The Yatesbury project is in its second year and combines archaeological field work with documentary research and oral history to investigate and promote the understanding of this First World War airfield. Its overarching aim is to involve the local community in a project to highlight the importance of Wiltshire’s Great War heritage.
The main research aims of the project are to:
- Evaluate whether any sub surface remains survive of the airfield and POW camp.
- To understand better some of the airfield and POW structures and components.
- Recover material remains from the site to understand better airfield operations, pilot training and lives of the airmen, ground crew and POWs.
RFC Yatesbury was established in late 1916 to train pilots in corps reconnaissance – spotting targets and reporting back to artillery – before they were sent to the front. In fact there were two airfields at Yatesbury – known as Camp 1 (East and West) and Camp 2. Two training squadrons operated from each camp. As well as air reconnaissance training, basic flying, gunnery and aerial photography training also took place.
Associated with the airfield was a German POW camp which opened in 1917 and held up to 800 prisoners. The prisoners worked on the nearby airfield and in the local area fixing roads and in the fields.
Yatesbury closed in 1919, however it was reopened in the interwar period and finally closed in the early 1960s.
This is a partnership project with the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group and a number of local people, groups and societies have participated in the fieldwork, including Cherhill Scouts, Young WANHS, the Yatesbury History Society and Wiltshire Military History Society.
Field walking, metal detecting, geophysics and test pitting has been carried out on various areas of the airfield including the gunnery deflector training range and the German POW camp. Very little sub surface remains have been discovered, however hundreds of finds have been recovered which have provided incredible insights into life at the airfield and the POW camp.
Finds include structural pieces and domestic items from the POW camp, such as this German button.
Documentary and Photographic Evidence
An important part of the research is the analysis of contemporary documentary and photographic evidence. A number of photo collections have been found and these, along with letters and airfield plans, have provided important information on the layout, facilities and layout of the airfield.
We will back at Yatesbury in September for another season of work and the investigation report will be prepared soon.