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War Stories

May 9, 2014

I was strongly tempted to start this post with Edwin Starr’s War  – combining as it does my love of Northern Soul and pacifism*, but this post isn’t about me and my beliefs, instead I’m looking for information. Here in Britain we’re gearing up to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, I see from various websites that many other countries are doing the same

I realise that I know a fair bit about the War, I was born in the 60s, at a point when Britain began to acknowledge this earlier war. Previousl,y the concentration had been on the more recent upheaval of the Second World War – which had so deeply affected my parents and grandparents’ generation. Two years before I was born, to mark the 50th anniversary of the war, the BBC had produced the 26 part documentary The Great War which was shown weekly from May to December of 1964 (and will be showing it again this autumn on BBC 4 ) We were taught the history of the conflict as part of the national syllabus and studied the poetry in our English Literature lessons. As a romantic teenager I became hooked on Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, I still have my copies of their poems, as well as Sassoon’s autobiographies and semi-autobiographical novels, Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That, Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War and Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. These works are one of the reasons I am such a committed pacifist, I defy anyone to read them and not feel that war, all war, is a shocking waste of wonderful lives that should have been lived and that the First World War was a particularly dreadful event in human history.

As I began learning about archaeology I was surprised to find that not only was the First World War largely ignored, so was the Second – they seemingly had no place in discussing the archaeology of the 20th century. One of my main complaints about the history of archaeology is that we seem to think archaeology exists in a vacuum, unaffected by external events. As an undergraduate I knew about Brigadier Wheeler’s war (check out Gabe’s excellent Wheeler at War but that was about it. It was only when I began reading and researching for my PhD that I began to learn about how both wars had impacted on archaeologists, those that fought and those that stayed at home. As a feminist I looked at how women as well as men were affected, so in addition to looking at how male archaeologists were deployed in the wars I researched propaganda, and the portrayal of women in wartime3g10915u-80

the civilian impact of the Defence of the Realm Act (1914), how women volunteered during the First World War and were conscripted during the second and their lives between the wars. I even became – temporarily – an expert on war memorials, and you’d be surprised by the amount of literature on this

As I say, I realise I know quite a bit about the First World War, but I’ve also realised how little I know.  And that’s where, finally, the questions come in:

Who is researching the archaeology of the First World War? And the Second? I know about Gabe, but who else is working in this area?

It’s International Conscientious Objector Day on the 15th of May ( and that got me thinking – which archaeologists were conscientious objectors? There must have been many pacifists, I can name Thurstan Shaw and that’s it, can someone please enlighten me?

Archaeologists in wartime, again, who’s working on this area?

Are any of our members involved in commemorative projects, if so what are they?

How, if at all, is the First World War being marked where you are? How do you feel about this? Should we be remembering the conflict or not?

What questions am I not asking that I should be asking? This is a regular query from my brain, I’m always sure I’m missing the obvious, so if to you I have missed it, let me know.

Answers in the comments section please, or email me.


* I’ve had Eddie Grant’s War Party as an irritating earworm for days so I feel compelled to pass it on, I’m kind like that! 


3 Comments leave one →
  1. catalin permalink
    May 10, 2014 7:23 am


    There is a small group of aerial archaeologists interested in the archaeology of both world wars.
    As we speak there is a small conference dedicated to the subject –
    Also a book about this topic – “The Great War Seen from the Air: In Flanders Fields, 1914-1918” is the results of a collaboration between the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres, the Imperial War Museum, London, and the Royal Army Museum, Brussels. The book features hundreds of photographic case studies, illustrating in unprecedented detail the physical extent of World War I and the shocking environmental damage it left in its wake. Supplementing aerial images with maps, documents, and photos taken from the ground, this one-of-a-kind visual record stands as an important contribution to World War I history, revealing the wartime landscape of Flanders Fields as rarely seen before.

    Birger Stichelbaut, Piet Chielens (2013) The Great War Seen from the Air: In Flanders Fields, 1914-1918, Mercatorfonds / Yale University Press, 396p.
    396 pages: 254 x 298 x 40 mm
    532 black & white illustrations, transparent overlays.

    I am also trying to do my part on the same subject in Romania.

  2. May 15, 2014 2:25 am

    The Peace Pledge Union identified Arthur Raistrick: ‘Imprisoned for nearly three years as a CO[, he] was also a prominent field and industrial archaeologist’ (

  3. May 15, 2014 2:33 am

    Richard J. C. Atkinson was a CO too (

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