Many of the Allied Divisions, including the Pals Battalions and Commonwealth Forces were already in training for the Offensive which would later become The Battle of the Somme, these units would become the British Third and Four Armies. Under the Command of General Plumer the Second Army was formed, their first objective would be Messines Ridge,   to straighten the front line, and allow the Allies to push forward from Ypres in what would be known as the Third Battle of Ypres, planned to take place just weeks after the Battle of Messines.

The Second Army was made up of a mixture of experienced and new units, with the battle hardened British 23rd Division being assigned the notorious Hill 60 close to Ypres, with the London Territorials of the 47th Division at their side. The strong point of St Eloi would be attacked by the 41st Home Counties Divison, with the 19th Western Division to their right. The key town of Wytschaete would be attacked by the 16th and 36th Irish Divisions. The town of Messines would be the responsibility of the 2nd Anzac Corps, which included the British 25th Division, the New Zealand Division and on the southern slopes towards Plugstreet Wood, the 3rd Australian Division, who would be facing the enemy for the first time.

The problem was how to dislodge the enemy from their fortifications on the hilltops.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Why Messines?

Messines is the smallest town in Belgium, situated on a small ridge in the rolling landscape, not far from the border with France. Today it is a quiet place, the red brick houses, rebuilt on the foundations of those destroyed during the Great War, at first glance appear to be more than 90 odd years old. Only the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on the eastern edge, the Irish tower and New Zealand Memorial on the southern edge, the multitude of flags international fluttering outside the Peace Village and the musical chime of the Peace Bells marking the passing of time from the church tower, provide any indication of events almost a century ago.

 The New Zealand Memorial at Messines.

About ten miles to the north is the city of Ypres, famous during the Great War for remaining in allied hands, the fiercely defended symbol of defiance against the invading army. A few miles to the south is Armentières, also in Allied hands, between the two the front lines sweep in a wide curve with the German Imperial Army holding the ridge and the towns of Messines and Wytschaete with their excellent views over the surrounding countryside. 

This was the situation from October 1914 onwards. The Allies had halted the advance, but were unable to push the enemy back. Both sides dug in, fortifying the lines, using farm houses and town houses as shelter from the shelling and defensive points against infantry attack . In the towns on the ridge the German's had the advantage of the cellars beneath the houses and in Messines the large cellars beneath the Institution Royale were ideal.

Despite appearances, the Allies did not just hold the line for the next three years, plans were afoot to break the enemy's hold on Flanders, and Messines was central to that plan.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Photographs and archaeology at the Messines Model

One of the more well known tales of the Model of Messines on Cannock Chase is the story of its use as a tourist attraction between the wars, when the custodian had a tin hut at one corner of the model and would give tours for a charge of six pence. In fact earlier in the week we had a visit from a gentleman who had taken the tour with his father in the 1930's and a relative of the custodian has made several visits to observe our progress.

Our amateur historians, Lee and Richard have been studying the photographs of the hut and working out where it was situated, by comparison to the existing landscape and the remains of the model as our team uncover them. Careful study of these small images has revealed vital elements of the history of the terrain model.

In one corner we have uncovered a very solid concrete construction and in the top soil close to the banking a small collection of debris including a bucket handle, bottle tops and broken glass, contemporary with the period the hut was in use. There are also traces of what could be the remains of the floor of the hut. Were these concrete blocks added to support the small hut? They are very solid and the presence of two post notches suggest that they may have been reused in situ rather than built for the hut. Perhaps part of a viewing platform for the troops? We know from photographs of the terrain models in Flanders, that they included a raised wooden platform for troops to view the model from above, was a similar arrangement in place here? We hope the archaeology will reveal the answer as we continue to excavate.

If anyone can help answer this question, please get in touch.

For a closer look at the 1930's photos please see

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Soggy Sunday

With the weather forecast predicting rain, rain, wind and more rain, members of No Man's Land and a small number of volunteers arrived on site at 9am, under grey skies we all expected the worst. However, the tarpaulins had remained in placeover night and after a session of bailing and careful water management, we were able to uncover part of our working area and cautiously begin work.

Archaeology and wet weather are not a good mix, as it is all too easy to make a mess and potentially miss small features in the mud. The model of Messines was constructed using fragments of brick, pebbles and poor quality mortar, 40 plus years of exposure to the elements and almost another half century burried beneath a thin layer of top soil, has left the model in a fragile condition. When wet, the crumbling structures of the model are soft and even more easily damaged, so extra care had to be taken.

Despite the conditions we managed to extend our excavation by a few meters and just to the south of the town of Messines we began to uncover an area of the model which depicts the scene of one of the most famous incidents of the attack on the 7th of June 1917. Pte Samuel Frickleton of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade took out two enemy machine gun posts, allowing the men of his company to advance and capture part of the town, for this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

After much discussion, consulting of historic documents, trench maps and additional information provided by our contacts in New Zealand, including a copy of Sam Frickleton's own hand drawn map, our team narrowed down the possible points of this action and discovered a small feature in the model, which may pinpoint the location of one of the two machine gun posts.

The plaque next to Messines Church commemorating Frickleton's VC, it states
his action was  "Close to this place" have we now pinpointed the exact spot?

As we paused for lunch the clouds began to close in and the advancing waves of rain brought an end to our site work in mid afternoon, we retreated to the shelter of the tea room and continued to follow the paper trail of maps and documents to confirm our theories on the location of Frickleton's heroic action and chased tales of other individuals on the 7th of June 1917 and the landscape we hope to reveal tomorrow.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

In Saturday's Sunshine

One week on from the launch of the excavation of the model of Messines on Cannock Chase and work is progressing well. Today we had a good number of volunteers and additional members of No Man's Land have arrived for the weekend.

We have also had an increase in visitors coming along to see the model and Lee has been on site to give short talks and an explanation of progress.


In places the model is incomplete and we have had tales relayed of buildings being removed and used as garden ornaments after the model had become overgrown in the 1960's. Some of the buildings have been given to the Chase rangers in more recent times. If you know of the location of any buildings taken from the model, we would love to hear from you. Likewise if you have any old photos of the model or any of the buildings in use as rockery features,  we would love to see a copy, they would be a great aid to our research. 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Exploring Messines

Friday morning and our team have already stripped the turf from the southern end of the model town of Messines, close to the site of the church.

Messines Church today.

Here we should find the depiction of the Institution Royale which was built as a monastery and later used as an orphanage and in the early 1900's as a school. After the capture of Messines in 1914, the substantial buildings and their extensive cellars were fortified by the Germans to provide protection from Allied artillery and infantry advances.

A prewar post card of the Institution Royale in Messines.

German Concrete fortifications on the hill at Messines, possibly built inside the 
Institution Royale, this image is from the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Memories and Family History

Today we have had some interesting local visitors to the site, including two brothers whose father came to the area from Leicestershire as one of the civilians brought in to construct the camps on the Chase. The elder brother has vague childhood memories of visiting the Messines model between the wars.

Another visitor brought a photograph of his grandfather as a prisoner of war, he relayed fond memories of his time in the camp and revealed that his grandfather developed a liking for tea and continued to drink English tea even after returning to his native country.

We also had a visit from a Kiwi, now living locally whose father had been part of the NZEF and spent time at Brocton Camp. He also has some photos which may have been taken at the camp.

If you have any personal connections to Brocton Camp, any photos, stories or documents, we would love to hear from you. Please

If you would like to join us we are looking for more volunteers to help with the excavation, if you can pledge any time over the next two and a half weeks, please get in touch by email.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Interesting aspects

At the northern edge of the model our volunteers have just uncovered a very interesting area. Close to a trench system is what we first thought was going to be another section of road, but as the top soil was peeled back, inscribed lines were revealed between the pebbles. 

What is? We're not sure yet, but hopefully all will be revealed.

We will let you know as soon as we know.

All ready to start

Another day on site, welcome to our new volunteers. 

After spending yesterday working with the media we are looking forward to a quiet day cracking on with the archaeology. 

If you'd like to join us there are volunteer places available.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

TV Tuesday

Today, Tuesday 10th, BBC Midlands will be broadcasting live from the site on breakfast news bulletins.

There will also be a live broadcast on the evening news on Midlands Today. 

If you are outside the Midlands area you can catch it on iplayer or via the BBC Midlands website.

Later today another crew from the BBC will be arriving onsite to provide live updates throughout the day on News24 and features on the BBC1 News at 1pm, 6pm and 10pm.

A clip from the broadcast.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Monday at Messines in Miniature

Firstly a special thank you to our volunteers and to Jaguar Landrover for supporting Operation Kiwi as part of their community initiative, today a were joined by several of their employees who swapped the tools on the Discovery line for a line trowels on our site. They all had an enjoyable day expanding their skillset to include archaeology under instruction from Jon, who moved up to the main trench as it continued to expand.

We look forward to working with them again tomorrow and with their colleagues later in the week.

We are also grateful for the support of Spring Slade Lodge on Camp Road, Cannock Chase for the use of their facilities. If you are on the Chase their tea room is an excellent place to take a break.

Today the BBC have been on site, filming a report for Midlands Today, they will be broadcasting live from the site during the evening bulletin tomorrow, 10th Sept.

Work on the excavation is progressing well, today we uncovered more of the town of Messines, including a large pond to the west of the main street and part of the second line of defences to the north of the town.

Thanks to everyone who volunteered with us today, we had quite a few visitors offering their time, but there are still spaces available of you would like to join us.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Another successful day

The sun continued to shine most of the day and work is progressing quite well. Though the number of volunteers who actually turned up was a little disappointing.

Jon's team uncovered a good sized area and the model is in reasonable condition  with just a small amount of root damage.

Our larger trench progressed more slowly with heavily damaged areas and dense roots making the work difficult in places. However the problem areas are beginning to be resolved and the features do match up with contemporary air photos.

At the back of a row of model houses on the northern edge of Messines,  cleaning revealed the back door of one house had been included with a trench leading to it.

As the soil was peeled back this feature developed into a series of trenches leading to cellar entrances of each property in the block. This matches exactly with the 1917 trench map and air photos,  showing the attention to detail in building the terrain model.

Our team and volunteers all had an enjoyable day, so much so that the additional hours have been pledged. But we are still short of labour on site so if you would like to be part of this unique project we would welcome your assistance. No experience is necessary,  if you would like to learn about archaeology we would be pleased to teach you the basics.

Extending the area

Our team and volunteers make a start on extending the area of the excavation.

Sunday morning

Sunday morning and the sun is shining. If you are near Cannock Chase why not pay a visit to our site? We are close to Freda's Grave. There are still volunteer places available if you'd like to join us, come along for chat.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Saturday on site

After the down pours of Friday, we were happy to wake to blue skies and bright sunshine. Members of No Man's Land,  Staffordshire County Council and our first volunteers met at the site for an introduction to the model and an overview of the military history of the Chase and the Battle of Messines.
Once orientated we moved inside the fenced area and began the task of revealing the terrain model, starting with the area previously excavated in 2006. Beneath the protective covering the model was in good condition and a small group supervised by Jon were quickly engaged in cleaning the miniature trenches.

The second group began work in the centre of the site, taking over the long trench opened last week. This trench centres on the cross roads of Messines and in comparing the model buildings to the 1916 trench map those of us who regularly stay in the town soon felt at home.

It must be remembered that the town was reduced to rubble in the opening bombardment of the Battle in June 1917 and the buildings we know so well were rebuilt on the original plots in the 1920s mostly in the same styles. As we revealed the concrete model buildings it became obvious that the model depicted the town in ruins, with fragments of brick representing shell damaged roofs.

The question is, what date does the model depict?

If you would like to join us, there are still volunteer places available, please email for further details.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Preparing the ground

We've been working with the Rangers and their volunteers to fence the site

and remove the brambles and other long vegetation!

Today we got our grid in and began excavation work!

Look what we found!

Road surface and German trench line to the north of Messines

If you would like to join us get in touch - we're looking for volunteers to help out!  

Email for more information.

Preparing for the Excavations

This week our team are preparing for the excavation. Staffordshire County Council are working with members of No Man's Land to co-ordinate the work.

If you would like to know more about the Great War Camps on Cannock Chase, please have a look at Staffordshire County Council's website, The Great War Camps of Cannock Chase.

The Great War archaeology group No Man's Land have a website at:
and to read about their work on the site of the 1917 Battle of Messines please visit: