Trench Detectives

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History, War Documentary published by Channel 5 in 2006 - English narration

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Image: Trench-Detectives-Cover.jpg

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At the end of the Great War, nearly two million soldiers were missing, presumed dead. Almost 90 years later, the bloody battlegrounds of France and Belgium are surrendering their secrets. A team of archaeologists, historians and forensic experts is working to identify unknown soldiers and finally lay them to rest.

THE TRENCH DETECTIVES is a 5 x 45’ documentary series that follows the work of this team as it moves through time and across the battlefields of France and Belgium, releasing the fallen and their stories of courage and sacrifice from the mud of the First World War battles in which they fought and died. Each episode focuses on an archaeological dig at the site of a single significant battle of the Great War. Objects and evidence found there are traced back, through painstaking detective work, to a soldier or soldiers whose personal story can then be told. The excavation sites may masquerade as rolling countryside, productive farmland or territory earmarked for development but each one bears the scars of intense fighting - a landscape that hides huge cemeteries full of men who were buried by time. Andy Robertshaw is one of our investigators. He is a military historian and educator with the National Army Museum in Britain. He and the team spend months on war ground excavations, painstakingly uncovering bones, clothing and personal effects - pieces in a jigsaw, clues to the identity of the lost soldier who lies where he fell. This is contemporary archaeology writ large. And The Trench Detectives are rescuers of history. Its purpose: to save and conserve the past, lest we forget. Its aim: to identify and honour those who gave their lives in the war that was meant to end all wars.

[edit] Loos

Tunnels and craters in the heart of a French coalfield hide horrors from the First World War. More than 50,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded here in a hellish battle that moved underground. But our team of archaeologists, historians, and forensic experts, are here to excavate the lip of a gigantic crater, created by a massive underground explosion during the course of one of the biggest battles in world history. A battle that it was hoped would break the stalemate of trench warfare and defeat the Germans by Christmas.
The team quickly discovers a British trench with the remains of a British soldier. But the site is looted overnight. The team is shocked and upset to find that scavengers have scoured the trench with metal detectors and shovels, robbing the unmarked grave, stripping it of artefacts that could have helped to identify the soldier they found. Now, the robbers have consigned the soldier to eternal anonymity. But the crater yields other secrets: the biggest single find of human remains ever unearthed by our team. Is it the product of a shell explosion near a dug-out? Finding skeleton after skeleton, the team concludes that they have found a mass burial site, a soup of human remains.

Hidden within the burial site are also valuable clues to one of the fallen soldiers, a German from Bavaria. Uncovering a simple button on a uniform, a regiment number on an epaulette, and a post card tucked into a music book, the team are able to start piecing together the identity of this soldier. They conclude he was a gifted violinist named Leopold Rotharmel, a Munich Concert Master turned warrior in the formidable German unit that would later be called the Storm Troopers. At the same time, they must solve a parallel mystery: which skeleton did the found objects belong to? And so the detective work begins – to uncover how Rotharmel lived and died and it identify his specific remains, so that his story is told and he gets a proper burial. It’s a journey that leads to another shocking revelation: Rotharmel served in the same regiment as another “artist”: Corporal Adolph Hitler. In one last twist, the music school Rotharmel attended is now housed in the very building Hitler used as his headquarters during the rise of the Nazi Party. The stunning coincidences lead team leader Andy Robertshaw to speculate on what would have happened had the shell that killed Rotharmel, killed Hitler instead.

[edit] Passchendaele

The team go to Northern Belgium, to excavate the site of the infamous battle of Passchendaele, fought in 1917, where man and beast drowned in a churning sea of mud. The British idea was to fight through to the English Channel and deny German U-boats the use of Belgian ports. It was a sound theory but turned into carnage. More than half a million men died at Passchendaele, many of them drowning in the waist high mud of the battlefield or its water filled shell les. As they unearth the remains of a complex trench system, a wristwatch is found; a technological innovation whose popularity was largely a product of the Great War’s need for accurate, easily accessed timepieces that were shock proof, waterproof and could be read at night. The War virtually gave birth to the modern watch. The watch is sent to the forensic laboratory at University College London, where the strap is painstakingly restored. The discovery of
letters etched on the strap launches a journey to identify its owner, a soldier, one of the Fallen. The search leads to John Humphrey England, a Second Lieutenant under the Welsh regiment, who died in the mud of Passchendaele July 31 1917.
Reinforcing this conclusion is a moving letter they uncover. It was
written by England’s father and asked the War Department for the
return of his son’s watch…. Eventually, a living relation of Lieutenant England is located, who in turn helps the team find England’s obituary—replete with photograph. But this quest has a twist in the tail.

[edit] Serre

Fighting raged for years at Serre in Northern France: an infamous German stronghold held off the Allies. Thousands died, many of them buried or left where they fell on a battlefield now transformed to verdant farmland. Among the Fallen – three soldiers whose remains were found here by our team of historians, archaeologists and forensic scientists. The bodies were found close to the rumoured location of an infamous German stronghold: a fortress-ke three-sided defence called The Heidenkopf: a stronghold that generals on both sides felt was worth dying for.

The team are able to determine that one of the soldiers was British but a lack of material evidence prevents them from identifying him. The other two are identified as German. They were discovered with tantalizing clues as to their identity. One soldier took into battle a touching souvenir of home, a pictorial shoe polish lid. He also broke one of the cardinal rules of war by scratching his name on his i.d. tag. The partial name and the shoe polish lid allow a positive identification. The other was found with a matted lump of paper. Using real world “CSI” techniques, University College London is able to restore a lost document that gives them a name and a place. In the end, the two men—enlisted man and officer—who became brothers only in death—are reburied together in a military cemetery, sharing a single stone.

[edit] Ypres

The rolling countryside of Northern Belgium has a secret. Beneath the farmlands lie graveyards, the final resting place of the fallen of the First World War. Here, a group of archaeologists, forensic experts and historians
excavate the past, a shovelful at a time, to preserve the memories of the shattered lives that ended here. In the autumn of 1914 the Belgian farmland was a hotbed of fighting. The Allies were desperate to control the land between the Western Front and the French coast, to keep the Germans away from the English Channel. It was a battle to control the high ground, the Northern
Belgian town of Ypres. At Ypres, the team discover evidence of the first trenches of The Great War—mere scrapes of earth that would evolve into complex and sinewy lines of trenches that if placed in a single line would encircle the Earth. In the process, the team unearths human remains. With the help of a
forensic anthropologist and a button from a uniform, the team concludes that they have discovered the partial remains of three German soldiers from the 213 Reserve Regiment, who fought and died at Ypres which saw the birth of WWI trench warfare. Retracing on foot and by train the very steps these soldiers took in the Autumn of 1914 from training camp to the Front, members of the
team uncover a massacre of civilians in a small Belgian town. Their journey takes them back to Ypres, to the very place these soldiers died—victimizers turned victims.

[edit] Beaumont Hamel

1 July 1916. The Battle of the Somme. Three quarters of a million Allied soldiers line up for battle, stretched out on a front running almost 20 miles. But it all went horribly wrong. For the Allies it was to become the largest casualty roll of any day in the entire history of the British military. Today this rolling French landscape serenely disguises the trenches that on that day ran red with the blood of almost 60,000 casualties. A group of archaeologists, forensic experts and historians travel to the front lines of the Battle of the Somme, to a sector known as Beaumont Hamel, looking for evidence of what happened that day. For a proud volunteer regiment from then British Colony/now Canadian Province of Newfoundland, fighting their first battle in France, it
was a day that would leave the island with a sense of loss that would mark generations to come.

At Beaumont Hamel, our team also uncover evidence of what may be a front line medical aid post: A thermometer, ampoules of iodine, and a glass container for keeping sutures sterile. A find that team leader Andy Robertshaw says: “You couldn’t invent this. Of all the things I’ve wanted to find on the Western front this is got to be it.”The medical supplies lead to the location of what may have been a hub of chaos on that fateful day as the wounded returned down through the trenches. And it is here that the team makes a stunning discovery: it’s only a single button. But it’s a button that could only been worn by one
soldier on the morning that marked the commencement of the Battle of the Somme: the Regimental Medical Officer. This find sets the team off on a journey to uncover the life of one Dr. William Bunting Wamsley, a Methodist doctor from Northern England who also spent time working in China at Methodist missions. A revealing letter, written in Wamsley’s hand, gives the team insight into the passion that drove the doctor and eventually leads him to
the battlegrounds of Beaumont Hamel.

[edit] Screenshots

Image: Trench-Detectives-Screen0.jpg

[edit] Technical Specs

  • Video Codec: XVID
  • Video Bitrate: 1194 kbps
  • Video Resolution: 320x560 (height x width)
  • Video Aspect Ratio: 4x7 (1:1.75)
  • Audio Codec: MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3) <0x0055>
  • Audio BitRate: 136 kbps
  • Audio Streams: 1
  • Audio Languages: English
  • RunTime Per Part: 39 min 1.16 s (58529 Frames)

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