Friday, 16 March 2018

Lidar Landscapes

I am writing this blog post at this year’s Archaeology Day (10 March 2018), organised by the Durham County Council Archaeology Section. One of the displays I put together for the event is about the project on which we have been collaborating with the Archaeology Section. 

Durham at War Lidar Landscapes began in early 2017 with a workshop introducing interested volunteers to Lidar and its use in archaeology. Lidar (originally a portmanteau of ‘light’ and ‘radar’) is a relatively new information source being used by archaeologists to discover, interpret and record archaeological sites. The data for this project, provided free of charge by the Environment Agency, was gathered using sensors mounted on an aircraft. This data can be processed to make a computerised 3D model of the ground and all the features on it, in effect producing what is termed a ‘Lidar map’. For this project the 3D data collected has been processed to produce 2D ‘hillshaded’ images; this technique emphasises features on the ground, including surviving earthworks of archaeological sites and allows the data to be used as image files which can be viewed on home computers.
Digital surface model and digital terrain model of Dene Mouth , Horden
Digital surface model and digital terrain model of Dene Mouth , Horden

The workshop was given by Paul Frodsham of Oracle Heritage Services, who introduced us (I was new to it too) to what Lidar is, and how to analyse it (you can read more about the methodology in the report, see below). Ten separate survey areas were chosen by the Project Team, eight in County Durham and two in Tyne and Wear. These vary in size from a single km square to 5 km squares. Each was chosen because of the known or suspected presence of features relating to the First World War, such as training camps, prisoner of war camps or training trenches. The ten areas included: 
Whitburn and South Shields 
Cocken Hall, near Durham City 

After the workshop, volunteers were sent data for a km square at a time, this comprised four jpegs sent by email: DTM, DSM, OS map, and aerial photograph. They analysed the data at home at their own pace, and returned their findings by email. Once all the km squares had been looked at, Paul went through the data and a produced a report. You can download this in pdf format from the Durham at War website: 

In February this year, we began a second phase project. For this, we wanted to look at a larger, and continuous, area, as opposed to sites dotted around the county. This will enable us to complete a landscape survey as well as looking for things of archaeological interest.
Area is orange shows Lidar being looked at for 2018 project
Area is orange shows Lidar being looked at for 2018 project
Like before, as this is a First World War project, the area has been selected with this mind. We know there was military activity from this time in the Seaham and Dawdon area. This activity included the submarine bombardment, three Voluntary Aid Detachment hospitals, and 4th Battalion Durham Light Infantry on coastal defence. The rest of the selection was then made based on coverage. 

Since the first phase of the project, we have found a website that itself is concerned with providing data for home insurance, but provides processed Lidar coverage for England and Wales. It is not possible to search the map, but clicking on an area provides a grid reference that can be used to help orient yourself:

A report for this project will be produced at the end, and will again be put online. 

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Voice of the Sepoy

A blog post from Jo

Learn as if you were to live forever.

One of the amazing things about being an archivist is that you never know what you might be called upon to learn about next. When cataloguing, you might have to teach yourself about how a building society works, in order to understand how the records were created and therefore how they should fit together in the catalogue. In the searchroom, you might have to bone up on the railway plans in the county, so that you can advise a researcher in that field.

There is always something to learn about, and that has been especially true of the Durham at War project. Neither Victoria nor I were experts on the First World War when we started the project and, while I don’t think either of us would claim to be experts now, we have certainly increased our knowledge to a great extent.

One of the things that I do for the project is to research, design and deliver educational sessions. I very much enjoy this part of the job, partly because I like to see the reactions of the young people that we work with, but also because it gives me a chance to delve into our collections, the collections of other repositories, and generally to read more widely on all sort of topics linked to the First World War.
The girl boxers on their visit to the Record Office, 2018
Most recently, I have delivered a workshop to a group of young women from Newcastle, aged 8-14 years. They come from Muslim households whose families originate from South Asia. As well as studying the idea of “Otherness” during the First World War, the girls are learning to box. So, my challenge was to put together a workshop that included the South Asian experience of the First World War and try to sneak in a bit of boxing! It was going to be a steep learning curve.
D/DLI 7/217/5(27) A boxing match with crowd taken at Rennbahn prisoner of war camp, c.1916
Fortunately, I knew that James Fish would not let me down. James trained at Bede College in Durham and served with 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. He was captured and spent much of the war at Rennbahn prisoner of war camp near Munster. James seemed to have been an avid collector of photographs and his album of camp photos is a gem. His pictures show life in the camp, including the theatre performances and boxing matches that prisoners arranged to keep themselves busy. So, not only did he tick the boxing box (or should that be ring?) for me, but his photographs of the inmates at the camp helped me to find a way in to the South Asian men who served during the war. His photographs show a wide cross-section of the men in the camp, including Scots in kilts, Sikhs in turbans, Gurkhas and West African troops. Do have a look, they are online on the Durham County Record Office catalogue:
D/DLI 7/217/5(34) Photograph of a prisoner of war at Rennbahn prisoner of war camp, c.1914-18
The photographs really are fantastic (one of the most vocal members of the group became quite somber and thoughtful when she described the power and sadness of one of the Indian men depicted), but I wanted to go further. What were these men thinking? How did they react to fighting in a war so far from home in an alien environment? I rolled up my cardigan sleeves and began to dig.

Luckily, I came across an article by Santanu Das on the British Library website:

In it, he discusses the British Library’s collection of letters written by men from pre-partition India to their families back at home. The British authorities were worried about the Indian independence movement and so these letters were censored with particular care. As well as being censored at regimental level, all of the Sepoys’ correspondence went through the hands of a central censor who created monthly reports of the extracted and translated letters. It is these reports that survive at the British Library, and which (albeit through several layers) allow us to hear the voice of the Indian soldier during the First World War. The following is the example that I used with the girls.

From Giyan Singh, a Sikh, at Indian Artillery Depot, Milford-on-Sea, to his brother in India. (Gurmukhi, dated 15/4/15): “The German is very strong. His ships sail the clouds and drop shells from the sky; his mines dig up the earth and his hidden craft strike below the sea. Bombs and blinding acid are thrown from his trenches which are only 100 or 50 yards from ours. He has countless machine guns which kill the whole firing line when in attack. When he attacks we kill his men. The dead lie in heaps. England is full of wounded. No man can return to the Punjab whole. Only the broken limbed can go back. The regiments that came first are finished – here and there a man remains. Reinforcements have twice and three times brought them up to strength, but straight away they were used up. The German is very strong.”
(British Library, IOR/L/MIL/5/825/3 f.11) 
Looking at different sources, 2018
Nearly 1.5 million men from pre-partition India, which included the present countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar, volunteered during the First World War. Indian army troops were quickly shipped to Europe at the beginning of the war and Sepoys were involved in some of the earliest battles. According to the British Council, 50,000 Indian men were killed, 65,000 injured and 10,000 reported as missing. 

The British Library has digitised all of the Sepoy letters and they are available to view online. This amazing collection gives us a chance to continue learning about the war from a different perspective, and to carry on uncovering hidden histories of the First World War.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Winter is here

Instead of searching for dragonglass to fend off a potential invasion from White Walkers in this snowscape, I have been looking at the newspapers and found reports of a severe winter storm that took place at the end of March 1917 and into April. The photographs are from our collection, and are of Langdon Beck. We are not sure of the year but we think they are from sometime during the First World War period.
Langdon Beck Hotel, c.1916 (D/Ph 441/4/3)
D/Ph 441/4/3 Langdon Beck Hotel, c.1916
On 2 April 1917 the Shields Daily News reported on their area saying:
Yesterday morning, a heavy fall of snow occurred in the Tynemouth district. The fall was much greater than any which had taken place during the winter, and the unusual spectacle of a snowstorm in April created much surprise…In some places the snow had drifted to a considerable depth, and the streets were almost impassable…The snowstorm was accompanied by a hard and continuous frost.

The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail of the same day reported:
There is an old English proverb which says that April borrows three days of March, and they are. Yesterday must have been such a borrowed day.

From all parts of the country come reports of wintry weather. In the North of England, and in the Midlands especially, the snowfall has been very severe.

April weather is proverbially fickle, but the reputation of the month rests on the erratic alternation of sunshine and rain and not on such a combination as the first day of this new April gave us.

Snow fell on eight days in March and on the 24th of the month there were nine degrees of frost. March went out with snow and April came in with snow.

The weather of the first three months of this year will long be remembered. The temperature has been continually below the average. There was frost on 23 days in January, 20 in February, and 22 in March. Snow has fallen on 20 days since the new year came in. For 61 days out of 90the wind has been in the north or east.
Clearing the snow and building with it, c.1916 (D/Ph 441/4/8)
D/Ph 441/4/8 Clearing the snow and building with it, c.1916
The issue’s editorial read:
The clerk on the weather did his best yesterday to make us all feel like April Fools. When we peeped from our bedroom windows and saw the Artic conditions that prevailed it was difficult to believe we had left March behind. The fall of snow in the Hartlepools was one of the heaviest we have had for many years, and the winter conditions appear to have been general in the country. The snow will do something towards protecting seeds in the ground from the hard frost which prevailed last night, but it will also delay operations on the land which have been sufficiently difficult this spring. There are people who say that cold wintry weather at this time of the year is often followed by much more genial conditions in late spring and early summer than usually prevail. We doubt if there is much truth in the saying, but we can only hope that such conditions will be realised this year.

 Let's hope indeed.