Digging up history

Modern day diggers digging up history

14 February 2020

An archaeological adventure to dig up the past is helping a young Queensland veteran move on with his future.

By Len Kelly

Kieran Scotchford – an ex-8/9RAR infantry soldier who saw active service in Afghanistan – struggled to find his feet after leaving the Army.

A trip to France in June 2019 for an archaeological dig at the WWI Australian and British battlefield of Bullecourt helped him leave behind the effects of his combat trauma and renew his excitement for the future.

“It was the best experience of my life,” Kieran says.

“It was surreal, and at first I felt daunted and apprehensive, but the mateship and camaraderie that was on display the first day from fellow veterans and the rest of the crew on site felt very familiar.”

Digging up history


The dig was partly funded by an Australian businessman and headed by English archaeologist Richard Osgood. A group of 25 volunteers – mostly British, with a sprinkling of Australians and French – excavated an Australian wartime trench known as Melbourne Avenue.

Five others in the British group had seen active service in the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, and all had suffered the effects of combat trauma.

The group camped out on the battlefield for a week on a disused railway embankment that was once the epicentre of the Battle of Bullecourt. It was from here that the Australians and British launched their attacks in April and May 1917.

Digging up history


Friendships between the volunteers developed quickly.

“It felt like we had been mates for years. To dig up history with modern day veterans will be an experience that I cannot imitate nor forget,” Kieran says.

“I was reminded that you can have good times again, and I felt re-inspired to plan and look forward to the future”.

Digging up history


Since returning to Australia, Kieran has thrown himself eagerly into a TAFE course studying electro- technology that will likely lead to an electrical apprenticeship next year.

While in France, Kieran also took time to seek out and honour the grave of his great grandfather’s brother, who was killed at age 20 while fighting with the Gordon Highlanders.

Digging up history

During the dig, three small sections of trench were excavated, along with an Australian dugout on the embankment. Participants described the digging experience as superb and many artefacts of everyday WWI trench life were found. The items were donated to the local Bullecourt museum.

The team also uncovered various munitions including mortars, bombs, grenades, flares, fuse caps and lots of .303 ammunition. A qualified explosives expert was onsite during the dig and all dangerous munitions were collected for destruction.

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