Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Excavation of mock WW1 battlefield completed

Part of the excavated town.
Part of the excavated town.

Archaeologists have completed the excavation of a forgotten practice battlefield built by German prisoners of war under New Zealand riflepoint.

A scale model of the opposing lines of the Battle of Messines - New Zealand's first significant engagement of World War I - was created in an English field to educate Allied troops.

The excavation team recovered tiny copies - just a few centimetres high - of ruined and bombed-out Belgian townhouses, churches, cobbled streets, and trenches.

Tons of topsoil have been carefully removed across an area the size of five tennis courts.

Experts will now photograph and document what is the only example of its kind left in the UK.

In June 1917, soldiers from the New Zealand Rifle Brigade overcame stiff resistance from German forces in the Belgian town, near the French border, to take control of a ridge regarded as strategically important in setting up the later assault on Passchendaele.

Within a few hours, the Kiwi soldiers had managed to secure the town.

Their efforts were deemed a rousing success, despite the deaths of 700 New Zealanders.

On their return to the UK from the Western Front, troops sketched out in minute detail replica trenches, terrain, contours, and obstacles before it was rendered in concrete.

They used German POWs to do the hard labour and make small-scale reconstructions of Messines' buildings, including its church, railway lines, and roads.

The mock-up was then used as a training aid for soldiers coming through Brocton Camp in Staffordshire.

The living model was also a large scale reminder of the landmark engagement, which paved the way for the more famous third battle of Ypres the following month.

A dig to uncover the training ground, long since overgrown and forgotten, has now been completed.

The local Staffordshire County Council will use a laser-scanning device to make a 3D computer model before re-covering the Cannock Chase site.

"It has been incredible to see the scale and absolute detail of the Messines model and with the 100-year commemoration of the start of the Great War is a poignant reminder of those who helped changed the course of history for all of us,'' Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council, told the Express & Star newspaper in England.

``The team has done an amazing job in bringing Messines back to `life' and will help the legacy of the men who served at Brocton camp to be remembered for generations to come.''

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