Commemoration and protection of battlefields in policy and practice

Submitting Institution

University of Glasgow

Unit of Assessment

Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Glasgow archaeologists' work on key battle sites in Europe uncovered the remains of a mass grave from World War I, leading to the identification of 250 Australian soldiers and commemoration of the site and the soldiers by the families, their countries and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Excavations in Flanders and northern France allowed the public to learn about the hidden history of the Western Front, where tens of thousands of Allied soldiers lived in underground tunnels. Through such work and sustained public engagement, battlefields are now recognised as sites of national and international historical and cultural importance. This recognition has been translated into policy, with the inventory of Scottish battlefields compiled by the Glasgow archaeologists underpinning the Scottish Government's 2009 policy on the preservation of battlefields, which affords them, for the first time, a status similar to that of historical monuments or listed buildings.

Underpinning research

Battlefields are now recognised as important elements in mapping the world's cultural heritage. Glasgow's Centre for Battlefield Archaeology is the first and only centre in the world dedicated exclusively to researching archaeologies of conflict.

The Centre was set up in April 2006 by Dr Iain Banks (Senior Lecturer in History/Battlefield Archaeology; Executive Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, 1992-present) and Dr Tony Pollard (Senior Lecturer in History/Battlefield Archaeology; Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, 1998-present). Research carried out by them, including initial work in 1999-2000 at the 1879 Zulu war site at kwaMondi, Eshowe, South Africa, helped to achieve recognition for battlefield archaeology as an internationally-recognised research area. In 2000 Pollard co-organised, with Dr Philip Freeman of Liverpool University, the first-ever international conference on battlefield archaeology.

From 2000-2007, the researchers at Glasgow were engaged in work on a series of battlefields across Britain. Key findings have included evidence of the earliest use of grenades in Scotland at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689) in the first Jacobite Uprising, whilst work at Culloden revealed that the field of fighting was far greater than previously understood, that some of the worst fighting took place much further to the south than traditionally thought, and that the Jacobites came far closer to breaking through government lines than had been believed. Culloden was the first battlesite in Scotland to undergo archaeological investigation (2000-2006), which became a key element of the newly constructed visitor centre at Culloden.

In 2007-2008, research was carried out at the World War I site Fromelles, the suspected site of grave pits containing Australian and possibly British soldiers killed in the 1916 Battle of Fromelles. The preliminary field investigation was designed to be a non-invasive search for indicators as to whether remains were still there. Among a selection of British and Australian military debris discovered, the team recovered medallions of Australian origin. This convinced them that the burial pits were intact and led to a second phase of investigation being commissioned by the Australian Army. In 2008 a limited trial excavation discovered the remains of Australian and British soldiers in six of eight pits known to have been dug by the Germans. Once the remains had been recovered and identified, they were interred in the first Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery to be built in 50 years.

In 2010 the Glasgow archaeologists were involved in another high-profile WWI excavation where they discovered the remains of one of four `flame projectors' which were deployed to devastating effect at the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

Other European excavations related to WWII sites, included a 2011 project at the Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp in Zagań, Poland, when Glasgow researchers led a multidisciplinary team including Cambridge-based engineers. Stalag Luft III was the site of a breakout by British prisoners during World War II which became the subject of the film The Great Escape. Geophysical surveying located two of the prisoners' four escape tunnels (`Harry' and `George' — the prisoners had named the tunnels `Tom', `Dick', `Harry' and `George'). For this particular project, the ground- penetrating radar surveying was carried out by Peter Masters of Cranfield University, while Banks conducted resistivity and fluxgate gradiometer surveys. The excavation by Pollard revealed the entrance to `Harry', through which 76 men escaped, while the excavation by Banks verified the little-known existence of the fourth tunnel, `George'.

In 2006 Banks and Pollard were commissioned by Historic Scotland to conduct the research for an Inventory of Scottish Battlefields. The work was undertaken in four stages: March 2006 to March 2007; October 2009 to March 2010; September 2010 to March 2011; and, ongoing from March 2012, starting with the best-known sites e.g. Culloden and Bannockburn. As a result of this research, there are now 39 battlefields in Scotland registered as sites of national importance. The researchers identified suitable battlefields, beginning with those connected with key historical events and those with evidence of significant archaeological remains in significant locations. Original primary sources about each battle were analysed for any details that could locate the battlefield, together with all pertinent information about the combat on the day. This was supported by a detailed literature review of the secondary sources pertaining to the battle, which frequently preserve traditions about the location of the battle. Probable locations were visited and the accounts of the battle assessed in terms of the landscape. This allowed a reasonable idea of where events occurred, whether a specific location was likely for the particular battle, and how the landscape might have impacted on the outcome of the fighting.

References to the research

1) T Pollard and I Banks, `Now the Wars are Over: The Past, Present and Future of Scottish Battlefields', International Journal of Historical Archaeology 14.3 (2010), pp. 414-41. (doi:10.1007/s10761-010-0117-7)


2) T Pollard and I Banks `Protecting a Blood-Stained History: Battlefield Conservation in Scotland'. Journal of Conflict Archaeology 6.2 (2011), pp. 124-45. (doi:10.1179/157407811X13027741134148)


3) T Pollard, ed., Culloden 1746: The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2009). ISBN 9781848840201 [available from HEI]


4) T Whitford and T Pollard, `For Duty Done: A WWI Military Medallion Recovered from the Mass Grave Site at Fromelles, Northern France', Journal of Conflict Archaeology, 5 (2009), pp. 201-30. ISBN 9781848840201 (doi:10.1163/157407709X12634580640533)


5) I Banks, `Geophysics and the great escape', Leading Edge 31.8 (2012), pp. 916-920. ISSN 1070-485X (doi:10.1190/tle31080916.1)


Details of the impact

The University of Glasgow's research into conflict and battlefield archaeology has enjoyed high visibility in the media, encouraged public interest in history and battlefield archaeology, and ensured the preservation of sites for future archaeological study. The University of Glasgow findings have also allowed countries and families to honour long-dead soldiers whose whereabouts had been unknown and assumed lost.

Excavation and commemoration of WWI sites in Europe

In 2009, Pollard and Banks' discovery of the 1916 mass grave at Fromelles containing 249 previously unidentified Australian and British soldiers led to the construction of the first Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in 50 years. The Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) cemetery was completed in July 2010 and the soldiers were honoured by their countries in a ceremony attended by Prince Charles and the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce. The remains discovered by Pollard and Banks were identified using DNA testing, offering the soldiers' descendants a `conclusion' to their relatives' stories. A 2012 ceremony honouring the Australian soldiers who died at Fromelles and whose remains were identified was attended by Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Defence David Feeney, who said: "Today, on the 96th anniversary, we can finally honour these men and give them back their individual identities."

Pollard and Banks' excavation of the 1918 `Vampire' dugout tunnel system in Ypres gained a similarly high public profile by delivering previously `hidden history': during WWI tens of thousands of men spent much of their time underground in a system of shelters and bunkers that were flooded, buried and then forgotten for almost nine decades. The team's work was filmed by Channel 4's Time Team in spring 2008 (broadcast late 2008). Its work on the flame projector under the Somme battlefield was also filmed by Time Team in 2010 (The Somme's Secret Weapon, broadcast April 2011). In 2011, Pollard and Banks led a team investigating the Stalag Luft III PoW camp in Zagań, Poland, which was filmed by Channel 4 as the documentary Digging The Great Escape (broadcast November 2012). The Time Team programmes aired to an average of 1.6 million viewers, while Digging the Great Escape attracted an audience of over 2 million. The Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow is also completing a three-year sustainable tourism programme with the Treadright Foundation. The agreement provides $50,000 per year for the Centre to undertake battlefield archaeology projects that have a tourism benefit for the local economy, which the Foundation then passes onto tourists and travel companies. The first year (2010-11) sponsored excavation work at Mont St Quentin on the Somme in France, with material from the September 1918 battle being exhibited at the Historial de la Grande Guerre museum in Péronne, France. The Historial also has the artefacts from the flame projector project, which formed the basis of a museum exhibition Breathing Fire from June to December 2011, attracting hundreds of visitors to the museum. The flame projector work was sponsored by Cream Productions in Canada and Channel 4 for £39,000. Channel 4 devoted a Time Team special to the dig, broadcast on 14 April 2011, and also sponsored the work on the Great Escape at Zagań in Poland in 2011, with the project attracting £30,000.

Policy change through the identification of battlefields in Scotland

Because of their expertise in battlefield archaeology, Banks and Pollard were invited to conduct the research for an Inventory of Scottish Battlefields for Historic Scotland. Through this research the University of Glasgow played a key role in the definition, identification, and preservation of historic battlefield sites. Historic Scotland confirms that "their work on the Inventory was directly related to the Scottish Government's Scottish Historic Environmental Policy (SHEP) relating to battlefields (published 2009)."

The Inventory of Scottish Battlefields was fundamental to the development of the Scottish Government's SHEP on battlefields, published in 2009. This changed the official status of a battlefield to align with the status of a historic monument or listed building. Before this, battlefield sites were not included as sites of national importance in their own right, although they have sometimes been preserved due to a castle, monument or grave somewhere on the site, such as the graves and markers at Culloden. Following the issuance of the policy, it is more difficult to develop such sites, and Historic Scotland states that the impact has been to afford an official layer of protection for battlefields against depredations which have already damaged or destroyed many historically significant sites.

As the Inventory came into effect, Historic Scotland provided assistance to landowners and local authorities to help them establish management plans to ensure the preservation of battlefields. With Banks and Pollard acting as consultants, Historic Scotland produced guides to the new management status of battlefields with specific mention of planning concerns: Managing Change in the Historic Environment: Historic Battlefields Interim Guidance (2011) and An Introductory Guide to the Inventory of Historic Battlefields in Scotland (2011). In 2011, they also provided three training days (in Edinburgh, Perth and Blair Atholl) on use of the Inventory for local authority archaeologists, Historic Scotland staff and representatives of natural heritage bodies.

Use of the Inventory in planning decisions

Local authorities throughout Scotland have issued guidance on planning issues relating to battlefields listed in the Inventory, and planning applications affecting Inventory battlefields must undergo consultation with Historic Scotland. For example, Stirling Council quotes the Inventory frequently in responses to planning applications encroaching on the battlefields of Sheriffmuir and Bannockburn, under development pressure due to their locations adjacent to existing housing. And, accordance with Historic Scotland requirements, Stirling Council has included Draft Supplementary Guidance 24: Battlefields as part of its Local Development Plan in October 2011. A typical example of the changes introduced by the SHEP with regard to battle sites is the approval by East Lothian Council in 2011 of a number of conditions and changes to a proposed development with a car park potentially encroaching on the Pinkie Cleugh (1547) battlesite. Historic Scotland believes that:

SHEP broke new ground by including protection of the whole landscape of the battlefield, encompassing the range of events during the battle rather than the main area of fighting alone. SHEP policies include a measure of protection through the planning system and other public policies for the first time. SHEP was also innovative in establishing the Inventory as a publicly accessible resource to promote the understanding, research and appreciation of battlefields and as an active record that can be amended and expanded over time. These prime aims have been achieved, with Inventory sites now included within Local Development Plan policies, and decision-makers provided with clear information on which to base their policies and views. The detailed site reports and indicative maps in the Inventory bring together information only previously available from disparate sources, and in the majority of cases provide new information resulting from the researchers' documentary research and non-invasive field-work. Consequently the Inventory adds significantly to knowledge about battlefields in Scotland and incorporates important new primary research, both of which are having a practical impact on the protection of battlefields in Scotland.

Policy influence outwith Scotland

Historic Scotland notes that the Inventory has led to interest from other countries, including Ireland, England and Wales, in developing and enhancing similar inventories/battlefield protection measures. Following informal discussions between Banks, Pollard and the Irish Government in 2007, Ireland developed a Battlefields Project very similar to the Scottish model. In 2011, Dr Pollard was appointed to the English Heritage Battlefields Advisory Panel, a group advising the heritage body on battlefield conservation and management policy and playing a key role in the protection of English battlefields. A recent example is the addition of the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall to the English Heritage Register, which makes the battlesite a material consideration for the planning authorities.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Evidencing policy impact:

a. The Inventory of Historic Battlefields in Scotland: An Introductory Guide (Historic Scotland, 2011)

b. Scottish Historic Environment Policy (Historic Scotland, 2009) (pg 3, note 4 confirms that `Published here for the first time are policies on historic battlefields') (see Ch. 2-3 & Annexe 5)

c. Statement from Director, Heritage Management, Historic Scotland (available from HEI)

Evidencing raised awareness of contribution of conflict archaeology:

d. Fight to keep developers off battlefield sites (The Scotsman, 28 July 2009)

e. Muskets in the Scottish Hills, (Website of the BBC History Magazine, 19 Nov 2009)

f. First world war soldier's family welcome discovery of body, (The Guardian, 18 March 2010)

g. Scotland's famous battlefields protected, (BBC News, 13 December 2010)

h. Scottish battlefields: Inventory recognises 39 historic sites, (BBC News, 16 December 2012)

Evidencing recognition and commemoration of battlefield sites:

i. Coverage of the last reburial at Fromelles, (BBC News, 19 July 2010)

j. Coverage of the commemoration ceremony at Fromelles, (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 24 July 2012)

k. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web page on establishment of Fromelles Military Cemetery