Exercise Angus HoldFast

Ex Angus Holdfast


Digging the elusive feature 

Summer 2018 


This summers excavation had a lot to live up to. Last year we had worked on several of the more prominent features leaving this years excavation looking at the form and development of the complex.


The first week of the excavation involved opening up the corner section of the trench that linked the front line with the communications trench. We were looking to discover which (if any) feature came first and also the construction of this particular feature. 


We determined that the two features were probably constructed around the same time, making more sense of the trench complex in this section. The walls were reinforced with sandbags, held back with wooden stakes. We also discovered to the participants joy, reams of First World War barbed wire all tangled in a huge mess at the bottom of the trench. Oh how they did enjoy working through that! 


The second major feature that we wanted to investigate was the opposite side of the complex where the reserve line met what appeared to be a large crenelated trench line. This large trench line has been interpreted as a representation of the Hindenburg Line, as plausible a theory as we have and the dimensions seem to fit what we have worked on in France.


This area was a huge surprise as the form and size of it had us expecting some rather significant revetments and trench furniture, however, this was not to be. The trench was sterile, not even a suggestion of revetments been used in its construction in this area. 


We were once again invited back to the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, where Dr Di Swales and her PhD researches instructed the participants on how to estimate age and sex of an individual using skeletal remains and gave us an introduction to facial reconstruction techniques. This was a fantastic introduction to academia for some of those in attendance, several left considering it as a potential opportunity for the future.


The majority of participants involved on this project were new to archaeology. Each had faced their own challenges during and post service and as always the archaeology that they undertook at Barry Buddon, under the supervision of Wessex Archaeology was conducted to an incredible standard and new friendships were forged. 

"I would highly recommend any project connected with Breaking Ground Heritage, as the whole experience definitely helped with my PTSD/depression. The excavation itself was fascinating with plenty being learnt in a therapeutic atmosphere where I was able to mix with likeminded people in similar circumstances, which I found extra beneficial. From a personal perspective and with huge interest in archaeology and history, it has given me the avenues to pursue this further. Everyone involved were fantastic."

Kev. Royal Navy

"I would like to thank all at breaking ground heritage for a wonderful experience at the Barry Buddon excavation. I was delighted to be given the opportunity to attend and I would not hesitate to recommend this to other veterans. And I am already looking forward to seeing what is coming up next hopefully it's not sandy!"

John. Army

Summer 2017


August 2017, the team departed from the south of England and headed to our most northerly destination yet, Barry Buddon, just north of Dundee.


Having first hand knowledge of the fine Scottish weather, being based just up the road from Barry Buddon at Royal Marines Condor (45 Commando), I advised the team to come.... prepared for anything. This thankfully was advice that was not needed as the weather was fantastic and on the occasion that it did rain we had plenty of finds processing to do to keep us occupied. 


This project was the first experience in archaeology for the majority of the participants so we started with archaeology lesson 101, how to use the trowel for best effect. We soon has the guys excavating away under the ken eyes of their mentors and also Wessex Archaeology.


The site under investigation is thought to have been a First World War training area with possible Second World War reuse. With some well positioned trenches we were able to investigate the area and confirm that the site was in use in the First World War, it was also in use through multiple other periods with ammunition found on site ranging from the Zulu wars up until 10 years ago. 


The landscape was as complex as the stratigraphy in the sand. There were so many features and positions located around the site that it became very difficult to determine with any certainty what feature went with what. 


Over the two weeks the participants have become proficient in excavations and interpreting what they might have in their trench, they have also turned their hands to the planning of their trenches too. An essential skill for any archaeologist. 


During the week, we paid a visit to the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee with Dr Diana Swales where we were taught some Forensic Osteology and had several interesting talks on some of the cutting edge research that is being undertaken at the University. 


All in all another fantastic project, thanks to Operation Nightingale for providing the site, Wessex Archaeology for providing the archaeological  support and mentoring and finally thank you to Help for Heroes for providing funding for elements of this project. 

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