It’s been a while since I have written anything (Over 10 months!). At the minute I find myself doing a lot of social media engagement and case study writing for work (Check out Home Front Legacy 1914-18!!!!); I rarely find the motivation to write my own ramblings when not at work. I have a lot of articles in the pipeline, which I may eventually get around to writing.
In an attempt to get myself writing again, I’ve put together a brief guide to starting your own research. This cover the sources of information available to anyone who would like to research and record Second World War military defences in the UK. The aim of this guide is to show you the sources of information you can consult via the wonder of the internet, as well as a number of other sources of information that are often overlooked.
Whether you are looking to learn more about Second World War sites in your area, or would like to conduct your own field work, research is key. Preliminary research, conducted before field work takes place is called a ‘Desk Based Assessment’ in the archaeology world.
If you do discover a site you would like to visit, ALWAYS gain landowner consent to do so before heading out. I am not responsible for any issues that arise as a result of using this research guide or visiting sites without express consent.
It’s always best to start by outlining some basic objectives. These can be as basic as outlining what you are looking for and what you hope to achieve.
Are you looking to find sites in your local area? Are you hoping to learn more about the sites that survive in your area? Or, are you trying to identify a site you have discovered and would like to record it?
Once you are certain about what you would like to achieve then you can think about the sources of information you should consult. This will depend on the type of information you are looking for.
From experience I find focussing on a smaller area far more fruitful than trying to research and understand a larger area. It’s best to start small and work up to a bigger project.
Where can you start your research and find information?
The good news is there are a number of easily accessible resources that will allow you to get started. More importantly, you don’t need any previous experience to start your journey.
The Defence of Britain Project-
Your first stop should be the Defence of Britain project (DoBP) data. The Defence of Britain Project was conducted from 1995 to 2001 and set out to record, map and determine the condition of surviving 20th century military sites in the UK. The records created through this project ensured the re-discovery of many forgotten and important 20th century military sites. The information continues to be of great value to anyone interested in the Second World War and provides the basis for much research into the subject.
When the project ended in 2002 the project’s volunteers had recorded over 20,000 sites throughout the UK.
The data from the DoBP is available on-line, via the Archaeological Data Service, in the form of a searchable database, as well as a downloadable Google Earth overlay.
The Google Earth overlay allows you to view the locations and types of 20th century defence records throughout the UK and can be used to quickly discover sites in your local area. You will need Google Earth to open this file, but once you have downloaded the programme you will be able to view all the records easily.
Please be aware that some of the sites in the database may no longer exist due to demolition, coastal erosion or redevelopment. If you do find a site that has disappeared, you can help by reporting this to your local Historic Environment Record/Sites and Monuments Record to ensure they are aware.
You can check out these websites to find out more:
Archaeology Data Service DoBP archive– Find out more about the Defence of Britain project
DoBP search function– Search the Defence of Britain project database
The Historic Environment Record and Sites and Monuments Record
Most counties have a Historic Environment Record/Sites and Monuments Record (HER/SMR). The HER is often maintained by the local council or other authority and holds information about historic and archaeological sites, listed buildings, designated or scheduled landscapes, and areas of historical importance. The information held by the HER is used to inform planning decisions and is open to members of the public conducting archaeological, historical, and genealogical research.
The HER is often overlooked but is a great source of information, especially when it comes to Second World War Sites.
I advise that you contact your local HER for advice and guidance before going out and doing any field work and also ensure your findings, results or reports are provided to the HER for inclusion. You’re HER may also be able to advise you on how your information should be stored and presented for inclusion in the HER. As many Second World War sites are not protected, this is the only way remaining sites are to be preserved for the future.
Supporting your local HER is important!
The National Record of the Historic Environment
The National Record of the Historic Environment, holds the archaeological and historic buildings records for sites throughout England.
Handily, the 420,000 records held can be searched online via the Pastscape website.
Historic England Aerial Photographs
Aerial photographs from the 1940s are key to identifying and interpreting Second World War military sites. 1940s aerial photographs are available from Historic England either by visiting their archives in Swindon or by requesting a free search of their collections.
The free search may reveal original 1940s RAF photographs of your area. These images are often oblique (taken from the side) or vertical (taken from above) and are a must for any serious site investigation. Copies of the photographs are available for a reasonable fee including simple photocopies, high resolution photocopies or high resolution digital copies; although pricey, I recommend the latter for serious site investigation.
You can find out more here via the Historic England website.
Although the majority of Historic England’s aerial photographs are not available to view online, over 95,000 of their oblique photographs are available for you to peruse via the web. The Britain from Above website allows you to view oblique photographs of the UK which sometimes catch First and Second World War sites. The location of some photographs is unknown, the Britain from Above website allows you to identify these unknown locations and ‘georeference’ them.
Find out more here- Britain from Above
So, there you go. These sources should provide you with a good starting point for carrying out your own research. You may find something close to you, you may not. If you don’t find anything then don’t get disheartened. There are many other sources of information that you can tap into, more often than not in your local area; but that’s another story…
If you have any questions, then please feel free to drop me a message. And be sure to give me a follow on Twitter at @ckolonko.
Starting Out by Chris Kolonko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://chriskolonko.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/starting-out/.