Digging in the Dirt

After a lovely five weeks back ‘home’ I returned ‘home’ to Singapore and had the very good fortune to spend my first week digging in the dirt for remnants of the Second World War. Now, this may well not be everyone’s cup of tea but I’m currently doing two history degrees at university (one at Post Graduate level and another bachelor degree just for fun), so the opportunity to touch and feel history was too good to pass up.

A couple of months ago I went on a walking tour organised by ANZA (Australia and New Zealand Association) of Hellfire Corner, which was one of the key battles leading up the Fall of Singapore. The tour was conducted by Jon Cooper, a battlefield archaeologist who had been working on The Adam Park Project, to uncover more detail about the fighting that occurred in the Adam Park area. The tour was very interesting and I was a bit miffed that I’d missed my chance to join in the archaeological digs the project had already carried out, but, serendipitously,  a new opportunity came up to explore the battles that waged in the Mount Pleasant Road area and so I spent most of the past week digging in the dirt for bullets.

10914991_10153026042501552_4156365360201859180_oThe aim of the dig was to uncover (and recover) evidence of the battle that was fought along Mount Pleasant Road on February 15, 1942. Sources from the time show that the British fought a battle from the southern side of Mount Pleasant Road toward the house on the opposite side of the road, which had been occupied by the Japanese. They also show that Captain Watson died during the battle and was buried at 159 Mount Pleasant Road, and although he was reburied at Kranji War Cemetery in 1946, there was hope of uncovering his initial burial site.

The project centred on two distinct areas. The first was a 2 metre by 2 metre area where ammunition littered the surface (an old tree had been removed and monsoon rains washed away the topsoil which exposed them). The second was a broad sweep of the yard using a metal detector, which registered lots of metal objects below the surface. A dig is quite labour intensive. After the initial use of metal detectors it’s elbow grease and trowels to uncover the hidden objects. Once an item was uncovered (and we managed to get well over a thousand items of the ground!) it is put in a plastic bag, tagged with detailed information (date, location, description), which is then also copied on to a central register. So, first we dig and then we record. The recording of the information is just as important as the uncovering as this will allow Jon to recreate a diagram of where everything was located. Analysis of the diagram will, hopefully, show a pattern that might shed new light on the Mount Pleasant Road battle.

10514582_10153023941886552_9026509724871466765_nA week ago I had never touched a bullet. Now I know that a round has two halves. The pointy bit is the projectile or bullet. The bottom half is the cartridge. The propellent used in British bullets was cordite, whilst the Japanese used gunpowder. Japanese rounds are about a millimetre thinner than British bullets. The small circle on the bottom of the cartridge is called the ‘percussion cap’. The bottom of a British cartridge has lots of information stamped on it (which is why they are called ‘endstamps’!), while Japanese ones have a pattern.

It wasn’t ALL bullets, though. The team also recovered coins, buttons, tubes, and some other bits and pieces.

If you’re interested in keeping up to date with Jon Cooper’s work, or volunteering on a project, you can follow his Facebook page, The Adam Park Project. There’s lots of photos and video of the past week. I am the badly dressed woman in the white shirt and blue hat.

PS: Any factual mistakes are mine. I have so much new information swirling around in my head that it’s inevitable some it got scrambled.

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