Daily Archives: 30 October, 2009

Time Team

(l-r) Tony Robinson, Phil Harding, Mick Aston

(l-r) Tony Robinson, Phil Harding, Mick Aston

Unless you’ve lived on a different planet for the past 15 years, you can’t fail but to have seen the hugely popular archaeology TV show, Time Team. It can be seen on Channel 4, and repeats on the Discovery Channel.

First broadcast in 1994, it showcases a team of archaeologists and associated experts as they go about investigating archaeological sites. The real crux of the programme is that they supposedly have only three days to carry out the dig. In fact much of the work is done before and after the three days. They have investigated everything from Paleolithic, Neolithic, Roman, Saxon, Medieval and Industrial Revolution through to second world war sites. They have also produced programmes on excavations in America and the Carribean.

The show is presented by Tony Robinson, of Blackadder fame. As well as an acomplished actor, he’s also got an enthusiasm for archaeology. The main expert is Professor Mick Aston, a nutty professor if ever there was one, with shocks of clown-like hair and day-glo stripey jumpers. Historian Robin Bush used to cover the research side of things, and proved to be unlike many archivists in that he actually had a personality. The show also uses some fascinating geophysical survey technology.

The real gem of the series has to be Phil Harding. Like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel and with the broad wessex accent to match, he is a dirt archaeologist and is always getting involved in the re-enactments and reconstructions. With long hair and short shorts, hes quite a character.

Time Team usually get involved with the local community. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed, however, when earlier this summer they carried out an excavation in Portsmouth and cosied up with Portsmouth Grammar School. Why not invite some less privileged young people who might not normally get that kind of opportunity?

Time Team has made a lasting impact on British archaeology. The archaeologists involved with Time Team have published more scientific papers on excavations carried out in the series than all British university archaeology departments put together over the same period.

A lot of the establishment figures have never been to happy about Time Team, reasoning that it dumbs down archaeology, and no doubt they dont like anything that interests normal people. As someone who thinks that it is the right of anyone and everyone to be interested in history, this smacks of elitism. If these authority figures really loved their subject, then they would be glad that people find an interest in it.

If you dont like people being enthusiastic about history, go and work in a factory.

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Filed under Ancient History, Architecture, debate, Industrial Revolution, Local History, Medieval history, Museums, On TV, social history

2009 Poppy Appeal

Poppy Appeal 2009

Poppy Appeal 2009

As October comes to an end this years Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal is upon us. In a year which saw the passing of the last veterans of World War One, and has seen yet more deaths and injuries in Afghanistan, it is more important than ever to remember.

The annual Poppy appeal is the Royal British Legion’s fundraising drive leading up to Remembrance Day, on 11 November. The idea of wearing Poppies dates back to In Flanders Fields by John McRae, which includes the line ‘in Flanders Fields the Poppies grow’. After the First World War battlefields fell silent the churned up quagmire of no-mans land was transformed into fields of Poppies.

Throughout the year a team of 50 people – many of them disabled ex-servicemen – work to produce millions od poppies. In recent years the Legion has organised a Field of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey in London, where members of the public can place poppies, crosses or wreaths in memory of loved ones.

The annual Poppy appeal culminates on the nearest weekend to the 11th of November. On the Saturday evening the Royal Albert Hall hosts the festival of remembrance, featuring military bands, and in recent years popular artists such as Katherine Jenkins and Hayley Westenra. It closes with the moving spectacle of millions of poppies falling from the ceiling onto the servicemen paraded in the hall.

On the Sunday morning closest to 11th November the official Remembrance service takes place in Whitehall, centred on the cenotaph. The queen, royal family, politicians and service chiefs all place wreaths. There then follows a march past by thousands of veterans, all making their own tribute.

Most cities and towns also have their own services. In Portsmouth this takes place on the steps of the Guildhall.

And if the 11th does not fall on a Sunday, it is customary to observe a 2 minutes silence in the memory of fallen servicemen past and present.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Army, Navy, News, Remembrance, Royal Air Force, World War One, World War Two

Victoria Cross Heroes – Major Robert Cain VC

Major Robert Cain VC

Major Robert Cain VC

I must confess to having a particular admiration for this Victoria Cross winner. Not only is he Jeremy Clarkson’s father-in-law, and not only did Major Robert Cain win his Victoria Cross during the battle of Arnhem, but there is something so completely normal and modest about his life before and after the VC, that it shatters the myth that all VC winners are supermen. Theres something of a VC winner in all of us.

A pre-war worker for Shell, Major Robert Cain was commanding B Company of the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment when they landed in Gliders at Arnhem. After leading his company in the attack into Arnhem, he was the only senior officer to survive. Major Gilchrist, of the 11th Parachute Battalion, met Cain, who told him that “The tanks are coming, give me a PIAT”. It was not exactly the job of a company commander to take on tanks with a PIAT, but that he was determined to have a go speaks volumes of the man.

After the remnants of the attack fell back to Oosterbeek to hang on for dear life, Cain was determined to take on as much Germany armour as possible. On the afternoon of 21 September 1944 two tanks approached his position. Standing in the open and guided by a spotter high in a building, he destroyed the first tank, but was wounded when a PIAT shell exploded in his face. In his own words he was “shouting like a hooligan. I shouted to somebody to get onto the PIAT because there was another tank behind. I blubbered and yelled and used some very colourful language. They dragged me off to the aid post.”
However within half an hour, against medical advice, he had returned to the front line. Later in the battle he and another man took over using a 6 pounder anti-tank gun until it was destroyed, and then with no PIAT rounds remaining he used a 2 inch mortar, firing from the hip. Before withdrawing across the Rhine, he even found time to shave.

Cain’s Victoria Cross was announced on 2 November 1944:

“Throughout the whole course of the Battle of Arnhem, Major Cain showed superb gallantry. His powers of endurance and leadership were the admiration of all his fellow officers and stories of his valour were being constantly exchanged amongst the troops. His coolness and courage under incessant fire could not be surpassed”

Upon leaving the Army after the war Cain returned to his job working for Shell, before retiring to the Isle of Man. When he died in 1974 his family were astounded to find a Victoria Cross among his belongings – apparently he hadn’t thought to mention it.

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Filed under Army, Arnhem, victoria cross, World War Two