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Day 5, 2 April 2016: identifying the cookhouse

Today was our last chance to archaeologically explore Lager Wick within the limits of our original mission statement, which allowed for an extension to last year’s trench (trench 5, which I interpreted as being the overseers’ mess hut) and the opening of a new trench (trench 6). Both of the barrack blocks within this area burnt down in 1944, resulting in extensive and clear evidence of burning across the area examined. The function of the barrack explored in trench 6 has exercised us today. It seems that the mess hut was built upon a base of hoggin and compacted stone, with perhaps a pale brick path around the outside.. The next block, however, was built at least partially on concrete.

Day 5 roundup (5).JPG

Jagged edge of concrete platform on RHS; concrete platform on LHS

Local oral testimony says that the cookhouse was the barrack which started the fire in 1944, and so we must ask whether this concrete platform, which was almost 7m wide, had the purpose of supporting the stove(s) in a cookhouse. Beyond this area, the barrack rests again on hoggin. In terms of artefacts, this area was almost clean save for more traces of burning, a good number of nails, and a small handful of coal briquettes. However, this area lacked the molten fragments of glass and small finds of the overseers’ mess hut.

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Briquettes from possible cookhouse


Day 5 roundup (40)

Back-filling trench 6

After recording the extent of the concrete platform so that we could later compare it to the aerial photograph, all too soon it was time to back-fill the team’s hard work of the last week.

The last job of the day was to give a lecture to the local Societe Jersiaise on the results of the dig, and to show the finds from the last couple of years to the audience. During the lecture, when discussing this year’s results, I compared the hut base types from the aerial photos with the results on the ground. It’s clear that huts were built on concrete, on stilts, and on compacted stone at Lager Wick. This hints at at least three different hut types, and we know that within the camp there must have been huts for sleeping; storage huts; a cookhouse / kitchen; and mess huts; and a latrine / wash block. Now that the third and final season is over, I must compare the artefacts, the aerial photos and the camp architecture to work out what was what. The third season of excavation has certainly helped with this and has given me a clearer idea of the layout of the camp, despite being able to access only part of it. And yet having partial access to the camp has also encouraged me to concentrate on the detail of the results available to me. The next step is to compare Lager Wick with other camps to see what comparisons can be made. And after that – who knows, perhaps there is another camp in the Channel Islands which needs excavation. If there is one on your land, please contact me!

Day 5 lecture (6).JPG

Gilly Carr giving a lecture on Lager Wick

Day 5 lecture (12)

Show and tell with some of the finds from Lager Wick

Finally, a massive thank you to my 2016 team for all their hard work!


Day 4 (1 April): The Joy of Concrete

Today we discovered something that was not on the aerial photograph of Lager Wick: the concrete base of one or two more buildings of the camp. How can this be? Well, aerial photos are often fuzzy at best, even when increased to very high resolution. You have to zoom in to such an extent that what you are looking at is often very blurred. The other thing to remember is that aerial photos give a snapshot in time, and you never know what was happening outside of that time. Third, when you look at the aerial photo of the camp in 1945, when the wooden platforms had been removed, we cannot tell whether soil or foliage has already covered or been thrown over concrete hut bases. And therefore, when we come along in 2016, we have to be careful to read between the lines.

Day 4 concrete bases (2)

Test pit showing concrete floor of a new building

Interestingly, the soil is very burnt on top of these concrete bases, showing that when the 3 huts burnt down in 1944, the burnt debris was left or swept on top of the concrete bases. Ivar and Isobel extended the trench to see the extent and edge of the concrete hut base.

Day 4 concrete bases (22).JPG

It was then Peter’s turn to get out his Total Station and record the edges of the concrete, which Ivar found using the augur.

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Peter trying unsuccessfully to hide behind his tripod. He may also have been recording the location of the new hut platforms.

Peter’s next task will be to plot the new concrete hut platforms onto what we know the layout of the camp to see whether they are indeed new, or whether they map onto what is already known. We await the results with bated breath! And while we wait, it’s important to stop for Jersey ice cream.

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Ivar and Isobel sampling the local delights

Day 3 (31 March): The Meaning of a Boot.

While we recovered from the suggestion that our latrine may not be a latrine, but a food store and kitchen (we tried, therefore, to ignore the somewhat solidified toilet roll that Isobel found …), there were more discoveries and head-scratchings today.

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Isobel with solidified loo roll of goodness-knows-what vintage – mercifully unused.

I was also rather taken with the Conundrum Of The Boot today. Yesterday we found several shoes and boots in the latrine / potato store; we had also found some last year. The problem is this: if this is the footwear of forced labourers, then this makes the boot a rather poignant find and increases its value. If it is a post-war boot, then it is without value. Should it by thrown away? We’d value your thoughts.

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We were also visited on site by local journalist, Charlie McArdle, from BBC Radio Jersey, who had a little guided tour:

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BBC Radio Jersey visiting the camp

We carried on examining trench 5 today and Isobel walked away with the gold star for best find: a padlock! I was very pleased with this because it is symbolic of incarceration. There are those who say that there was no barbed wire around the camp but we dispelled this myth two years ago. Does this padlock speak of forced labourers being locked in to the camp at certain times, or was it used on a food store? A day of discoveries and head-scratchings, to be sure.

Day 3 trenches 5c and 6 (47).JPG



Day 2 (30 March): Latrine or potato store?

Today the cat was put firmly among the pigeons when our investigation of the latrine end of the ablutions block revealed no evidence that there was ever a latrine there! If the latrine was indeed a latrine, we should have found a drain, or waste pipe and a hole in the wall of the structure. But we found only a solid floor and walls. This means that we need to rethink not just the function of the end room, but even the function of the whole structure. If the room was used for storage, for example, what might have been stored in an ablutions block? Perhaps a better question (prompted by Ivar) is: if this was, for example, a potato store, what, then, was the function of the whole structure? Perhaps the area that we securely identified last year as a washing area (complete with drain, drainage channel and water trough / shower area (we don’t know which as whatever it was was ripped out of the ground) was actually a food preparation area / kitchen? I don’t think that it was a cookhouse as there’s no evidence of an oven. But last year we found so many bathroom-type objects in the building, such as toothbrush, toothpaste, medicine, etc, that now I’m rather confused. There is one other option: it is possible that the rooms of this three-room structure were not part of the same thing. We don’t know where the partition wall was between the first two rooms and it may not have been possible to move between them. Was one a wash-room and the other two some kind of food storage room only? Does the presence of large numbers of whelks and limpets in the second and third rooms last year back up the idea of a kitchen? If anybody else has any other ideas about the use for the room, please leave a comment and let me know!

Day 2 latrine block (4)

Ivar and Isobel excavating the end room of the latrine block

We also opened up an extension to trench 5, which last year revealed so many great objects. Murphy’s law dictated that we found very little, but just as we were scratching our heads at finding almost nothing but hoggin (compacted grit and stones), Ivar found a fractured sewage pipe, almost intact, 3 foot 6 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. Of course, the key question is: does it belong to the camp? We all think so, but of course it doesn’t have ‘1943’ stamped on it, so this is only conjecture. It didn’t line up with the modern drain cover on the road outside the camp, which also possibly backs this up. But where is the sewage coming from? It’s quite close to the latrine block, which moves interpretation a little further in the direction of it being a latrine block.

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Ivar revealing the sewage pipe

While the sewage pipe may not seem as sexy as the mug with the eagle and swastika that I found last year, it tells us a little more about camp infrastructure and layout. But that doesn’t mean that the archaeology gods can’t also leave us another Nazi mug to find tomorrow.

29 March 2016: Day 1 of season 3 of the excavation of Lager Wick

Today marked the first day of the third and final season of the excavation of Lager Wick, a forced labour camp in Jersey, used during the German occupation. The project this year is supported by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge. The team members for 2016 are me, Dr Gilly Carr (University of Cambridge) as project director; Dr Ivar Schute from RAAP in the Netherlands, who I invited to join the dig because of his experience at other Nazi camp sites, including Westerbork and Sobibor. Mr Peter Masters joins us once again as the dig geophysicist, and we are also joined by Isobel Lloyd, a student volunteer from University of New England in Australia.

Storm Katie disrupted Peter and Isobel’s travel plans, so Ivar and I worked alone today. We focused on the latrine block, which Claudia Theune and I partially cleared last year. The end room within this block was partially flooded (because of all the recent rain) and full of rubble. We cleared quite a bit of it and decided to excavate the left hand side (as you can see). Having excavated the right hand site last year, we were surprised to find no drain or evidence that this end room was a toilet, as previously hypothesised. I wondered if perhaps we’d find a drain or something at the other end, but we found nothing. Ivar and I are still scratching our heads about the function of the room and are trying not to think about having to empty the entire area of mud and rubble and barbed wire in order to be absolutely sure.

Day 1 latrine block (23)

The toilet of the latrine block – possibly.

We found quite a lot of large lumps of stuff among all the rubble. As I mentioned, there were many strands of barbed wire, but also loads of fragments of water pipe (although no holes to show where it might have gone), a couple of roof tiles, three long metal posts with barbed wire attached, similar to those which can be found around the perimeter of the site; a few pieces of mirror; a door hinge; and my personal favorite: a lump of concrete with a wooden stake emerging from a hole. I think that this was one of those stakes which once had barbed wire attached, and you can see the evidence on 1944 aerial photos of the concrete lumps having been dug up, leaving behind holes. Amazing what archaeologists find to interest them …

Day 1 latrine block.JPG

The pile of stuff (mainly water pipes) emerging from the latrine block today

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Concrete lump with wooden stake emerging.

Third season to begin soon!

A quick post to let you know that the third season of excavation at Lager Wick will begin on 29 March 2016. Our final day will be 3 April, so just a short run, but enough to finish the work we set out to do. Keep your eyes peeled for the latest posts!

Day 2 (34)

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.