For the final day of the Festival of Archaeology, we are looking at some of our most recent projects. As yet they these do not have full or final reports but there are still interesting findings we can share.
At Nether Stowey we had the opportunity to briefly investigate an Operational Base that was already partially collapsed. The site was on a farm, and had proved an ongoing issue for the sites owners, as their sheep regularly found a way through increasingly expensive fencing and into the OB. Once there they struggled to extract themselves and over the years, more than one had ended their days there. The plan was therefore to bury the OB and prevent this happening. CART were offered the opportunity to investigate the OB prior to the site being buried. In this situation there is no need undertake a total excavation. Parts of the structure will remain intact for future generations to study. The purpose was to learn what was not immediately obvious. There was limited time, with a day or preparation and a day for excavation.
A draft report on the excavation details the findings. Whilst the main chamber was the typical elephant shelter, both the entrance and escape exit are different. See our images of the dig for more details. Possibly the escape exit may represent a later addition, although no specific proof of this was found. The end chamber is built from bricks, unlike the concrete blocks of the main end walls, except around the route to the escape tunnel. We have a couple of basic plans to show the layout, though the more formal plan was drawn up prior to the excavation so does not show the entrance that was identified. Creating detailed plans and reports is a lengthy process and just recently our new website has taken priority. However, hopefully this will indicate how the new website will be developing as we have the chance to complete and add this material online.
A final bonus from the excavation was the publicity in the local area regarding the excavation resulted in CART being given a copy of a photograph of the Nether Stowey Patrol.
Over a period of several weeks in 2019, CART, supported by Dorset Council and their wildlife volunteers with some technical support from the New Forest Community Archaeology team. From the first identification of the exact location by local resident Adam Dunn, to the extensive excavation and final interpretation board, has been quite a journey. Our initial report shows the difference from what we knew at the start of the year to now. The Ferndown Patrol report contains some of the images from this, another site which had an extensive ventilation system of glazed pipes, which was partially uncovered during the dig. Metal detecting and ground penetrating radar were both deployed in the initial stages to locate the buried structures. The former found the water tank with its concealed filler cap, whereas the latter was better for finding the shaft and the disturbed ground of the ventilation system. We are grateful to Gary Sterne of Maisey Battery for bringing his expensive kit and helping us out. Do check out his site in Normandy, for some very extensive digging and some remarkable associated historical research that is rewriting one of the central stories of D Day.
Our attempts to have a formal unveiling of the new interpretation board and the remains deliberately left extant were unfortunately foiled, first by severe storms this spring, then by the coronavirus pandemic! We would like to put on an event to show off the finds but perhaps that will have to wait for the 2021 Festival of Archaeology!
And as an extra bonus here is our colleague, John Wareham, instrumental in setting up the Ferndown excavations, with his video of the Auxiliary Units display built for a show season that won’t be happening. John is definitely our experimental archaeologist, learning how to remake items not built since the war.
Finally we bring you a short report from the Coleshill Estate. The team there have continued their investigation of the training structures at the site and have identified a new Operational Base there. This appears to be of a much earlier type than the previously known elephant shelter, being a box-like structure of corrugated iron on wooden beams. This may suggest that the design of OBs developed officially during the war, perhaps as more experienced Royal Engineer Officers became involved.
We hope you have enjoyed our brief tour through the archaeology of Auxiliary Units. CART continue to research the Auxiliary Units and new information has been forthcoming even during this week. New material is now being regularly add to our website, so do keep coming back to see. We would be keen to hear from anyone investigating Auxiliary Units sites of all types, anywhere in the country, to share what we have found and to help learn from our mistakes. We are grateful to those archaeologists, both professional and amateur, who kindly shared their research with us to share with you. Please contact us if you have any information about Auxiliary Units that you don’t see on this website already. We think we have included everyone who was involved, but we know there must be missing names.
And when Scheduling sometimes may not be the best approach
Normally when we find out about a site it is because someone is inviting us to take a look, or because hunting for a location we have come across the owners. Almost all of the time they are keen for us to come and visit, take a look around the remains and record what is left, and explain how it was it used. The Salisbury In-station site has been a bit different.
We first became aware the site in 2001 from letters from the late Bert Davis, a member of the Royals Signals team who helped fit it out, shortly after the OB was built. He provided an approximate location but the Foot and Mouth epidemic rather limited countryside access at the rime. An initial reconnaissance in 2003 revealed it was in publicly accessible woodland managed by the Forestry Commission. Contact with them revealed that they were very much aware of the site, not least as a contractor had previously put the wheel of their tractor through the roof and damaged it. Subsequently they had fitted bat grills to the entrances and reportedly bats were in residence. Since disturbing bats, for example by flash photography, flood lighting or indeed simply a noisy presence is illegal, they were understandably reluctant to allow access.
In 2013 CART was approached by a local resident who had found the site simply through walking in the area. We visited the site and did not enter, but recorded what could be seen above ground. At around the same time, a group of “urban explorers” visited the site, reportedly broke the locks off of the bat grills and entered, taking photos and video of the site. These were posted online, making the existence of the site public knowledge. With a lot of images it was clear this was a site in remarkably good condition, with a large part of the original fittings in situ. It was also significantly larger than most other “Zero” In-stations, which tend to follow a similar design. The transcription of the Beatrice Temple Diary at about this time included reference to this site as a “Superzero” indicating it’s special nature. Attempts were renewed to see if officially sanctioned access would be possible but came to nothing.
In 2014, independent of CART, a submission was made to have the site scheduled. There is no doubt that it is deserving, being in a good state of preservation and being unique even among other surviving Auxiliary Structures. The application was successful and the listing can be read online.
When the Defence of Britain Project was compiling lists of wartime sites in 1995-2000, one intention was to use the results to schedule a selection. Discussions around that time reflected that scheduling provides little in the way of benefit to a site in secure ownership, but does allow prosecution in the event of deliberate damage. For Auxiliary Units OBs, their survival has often been the result of not being widely known about. Keeping a site secret cannot protect from a major road being built over it, or a housing development. However, they are rarely placed in locations where this is a real risk. One of the results of scheduling a site is that its location is revealed. In the case of the Salisbury In-station, this meant an 8 digit map reference was put online, making it easy for anyone with a GPS system to locate the site with no other knowledge. In addition a supplemental “Heritage Highlights” press release included images of the site, in case of any doubt
Subsequently the site has been revisited repeatedly by urban explorers, damaging locks and indeed breaking the grills beyond repair in order to gain access. Understandably for those tasked with the care of the site, this is a major problem. They know there are risks to entry, this is a confined space and parts of the structure have been damaged. Images from within show the presence of asbestos boards in use for internal dividers with some of these damaged. The law places the responsibility on the owners for the safety even of those who break in. Scheduling doesn’t appear to have helped this site, except to make it more more widely known.
How to record a site when you can’t get in?
CART Researchers have visited the site on a number of occasions. We have surveyed and recorded those elements visible from the surface. This includes not only the entrance shafts, but the presence of ventilation pipes on the surface. Some items removed from the interior by visitors have also been recorded on the surface. The surrounding area was examined for the presence of aerial trees, but all the trees in the surrounding area appear too young. The site was felled in the past and it was during logging that a contractor vehicle damaged the roof of the entrance chamber. CART researchers also identified the location of the above ground hut, which does not feature in the scheduling. It has also been identified that the orientation of the structure on the scheduling report is incorrect.
In addition information has been collected from the illegal access recordings available online. Using these, Matt Brazier has produced an excellent 3D walk through. This can be seen on the Salisbury In-station page.
This is why we are happy to talk about this site at this point, as it is obviously already common knowledge, and presumably for every visitor that posts a video online there have been a number of others
It is clear at both this an other sites, that repeat visits can mean new findings come to light. As the vegetation differs with seasons or weather, different elements become more or less obvious.
CART continue to work towards the goal of being permitted to safely document the interior of this site. We have engaged in a positive dialogue with the site managers and we hope our determination will pay off some time soon. We have worked to identify periods when entry would not result in bat disturbance and the requirements for safe access, both in terms of confined space working and asbestos risk management. We have explored the possibility of remote access with drones or remote controlled vehicles. If access ever is possible, we want to record it in as many ways as possible to make the most of the opportunity. Not just with photos or video, but detailed measurement or ideally 3D scanning to ensure the site is recorded comprehensively. We would be interested to hear from anyone with skills in those areas who might wish to cooperate either in providing the relevant schemes of work or risk assessments or later in any investigation. It would be a shame if this site if further damaged or decays without being properly recorded. At present the only records have resulted from illegal access which surely is not what was intended by those creating the relevant legislation. From CART’s perspective, doing the right thing may take longer but we hope that is of more benefit in the future in relations with other landowners than earlier access to a single site, no matter how interesting.
Following the most visit video, all the entrances have been welded shut to prevent access.
Tomorrow will be looking at some smaller scale projects with interesting findings.
They are including a piece on the Auxiliary Units covering everything from the creation of the very first units (initially named the XII Corps Observation Unit) under Peter Fleming (brother of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond), to how they were trained in ‘thuggery’ and the types of weapons that made up their rather impressive arsenals! Make sure you pick up a copy!
This years Cenotaph memorial march in London was attended by Jim Gascoyne, John Hewett and Stewart Bates. Our thanks to them for Auxiliary Units representation.
Here’s what Jim had to say: “We were sandwiched between WRVS ladies (charming) and RSPCA officers (funny) with RAF Police alongside and Royal Military Police a few yards behind us. The Duke of York took the salute before we dispersed from Horseguards Parade. A personal Thank You from me for ensuring that the CART slot was maintained at the RBL Cenotaph Remembrance Parade. Best regards, Jim Gasgoyne.”
CART’s Roger Green and Bill Ashby attended the memorial service at Coleshill, remembering all those from the village that gave their lives. They also laid a wreath in memory of Aux Units.
In Somerset CART’s Chris Perry laid 2 wreaths at Somerton war memorial: One to all the men and women that served in the Aux Units in Somerset, and one to Major Ian Fenwick, the late John ‘Tiny’ Kidner of Somerton & all the men that served in the SAS.
This July 1944 document comes from a recent, very generous donation to CART of documents from an East Anglian Group Commander. These are still being catalogued and photographed, as almost 200 pages!
We hope in due course to bring some of these things to public view, as part of our website redevelopment. In the meantime here is the document requesting numbers required from each Group Commander. Note that the men were required to pay 6d each for their badges! They were to be made available to men who had left Auxiliary Units, though in practice, few if any seem to have received one.
As can be seen, there were strict instructions that they could not be worn in wartime. The design was conceived specifically for these enamel badges and was intended for wear in “mufti” (in civies) not as part of uniform.
Our favourite example comes from a Pathe Newsreel (see picture) of the Prince of Wales presenting colours to the Royal Regiment of Wales in 1969. Legendary Welsh WW1 VC “Stokey” Lewis was an Auxilier in WW2. His medals are now in the Lord Ashcroft collection having been privately purchased. They are on display at the IWM, though we believe without the Aux Units badge
Thus the badges were produced in wartime, but with strict instructions not to be worn until the end of hostilities. Perhaps they didn’t see the ‘end’ of the war taking quite such a long time..