Archaeologists have completed the excavation of a unique scale model of a Belgian town which commemorated a famous victory in the Great War and helped to train troops for future battles.
So much unexpected detail was uncovered that the team carrying out the dig to unearth the model of Messines had asked for more time on the project.
Now they have completed excavating the site – the size of five tennis courts – experts are beginning the detailed photographing and recording of the model. Staffordshire County Council and Natural England are behind the scheme on Cannock Chase.
The model was built by German prisoners of war at the wartime Brocton training camp in 1918 under the supervision of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Police CSI-style lasers are being used to scan the site – the only surviving replica of its kind in the UK – and help create a 3D model.
The excavation team has found inches-high copies of homes, churches and trenches depicted in the Messines model. Tons of topsoil had to be removed by hand.
Buildings within the town are depicted in painstaking detail as ruined and bomb-damaged. Fighting trenches protecting the western side of the town have also been found, while roads are depicted across the model using pebbles – similar to the cobbled roads throughout Belgium at this time. The town square is also identified using pebbles while the open areas to the rear of town buildings are rendered in concrete.
Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: “As home to the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire is especially proud of its military links. 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. The team has done an amazing job in bringing the Messines back to ‘life’ and will help the legacy of the men who served at Brocton camp to be remembered for generations to come.”
Experts from the county council have been working closely with specialists from the No Man’s Land charity and local volunteers worked to ensure the site is protected as the 115ft by 131ft site is excavated, while protecting the surrounding environment.
The Battle of Messines was the first time defensive casualties outnumbered attacking losses as the Allies detonated 19 underground mines beneath German lines on the Western Front, before launching a follow up attack.