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Digging up the past at WW1 training trenches

Digging up the past at WW1 training trenches

New homes from Miller

Historic training trenches in Edinburgh are set to be the subject of an important archaeological excavation over the next two weekends (20-21 June and 27-28 June) to provide a greater understanding of Scotland’s military history.

Thousands of local soldiers are understood to have prepared for battle on the Western Front by digging the trenches and undertaking battlefield drills at the site in Covenanters Wood in Dreghorn, which is owned by the Ministry of Defence, before leaving for the Battle of the Somme.  Among the servicemen was who took part was William Ewart Gladstone-Millar, whose daughter and historian, Lynne Gladstone-Millar, has campaigned for the preservation of the trenches. 

Miller Homes, who are building the nearby Polofields development, has provided the majority of the funding for the excavations, which form part of a detailed woodland management plan being implemented by the housebuilder to ensure the 46 acre Covenanters Wood is effectively managed for the long term.

The excavation will be undertaken by specialists from the City of Edinburgh Council, AOC Archaeology and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, part of the Ministry of Defence which manages and maintains the military estate and infrastructure.  Staff and cadets from the University of Edinburgh Officer Training Corps will also be involved.

David Morgan, Land Director at Miller Homes, said: “As part of our restoration of this historically important woodland we are delighted to see this archaeological study getting under way in partnership with the Council and DIO.  The study will provide great opportunity for residents and anyone with a keen interest in history to come along to the site over the forthcoming weekends to find out more and watch the digs as they take place.

“We look forward to the survey findings and intend that the knowledge gained from this exercise will be shared with a many people as possible, from local residents to woodland visitors.”

In 2013, initial works funded by the Council and undertaken by experts from Glasgow University provided the first detailed archaeological evidence of the area’s scale and service.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Culture Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “It is important to remember the bravery of the troops who went off to war just over 100 years ago. These woods are where local men prepared for life in the trenches and Lynne has been fundamental to helping us gain knowledge about the site. The work of the DIO and AOC Archaeology and the support of Miller Homes has been fantastic and the end result will enable us to better understand the remains so that a display can be positioned in the woods to explain the history and findings to visitors.”

Phil Abramson, a DIO archaeologist, said: “DIO has been involved in the Dreghorn trench project since the site was brought to our attention by Lynne Gladstone-Millar in 2012. The aim of the work will be to understand the type of training that took place, which units were involved in the training and when the trenches cease to be used.  It is always encouraging to work with members of the local community who are taking an interest in the history on their doorstep.”

Survey work on the site will take place between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 June and again on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 June and will be led by the City of Edinburgh Council’s archaeologist, John Lawson, and AOC Archaeology.