Remembrance Wrecks of WWI and WWII HLF Pilot Project
Of the most popular 100 dive sites off the United Kingdom, over half were sunk during the two World Wars. The UK has the largest and most significant collection of World War wrecks of anywhere in the world. The sheer number of vessels lost during the two conflicts and their survival as wrecks means that there are more wrecks from these periods than any other and, as such, approximately half of all dives in the UK are undertaken on a wreck from one of the two Wars.
There are over two million qualified divers in the UK. Should each one dive just once per year within the UK (the number is likely higher) over one million dives occur on World War wrecks from which little or no information is being disseminated. The number of divers visiting these sites is in huge disproportion to any archaeological or historical research dives that have been undertaken on the same wrecks.
Now, thanks to a generous donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) of £20,600 MAST was able to train volunteers from the local research and diving communities in the North East to investigate a number of these very sites. The project provided an equipment pack of basic survey tools (tape measure, folding rule, underwater bag, waterproof notebook and project course work package in digital format). The research team were all non-divers and were trained in archival research skills at the Woodhorn archive which also acted as a research base where many IT-based archives are accessible and interpreted along with many unique local documents.
The grant enabled local people to discover and explore the local history of the First World War and Second World War along with some of the hundreds of ships and people lost off of the North East coast. 11 divers completed MAST's Basic Archaeological Diver (B.A.D) course, learning to master skills in underwater survey, and gained a PADI Distinctive Specialty. Ten researchers were guided in carrying out the above-water historical research by archivists from Northumberland Archives.
The conflict wrecks within this region once played a major role in maritime trade during WWII so permanent convoys were in place to protect the traders from the many threats of war. Many vessels were lost in action along the North Eastern coastline. The aim for this project is to greatly enhance the understanding of the local history whilst also expanding on local histories from other outreach projects such as the Nautical Archaeology Society's HLF-funded project exploring shipbuilding and ship-owning and heritage in the Tees Valley.
As the project progressed the “wet”, newly qualified B.A.D. divers, and the “dry” volunteers came together to tell the stories of these shipwrecks, many of which have lain silent for so many years.
Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “The North East has a wealth of maritime heritage of which the wrecks of the First and Second World Wars are an important part. We’re pleased to support this project which will see volunteers gain valuable qualifications and training as they help to uncover the stories of the vessels and their crews – many for the first time.”
Aside from the historical and archaeological research being undertaken by the volunteers, one among them, is a marine ecologist and chartered marine technologist. From photographs taken by the divers she studied the biodiversity and ecosystems within the marine environment that are being impacted by the presence of ‘alien’, non-native species, which have the potential to become invasive and over time displace native species. You can now read her full report by clicking on the link on this page.
This ‘marine growth assessment’ for each wreck site will provide the means to identify the range of species that have colonised wreck structures; it is probable that such wrecks have been colonised and re-colonised by a succession of species types, and this knowledge will provide an indication of any opportunities available for species invasion as well as the ecological dynamics on cold water wreck sites. In addition, the assemblages of species will vary according to the depth of the structure, geographical location, age of the wreck (including time submerged), water temperature, depth, salinity, distance from shore and exposure to wave action, factors that may or may not favour the movement and colonisation by invasive species. Importantly, it also provides the opportunity for identifying and increasing knowledge of invasive species (be they originating from the wreck or the outcome of climate change), the spread of which can also be assisted by diver activities.
Keep up to date
Watch ITV Tyne Tees short film on our Project and also the UC 32 submarine.
SS Eston 2016
Divers for Northumbria Scuba Divers and cormeton divers working on #HLFRemembranceWrecks project explore and record SS Eston sunk off Blyth by a mine in January 1940.
BBC Radio Newcastle
Listen to Steve Brown, the volunteers' leader, talking to BBC Radio Newcastle's Jon Harle about the project.
Check back here regularly from April as we will be updating the site with the latest news and links. You can follow the Team's adventures on their Facebook page.