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Digging the trenches, the archeology of the western front

Tony B

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Digging the Trenches

The Archaeology of the Western Front


Andrew Robertshaw & David Kenyon


Pen & Sword


ISBN: 978 1 84415 6719


On a wet Monday at the end of May 2006, Andrew Robertshaw and I stood in Avril William’s Ocean Villas Tea Rooms at Auchonvilliers on the Somme. Andy told me of the story of an unknown soldier of the 1st Battalion The King’s Own found during the Serre excavation of 2003 at the Heidenkopf. The man was killed on that iconic day in British military history, the First of June 1916, the First Day of the Battle of the Somme. The way he told the story and the information that amongst the man’s processions were found pennies from Jersey started the fascination I have developed for the Great War.


Whilst everyone may not be lucky enough to have their imagination and enthusiasm fired by the man himself, this book will come a close second. Written as Andy says ‘For the serious student’, this book is far from a dull academic tome; amongst the text are scatterings of dry wit and acerbic comments, which I know to be the mark of the No Man’s Land Group.


The book is logically laid out starting out with a description and explanation of archaeological techniques, the practicalities of digging on site and the interpretation of finds. We are then taken through the life of a soldier at the front and behind the lines and how the archaeology married to historic record can place things in context.


The soldiers existence, digging the trenches, living, eating, fighting and dying in them are all covered in detail. Each chapter shows how excavation can confirm and develop the record how the links can made that develop our understanding. The text will also change the stereotypes of the Great War that many hold including before now me.


The book also conveys the thrill, poignancy and in some case adrenalin surge of concern on finding artefacts. There place in historic record and the importance that such work is done professionally.


For those of us that are more normally found with our boot soles sticking out of a Second World War hole, this book is also relevant. I would argue that the Western Front was the development and testing ground for the defences that became the Atlantic Wall, or the South London Stop Line.

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No he dosen't suffer fools, so Ralagham have a sensible question ready. He is very approachable if you have a genuine intrest and I have to say (bear in mind I've taught my own subject , riding, for years) he is a brilliant teacher. Watch the Time Team show the fist on chin palm under elbow and 'Hum very intresting' is Andy for :argh:

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