Archive for February, 2011
I have just heard that the dreadful CWGC experiment at Railway Chateau Cemetery outside of Ypres where they removed the turf and put down some sort of hard standing has been scrapped. In fairness to the CWGC they always said it was an experiment but I am sure after the comments on various war forums plus those left in the visitor’s book that they were assured hadn’t been greeted with anything other than distress. Defintely a thumbs down from all who had written in the visitors book when I was there. Thank goodness that common sense has prevailed. I will visit again later in the year and post a picture then. A description of my visit in December 2009 can be read here: CWGC Climate Change Trials.
This news was from the Western Front Association and the extract from their website can be read below. Link here also: WFA Article on Railway Chateau being returned to lawn.
CWGC News: Railway Chateau Cemetery to be returned to lawn
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has been conducting climate change demonstrations at four of its cemeteries in northern Europe.
One of the primary aims of the demonstrations has been to elicit public feedback on the different approaches taken. In November 2009, an online survey was developed for this purpose, whilst the CWGC also monitored comments in the Visitor Books at each of the four cemeteries.
Support for the Commission’s work on climate change, and the approaches taken at three of the cemeteries, was strong but there was little enthusiasm for the hard landscaping solution adopted at Railway Chateau.
Although dry landscaping is commonly and successfully employed by the Commission at cemeteries where grass cannot be grown or maintained – usually due to a lack of a regular water supply – this was the first time it was demonstrated at a cemetery in northern Europe.
As a result of the feedback received, Railway Chateau will be re-established as a typical lawn cemetery in the spring of 2011.
The cemetery will remain part of the climate change demonstrations with the CWGC using drought-tolerant plants in the borders and a drought tolerant grass mix – similar to the approach taken at Oostduinkerke Communal Cemetery in Belgium. The demonstrations will run for another four years and the CWGC will continue to monitor and update the public on the outcomes.
Over the past few months I have been in touch with people at the Bristol Evening Post (whose stories also feature in the Western Daily Press and Bath Chronicle) after they ran the story about Alfred Flux’s graffiti in the Bouzincourt Caves on Armistice Day 2010. I had mentioned that the revised version of the Somme panorama volume was out in February and had arranged for a copy to be sent to them for review.
I have just spent weekend away but was texted yesterday by a neighbour who congratulated me on the book being ‘Bristol Book of the Week’. Luckily she had saved me a copy of the review which is attached below. My thanks to Suzanne Savill for organsing this.
I was delighted to read that a Canadian casualty of the Great War whose remains were found by construction workers near Avion in 2003 have now been identified using DNA. The man, a 28-year-old Irish immigrant 183425 Private Thomas Lawless, 49th Battalion (Alberta Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force was killed in a raid on the German lines on 9 June 1917.
Press reports indicate that his remains, along with those of 808723 Private Herbert Peterson of the same battalion, were discovered during a road-building project. Private Peterson’s remains were positively identified in 2007 and were buried with full military honours at La Chaudière Military Cemetery in Vimy in the same year.
It took six years of research and testing before forensic scientists and DNA specialists could positively identify Thomas Lawless. The remains of both men had been returned to Canada because metal insignia identified their battalion and nationality.
The story has been covered in the Canadian Press. Links below to the Edmonton Journal and The Vancouver Sun.
Thomas Lawless’s details are recorded in the CWGC register HERE. Interestingly he is reported as being buried in La Chaudière Military Cemetery in Vimy, despite the service not taking place until 15 March 2011. The service will take place with members of his Irish family in attendance.
As a ‘missing’ Canadian soldier, Thomas Lawless is still commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. The memorial is inscribed with the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who were posted as ‘missing, presumed dead’ in France. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial confirms that Thomas Lawless is on the Vimy Memorial: PRIVATE THOMAS LAWLESS
Below is the official notification of the positive identification of Private Lawless: Historic Casualty Identification
BG–11.002 – February 24, 2011
The Government of Canada, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces are dedicated to honouring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by ensuring that, when possible, they will be identified and buried in a known grave.
Nearly 28 000 members of Canada’s Army, Air Force, and Navy who died in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War have no known or maintainable grave. The majority of these service personnel – approximately 19 500 – went missing in France and Belgium during the First World War. Every year, some of the formerly missing are discovered, and the Department of National Defence is responsible for using historical and scientific methods to determine their identity.
Identification is the result of a collection of historical research and biological tests which eventually determine the most likely serviceman.
The first step in identification is to search records, such as military personnel records, burial registrar records, war diaries and maps, and regimental histories to create an historical profile of the unknown person. Purely historical identifications are rare, however, and DND usually seeks biological evidence to support other documents.
Biological anthropologists study the remains to determine the number of persons, their ages and heights, their dental health, their overall health and if possible, clues as to how they may have died. The resulting profile can further reduce the final list of candidates, and genetic testing of the remaining candidates can lead to an identification or reduce the candidate pool further.
Genetic testing of war remains requires that DNA be extracted from bone or teeth and then compared with genetic material donated by the descendents of the candidates.
Unfortunately, the use of DNA, while a method which has made identification more likely, can be limited by the availability of donors and the difficulty of extracting viable DNA from older remains. More recently, National Defence has used stable isotope technology to help differentiate the origins of candidates. By using the regional properties of certain elements to track the mobility of an individual, stable isotope technology can detect the locations in which an individual has been raised (to the age of approximately 21) and the locations in which an individual lived in the final ten to fifteen years of their lives. Such testing allows DND to exclude candidates based on where they were raised or where they lived prior to enlistment.
No doubt new technologies and increased access to historical documents will further enhance the precision and ability to identify Canada’s unknown soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen.
I think this is a great job by the Canadians and shows what can be done with some dedication and by providing the necessary budget. My congratulations go the Canadian government but also to the unsung heroes – the many professionals whose collaborative efforts in freely offering their time made this historical identification possible. Now, owing to their efforts, Private Lawless can finally rest in peace in a named grave. It would be wonderful if a similar effort was found in providing positive ID to the bodies of fifteen men from the York and Lancaster Regiment who were found in the French village of Beaucamps-Ligny in November 2009.
Following the three week archaeological dig at Mametz last May I am pleased to report that a new exhibition is to open at the Historial, Peronne from 16 June 2011.
Below is the text from the flyer that has been produced. If you are on the Somme from June – December then please do visit the Historial for the chance to see this exhibition.
An exhibition that tells for the first time the story behind the Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector. Employed only ten times during the war – nine of which were on the Somme. The machine was 19 metres long, 40 centimetres wide, and weighed 2.5 tonnes. It was deployed from a tunnel beneath No Man’s Land by a specially-trained crew of seven, and fired a jet of flaming oil 100 metres long over the German trenches: the strangest, rarest and most horrifying weapon of the Great War.
In May 2010 historians and archaeologists excavated a section of the British trenches near the village of Mametz in search of the remains of a Flame Projector believed to have been abandoned underground in late June 1916, just before the Battle of the Somme. The results were extraordinary, and for the first time for almost 100 years some of the original parts found in 2010 can be viewed alongside a specially-commissioned replica constructed by local students of vocational training centres.
A special screening of the film “Breathing Fire – Le Dragon de la Somme” will be shown at the opening of the exhibition, 16 June at 6pm.
A downloadable version of this flyer in pdf is available by clicking on the link below. Please feel free to disemminate this information to all your friends and battlefield visitors. It promises to be a terrific exhibition and for many will be the first chance to see parts of the Livens Flame Projector, buried in the Somme mud for 94 years.
Exact date of transmission of the version for UK television still to be determined. I will post this when I find out the date from the production company.
I use the tools supplied by WordPress and Google Analytics to follow how visitors reach my site. I am seeing a large number of visitors searching for details on the archaeological dig and accompanying television documentary programme that followed our search for any surviving pieces of a Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector at Mametz in May 2010. As the site was open to visitors and there was no ban on photos I don’t think it is breaking any great secret to reveal that we DID find pieces of this amazing weapon. It was 19 metres long, 40 centimetres wide and weighed 2.5 tonnes. Its specialised team of seven ensured it fired three ten second bursts of flame for up to 100 metres and, perhaps most remarkably, this was fired from a tunnel or ‘Russian Sap’ dug specially under No Man’s Land.
At present (14 February) there is no broadcast date available for the UK or North American market. In the UK the programme will be broadcast as a Channel 4 Time Team Special. As soon as I know the broadcast date I will post the details so please check back or follow me on Twitter to be kept up to date.
In the meantime, a couple of pictures.
Update – 13 April 2011.
The Time Team Special will be shown on Channel 4 at 9pm on 14 April. A detailed description of the birth, evolution and structure of the project along with maps and images is now available here: