Volunteers needed to excavate Lawrence of Arabia’s battles

Lawrence of ArabiaA team of British archaeologists working in Jordan is tracing the military campaign of Lawrence of Arabia, and they need your help.

T.E. Lawrence was an English archaeologist turned soldier who capture the public imagination during World War One when he helped the Arabs rebel against the Ottoman Empire. After its disastrous defeat at Gallipoli at the hands of the Ottomans, the British Empire needed some good news from the Middle Eastern front.

The ten-year project started in 2006 and has already studied Ottoman fortifications, the Hijaz Railway (a favorite target of the Arab rebels), and an Arab army base. Besides traditional archaeology, the team is also recording oral histories of communities living near the battlefields. While all veterans of the campaign are dead, Arab culture is very much an oral one and many war stories have been passed down.

The project, run by the University of Bristol, is looking for volunteers for this year. Volunteers will work from November 14-28 in southern Jordan. The cost for participating is a hefty £2,450 ($4,017) but that includes airfare, food, and a three-star hotel.

For more information, check out the project’s website and blog.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Last WWI combat veteran dies: where can you see his legacy?

Claude Choules, WWIClaude Choules, the last known combat veteran of WWI, has died aged 110. Born in England in 1901, he was too young to enlist in the army when the war broke out in 1914, so he waited until he was 15 and enlisted in the Royal Navy, where he saw service throughout the war.

Unlike most veterans, he liked the service and stayed on. While working as a visiting instructor for the Australian Navy, he fell in love with the country and moved there. When war broke out again he fought for his new country in its navy. He retired after 40 years in service but never stopped being active. At the tender age of 80 he took up writing and penned his memoirs. Over time he became a pacifist and controversially refused to participate in ANZAC Day parades. There’s much more to his story, so check out the link and his memoirs, assuming the book isn’t sold out by now.

Choules fought on the sea, so with no battlefields to visit, where can you see the legacy of WWI’s last combat veteran? A good start would be the museums of the two navies in which he served. The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, UK, currently has an exhibition called Sea Your History: 20th Century Royal Navy that shows what life was like aboard naval vessels during the two world wars and beyond. This gives a good insight into what a teenaged Claude Choules had to endure. The Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island Naval Base near Sydney also has displays about life in the navy. I wouldn’t be surprised if both museums make special exhibitions to mark the passing of this remarkable man.

But you don’t have to go to the UK or Australia to see Choules’ legacy. He lived through the most momentous event of the early 20th century. The war changed Europe and the world. The millions of deaths seriously weakened Europe’s hold on their colonies and emboldened independence movements in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The old aristocracy found itself hit hard financially and began to lose their grip on society. Large numbers of women got to work in factories and other “man’s jobs” for the first time, and began to question why they couldn’t vote.

While the First World War wasn’t the sole factor in the end of colonialism or the rise of women’s rights, it was a major one. If you want to see Claude Choules’ legacy, just look around you.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Gallipoli battlefield being mapped by GPS

Gallipoli
Archaeologists in Turkey are making a detailed survey of the famous World War One battle of Gallipoli. Using period military maps and GPS technology, they’re mapping the old trenches and redoubts used by both sides.

Gallipoli was the scene of fierce fighting starting in 1915. A peninsula with highlands dominating the Dardanelles strait linking the Black and the Aegean seas, it guarded the western approach to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, now Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire was on Germany’s side during World War One and the British Empire’s high command believed an attack on Gallipoli would be the first step to knocking the Ottomans out of the war.

They were wrong. The Ottoman Empire, long dismissed “the sick man of Europe”, put up a determined resistance and the British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and French troops got stuck on the beaches as Ottoman troops pummeled them from the highlands. After nine bloody months, the allies sailed away.

The international team of Turkish, Australian, and New Zealand archaeologists and historians have discovered large numbers of artifacts from the battle and are busy working out a complete map of the complicated network of trenches, many of which can still be clearly seen today.

The battle started 25 April 1915, and this date is marked as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, who did some of the toughest fighting in the campaign. Many people in both of these countries feel the soldiers’ efforts proved the worth of the two young nations.

Last year archaeologists discovered the HMS Lewis and a barge sunk off the shore.