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Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, History, Culture, Museums & exhibitions, News

Holzminden camp – The Great Escape of 1918

It was certainly a Great Escape, even if it did not get the Hollywood treatment of Steve McQueen on his motorbike. The little known story of the prisoners of war who tunnelled out of a German camp in 1918 is to be told in a major exhibition that will show how they pioneered the subterfuge before their celebrated Second World War counterparts.

The story of the attempt by 60 officers to break out of Holzminden camp during the First World War has long been eclipsed by films about PoWs set in the Nazi era, such as The Colditz Story and The Great Escape, starring McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough as captives at Stalag Luft III. From this week, however, the audacious bid for freedom will be featured in the Imperial War Museum London’s show ‘In Memoriam: Remembering the Great War’, marking the 90th anniversary of the armistice on 11 November.

‘Everybody’s heard of The Great Escape, but it will surprise our visitors to see that similar escape attempts took place in the First World War,’ said Terry Charman, senior historian at the museum. ‘Holzminden was the worst prisoner of war camp in Germany and had a reputation like Colditz for being inescapable. Its commandant, Karl Niemeyer, was particularly brutal.’

Holzminden, near Hanover, held 550 officers and 100 orderlies, and after it opened in September 1917 there were 17 escape attempts in the first month alone. All were unsuccessful. In November that year the prisoners began digging a tunnel that would run under the camp’s perimeter wall. They were assisted by three German administrators at the camp: a mailman who became known to the soldiers as ‘the letter boy’, a man who supplied torches and was dubbed ‘the electric light boy’, and a female typist who passed on information because she was infatuated with an airman.

The captives had a room at the barracks in which they made imitation German army uniforms and used a basic camera to forge identity documents. They also created an air pump out of wood and tin tubes from biscuit tins. The tunnellers worked in three-hour shifts, in teams of three, using trowels, chisels and a ‘mumptee’, an instrument with a spike on one end and an excavating blade on the other. The earth was moved in basins by a pulley system then hidden in the cellar roof.

One of the biggest threats came from the Allies’ own side, when new PoWs arrived and asked, within earshot of the Germans: ‘Are you building a tunnel?’ But it remained undiscovered and nine months later was 60 yards long and six feet deep. In July 1918, 60 officers began the escape attempt, getting away through a nearby field of rye. But the tunnel collapsed on the 30th man, blocking the escape route.

It meant that the next one, Major Jack Shaw, had to turn back. Of the 29 escapers from Holzminden, 19 were rounded up and taken back to the camp, partly because the alarm had been raised by a farmer whose rye field had been trampled. But the remaining 10 made a successful run to neutral territory, led by Wing Commander Charles Rathborne, who hid on board a train and reached the Dutch frontier after three days. The 10 great escapers were awarded medals at Buckingham Palace by George V.

Terry Charman said he hoped the exhibition would help to preserve the memory of the first great escape.

‘In Memoriam’ will also feature the Military Cross awarded to Wilfred Owen that was worn by the poet’s mother until her death.

The ‘In Memoriam’ exhibition runs from 30 September.

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Filed under: Cultura, Exhibition, Historia, , , , , , , ,

MACHU PICCHU – rare tombs discovered

Eighty skeletons and stockpiles of textiles found in caves near the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu may shed light on the role that the so-called lost city of the Inca played as a regional center of trade and power, scientists say.

Researchers found the artifacts and remains at two sites within the Machu Picchu Archaeological Park in southeastern Peru, said Fernando Astete, head of the park.

The remains, most of which were found in May 2008 at a site called Salapunku, probably date to 500 to 550 years ago, said Francisco Huarcaya, the site’s lead researcher.

Due to extensive looting, however, as much as 75 percent of the fabrics found wrapped around the remains are in “bad shape,” Huarcaya said.

So far only the heads and shoulders of most of the bodies have been uncovered, Astete added.

“The head and shoulder bones are seen first, because the Inca buried their dead [sitting] in the fetal position,” he explained.

Formal excavations will soon begin at both sites. Huarcaya plans to exhume the remains of five people at Salapunku later this month.

The modest funerary wrappings, made of vegetable fiber, and the simple grave objects, including unadorned ceramics, suggest that the dead unearthed at Salapunku were peasant farmers, Huarcaya said. Weavers have been found accompanied by their weaving baskets, balls of thread, looms, and textiles, according to Guillermo Cock, an expert on Andean cultures.

Textiles found at the second site, called Qhanabamba, discovered in August 2008, may also provide clues to the social rank of the dead.

Peasants were more likely to have been buried with textiles made from llama wool, while wool of the vicuña-a relative of the llama-was reserved for nobility, said Astete, the park’s director.

“Finding organic material in the mountains is significant because it’s so scarce,” he said. “The humidity from rain decomposes individuals and textiles.”

Analysis of the bones should also reveal age at death, sex, cause of death, diet, and perhaps even the dead’s occupations, Astete added.

“We should be able to tell whether these people carried large burdens to help construct terraces, for example. Their bones will be bent, not straight. They will have deformities,” he explained.

“Bones will also tell us about their diets and diseases. A fracture would reveal an accident.”

The burial of human remains held special significance for the Inca, added Huarcaya, the lead researcher.

“The remains in tombs are like the guardians of the population in Andean ideology,” he said. “For [ancient Andeans], death does not exist.”

Machu Picchu

Built around 1460, the city of Machu Picchu seems to have been abandoned after the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, though it was never found by the conquerors.

Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham brought Machu Picchu to worldwide attention after local Indians led him to the site in 1911.

The new discoveries promise to shed light on the mystery of the ancient city and its role within the Inca Empire, Cock said.

“We know Machu Picchu, but we don’t know its surrounding areas,” he said.

“I think new material will be found that will help us understand the Inca’s relationship with the region.”

Original article

Filed under: Archaeology, , , , , , , ,

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