Archaeology rocks- Council for British Archaeology

Archaeology Matters

First World War

The CBA has launched a community project marking the centenary of the First World War by providing an online toolkit for local people to record places associated with Britain's 1914-18 Home Front.

Running from 2014–2018, the Home Front Legacy project supports community groups researching local places associated with the First World War with an online toolkit and guidance for recording the remains of surviving sites, structures and buildings around Britain.

The Council for British Archaeology is working with English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Cadw and partners across the UK to help local people to document and preserve our stories, and vulnerable remains, for future generations.

This local knowledge will appear on a UK-wide map of sites and projects, helping us to better understand the legacy of the Great War on our landscape. The data is also submitting to the UK’s national and local archaeological records to inform planning decisions and help to safeguard First World War remains for generations to come.

Dan Snow records a battlefield site at Gosport
‘You don't have to be an archaeologist to take part. Everyone who is interested in the place they live can get out in their area and record local sites and buildings. It's amazing what you can find out if you ask your gran!

CBA President, Dan Snow

How can everyone get involved?

Register on to access online resources and a site recording app. Get out in the field or your local streets with your tablet or mobile phone to identify sites and buildings, record your observations, and submit your findings direct to Historic Environment Records and national archives.

Sites submitted through the project will be mapped across the UK on the project website to show the impact of the Great War on our soil.

We are also asking for maps and plans, photographs and postcards, and details of people and events associated with Home Front sites.

Training workshops

The CBA will be leading a community training programme during 2015 for local volunteers and projects wanting to find out more about recording Home Front sites in their area. Join us to find out how to research and record First World War remains in your area.  The courses confirmed so far are:

  • July 4: University of Salford
  • August 15: University of Durham
  • September 5: The Hive, Worcester
  • September 12: University of Sheffield
  • October 3: Bingham, Nottinghamshire
  • October 17: University of Winchester 
  • October 31: Exeter University
  • November 14: Museum of Somerset, Taunton
  • November 21: National Museum of Computing, Milton Keynes
  • December 5: Sittingbourne, Kent

Full details of all of these courses are available on the dedicated Home Front Legacy wesbsite.

Mapping the physical legacy of the First World War

Dan Snow recorded the first site of the project on 6 March at Browndown Camp in Gosport, Hampshire, a recently identified practice battlefield with two opposing lines and No Man's Land.

'There's still so much out there. Volunteers using the recording toolkit will be able to map sites just like this one. By going out in the field to find forgotten camps and practice trenches, by searching local archives to discover that a local factory was turned over to munitions manufacture and that local buildings were used as drill halls, hospitals or prisoner of war camps. The physical legacy of 100 years ago is all around us and it's up to us to pass that knowledge on to future generations.'

Following on from the CBA's Defence of Britain project, Mike Heyworth, Director of the Council for British Archaeology, is keen to encourage community groups to go out and identify sites and buildings associated with the First World War.

'Many people think of the physical impact of the First World War taking place in other countries. In fact, the extensive site identification and recording that took place through the CBA's Defence of Britain project highlighted that there is a substantial physical legacy here in Britain, including buildings temporarily requisitioned for the war effort through the Home Front. We are working with English Heritage and partners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to encourage communities to update and extend this knowledge and create a resource that opens it up for everyone.

We are looking, not just for a description and photographs of the site, but also any documents, maps, plans, historic photographs and postcards, and details of people and events associated with First World War and Home Front sites and buildings. The project will also enable the presentation of sites associated with 'events', such as air crashes, bombings, naval raids and strikes.'

English Heritage, and partners in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will be keeping closely in touch with the project to look at which of the sites discovered by volunteers deserve to be listed or scheduled to protect them for future generations.

Dan Snow and Armed Forces servicemen launch CBA Home Front Legacy Project

Project partners

A key aim of the project is to link up with a wide range of partner bodies as well as communities, to identify new First World War sites, contribute local research and add to our knowledge right across the UK.

The project toolkit has received funding support from English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw.

The project has been developed in collaboration with: Archaeology Scotland, Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), Cadw, English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Queens University Belfast, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, University of Bristol, University of York, Welsh Archaeological Trusts.

Pilot study

A nine-month pilot study has already located over 110 sites in Staffordshire and the Lower Lea Valley, just north of London.

Dr Nicholas Saunders and Emily Glass of the University of Bristol's archaeology and anthropology department developed the pilot with Dr John Schofield of the University of York's Department of Archaeology, with funding from English Heritage. Dr Saunders sees potential for connecting the results of community projects around the First World War with academic research:

'People will be amazed at the number of remains that are all around them from the First World War. It enriches individuals, as well as communities. There is a tendancy to think the War was just something that happened "over there", but in fact the connections were a lot closer and more visceral.'

Related projects

Existing site-based First World War initiatives include:

Historic Scotland are undertaking an audit of all currently designated sites and considering designation for new surviving sites and buildings, including a new Historic Marine Protected Area in Scapa Flow, which would include the 7 surviving wrecks of the German High Seas Fleet.

To collect and disseminate information on Scotland's Home and Fighting Fronts, a First World War History Hub has been established at Edinburgh Central Library, linked to the Scotland's War project.

In Wales, Cadw is funding the Welsh Archaeological Trusts to develop a project in which local communities can become involved in learning about the First World War and recording related sites and structures within their Historic Environment Records, led by Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

The Battlefields Trust is tracing the routes of more than 100 aerial bombing raids launched by Zeppelins and aircraft, mostly in London.

The University of Kent School of History are planning a project to work with young people in schools to investigate the history of the First World War on their doorstep and develop content to go into the Kent Historic Environment Record.

The University of Leeds have launched a Legacies of War project working with people and organisations in Leeds, the UK and internationally to explore the legacy of the First World War.

Wiltshire's Great War Centenary Group aims to bring together local history and archaeology groups, Town and Parish Councils, theatre groups, schools, youth organisations, veterans organisations, choirs, art organisations and others to commemorate the centenary across the county.

Staffordshire's Great War Centennial Partnership Conference in 2012 explored major themes, such as the First World War training camps on Cannock Chase, with the aim of coordinating county and community activity. Schools' resource packs and excavation opportunities are being developed.

War Memorials Trust runs grants schemes for the repair and conservation of war memorials of any date, anywhere in the UK, with additional money currently available due to the forthcoming centenary. It also has a comprehensive range of advice on war memorial issues including conservation, management and landscaping. The website War Memorials Online is encouraging the public to help create a greater understanding of the condition of war memorials.

Useful links

  • The Heritage Lottery Fund has recently launched a First World War: then and now grants programme of between £3,000 and £10,000 for communities to mark the Centenary of the First World War.
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council has announced funding for five new World War One Engagement Centres in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The Centres will support community World War One research projects, connecting academic and public histories of the First World War as part of the commemoration of the War’s centenary.
  • The Heritage Lottery Fund and Imperial War Museum have created a Centenary Partnership network and website to showcase cultural events and activities exploring life in the First World War.
  • Follow the First World War Centenary on Facebook
  • Contribute to a First World War installation in the Imperial War Museum by 'lighting a light' to remember the people who died.
  • Keep up with the latest news on the Centenary News website.
  • Find out more about the UK's first First World War home defence aerodrome at Stow Maries in Essex.
  • Look up newly digitised record releases, online and on-site events and education resources on the National Archives First World War portal.
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