Archaeologists and wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans have built a replica First World War Tank at Help for Heroes Recovery Centre Tedworth House after unearthing the original tank on an archaeological dig.
The archaeologists, from the Operation Nightingale programme, were the first to gain permission to excavate in Bullecourt, northern France, where they found the original WW1 tank.
Supported by Help for Heroes, the team, which included injured veterans, was on site for eight days in June. During that time it achieved its primary objective, to find Tank 796 (D23).
The group located a large section of the track of the tank, several of its six pounder shells, part of its driving chain, and other elements which could be armour. Unlike the sepia-toned images of the war, the track had parts of the original colour scheme still surviving. Rather than being a drab brown, the tank was more of a British racing green in colour; somewhat inappropriate given the top speed of 4mph attainable by this 28 ton behemoth. These components will be conserved and discussions on where they should eventually be exhibited are underway.
The discovery was discussed at recent Chalke Valley history festival where participants in the excavations highlighted their finds alongside the Heritage Lottery-funded build of replica ‘dummy’ tank based on tank 796 from Bullecourt.
The team built the replica tank within a week and are currently showcasing the final product at the Chalke Valley History Festival in Wiltshire.
Chris Boyd, a former Craftsman in the Royal Engineers, worked on the replica tank build and said: “It’s been really good, it’s given me a chance to get out and get to see people and have a laugh but at the same time also having the chance to do problem solving again. It’s worked really well and we’ve build ourselves a nice tank.”
Another wounded veteran added “It was chance to put my own injuries aside and try forget the barriers I have to live with, for which Breaking Ground Heritage as been able to do while taking part in this dig, and also has made me overcome barriers both physically and mentally as well.”
Richard Osgood, of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, was the archaeological lead for the project.
He said: “It was profoundly moving so see British military veterans, including former tank crew, recovering the remains of their ancestral past and ethos.
“The respect shown for their military forebears was palpable and it was a privilege to be on site with them. We were also humbled by the warmth shown to us by the French villagers and by their perpetuation of the memory of the soldiers who died in their fields”.
Dickie Bennett of Breaking Ground Heritage (BGH) who facilitated the project said: “Breaking Ground Heritage was set up to support Operation Nightingale in providing wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans alike the opportunity to take part in credible and meaningful archaeological and heritage projects to promote recovery or assist in the transition from service to civilian life.
“Bullecourt was the latest of several Great War excavations that the team had been part of and the first project in which veteran members of the project mentored the newer members in archaeological techniques providing that all important validation of personal skills and goal setting for participants to attain should they wish.
“Veterans have so many transferable skills that are compatible with the heritage industry, to take a soldier, sailor or airman and show them that archaeology can be more than just an interest, it can also a viable career option.”
Giles Woodhouse, Head of Recovery South at Help for Heroes said: “Leaving the military can be daunting, especially for those who are living with life-changing injuries and illnesses.
“Working towards a new goal or having a new pastime can be extremely beneficial to an individual’s overall wellbeing. Many of these men and women already have a keen interest in history and archaeology and the benefits of working outside can be enormous.
Supporting the fieldwork to uncover the tank has reaped some fantastic recovery outcomes for the participants. We are also really happy to facilitate the tank build at Tedworth House and hope those attending the Chalke Valley Festival enjoy it too.”