CA Letters May 2022

Your views on the latest issues in Current Archaeology.

Bullet point #1

Thank you for a very interesting article on the POW camp near Oswestry (CA 386 ‘Happy campers?’). Despite your Great Escape-style scenario, I don’t think the ‘spent’ .303 round could have been used to quell an uprising. From the grooves clearly visible on the cartridge case, this is almost certainly a ‘drill’ round – a dummy bullet used for training purposes.

I came across these in my school cadet force in the 1980s, when the Lee-Enfield No.4 was the standard rifle. They were silver in colour, with the grooves painted red, so that they could easily be distinguished from a live round by sight and touch. We had very few of them, and I suspect whoever dropped this one would have been in trouble with the camp armourer!

Patrick Little
Dumfries and Galloway

Bullet point #2

Sorry to spoil a potentially dramatic story, but the .303 round shown on p.21 of May’s Current Archaeology (CA 386, ‘Happy campers?’) is not spent at all, but a live (unfired) round whose bullet has never left the barrel of any rifle. As can be plainly seen in the photograph that was printed in the article (above), the bullet and cartridge case are still firmly attached to one another. It is more likely that the live round was dropped by a careless soldier as he was filling his rifle’s magazine.

Peter Boalch

Bullet point #3

I would like to point out that the ‘spent .303 round’ illustrated at the top of p.21 (CA 386, ‘Happy campers?’) does not appear to have been fired as stated, as the bullet, at the right-hand end, still appears to be integral with the cartridge case, whose rim is at the left-hand end.

I would offer a couple of comments, based on my experience in the Combined Cadet Force at school many years ago:

(a) It might be a practice round, which would not contain a charge and therefore could not be fired, but would be suitable for practising filling a rifle magazine, for example. I think the Bren gun used the same ammunition, but had a much greater capacity magazine.

(b) It might have been a misfire, in which case (as it still has the bullet element) it would still contain a charge and potentially still be a live round. There should be an indentation in the centre of the circular base of the cartridge from the firing pin. If that indentation was not there, I do not think that it could have been fired, and it should have been taken as a live round, and thus potentially dangerous, unless confirmed as safe by the military.

Andrew Smith

Bullet point #4

In ‘Happy campers?’ (CA 386), the photo on p.21 actually appears to show a live round, or at least one that has failed to fire. A spent round is the brass case (with a dent in the primer from the rifle firing pin) without the bullet. The one shown in the photo, if it has no dent, should be considered dangerous. Perhaps you could alert the current custodian.

Frank Costello
West Cheshire

EDITOR’S note:

Thank you to everyone who wrote to us about the Mile End bullet. We have passed on your thoughts about its use, and your suggestions that it could still be live, to Wessex Archaeology.

Hanoverian hiccup

Sherds is obviously correct that George IV was delusional about leading his troops into battle (CA 382), since it is well known that the last king to do so was his great-grandfather George II, but it is not right to say that George never left these shores. In 1820, shortly after he became king, he visited his other realm, Hanover, leaving from Ramsgate Harbour, where an obelisk marks the trip.

His father George III had never visited Hanover, where he was Elector, or anywhere else outside Britain. The Holy Roman Empire was abolished in 1806, and when George IV visited he was king, so perhaps he went to attend his coronation.

Graham Dawson

Musical connections

The links between Brittany and Britain are indeed extensive and varied. Your interesting article (CA 385 ‘Bretons and Britons’) could only cover a fraction of the more recent contacts, one of which includes ‘Dallams, père et fils’ organ-builders. Robert, the father – a highly successful organ-builder in England, but a committed Roman Catholic – escaped to Morlaix in northern Brittany to evade Puritan rule in the 1640s. He was subsequently joined by his son Thomas. Both went on to build organs across north-west Brittany, which combined a beautiful tone with wonderful architecture. Indeed, commissioning a Dallam organ became the latest ‘must-have’ for Breton churches across the area.

We have had the pleasure of visiting, and hearing, several of these unforgettable instruments; they are well worth searching out, particularly if there is an opportunity to hear one being played. A fine example of Breton–British musical links.

Jennie Dunse

Neolithic Cornwall

I would like to thank Niall Martin and Graham Hannaford (CA 385 ‘Letters’) for their very helpful answers regarding prehistoric Hebridean settlement patterns. I am assuming from this that other notable Atlantic-facing clusters, such as those found in north-west Ireland, the Channel Islands, and Brittany, similarly benefit from ‘machair’-type soils. However, this raises another question: Why the proliferation of Neolithic sites in west Cornwall (West Penwith), which is one big lump of decidedly inhospitable granite surrounded by high cliffs, whereas Mount’s Bay and the other peninsula ‘next-door’, The Lizard, offer more suitable lands?

Graeme Innes-Johnstone

Ring any bells?

I have subscribed to CA since almost the beginning and still get excited when it arrives (thanks for that).

Can any of your sharp-eyed and knowledgeable readers help with a little mystery? Many years ago, my late husband bought a ring at auction listed as ‘ancient sard set in later ring’ (above).

I’ve never been able to pin down what it depicts or whether it’s a much later imaginary image. Can any reader help?

Anne Ainsley

Edible archaeology

Each year my wife and daughter make me a birthday cake based on a different theme. This year, they chose my love of archaeology and made a cake of a section of a dig, complete with white chocolate bones. I can’t promise a comprehensive survey was undertaken or that the finds were recorded properly, but it included some seriously tasty stratigraphy nonetheless.

Ben Cottam

What you shared with us this month

Matt ‘Bear’ Clark – Shadow Tor Studios @MattBearClark
Great to see Shadow Tor models and reconstructions in the latest issue of Current Archaeology magazine. In shops now, featuring digitised finds and the mysterious ‘Boden Fogou’ recently featured on the Time Team TV show. #archaeology #timeteam @thetimeteam @CurrentArchaeo

Joe Flatman @joeflatman
#BruceSpringsteen may have been born in the USA, but I was born in #Berkshire, so here’s my #archaeological song to it in @CurrentArchaeo 386: articles/opinion/excavating- the-ca-archive-berkshire.htm

Calum Henderson @calum_mh
New podcast! The lovely John Gater tells @CurrentArchaeo editor Carly Hilts and I about the long-awaited return of @thetimeteam. Listen here:

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