Mar20

Archaeology of a Great War Dugout

Beecham Dugout is situated on the lower slopes of the Passchendaele Ridge, to the north-east of the Belgian town of Ypres (Ieper)

Beecham Dugout is situated on the lower slopes of the Passchendaele Ridge, to the north-east of the Belgian town of Ypres (Ieper).

Fears over the stability of the structure created the need for emergency archaeological investigations. The dugout is shallow (2 m deep) and was constructed in a basic 'T' shape, with accommodation for 66 men and four officers. It is cut within silty-sand levels of the Passchendaele Ridge.The dug-out was surveyed, recorded and removed. Archival studies, coupled with artefacts recovered, suggest that this is a dugout of German construction, but one that had been occupied by British troops after capture of the ridge in 1917. Prior to this discovery, the presence of German dugouts was unknown.

The Great War of 1914–1918 was largely static: a fortress war that bears comparison with the siege warfare prevalent centuries before. The descent into a conflict of entrenchments and earthworks along the Western Front developed at the end of 1914, and largely continued in a state of mutual siege until the final breakthroughs of 1918. For almost four years, the armiesof the Western Front endured a troglodyte existence, as artillerymen vied with engineers to weaken the line and provide opportunities for advance. Understanding the ground was an important task in the development of this underground war, and a sophisticated science of ground engineering was deployed in its development. The nature and practical aspects of the field fortifications themselves have been reviewed in several papers and books (e.g. Brooks 1920;Imperial War Museum 1997; 1998; Doyle and Bennett 1997; Doyle 1999;Doyle et al. 2000; 2001). However, thus far, few archaeological studies have considered the engineering conditions and construction of underground excavations in Flanders, particularly within the Ypres Salient, in which the frontlines partially enclosed the Belgian town of Ypres (now Ieper) from late 1914 onwards. The purpose of this paper is to describe a systematic study of one such dugout in the Salient, of uncertain origin.

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Authors: PETER DOYLE, PETER BARTON, AND JOHAN VANDEWALLE

Article and Image Source: peterdoylemilitaryhistory.com

Keywords: Fortifications,Archaeology,Trench Warfare,World War I,Belgium

 

Author:
PETER DOYLE, PETER BARTON, AND JOHAN VANDEWALLE
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