Day 14: 18 April 2014: End of season 1 summary
Now that the final day of the archaeological survey and excavation of the first season of fieldwork at Lager Wick has passed, it is time to look back and assess what has been achieved.
My first aim was to see what survives of a forced labour camp that was in use for under three years and comprised mainly wooden barrack blocks that were removed at the end of the war. I am pleased to say that we found lumps of concrete and brick, which are evidence of the stilts upon which the barracks were placed; we found asbestos from the roofing; and we found iron nails that were used in the construction of the barrack blocks. We also found some high status small finds from the structure that we think was the guard hut.
My second aim was to draw attention to the plight of forced labourers in the Channel Islands and to draw attention to the fact that there were around 12 labour camps in Jersey, including the one at Lager Wick. Thanks to the TV reports on the BBC and Channel TV, as well as articles in the Jersey Evening Post and my lecture at the Societe Jersiaise on 16 April (today’s picture is of members of the audience looking at the finds) – and this blog – I hope that I have managed to raise awareness. When I return to Jersey in the summer, I hope to do some work with local schools – get them involved in washing pottery from the excavation.
My third aim was to learn something about the experience of being a forced labourer during the Occupation. While this was not gauged through the small finds from the dig, ironically it was learned the hard way whilst carrying out our own hard labour during excavation, and this was the topic of much excavation humour and many Facebook comments. We dug from 10am to 6pm every day (the forced labourers worked from 7am to 7pm), and while we were able to go back to the hotel, have a hot shower and use as much soap as was needed to get clean before collapsing on our beds (or catching up on work and hunching over the computer till midnight), dreaming of the osteopaths and physiotherapists we’d be able to consult in a few days’ time, this was not an option for the people living in Lager Wick. Soap was notoriously scarce towards the end of the Occupation, and the electricity and gas shortages meant that hot water was not an option. With no end in sight, the forced labourers had to continue their work daily without hope of getting really clean or of sleeping in a comfy bed. While we cannot truly know how it felt to be a forced labourer, every day we worked in their camp, looking at the barbed wire around the concrete entrance posts, and I think we got some small inkling of what it was like to tread in their shoes.
What is the next stage in the biography of Lager Wick? I hope to return next year to excavate in the area of the huts that burnt down in April 1944, to see if that layer of burning can be seen archaeologically. I would also like to investigate the area around the latrines, where I think a number of small rooms can be detected. I would also like to see an information panel outside the camp, and perhaps a memorial. I would also like to see the ivy permanently removed from some or all of the faces of the concrete entrance posts so that this dark past is never covered up again.
On 23 June, I will fly to Norway to help excavate the concentration camp of Falstad with Marek Jasinski, who has worked with me on Lager Wick. Keep your eyes peeled for the Falstad blog!