Thanks to the kindness of Andrea Winn, Curator of Community Outreach here at Manchester Museum, I can show an image of the recent session about the First World War with the Youth Board and creative consultants. Whilst the Museum does not collect social history, some objects in the collection were acquired during the First World War. I got out some objects donated by Francis Buckley (1881-1949) when he was serving in northern France during the First World War. The circumstances were rather unusual. 2nd Lieutenant Buckley was charged with preparing a line of trenches known as the Red Line at the village of Coigneux in 1918. This was in response to a German offensive. Buckley was there from April until the middle of August and had plenty of time to inspect the upcast soil from the excavations to create the trenches. Reginald A.Smith of the British Museum had asked Buckley to look at disturbed ground in case archaeological material was revealed.
The drawings above show Francis Buckley’s painstaking care in recording the stratigraphy of the trenches which had yielded flint implements of Mousterian or Neanderthal date, so going back potentially going back several hundred thousand years. The Neanderthal stone tools were found along the tops of the parapets. Buckley knew that the material on top of the parapet was likely to be from the soil from the very bottom of the trenches when they were deepened because of the German threat. Buckley noted ruefully that had it been possible to excavate the parapets he would have found more implements. ‘But for military reasons this was quite out of the question’ he wrote in his article about the Coigneux discoveries published in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia (1920-1), pp.1-9.
Francis Buckley was clearly someone to have around in an emergency and he was mentioned in dispatches (‘His Majesty’s high appreciation of the services rendered’) on 9th April 1917. Even so you wonder what Lieutenant Buckley’s commanding officer made of the close observation of the trenches for archaeological material…
This kind of behaviour is not unusual in warfare and quite coincidentally I came across the image below earlier this week in one of our archive boxes. It shows a rather charming little painting of a pot decorated with a white wavy line on its shoulder. Two views are shown. It’s only when you read the pencil inscription underneath that you realise what this represents. ‘Found whilst deepening a well in Gallipoli – about 3 feet of mud on top of it. The well contained water and was near Cape Hellas about 2 miles from Knithia (?)’. Someone has added in ink ‘Said at S.Kensington to be modern Turkish, possibly 200 years old’. In other words this pot was found during the unsuccessful Gallipoli campaign in which so many soldiers were killed or wounded, and yet someone still took the trouble to make a record of a pot they had found. There is no name attached to the painting but one likely candidate is Lieutenant Thomas Eric Peet B.A, of the Kings (Liverpool) Regiment, Army Service Corps who worked in the Egyptology Department of Manchester Museum. In 1917 Thomas Peet commanded an Army unit dedicated to excavating and preserving antiquities discovered on the classically rich battlefields of the Salonica Front. Perhaps his promotion was the result of the beautiful records he had made of chance discoveries like the Turkish pot.
When I was talking to the Youth Board I said that soldiers weren’t fighting all of the time and often found time to practice some of the skills they had developed in civilian life. Perhaps the detailed recording of flints from the trenches at Coigneux or of a Turkish pot Gallipoli are evidence of soldiers finding ways to express their humanity in an inhumane situation.
Afterwards I showed the Youth Board some Roman material to explore how soldiers 2000 years ago introduced new styles of jewellery and pottery into Britain that the native British would not have been familiar with. New introductions such Continental brooches and mortaria or mixing bowls were adopted by the soldiers’ families and by civilians, making the soldiers important agents of Romanisation in newly-conquered provinces. Roman soldiers as advocates of Mediterranean culinary expertise in their spare time is a far cry from recording archaeology disturbed by the trenches or the fighting at Gallipoli. It seemed somehow glib in comparison.
Thanks to Andrea Winn and Michael Whitworth for information and images used in this blog.