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 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!
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
Today I went to visit Mr Falle, the man credited with burning down three barrack blocks of Lager Wick, with his cousin, when he was 7 years old. I had been hoping to meet him for a while, so it was good to collect his story. Of course, my first question was to ask why he did it. He said that it was an act of anti-German resistance! He told me how he went into his aunt’s store (which sold petrol and paraffin) and into the back room, where she had a tank of paraffin. He and his cousin soaked a couple of rags in the paraffin and then ran along the road and sneaked under the barbed wire of the camp. Mr Falle remembered that the huts were on stilts, and he and his cousin were able to crawl underneath them, strike a match, see that it caught fire, and then beat a hasty retreat down the road.
I was particularly pleased to hear his memory of the barrack huts being on stilts, as this accorded with the archaeological evidence. As the aerial photos showed no concrete hut foundations, I didn’t know whether the wooden barrack blocks would have been placed on the soil (which seems rather unwise from the point of view of getting damp and rotten, especially as the site is marshland), or whether they were on stilts, which would fit in with what we have found in the excavations.
While Mr Falle said that he remembers seeing the barrack burn down, and remembers seeing the smoking embers, there is a problem with this. He came to visit us on site later in the day and pointed out where the barrack block was. It was in a very different part of the camp than the aerial photos and historical record suggest the burning took place. So the question is: is Mr Falle’s memory faulty about his childhood mischief-making after 70 years, or were there two fires? Did the fire he set actually consume the building, or did he crawl under the barbed wire in a different spot? Or do the aerial photos not tell the whole story – could one barrack block have burnt down and been replaced in the period of time between my sequence of photos?
A number of other people have contacted me with their stories, so I shall look forward to collecting those and building up a bigger picture of Lager Wick to add to the archaeological excavation.
At the start of this excavation, people stopped on the pavement, peered over the ‘no entry’ sign and asked us what we were doing on Grouville Marsh as we knelt in a trench, scraping away with our trowels. Over the last few days this has changed. Since the article in the Jersey Evening Post, and the Channel TV and BBC news reports, people now call out ‘you’re excavating a forced labour camp, aren’t you?’. This makes me very satisfied. One of the key aims of the project was to raise awareness of the presence of labour camps in the Channel Islands and, through this, the plight of forced and slave labourers generally. From this point of view, I am happy that the project has been a success. I’m pleased to say that islanders have visited the dig with memories to share with me, or have emailed me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with stories. Today an 81 year old French man who lives locally came to say hello. He was very moved by what we were doing and it triggered memories of his own experience of occupied France. He said that he still feels anger towards the Germans for what they did during the war. Another local visitor came to see us with files tucked under his arm, full of information about the use of the site in the 1960s and 1970s, and kindly took us up to see the quarry where the labourers worked.
This evening I gave a public lecture at the Societe Jersiaise on the results of the dig, now that trench 4, the final trench, has been excavated, recorded and back-filled. Like trench 3, there was more evidence of building rubble from the camp: concrete, brick, iron nails. We had a big turn-out, which was lovely, and I was able to show the finds to the general public. I was also able to share the memories to the public that had been shared with me. I hope to be able to come back to Jersey later this year to finish the excavation process and to do some outreach in schools, thus sharing and making memories with and for the next generation.
Today we acquired more evidence which will enable me to be able to answer the crucial question of what survives archaeologically, after 70 years, of a forced labour camp that was in existence for just under two and a half years and comprised mainly wooden barrack huts which were removed after the end of the war. Most people would assume that the answer is ‘nothing at all!’, which of course is why so few of these camps are still visible or have enough structures present to be turned into heritage sites.
Today we have been finding more iron nails, small slabs of concrete, brick with concrete attached, and some aspestos. I think that this is building debris from the labour camp. The broken nature of these objects speaks to me not just of how the German occupiers dismantled the camp to cover their tracks, but how this process of breaking up all traces (or nearly all traces) was completed by islanders after the war who wanted to leave no ‘taint’ of the ‘mark of the beast’, as they put it, on their soil after the Occupation.
While this debris was soon covered by brambles, ivy and bracken, and the leaf litter gradually became compost and then soil, natural processes completed what the Germans started and the islanders contributed to. The camps became ‘lost in the landscape’, which is the name of my project on Lager Wick. And while pieces of concrete may not be ‘beautiful artefacts’, they constitute proof of the practice of forced labour during the German Occupation of WWII.