2/4/15: Final day of excavation of Lager Wick, a forced labour camp in Jersey

The day started with a phone call to the Planning Officer in Jersey during which I learned that the latrine block at Lager Wick, probably the only intact structure of any labour camp in Jersey, was to be saved. This meant that it will not be filled in. Presumably, it will get incorporated into the SSI (Site of Special Interest) as a historic building. By no means have I finished excavating it, but we can see its main features and its structure, which is the main thing. Yesterday I discussed with John Pinel, the island’s Principal Ecologist, the future possibilities for this site for the island’s heritage and tourism. We discussed fencing off the latrine block but allowing people to walk around it (currently nobody may enter the site as it is an area for breeding birds). The block could also be linked to the concrete entrance posts of the camp. There is also potential, I think, for linking the site with the forced labourers’ memorial at La Hougue Bie and the Westmount memorial to slave workers, not to mention a potential exhibition on the excavation – something I’ve discussed with the Director of Jersey Heritage in the past. These sites could be listed on a heritage trail to give a counterbalance to German bunkers and the occupier-centric way of telling the history of the German Occupation in Jersey.

So, as today was the final day, the time has come to take stock of the last week to see if we have achieved our aims. Aim 1 was to see what archaeology can detect of a WWII forced labour camp – one that principally comprised wooden barracks. This year has been a big success from that point of view. We’ve uncovered a three-room latrine block and the very clear traces of a burnt barrack block (complete with melted glass, charcoal, and other burnt objects). We’ve also begun to be able to characterise what different blocks of the camp were used for. The burnt block that we excavated this week was one used by the guards. Aim 2 was to learn more about everyday life of those who lived in the camp. The latrine block, used by around 200 men, was certainly insufficient for that purpose and the potential lack of sign of any drainage in the urinal area means that I can only guess what conditions were like there. We also have an insight into daily life through the objects found in the latrine, and in the burnt barrack where it looks like the guards were kicking back and drinking schnapps in the evening. The third aim was to raise awareness about the presence of these camps in Jersey, and I hope that the newspaper articles, TV interviews and this blog will do just that. I am extremely pleased with the excavation and consider this season of excavation to be a big success.

The final day on site is usually the hardest. Not only do you have to back-fill all the trenches that you lovingly and carefully excavated, but the back-filling process is extremely hard work, especially after a week of hard labour. Peter and I managed the job in about 3 hours but we were completely exhausted (see picture) and we have no idea how forced labourers coped during WWII on poor rations, miserable living conditions and long working hours – and kept it up for years, never knowing when or if their suffering would end. I hope that his excavation is able to inform more people of their plight in the future.

Lager Wick entrance posts

Lager Wick entrance posts

Showing the site to Channel TV

Showing the site to Channel TV (Gilly Carr in sexy high-vis jacket, wishing she had purple wellies too)

Gilly and Claudia hard at work

Gilly and Claudia hard at work

The labour camp becomes part of the SSI designation of Grouville Marsh

The labour camp becomes part of the SSI designation of Grouville Marsh

Exhaustion takes its toll!

Exhaustion takes its toll on Peter!

1/4/2015: Day 6 of the excavation of Lager Wick: Saving the best till last!

Brass cuff-link

Brass cuff-link

Decorated / embossed glass

Decorated / embossed glass

Eagle and swastika!

Eagle and swastika!

French trading coin

French trading coin

French trading coin

French trading coin

Today was the last day of the second season of the excavation of Lager Wick, although I hope to upload some images of more objects in the days to come to get your feedback about identifications of some items.

In terms of finds, we have certainly saved the best till last! As one of the Murphy’s Laws of archaeology states, you will always find the best stuff at the end of the final day. And we did. But before I reveal the star item, I should tell you that the team were debating whether the barrack block we were excavating was used by forced labourers or by their guards. On the one hand, I wanted to find incontrovertible evidence that we had definitely found the camp and were not just paddling around in post-war refuse, so I didn’t mind which it was. On the other, I really wanted to find something that spoke about the daily life of the labourers. The evidence before today from this barrack block, which burnt down in April 1944, was: a cuff-link (see picture), a schnapps glass, a ceramic bird’s head (see yesterday’s post for both items), and a Jersey coin dated 1935. To me, this evidence did not suggest forced labourers. However, today’s find clinched it and it seems clear that this barrack block was used by the Organisation Todt guards. I found a ceramic disc with an eagle and swastika on it, dated 1941. I think that it was the base of a ceramic vessel of some sort. Perhaps any expert in Nazi ceramics reading this can identify and translate the potter’s mark for me? My own opinion is that this base of a vessel was deliberately modified (perhaps after breaking) in order to make a fairly regular shaped disc. This could then be kept as a souvenir of some sort.

Of the other finds today, I am uploading here a piece of embossed glass (I’d like to think that the leaf on the design was a oak leaf, but that’s because I’d like to think that I was on a roll today in terms of German occupation finds!) and a French coin / token dated 1922, with ‘Commerce’ and ‘Industrie’ on one side and I think ‘2 Francs’ on the other. Perhaps someone could tell me more about this? I am also attaching an image of a piece of metal which seems familiar but I cannot place it. It has the letter ‘K’ on the triangular piece at the end of the item. Again, any experts on German militaria, do leave a comment!

Tomorrow we have to backfill the site, but it seems that there MAY be a stay of execution for our latrine site. The Planning Department and the land owners will think about whether the site should be preserved as a historic building, but I need to know by 10am tomorrow! I’ll keep you posted. More tomorrow!

Eagle and swastika!

Mystery object

31/3/15: Day 5 of the excavation of Lager Wick: evidence of burning!

Paved area around barrack block

Paved area around barrack block

Ceramic bird

Ceramic bird

Schnapps glass

Schnapps glass

Burnt glass

Burnt glass

Today we extended the trench that we took a peek into at the end of yesterday. It revealed what we think was a paved area in front of the barrack block that burned down in April 1944. Whether all barrack blocks had a paved area in front of them, or a pathway linking them, we don’t know. However, Lager Wick was built on a marsh, and such paved areas would have been useful on the boggy ground. As the trench was 3 x 2.5m, it took us a while to excavate but it was worthwhile. We found a few nice objects (a small schnapps / vodka glass and the head of a ceramic bird – see pictures), which made us question whether this barrack block was used by prisoners or guards. As the paved area seemed to go around the corner of what we assume was the burnt barrack block, we dug into the empty space where the block should have been. Joy of joy, we found some really clear evidence of a burning event. This included a clear layer of charcoal and lots of burnt glass, as well as some burnt window catches and door hinges. We were very pleased to have this confirmation of what is known from the archaeological record.

Tomorrow is our last day of digging, so the question is: do we open a couple of smaller test pits to check for other paved areas in front of barrack huts? I think we must. We also have another day ahead of us covering our trenches and the latrine block with soil. But it is possible that there will be an 11th hour reprieve, as word reached us via our environmental officer, Piers Sangan, that it is possible that the island’s planning authority may want to keep the latrine block uncovered as a historic site within an SSI (Site of Special Interest). We shall see! We also had a visit today from Channel TV and the BBC TV cameras, so I will post links to these reports online. I’m attaching some images from today and am always happy to have feedback on interpretation!

Day 4 of excavation of Lager Wick, 30/3/15: a day of new architectural discoveries!

Today the sun shone – such a pleasant change after yesterday’s storm! And our geophysicist, Peter, finally made it over from Guernsey in the middle of the night, so he was able to carry out and complete the magnetic susceptibility survey today (see picture) in the hope of detecting areas of burning within the area where we know a barrack block burnt down in 1944. He identified a couple of areas of high readings, so we used the auger to do a quick soil sample and lo! We found small traces of burning (see picture). Alleluia! So our hopes are high for our first trench.

In the meantime, Claudia and I finished off the work we wanted to complete on the latrine block. The main question that puzzled us was the doorway – how did people get into the block? Where was the door? Claudia found 3 stairs hiding under the soil and a layer of ivy, and spent the day revealing them (see picture). We also tested our hypothesis that the latrine block was at the end of a bigger barrack block. We had wondered whether that barrack was entirely made of wood or whether it had a concrete foundation like the latrine block, so dug a couple of small test pits, but in both we found only the layer of sand upon which the camp was built, which confirmed that the block was at the end of a wooden barrack block.

At the end of the day we opened the first trench around the area where the auger suggested a layer of burning could be found. But within 10cm of the surface we found a grey clay brick surface! We devoted only 30 minutes at the end of the day to uncovering what we could in a short space of time and will extend the trench and dig it properly tomorrow, but what do these bricks represent? Why are they there? We think that they’re a floor surface – perhaps at the entrance to a barrack block. More will be revealed tomorrow!

Claudia's beautiful stairs!

Claudia’s beautiful stairs!

Peter doing his mag sus survey

Peter doing his mag sus survey

Core sample showing a layer of burning.

Core sample showing a layer of burning.

29/3/15: Day 3 of the excavation of Lager Wick. Replacing questions with more questions.

Toothpaste tube

Toothpaste tube

Lumps of green stuff (lumps of copper?) found by Claudia in the shower room. Are these heavily corroded shower fittings?

Lumps of green stuff (lumps of copper?) found by Claudia in the shower room. Are these heavily corroded shower fittings?

Today a big storm hit the Channel Islands. This meant that our geophysicist, Peter, was still stuck in Guernsey since the brand new ferry got damaged coming into harbour in its maiden voyage yesterday. We hope that he will arrive later tonight, but when I took Claudia to Noirmont Point to see the bunkers this afternoon, the wind was so strong that it made the rain sting our cheeks, and we could hardly stand up without being blown away (see photo below of the wild sea around the Corbiere Lighthouse earlier today).

Before the storm hit, Claudia and I decided to dig a few very small test pits of 50 x 50cm in the area of the burnt barrack blocks to see if we could detect the area of burning archaeologically. Without Peter, we had neither an auger nor the magnetic susceptibility geophysics equipment to find the area of burning. However, our test pits revealed nothing except the gritty and compacted ground surface of the camp. No burnt layer. Does this mean that (a) the area of burning was very thoroughly cleaned up; (b) our test pits were all in the wrong place; or (c) the estimate of the location of the burnt barrack blocks, taken from the aerial photo, is wrong? Perhaps all of the above? We need Peter to work his magic as time is passing quickly.

Claudia and I poked around the latrine block a little longer and I cleaned some more soil from the area which we think was the doorway of the latrine. I found an old toothpaste tube. This means that almost all of the finds from this building (toothpaste tube, toothbrush, comb, hairbrush, soap dish, medicines) seem to fit the identification of the structure as a latrine (but what about those pesky jam jars, wine bottles and Shippam’s fish paste bottles? Are they all post-war?). However, I was bothered by the location of the building: rather than lying as a single small stand-alone structure near the burnt barrack block, as we had thought, our environmentalist and the planning officers relocated it to next to another barrack block. Claudia and I stared hard at the aerial photos for half an hour and realised that the latrine area was actually part of a much larger structure. This means that (a) we have to see if we can find any evidence of another building through digging another test pit or two, and (b) what on earth was the function of the rest of the building? Was it a regular barrack block (and did all barrack blocks end with a toilet and shower area?) or was the whole barrack block a wash room? Or did it have some other structure, such as a hospital wing? Time is running out and – if truth be told – I now need a third season at Lager Wick.

The rough seas around the Corbiere Lighthouse which have stranded my geophysicist in Guernsey!

The rough seas around the Corbiere Lighthouse which have stranded my geophysicist in Guernsey!

Day 2: 28 March 2015. The problems of stratigraphy (or lack of it)

The aim today was to clear the soil around the walls of the latrine building so that we could measure and record it properly. The three areas of the latrine (which we’re calling A, B or C) are much clearer now. We think that A was the latrine, B was a joining corridor of some sort (a changing room?) and C was a wash room because we found a drain in the middle of it (amazing how excited you can get over a drain! See picture) with a sloping floor leading in to it. The soil in area A was black and humic without much in the way of tree and plant roots (have I been shovelling sh … human compost today?), but that in area C (where we spent most of the afternoon) was brown and full of roots. By the time we downed tools at the end of the day, it looked like a doorway could be seen in area B but we’ll know more tomorrow. In terms of small finds, they are in keeping with a latrine; however, they also present us with some problems. We have no stratigraphy in this structure; just up to 30 cm or so of soil and leaf litter and tree roots. Therefore, we cannot know for sure whether / when we have reached the wartime layer. All we can say is that the objects next to the concrete floor are very interesting. So we found 3 shards of a mirror (which was around 3×6 inches when whole); a child’s toothbrush; a pink child’s hairbrush, a blue comb, a medicine bottle … so far, so good. But what should we read into this? Were there children among the forced labourers? Or were adults using children’s objects because that was all that they could buy in wartime, when many of the island’s children had evacuated to the UK? Or are these post-war objects? Which is the most likely? Can we be sure? I don’t think we can. All we can do is note these objects and think about possible interpretations. But then what to do with them? Will Jersey Heritage (who will become guardian of the objects) want every fragment of pottery and building tile? Will we learn more by keeping them? Will they go on display? Should I keep a select sample and throw the rest away? Should I record every piece and how easy is this when it’s raining, everything is covered in mud, the finds bags are with Peter who is stuck in Guernsey because the ferry got damaged and he can’t get here, and the tiles, glass and other lumps of concrete are large (and wet and muddy) and I can only clean everything in the hotel bathroom sink!) And what about the asbestos? Well, obviously I shan’t keep that! But I’ve taken a photo for posterity (see below).

In what I think is the doorway in area B (behind the door) was a cache of about 165 whelk shells (see below). If you’ve ever tried to get the meat out of a whelk shell, it isn’t worth the hassle for the small reward, but if you have 165-odd, then you have a small meal – worth doing in a time of starvation? There were also around 20 shrimp paste jars in with the shells (I think that’s what they contained) and a similar number of rusty tins which I didn’t keep. Were these tins from a Red Cross parcel? Does their inclusion with whelk shells speak of that time of hunger? Or was this just a post-war dump of rubbish? Again, no stratigraphic clue other than they were buried quite deep in the soil.  I also found a rather nice cut-glass beaker (picture attached). If anyone has any thoughts, please leave a comment!

Asbestos roof tiles

Asbestos roof tiles

The drain

The drain

Cut glass beaker

Cut glass beaker

3,792 whelk shells. Or so it seemed when I was washing them.

3,792 whelk shells. Or so it seemed when I was washing them.

Season 2, Day 1: 27 March 2015

Ashtray from Hotel Chagnot, Lille. Perhaps not somewhere to go for a romantic weekend ...

Ashtray from Hotel Chagnot, Lille. Perhaps not somewhere to go for a romantic weekend …

Today was the first day of the second season of the excavation at Lager Wick. This year we have two areas of focus: the so-called latrine block (is that really what it is? It’s the only concrete structure still surviving on the site) and the area of a burnt barrack block – one of three that burned down in April 1943.

I was very pleased to see a new addition to the site – an information panel saying that the site was used as a labour camp during the German occupation (see picture). This makes Lager Wick the first camp in the Channel Islands to have any heritage recognition. Momentous occasion!

This year the excavation team comprises me (Dr Gilly Carr, University of Cambridge), Dr Claudia Theune (University of Vienna) and Mr Peter Masters (University of Cranfield); Peter arrives tomorrow and is the excavation geophysicist. The excavation is being supported by the British Academy and the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research in Cambridge.

Claudia and I realised quickly today that we need more people on the dig as there is a lot of work to do, so if anyone reading this is in the mood to turn off their computer and jump on a plane to Jersey, please contact me. This is a serious offer. I cannot pay any expenses, but if you want to join us, we need you! I need about 2 or 3 people, and I’d prefer it if you have experience, but if you’re willing to come, let me know! The last day of the dig is 2 April.

Anyway, today we started stripping the soil off the latrine building (see picture). This was extremely interesting as it revealed a few small finds (some barbed wire, some window glass, a little cache of limpet and ormer shells hidden in a corner which I like to think could have been put there by a forced labourer), some corrugated asbestos, and some tiles. But the happiest moment came today when Claudia found that part of the concrete floor of the ‘latrine’ sloped down towards a drain, which helps to secure the identification of the building. We also found an old ash-tray from a French hotel, so we’re wondering if it was filched by a German soldier.  I’ll try to post a picture of it tomorrow. By the end of the day we were covered from head to toe in mud (it was raining) and I didn’t want to get my camera dirty!

Lager Wick as a heritage site!

Lager Wick as a heritage site!

Claudia Theune standing by the latrine of Lager Wick

Claudia Theune standing by the latrine of Lager Wick

Second season of excavation starting soon!

A new post to let you all know that the second season of excavation will begin very soon. The team will arrive in Jersey on 26th March and leave on 3rd April, so we will have around a week in the island this time.

We were lucky to have received planning permission and – most of all – funding. The British Academy and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, will be paying for our expenses.

This year the team will comprise: Project Director: Dr Gilly Carr (University of Cambridge), team member Professor Claudia Theune (University of Vienna, taking the place of Professor Marek Jasinski this year; Marek will continue as Project Advisor); and Mr Peter Masters (University of Cranfield) will join us again as excavation geophysicist.

See you soon!

Planning permission submitted for 2015 season

28 October 2014
This post is to announce that I have recently submitted documents to request planning permission to conduct a second and final season of excavation at Lager Wick forced labour camp on Grouville Marsh in Jersey. The plan for the second season is to excavate a part of the camp that was destroyed by burning in 1944. As the act of burning can cause some types of objects to carbonise and thus survive better, we are exploring the preservation potential of this part of the camp. We also hope to survey, uncover and record the latrine block.

The Jersey Evening Post has reported on the planning request.

The second season of excavation will be the last because the site of the camp is an SSI, a Site of Special Interest. It is a nature reserve for breeding birds, and the density of trees and foliage and the height of the water table all combine to mean that no other area of the camp could be reasonably made available for excavation.

Excavation of Lager Wick: Postscript on the subject of forced labour

I was moved to add this post as a postscript to my blog after reviewing some of the recent media interviews with some Occupation veterans from the Channel Islands, who give the impression (intentionally or not) that forced labour during the Occupation was unproblematic because the labourers were paid. On the one hand, they are no doubt comparing them with the slave labourers, who were treated abysmally and not paid. On the other, they are probably also recalling that the forced labourers were paid well enough to be serious competitors on the Black Market. But despite this, I believe that the forced labourers are worthy of remembrance and consider my excavation as being an example of a political, ethical archaeology – something that is becoming increasingly common within Conflict Archaeology, the field in which I work. The excavation of Lager Wick makes a statement about whose side we are on, and who we consider worthy of remembrance. It also fights to raise awareness of the plight of those who were forced to work against their will for overseers they hated.

One veteran said that Lager Wick “was not a confined camp, it was wide open and civilians could go in. You could see the workers knock off at Grouville Common, trailing back to base. I used to look into the camp and you could see them around. They would work from eight in the morning until six in the evening with half an hour for lunch. Yes they were forced, but they weren’t mistreated. It was a workers accommodation camp.”

I find this kind of statement to be misleading and somewhat belittling of their experience. I am happy to go on record as saying that being paid and not being mistreated does not make forced labour any less of an infringement of one’s human rights. And how can a camp be ‘not confined’ and ‘open’ when it is surrounded by 8 ft high barbed wire, as close observation of the entrance posts revealed?? The Organisation Todt (the employers) were corrupt and negligent: they were involved in the conscription of forced and slave labour and they paid little heed to safe working conditions. This is why the Spanish Republican forced labourers in Jersey are remembered for wearing bowler hats, which they purchased with their wages as the closest thing they could find to hard hats. 

The International Labour Organisation states that ‘forced labour is a serious violation of a fundamental human right’. It was forbidden under the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 and so was in force before WWII, even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration says that ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Article 4 says that ‘nobody shall be held in slavery or servitude’. Article 9 says that ‘no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile‘. Article 13 (1) says that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.’ Article 23 (1) says that ‘everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.’

I end this post with a photo (courtesy of Gary Font) of the late Francisco Font, former forced and slave worker and Spanish Republican who settled down in Jersey after the Occupation. He is standing by a memorial dedicated to deceased forced and slave labourers at Westmount in St Helier which he campaigned to get erected, succeeding only in 1971. He had earlier failed to get a memorial erected outside a former Organisation Todt camp at Fort Regent. It will be interesting to see what happens at Lager Wick.Image

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