Archive | April 2015

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!

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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