ROLLING NEWS: “NAZI WAR DIGGERS” GETS UK TV DEBUT ON CHANNEL FIVE AS “BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY”

11974 views 3 Comments
article-2591894-1CA585B600000578-478_634x450_zpseaa16afb
The exhibition of the highly skilled, forensic recovery of human remains undertaken by the “Battlefield Recovery” presentation team
[Public Domain for news and comment via National Geographic]

ROLLING NEWS BLOG:  THE NAZI WAR DIGGERS/BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY CONTROVERSY

by Andy Brockman

This page of thePipeLine will be used to update you on the latest news, comment and reaction to the “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery” controversy ahead of the scheduled broadcast of the series of Five starting Saturday 9 January 2016.

The most recent news will appear first.  Scroll down for earlier reports and comments.

Keep checking back for updates.  New material will also be signposted on our Twitter feed @pipelinenews

2 February 2016:  12.55 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

NEW BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY EOD FAIL

thePipeLine has cited a number of instances where  the makers of “Battlefield Recovery”, ClearStory Productions showed unsafe practices in handling ammunition and explosive devices.  ClearStory in turn denied the claims and stated that everything shown was safe and that their work was supervised by Explosive Ordnance Disposal [EOD] operators.

One of the potentially dangerous instances cited was the apparent excavation of a German stick grenade, which thePipeLine described in an article we published on 9 January.  That sequence has now been shown as part of programme 4 of the series as broadcast in the UK on Channel 5 and it make interesting, if disturbing, viewing.

The sequence appears to have been heavily edited with a number of somewhat awkward cuts made during the sequence showing the recovery of the grenade.

The sequence is now also accompanied by a subtitle which states

“Ordnance was confirmed to be inert before filming continued.” 

However, that subtitle, which appears to have been added to head off potential complaints that the sequences shows dangerous imitable behaviour under the Ofcom Code,  itself begs the question that, even if the subtitle is true “Who confirmed the ordnance was inert?”

The question arises because an expert consulted by thePipeline who analysed the sequence told us that even edited and with the caption, it still showed highly dangerous behaviour on the part of the presenters and by implication the ClearStory director and crew.

For a start Latvian Army EOD, the only qualified EOD personal known to have been involved with the filming, are not shown in this sequence although they are shown in another sequence in the same programme recorded at a different location.  Neither is anyone from the host organisation Legenda shown, although again, two members of Legenda appear in other sequences.  Having said that, it is believed that neither of the Legenda representatives shown have any formal EOD qualifications.

The most disturbing possibility is that one of the digging team made the risk assessment.  While presenter Kris Rodgers states on camera “I don’t know anything about bombs…” [in which case why was he deliberately put to  dig by ClearStory on one of the most contaminated sites in Europe], fellow presenter Stephen Taylor is a self styled expert in identifying military objects and in a number of earlier sequences is shown discussing ammunition, so the possibility must exist that it was Mr Taylor who was at least partially responsible for risk assessing the situation.

 

EOD-Fail-Update

Stephen Taylor holds what appears to be a German grenade detonator in his right hand as Kris Rodgers and Craig Gottleib look on.
[Discovery Poland:  Fair Use for Reporting and Review]

Whoever  assessed the grenade as inert our EOD expert stated that Mr Taylor is seen to hold up the bottom part of the round metal housing for the main explosive charge, including what appears to be the detonator or detonator well.  The detonator is itself a small explosive charge capable of causing severe injury if it functions.

Our expert concluded.

“Either he was holding a “live” detonator, or, if the detonator was missing, it was still in the hole and still dangerous.” 

He added;

“The other thing they were not seen to do was check the hole for other grenades.  Unlike a certain famous episode of “Dad’s Army” kitted out soldiers tend not to face battle without the detonators in their grenades.”

thePipeLine has also been passed information that at least one person purporting to be an associate of the programme director, has suggested in an on-line forum that such criticisms are an over reaction and that programmes like “Top Gear” often show apparently dangerous behaviour, where the audience understands that things on TV are not always what they seem.

That is true.  Every television programme is to some degree an artifice.

However, “Top Gear”, in its Clarkson, May and Hammond incarnation at least, was an entertainment programme showing three mates “dicking around” with big boys toys, having fun and looking stupid.  “Battlefield Recovery” was publicised as a “sensitive” historical documentary.

There is also a world of difference between an expensive and carefully choreographed stunt with expert technicians and safety cover on hand, of the kind “Top Gear” specialised in, and four amateurs apparently “dicking around” with “live” ammunition and explosives in early evening Prime Time.

 

2 February 2016:  12.00 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Society of Antiquaries to write to Channel 5 expressing concerns over “Battlefield Recovery”

The Society of Antiquaries, is to write formally to Channel 5 and its regulator Ofcom, to express the concerns of the fellows, the UK’s most senior and experienced archaeologists.  The news comes in the latest edition of Salon, the fortnightly magazine of the Society, published today 1 February 2016.

In a strongly worded comment the magazine states that members of the Society ruling Council

“…have braced ourselves and watched the programmes, and have taken the view that a response from the Society to Channel 5 and to its regulators is indeed warranted.”

Expressing what the article calls “our great concern and dismay.” the comment goes on to state;

“Our criticism focuses on the careless, insensitive and unethical treatment of the human remains, but also the mistreatment of other finds, the inept standards of excavation and the shocking disregard for safe systems of working. Important opportunities were lost to learn about the battlefields and the identities of the people recovered – whether they have living relatives and how they spent the ends of their lives.”

Finally the statement widens the argument to discuss the place of Battlefield Archaeology in both the heritage sector and the media.  After commenting that;

“Battlefield archaeology is a well-developed field with respected specialists, codes of conduct and some exemplary practice, and there is no excuse for work of this standard, nor its positive publicity in the media.

The comment cocludes with a damning assessment of the programme and the damage it could do if any of its audience seek to imitate what they saw on screen.

“The broadcast of these programmes in a congratulatory fashion on prime-time television is at best in very poor taste, creating an extremely misleading impression of battlefield archaeology, and at worst encourages others to operate in a similar, cavalier fashion. We hope that they will cease to show further episodes of this programme.”

The Society also confirms that its response to Channel 5 and Ofcom will be made public on its web site.

 

10 January 2016:  23.00 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

 

nazi-war-diggers presenters
The team of on screen presenters for “Battlefield Recovery”, Left to Right: Craig Gottleib, Stephen Taylor, Kris Rodgers and Adrian Kostromski

[National Geographic Channel publicity shot:  Fair Use for the purpose of reporting and review]

 

Gottlieb Twitter 9 1 2016

Craig Gottleib greets the launch of Battlefield Recovery on Channel 5
[Public domain via Twitter]

Twenty four hours on from the first broadcast of “Battlefield recovery on UK television it is time to sum up events and reaction.

Among numerous reports of archaeologists and historians contacting Ofcom and Channel 5, Dr Matt Pope highlighted what could become a significant problem for series producer ClearStory Productions and Channel 5 if Ofcom decides to launch an investigation into complaints about the programme; the glamourisation of potentially dangerous and anti social behaviour which could influence children who might be assumed to have been watching the pre watershed broadcast.

Any kids out there who just watched that and thought it looked cool (I would have done). It really isn’t. It was wrong

, adding a view in another Tweet which might be echoed by many historians and conflict archaeologists;

is advertisement for the ‘black’ digging of militaria. A serious approach could have been great Television.

In other words “Battlefield Recovery” was a colossal missed opportunity for ClearStory, which took aim at a clearly defined, fascinating target, were offered all the assistance and advice from the mainstream conflict archaeology community they needed, ignored it and proceeded to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot, probably with a dug up Panzerfaust.

Dr Tony Pollard, one of Europe’s leading battlefield archaeologists and one of the pioneers of the presentation of safe and ethical conflict archaeology in the Media with the series “Two Men in a Trench”, summed up the thoughts of many in the archaeological community when he tweeted

Brief spell before broadcast of thinking maybe C5 version won’t be too bad & griping will seem OTT. Boy, was I wrong!

Against that background there were few obvious attempts to convince critics that the series was appropriate and ethical.  Neither were there obvious attempts at the serious trolling of either critics or supporters of the series.

Among the positive comments the programme received were the following;

please support this amazing show and retweet :):)

Twitter user “Amy” cited the freedom of speech and choice argument;


However, posting a new video
“I love Metal Detecting : Metal detecting UK #87on his You Tube Channel, which goes under the name of Addictedtobleeps Mr Rodgers made an oblique reference to the controversy claiming that  in recent days;

“I’ve been bullied by bigots and liars on line…certain people in a certain community that have been absolutely lying about things.”

He concludes the ten minute video with a plea for supporters and fellow metal detectorists to support the voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme and local archaeologists adding;

“When I say archaeologists I mean the people that actually go out and do some work, rather than sit behind their computers very very bored, unemployed, with nothing better to do than try to ruin people’s lives. Support the people that sincerely support saving History.”

Mr Rodgers also requests his viewers to metal detect responsibly.  However, this laudable stance has to be  contrasted with some of the activities which Mr Rodgers and his fellow presenters are shown undertaking on “Battlefield Recovery”; which appear to be contrary to the voluntary Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting, endorsed by the National Council for Metal Detecting [NCMD] and the Portable Antiquities Scheme itself.

The Code of Practice states that;

While you are metal-detecting

  1. Wherever possible working on ground that has already been disturbed (such as ploughed land or that which has formerly been ploughed), and only within the depth of ploughing. If detecting takes place on undisturbed pasture, be careful to ensure that no damage is done to the archaeological value of the land, including earthworks.
  2. Minimising any ground disturbance through the use of suitable tools and by reinstating any excavated material as neatly as possible. Endeavour not to damage stratified archaeological deposits.
  3. Recording findspots as accurately as possible for all finds (i.e. to at least a one hundred metre square, using an Ordnance Survey map or hand-held Global Positioning Systems (GPS) device) whilst in the field. Bag finds individually and record the National Grid Reference (NGR) on the bag.

 

However, none of these stipulations were shown as being discussed or practiced in the documentary shown on Saturday night although unspecified recording was referred to in a subtitle.  Worse, stratified archaeological deposits in and around the bunker were clearly shown being damaged.

It is also highly questionable whether a backhoe with a toothed bucket under the direction of persons with no archaeological training or experience is an appropriate tool for opening up the stratified remains of a World War Two German bunker.

A “big yellow trowel”with a wide edged bucket, in the hands of an expert backhoe operator and a trained field archaeologist, can be used to expose archaeology with the finesse of a hand trowel.  In the hands of amateurs there is no quicker way to destroy sensitive archaeological layers and destabilise the ground.

Most significantly, and again of possible relevance to any possible enquiry by Ofcom, is the fact that the Code of Practice also states that a responsible metal detectorist should respond by:

  • Calling the Police, and notifying the landowner/occupier, if you find any traces of human remains. [and]
  • Calling the Police or HM Coastguard, and notifying the landowner/occupier, if you find anything that may be a live explosive: do not use a metal-detector or mobile phone nearby as this might trigger an explosion. Do not attempt to move or interfere with any such explosives. [our Italics]

Both these vital safety clauses in the code were clearly shown to have been broken in the material broadcast in the UK on Saturday as well as in the versions of the series shown in Poland in the Autumn of 2015.

 

The National Council for Metal Detecting was also approached for a comment about the series.  However, up to the time of publication they too have failed to respond to the request.

 

Of course, it can be argued reasonably that rather than being the “black hatted” bad guys of the story the three British metal detectorists, Stephen Taylor, Kris Rodgers and Adrian Kostromski are more appropriately seen as victims of naivety regarding the carnivorous way the media works, and of their own enthusiasm.  The result was that they were placed into circumstances which they could not control by a production company, ClearStory, which it appears from testimony such as that of Dr Pollard, knew from the get go the kind of programme it wanted to make for the National Geographic Channel.

That was a European version of US reality history shows like “American Diggers” which focus on a breathless search for spectacular and lucrative finds using a cast of superficially knowledgeable characters rather than a team of genuinely qualified experts.  Given the legal and archaeological restrictions in the UK and elsewhere in Western Europe, the only place to make a programme where such a team of what were essentially amateurs could work on 20th century European battlefields with a high expectation of discovering human remains and photogenic weapons were the former Warsaw Pact states of Eastern Europe and the eastern side of the Baltic.

Many archaeologists and members of the public who respect both the past and above all the dead of the two World Wars, not to mention other conflicts which are still “live” issues in many families, might think that would be too sympathetic a view.  After all everyone involved in creating and making “Battlefield Recovery”/”NaziWar Diggers”were adults and responsible for their own actions.  In which case they might prefer to echo the thoughts, and perhaps even the words, of British archaeologist and TV presenter Paul Blinkhorn, who took to Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the programme and said;

“Speaking as an ex-@channel5_tv archaeology presenter, #BattlefieldRecovery is a fucking disgrace.”

After four days and over nine thousand words, this update ends thePipeLine’s rolling news coverage of  the controversy surrounding “Battlefield Recovery” for now.

If you have further information about “Battlefield Recovery” aka “Nazi War Diggers”, please contact thePipeline.

 

The blog will continue to monitor the story and we will bring you any significant news on the @pipelinenews Twitter feed and, where appropriate, as a stand alone article in thePipeLine.

Similarly if you have any evidence for individuals or entities putting our shared past at risk by their actions or inactions, please contact us in confidence.

Until the next time you visit thePipeLine, thank you for reading and sharing our coverage.

 

10 January 2016:  04.33 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY REVIEW
Read thePipeLine’s review of the first episode of Battlefield Recovery, broadcast last night on Channel 4.

Competition

{No Prizes Just for Fun}

To celebrate the first UK broadcast of “Battlefield Recovery” we have prepared this simple competition.

Both these photographs show a backhoe being used in the making of a conflict archaeology film, but only one is “Battlefield Recovery” which is it, Picture A or Picture B and why?

A
YANGON-SPOT-THE-DIFFERENCE

B

LATVIA SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

Tweet your answer using #BattlefieldRecovery

9 January 2016:  18.47 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY NAZI WAR DIGGERS LATEST

 

“Battlefield Recovery” is due on air in around ten minutes and thePipeLine will be back later this evening with a review and reaction.

Don’t forget you can also respond to the broadcast live on Twitter using the #BattlefieldRecovery

 

9 January 2016:  13.47 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY NAZI WAR DIGGERS LATEST

It is now hours five hours to the scheduled transmission of the TV series “Battlefield Recovery” formerly known as “Nazi War Diggers”.

Here is the current situation as thePipeLine understands it.

Channel 5 appear to be holding the line and intend to press ahead with transmission of the programme this evening in spite of the concerns of the CBA, the CIfA, the PAS, numerous international archaeological bodies and the fact it has been cancelled by its original commissioner, the National Geographic Channel, and just two days ago, by Foxtel/History Australia and New Zealand after an outcry from the archaeological community and others.

This morning ClearStory’s UK publicist responded to our story about allegations of “potentially lethal” practices involving a German hand grenade by saying the allegations were “unfounded and untrue”.  However, no evidence was provided that this was the case.

OPINION

thePipeLine supports freedom of speech and exists to promote that human right as regards to archaeology and heritage.

For that reason we are not calling for programmes about battlefield archaeology to be dropped from the schedules.  They are good for archaeology and good for the public in coming to an understanding of the conduct and costs of conflict.

However, that only pertains if such programmes are made sensitively, ethically and above all safely and do not put their audience at risk through the portrayal of unsafe practices which could lead to legal problems in many countries.

Channel 5 must take independent expert legal and technical advice about the content of “Battlefield Recovery” and they must be shown unequivocal documentation that everything shown in the series, particularly the recovery of human remains, weapons and explosive devices, was legal under Latvian and Polish law and health and safety legislation.

ClearStory must also satisfy Channel 5 that it carried out its responsibilities towards its cast and crew under UK Health and Safety legislation and that the portrayal of the activities of their presenters does not put the television audience in danger if anyone attempts to imitate what they see on screen.

Until such documentary proof is provided and the episodes of the series are independently assessed by subject experts in a way to command public confidence the series should be postponed indefinitely.

9 January 2016:  00.30 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

 

EOD EXPERT CONFIRMS “POTENTIALLY LETHAL PRACTICES” SHOWN ON BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY

Nazi War Diggers Programme 3 Grenade 2 28 11Presenter Stephen Taylor holds up the componant parts of a German stick grenade as co-presenters Kris Rodgers and Craig Gottleib [as well as the camera operator] look on.  One of the “potentially lethal practices” confirmed by a professional EOD Operator consulted by thePipeLine.
[Image Disscovery Channel Poland:  Fair Use for news and review]

An investigation by thePipeLine involving consultation with an experienced professional Explosivce Ordnance Disposal [EOD] Operator has shown that ClearStory Productions appear to have allowed the presenter team of “Battlefield Recovery”, previously “Nazi War Diggers”, to engage in what the consultant calls “potentially lethal practices”.

The allegations focus on the apparent digging up of a German stick grenade with a lethal radius of some 18m, which was shown in episode 3 of the series when it was shown in Poland in the Autumn of 2015.

The apparent confirmation of the allegations, first published in thePipeLine in October 2014 and never denied by the production company, ClearStory Productions, are sure to increase the pressure on Channel 5 to cancel the broadcast of the series which is due to begin later this evening.  Particularly as media analysts point out that the scene is almost certain to fall foul of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, which prohibits the depiction of material which “…condones or glamorises violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour”.  Particularly before the 9pm watershed when children are assumed to be watching.

Critics of the series also point out the entire series seems to have set out to glamorise the digging up of battlefield artefacts and human remains which could lead to the threat of increased looting of military sites and the extremely antisocial disturbance of the human remains of missing soldiers.  However, ClearStory  claim the series was set up to demonstrate the threat of looting and the need to recover artefacts and honour the dead, before they are stolen or their remains disturbed.

Read the full investigation HERE in thePipeLine.

 

This ends thePipeLine’s coverage of day three of the Battlefield Recovery/Nazi War Diggers Controversy.

We are now less than twenty four hours from the first scheduled transmission of the programme by Channel 5 and the lines are becoming clearer.

Three of the UK’s most significant archaeological bodies, the CBA, the CIfA and the Portable Antiquities Scheme have all expressed reservations about the series in public and have said they are going to take the issue up with Channel 5.

On the Social Media, which has really driven the story, the controversy continues to develop and grow with information and new comments coming in all the time.

Finally the story has now begun to be picked up in the traditional news media with coverage in the Daily Mail and the Guardian.  It remains to be seen whether the story will develop “legs”.  However, for now there are some interensting and important comments being added to the stories.  Perhaps the most significant comment today was Tim Sutherland’s comment to the Guardian that he would boycott work destined for Channel 5.

That focuses the issue.  General complaints at the perceived faults of the series are beginning to be transformed into actions which could cause the broadcaster some pain.  It remains to be seen whether the archaeological community can sustain and develop this theme.

What now seems certain, particularly in the light of tonight’s report about alleged dangerous practices in handling munitions during the recording of the series, is that whatever happens tomorrow night, whether “Battlefield Recovery”, the series formerly known as “Nazi War Diggers”  is shown, or whether it is cancelled, the result will not be pain free for either ClearStory or Channel 5.  It remains to be seen which route for Channel 5 is least pain free.  Withdraw the programme, or risk a negative Ofcom investigation?

 

 

8 January 2016:  16.04 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Portable Antiquities Scheme to contact Channel 5 over “Battlefield Recovery

A spokesperson for the Portable Antiquities Scheme confirmed to thePipeLine that the organisation would be writing directly to Channel 5 to express concerns about the programme.

 

8 January 2016:  15.37 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Battlefield Archaeologist Tim Sutherland threatens Boycott of Channel 5 Over “Battlefield Recovery”

Leading battlefield Archaeologist Tim Sutherland, seen most recently on television in the series “Medieval Dead”, has launched a powerfully worded attack on “Battlefield Recovery” in a comment on this morning’s article about the controversial series in the Guardian.

After suggesting that professional archaeologists had refused to take part in the series, possibly a reference to Dr Tony Pollards revelation in thePipeLine that he had taken part in discussions with ClearStory Productions but ultimately declined to take part in the series because of fears as to the direction it was taking, Mr Sutherland accused the producer of undertaking activities which were “almost unbelievable” and which was diffiult to describe as

“…anything other than grave robbing.”

Mr Sutherland concludes with this  threat to boycott future work destined for the channel until a full apology is made by the broadcaster.

“I have worked in the past with Channel 5 but if the company insist on backing this production I will, and will be advising others to, boycott any future work until a full apology is forthcoming. You are in a hole so please keep digging at your own expense.”

 

 

8 January 2016:  14.51 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Sources at the Chartered Institue for Archaeologists [CIfA] have indicated that the organisation, which is the leading professional body representing archaeologists working in the UK and overseas, will be discussing a formal position on Monday in the light of the programme if it is shown.

Meanwhile, CIfA is understood to have contacted Channel 5 to underline previous strong reservations about the content of Nazi War Diggers and warning that the programme should not be transmitted unless the broadcaster has taken expert advice on the ethical issues, to ensure that there is editorial comment on the abuse of human remains, on unsafe practices and on trading in Nazi objects, and plans to warn viewers about the offensive and upsetting nature of material they may see.

8 January 2016:  14.24 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

N0-Man’s-Land issue statement endorsing calls for “Battlefield Recovery” to be permanently dropped by Channel 5

No Mans Land Msrtin Brown

Excavation of a World War Battlefield conducted to archaeological standards by the personnel of No-Mans-Land
[Courtesy of Martin Brown/No-Mans-Land]

No-Mans-Land, the highly respected First World War archaeological research group are the latest body to attack the proposed broadcast of “Battlefield Recovery” previously Nazi War Diggers” on Channel 5 and endorse calls for it to be withdrwn.

In a statement given to thePipeLine the Chair of No-Man’s-Land,  Martin Brown, himself one of the pioneers of Conflict Archaeology on the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium, as well as an experienced author and broadcaster, said that the programme;

“…appears to present a macho, devil-may-care attitude to the archaeology of the Second World War, and, morally and legally suspect treatment of human remains.”

Mr Brown also highlighted the successful portrayal of the painstaking archaeological work of No-Man’s-Land on screen in the series “Finding the Fallen” [shown on Channel 5 as Trench Detectives] showing that the portrayal of digging on battlefields does not have to be macho and ethically suspect to be successful as television.

Here is Mr Browns statement in full.

“I am a working archaeologist with almost 30 years professional experience. I am a Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians of London. I am a recognised expert in Conflict Archaeology and have a proven track record in archaeological broadcast media, including Time Team, Finding the Fallen, Lost in Flanders and Tales from the Grave. I also have the privilege of chairing No-Man’s-Land: The European Group for Great War Archaeology. NML is a group that draws together professional and vocational archaeologists and historians from across Europe and the USA to investigate the archaeology of the Great War in UK and on the Western Front.

 

NML has high ethical standards in respect of finds and human remains and very strict safety procedures regarding, in particular, unexploded ordnance (UXO). Since the late 1990s NML has worked on the Western Front and since 2003 NML we have had experience of working with human remains from the 1914-1918 conflict. We have also been involved in a series of television documentaries since 2003, including Finding The Fallen, made with national Geographic and broadcast by Channel 5 in UK as Trench  Detectives. These shows followed our work on a series of sites in France and Belgium and showed the respect we accord human remains and the professional skill with which artefacts are recovered and, where possible, forensic skills are used to identify individuals and, where possible, reunite remains with their families.

 

The following link is to a programme from the series where three individuals were found, two of whom were identified. Those identified were German soldiers and we have a good relationship with the VDK, the German war graves authorities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBSqLVQH03w

 

Other work, recently at Ploegsteert in Belgium, has not attracted TV coverage but our record there, including the recovery, identification and reburial of Private Alan Mather (KIA 1917) was carried out to high professional standards and has attracted praise from the Australian Army and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

 

All work is carried out under licence from the appropriate heritage authorities and is governed by professional Written Schemes of Investigation and Risk Assessment Method Statements ensuring safe and professional working. We have also published our results in academic fora, such as the Journal for Conflict Archaeology, and in popular formats and have an online presence.

As a result of the care, professionalism and ethical standards of our own work I am particularly disheartened that a respected UK broadcaster has chosen to show the programme Battlefield Recovery that appears to present a macho, devil-may-care attitude to the archaeology of the Second World War, and, morally and legally suspect treatment of human remains. The work depicted appears to do  nothing to increase understanding of the war, nor inform families what happened to their fathers and grandfathers and allow closure and commemoration, which we know from our own work remains a real issue for families. It is for these reasons that I am happy to support the call for Channel 5 to permanently drop the show.”

8 January 2016:  12.44 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

CBA expresses outrage and concern over Battlefield Recovery

 

Sources at the Council for British Archaeology [CBA] confirm the organisation is very concerned at the proposals to broadcast “Battlefield Recovery” on Channel 5, describing the programme as “an outrage,” and confirming that the CBA had complained to National Geographic Channel when the series was first launched as “Nazi War Diggers” in the Spring of 2014.

Sources also confirmed that the CBA,  an educational charity which brings together professional and vocational archaeologist throughout the British Isles to help care for the historic environment, will be writing to Channel 5 to set out its view that the programmes should not be broadcast on UK television.

The CBA, has also placed a short article on its website which states;

“The CBA is appalled and outraged at the apparent irresponsible glorification of the looting of war graves that this programme portrays.”

and which concludes;

“… if the show does air, we have a responsibility as archaeologists to demonstrate to society that this isn’t how good archaeology is done, nor how responsible human beings behave.”

 

8 January 2016:  10.40 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

ALLEGATION NAZI WAR DIGGERS SHOWS “POTENTIALLY LETHAL PRACTICES”

thePipeLine has obtained a copy of three episodes of the series “Battlefield Recovery” broadcast in Poland as “POSZUKIWACZE WOJENNYCH SKARBÓW”[Seekers of War Treasure] in the Autumn of 2015 and which it is believed will be broadcast in Britain from Saturday 9 January by Channel Five.

thePipeLine has shown the programme to a number of experienced conflict archaeologists and a serving Explosive Ordnance Disposal Operator [EOD] and their conclusion is that not only does the programme display, in the words of Martin Brown Chair of the World War One archaeological organisation “No Mans Land” “a
a macho, devil-may-care attitude to the archaeology of the Second World War,”  it also displays unsafe digging practices and worst of all  a treatment of the remains of missing soldiers which is disrespectful, unscientific and which would be, in most, if not all European nations, illegal.

In the words of the EOD operator we contacted, a person, who has over thirty years experience in the field, the programme also portrays “potentially lethal” practices involving the handling of items of ammunition and unexploded munitions.

thePipeLine will be publishing full details of these important developments shortly.

8 January 2016:  10.40 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

thePipeLine is back for day three of the Nazi War Diggers Controversy and a news of a major breaking development in the story.

After this mornings uncomfortable coverage in the Guardian   thePipeLine is about to add another significant stand to Channel 5’s deliberations.

 

 

8 January 2016:  00.50 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Here is a quick summary as to where we have got to at the end of Day Two of our rolling coverage of the Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery controversy.

The scheduled broadcast of “Battlefield Recovery” by History Australia and New Zealand has been pulled, with the channel citing feedback from its  community as the reason, under the hash tag #loveourfollowers.   The programme guide now shows “Ancient Black Ops” in what was the “Battlefield Recovery” slot.

NWD Removed form Prog Guide Oz
Final proof that “Battlefield Recovery” has been dropped in Australia
[Image:  History Australia and New Zealand Programme Guide- [Fair Use for News and Reporting ]
[Thanks to for reporting this]

Channel 5 have adopted a standard statement to e-mail and telephone complainants to the effect that the series is “sensitively produced” and complies with all legal and broadcasting codes.

ClearStory Productions have made no statements at all.

There have been a few attempts to defend the series on Social Media, mostly on the grounds that to force it to be withdrawn would amount to censorship and a restriction of freedom of speech.  However, most people engaging with the story seem to see it as an issue of archaeological ethics, and above all respect for the dead.

Finally thePipeLine understands at least two major UK archaeological bodies are considering their response and are expected to issue some form of statement although the timescale for any release is not yet clear.

To close, wherever you are and whatever your personal view on the issues raised by Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery, a big thank you to everyone who has been engaged by this story and kept the flow of information and debate going.

Signing off then until tomorrow [Friday] morning UK time with around forty two hours to the scheduled UK broadcast.

7 January 2016:  15.50 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Just in, the first official response from Channel 5.

STARTS

Dear {Name Redacted}

Thank you for your communication. Channel 5 appreciates it when its viewers express their concerns about proposed broadcasts.

We’re satisfied that World War II Battlefield Recovery, a sensitively produced documentary series made with the support of the relevant local authorities and with an ambition to help protect the history of World War II’s Eastern Front, is fully compliant with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

Yours sincerely

Terry

VIEWER ADVISOR

ENDS

Obviously as a “Viewer Advisor” “Terry” comes fairly low down the PR food chain at Channel 5 and this is the same official line which has been reported by at least one telephone complainant.

The question the executives at Channel Five must still answer is, if “World War II Battlefield Recovery” is such a “…sensitively produced documentary series…” and “is fully compliant with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.” Why has the programme already been cancelled twice;  in the USA by the company which commissioned it, National Geographic Network, and just this morning in Australia where the series was pulled within two days of the sale being announced and within hours of the broadcast time being publicised?

 

7 January 2016:  12.53 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Still silence from Channel 5 and ClearStory.

However, Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery could be about to become an issue for the Foreign Office if this tweet from Germany is anything to go by. [Hat tip to Paul Barford for spotting it]

dealer holding bits of a disturbed burial

7 January 2016:  07.20 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

A screaming U-Turn with reports overnight that “History Australia and New Zealand” have dropped “Battlefield Recovery”, the TV series previously known as “Nazi War Diggers” which was due to be broadcast from Friday evening local time.

This post was published on the Channel’s  official Twitter feed at c04.00 this morning.

“Due to feedback from our community, we have decided to drop from our schedule. Thank you for sharing your views.”

thePipeLine is trying to get a second confirmation, but if true quite astonishing and amazing work by the archaeological community and an amazingly fast reaction from History Australia and New Zealand.

The question now is how will Channel 5 react?  Especially as there are also reports posted on Twitter that at least one Channel 5 “In Box” belonging to a PR representative of the channel is jammed.

7 January 2016:  00.22 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

 

The Society for American Archaeology SAA has become the second major US based academic body to condemn the impending broadcast of Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery by Channel 5 in the UK and History in Australia and New Zealand.

This is the SAA view as published this evening on their website.

SAA Reiterates Its Concern Over Re-Branded “Nazi War Diggers” Television Show Now Premiering in Britain and Australia

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is dismayed to learn that Nazi War Diggers, a television show the archaeological community successfully halted in the United States, has been re-branded and is scheduled to air in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
 
SAA would like to stress that re-branding the show from Nazi War Diggers to the less provocative Battlefield Recovery in no way diminishes our concerns, which were clearly stated in an earlier joint letter.
 
In response to more recent protests, Clearstory, the London production company responsible for Battlefield Recovery, has issued a statement (which you can read here) that pointedly leaves out any mention that professional archaeologists were involved in the production and which fails to address archaeological concerns.
 
Clearstory’s statement is so carefully couched in generalized terms—“in accordance with the relevant guidelines” and “fully compliant both legally and editorially”— as to be nearly meaningless. In fact, while assuring the viewing public that there are no “…compliance issues with the content and there never have been,” the statement then fails to name one organization, respected or not, that assisted them with the delicate task of excavating historical sites containing human remains and artifacts.
 
Clearstory asks that the archaeological community “…at least views the series, should it become available in the UK, before making a swift judgement.” But the series is in the can, and that’s the problem. Any damage has been done and there is no going back.

January 6, 2016

6 January 2016:  23.12 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

It has just been pointed out that the first showing of Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery in Australia and New Zealand is at 7.30pm on Friday 8 January and on successive Fridays until 29 January.  In other words, it is almost simultaneous with the UK showing.

Anyone with a suspicious mind might think that, given the controversial nature of the programme and a series launch which has been so low key that even the ClearStory press release of yesterday announcing the sale to Australia and New Zealand did not mention the broadcast date, although it must have been known, ClearStory and its broadcast partners wanted the first programme aired before any protest of the kind which stopped the series in 2014 could be mobilised.

If so it would not be the first time a media company made such a calculation over a Nazi related publication.

When the famous historian Hugh Trevor Roper Lord Dacre, changed his mind about the authenticity of the notorious “Hitler Diaries” almost as the “Sunday Times” presses were rolling, that great Australian newspaper man [now American] Rupert Murdoch made the cynical business calculation that even a Hitler hoax would sell out, as in all likelihood would next weeks paper explaining the hoax, so he simply told Frank Giles, the “Sunday Times’ ” editor , “F**k Dacre, Publish!”

6 January 2016:  22.17 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

Tonight the American Anthropological Association [AAA] have issued a strongly worded statement relating to the proposed broadcast of Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery in the UK and what the AAA sees as the potential damage the series could do to the perception of archaeology and even to the security of the artifacts located on World War 2 battlefields and on other archaeological sites.  They are the first major academic body to go on the record in the current controversy.

Ed Liebow, Executive Director of the AAA, told thePipeLine;

 

“We had acknowledged the wisdom of National Geographic’s 2014 decision to cancel its plans to broadcast “Nazi War Diggers,” and indicated our willingness to work with them to ensure their programming meets the highest professional standards.

 

Nat Geo never took us up on our offer after its decision to cut the broadcast, and we are dismayed to learn that “Battlefield Recovery” is a thinly disguised reworking of the original show. To the extent that it still celebrates the hunt for artifacts and subsequent removal from their provenance, along with the retrieval of human remains by non-professionals, “Battlefield Recovery” will leave audiences with the impression that metal detecting and archaeological excavation can be done without professional supervision and without being part of a larger archaeological team. We are concerned that instead of encouraging the interested public to work with archaeologists to recover human remains and cultural artifacts in a respectful and systematic manner, the show will have the opposite effect. It will encourage individuals to buy metal detectors and loot World War II battlefields and other archaeological sites.  There is no public value in glorifying the recovery of artifacts without regard to their context, or their historical significance.”

6 January 2016:  17.00 GMT

*NEWS UPDATE*

CS_BR_Title-840x340

 ClearStory Productions version of the “Dirt Sharks” ready for action [thePipeLine is sure that the use of so much Feldgrau in the image is accidental]  [Public Domain via Press Release]

The Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery controversy seems set to go global as, on the back of the low profile launch for the series in the UK, ClearStory Productions have announced that “NaziWar Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery” has also been sold to Foxtel for Australia and New Zealand and to the Military Channel in Korea.

Co director of the company Russell Barnes said in a press release from ClearStory’s PR company, Plank PR;

“We’re thrilled that we’re able to share such an informative and engaging series with audiences around the world. The locations and finds unearthed by our recovery team give viewers a rare insight into the tragic final moments of some of the soldiers lost in this brutal phase of World War II.  It’s a compelling watch.”

It remains to be seen how the archaeologists, militaria collectors and veterans communities in those countries will react to the series which has already caused outrage in similar circles in Europe and the USA.

 

6 January 2016:  08.00 GMT

thePipeLine is back for Day Two of our rolling news coverage of the “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery” controversy.

This morning we have approached a number of individuals and organisations for comment including the National Council for Metal Detecting [NCMD] and the Portable Antiquities Scheme [PAS] so watch this space.

You can also watch the Polish trail for “POSZUKIWACZE WOJENNYCH SKARBÓW”  [Seekers of War Treasure] aka Nazi War Diggers aka Battlefield Recovery

6 January 2016:  01.00 GMT

Statement from Dr Tony Pollard

Yesterday afternoon Dr Tony Pollard, author, broadcaster and Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, gave us this statement expressing his views about “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery”

STARTS

I was pleased that in response to the public outcry in 2014, National Geographic made what was, for a commissioner and broadcaster, the dramatic decision to shelve Nazi War Diggers when it was ready to go. As a sometime TV presenter, who had worked with Nat Geo in the past, I didn’t expect to hear from them again after the fuss I helped to create, but not long after they were happy for me to be involved in Nazi Megastructures, which despite the ‘N’ word in the title I am pleased to be associated with, as for one thing it allows for an archaeologically informed approach to WWII heritage without actually digging or otherwise disturbing sites. The use of ‘Nazi’ in the title of both programmes says a lot about broadcasters’ perceptions of their audience’s interests, which is somewhat worrying and now a bit of cliché in the world of media studies (it is also anachronistic as far as Megastructures is concerned as the last two I episodes I was involved with related to the Japanese and the Pacific war). As far as I understand it the independent production company ClearStory, which was originally commissioned by Nat Geo, then sold the series to Discovery, which showed it in Poland with a Polish dub. It would appear that they have now also managed to sell it on to Channel 5 (which would indicate that Nat Geo returned all rights to them), and I have to say I am surprised and disappointed that they have taken it on. It might be that they have re-edited the programmes and removed some of the offensive material but the fact remains that the programmes are tainted by the context of their creation and the make-up of the non-archaeological team that features in them. I was contacted by the production company prior to filming and after hearing some of what they had planned declined to take part, while also warning them that it sounded as though they were entering into worrying territory. 

 

I wrote about my opinion on Nazi War Diggers for an editorial for The Journal of Conflict Archaeology, and my opinion remains pretty much the same. As an archaeologist who has dealt with the recovery of war dead, in the most sensitive and considerate circumstances, I found the footage of human bones being handled in such a slap-dash and disrespectful manner (as originally shown in the Nat Geo teasers) highly offensive. There are serious ethical problems here and a real danger that people will think that this is how archaeologists operate – these people are not archaeologists and it most certainly isn’t! In addition to this there is also the increasing problem of the looting and sale of military artefacts from conflict sites, and the fact that an infamous militaria dealer is a key player here and the digging up (I won’t use the word excavation) of ‘sexy’ military artefacts is a key feature does nothing for the production’s credibility. Whichever way these programmes are rebranded not least through a change of title, and the cast of characters dressed up as saviours of heritage, there is little of worth here and I hope that Channel 5 will take up their right to reply and listen to the many voices that will surely be raised in opposition, just as they were last time around.
ENDS

Dr Pollard’s comment that he too was contacted by ClearStory Productions and warned them about aspects of their approach now brings the total of professional Conflict Archaeologists and Historians who were approached and issued such warnings to at least three [including me].

Many archaeologists would also agree that he is quite right about the danger of labeling an activity as archaeology when in fact it is simply crude artefact hunting as ClearStory themselves admitted through their publicist in October last year.

“First and foremost it is important to reiterate that ClearStory, the cast and the local organisations, with whom we worked very closely, made these films for an entirely positive purpose – to recover artefacts, hand over excavated items to authorities for safe keeping, and bury the dead with honour.”

There is no mention of the wider context of World War Two in Poland and Latvia or even of the wider context of the battlefield locations the artefacts come from.  Indeed, it is questionable how many rusty dug up Russian or German rifles any museum collection, however comprehensive, needs.

As Dr Jones Snr tells Dr Jones Jnr in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

“You call this archaeology?”

No mainstream archaeologists don’t and that is the problem, because others do.

 

6 January 2016:  00.00 GMT

Taking stock of where we are with this story and what we have to look forward to.

The Channel 5 Press Office has so far not responded to thePipeLine’s  questions regarding “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery” story and I know that other people in the media have also approached them.  Either they are trying to blank and close down the media story, or they genuinely don’t know how to respond.  It is all rather reminiscent of the way the story developed in 2014 when at times Nat Geo seemed genuinely confused by the response of the archaeological community and the power of the attacks on Social Media.  It is not supposed to happen like that.

Tomorrow thePipeLine will also be trying to get more reaction and comment, particularly from conflict archaeologists and representatives of the sector as well as metal detecting organisations.

Meanwhile if you want a summary of the basic issues highlighted by “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery” and why the archaeological world has become so animated about the series there is a video on Archaeosoup which also includes video from the original National Geographic Channel promotional trails which showed the inept and unethical way human remains were handled.

Channel 5’s very basic publicity for the launch of “Battlefield Recovery” is here

 

 

5 January 2016:  23.00 GMT

OPINION

“NAZI WAR DIGGERS” BECOMES “BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY”

 

When the terrestrial television “Channel 5” was launched in the UK in 1997, the first controller of programmes, Dawn Airy, famously remarked that its core offer to viewers was “films, football and f**king”.  While it is not altogether clear which one of those categories the channel’s new documentary strand “Battlefield Recovery” [a re branded version of the National Geographic Channel’s smothered at birth reality series “Nazi War Diggers”] falls into, many archaeologists might suggest it is the last of Ms Airy’s suggestions; with archaeological ethics playing the partner who is being rather rudely taken and the human remains of German and Russian soldiers and their lethal weaponry which are being brandished in front of the cameras by the gung ho amateur presenters as the money shot.

As with the name and branding of the Channel itself, rebrandings go with the territory at “Five”.  However, in terms of the title “Battlefield Recovery” has undergone more of a neutering than a rebranding.  While it now sounds a bit like the rural chateau where an officer and gentleman might be sent to convalesce at gently after your time at a M.A.S.H, the short documentary series actually began life in early 2014 on the Fox Network’s “National Geographic Channel” as the rather more robustly named “Nazi War Diggers”.  A dog whistle of a programme title to rank alongside “Nazi Megastructures”, History’s recent farrago “Hunting Hitler” and best of all Discovery Channel’s attempt to touch all the corners of the tinfoil pyramid “The Nazi UFO Conspiracy”.

When the programme was announced by US based National Geographic Channel [part of the Fox Network] in the Spring of 2014, the pre-publicity material, in particular video of the four amateur presenters damaging and misidentifying the bones of a dead German soldier dug up in Latvia, caused such a storm of outrage in the archaeological social media and blogsphere that that the series was first postponed and then dropped completely from the channel’s schedule.

At the core of the protests was the fact that the programme used a tried, tested, and for the production company cheap, “reality TV” format to undertake some of the most sensitive archaeological work possible; the recovery of human remains in sites contaminated with potentially lethal and legally controlled weapons and ammunition.  In the case of “Nazi War Diggers/Battlefield Recovery , the format saw a team of “characters”, in this case three UK based hobby metal detectorists and militaria collectors, Stephen Taylor, Kris Rogers and Adrian Kostromski who is of Polish heritage, partnered with the sometimes controversial US based dealer in Nazi relics, Craig Gottleib.  The team was then placed in situations in Poland and Latvia and ostensibly tasked to investigate the battlefields of World War Two.

Having no known specialist, practical knowledge of the region, or of the brutal campaigns on the Eastern Front this was accomplished by piggy backing on the work of local, largely volunteers excavators who search World War Two battlefields for the remains of the missing,   POMOST in Poland and Legenda in Latvia.  While there is no suggestion that either POMOST or Legenda do anything illegal, it is fair to say that neither are they set up to carryout any form of recognised battlefield archaeology using multiple non invasive survey techniques such as archaeological geophysics as well as professional digging methodologies.  Another crucial difference is that by enlarge, while POMOST and Legenda set out specifically to recover human remains, they do not set out to answer research based questions.  Neither do they record and publish the results of their excavations as a matter of routine and ethics, although Legenda in particular has a strong popular presence on YouTube.  However, it was this non standard approach to the recovery of human remains, as was seen in the publicity material for “Nazi War Diggers” in 2014, which caused the most outspoken criticism.

In a video trail the ClearStory presenter team were were clearly seen to chase and remove individual bones belonging to at least one soldier, contrary to all archaeological protocols which are to expose and try to understand the full set of remains and any objects found with them.  In was clear that in the case of this excavation at least the ClearStory cameras recorded a recovery which was not undertaken forensically, or even systematically with the appropriate tools.

To compound the intellectual and ethical offence the presenters could not even tell the difference between a human femur and human humerus.  The result of this sheer incompetence is that far from respecting and honoring the dead, as the series publicity claimed, this actually reduces substantially the chance of giving an individual back their name through a full forensic analysis of the objects found with a set of remains and in the most complex, or well funded cases, through DNA testing those remains.

So intense were the protests at the approach taken by “Nazi War Diggers”, that the series, which probably cost in the region of $350k per hour to make,  was first postponed and then became such a dead horse that in July 2014 the Fox Network declared in a media statement to thePipeLine that

“We continue to stand by our decision that this was just not the right show for us and have no plans to air it now or at anytime in the future and therefore since this is no longer a program we will broadcast it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

In this way “Nazi War Diggers” turned into a financial and PR disaster, but it was a disaster which was also completely avoidable.   It is now known that at least three professional conflict archaeologists and historians, [including the author of this article Andy Brockman] were approached by ClearStory Productions for advice and contacts during the preparation of the series.  During those talks which extended to one contact filming trial scenes with the presenter team, ClearStory were explicitly warned that they would need to ensure that the series behaved ethically and professionally towards human remains and protected the presenters and crew from the risk from unexploded munitions.

ClearStory deliberately chose to ignore that advice because it would have destroyed their own concept for the series which was to attract the particular part of the audience which likes to see dug up copies of the German Kar 98k rifle chambered for a 7.92 x 57mm Mauser round and place such activities front and center, with the result that their series appeared to have been buried under a mountain of criticism and unanswered questions about the conduct and legality of aspects of the series, the most trenchant posed by Dr Sam Hardy of the “Conflict Antiquities” Blog.

 

Jump forward eighteen months and in the Autumn of 2015, like some Zombie ready for the archaeological apocalypse, the “Nazi War Diggers” were disinterred from the digital vault, this time by the Polish arm of the Discovery Channel and after what may have been some cosmetic re-editing the reanimated dead horse was taken out for a trail canter in Poland.   Although the word “Nazi” was dropped from the title [but not before the Polish excavation organisation POMOST, which had hosted the production, told thePipeline they had been deeply offended by its use], the tone the broadcasters wished to adopt is reasonably clear from the title they did choose for the Polish broadcast.  The show went out under the title “POSZUKIWACZE WOJENNYCH SKARBÓW”.  A phrase which can which can be translated as “Searchers for War Treasure”.

This alone would have been enough to cause disquiet in the archaeological world, where anything which smacks of putting a cash price on the material culture of the past thus encouraging artifact looting, is an incredibly sensitive subject.  It also concerned archaeologists that ClearStory issued a statement via their publicist that among other unsupported assertions argued that;

“Whilst the series may have a new title, to be clear, there are no compliance issues with the content and there never have been, and so there is no reason for the programmes to be re-edited.  All of the activity that features within the shows is legal, safe and in accordance with the relevant guidelines, which we have the appropriate documentation for. We worked in collaboration with various organisations locally in Eastern Europe.  They have endorsed our work and we are still in regular contact with them.”  

However, while the archaeological community were concerned by methodology and ethics, other Polish viewers were particularly offended by what they took to be a patronising view of their culture and relationship with the nation’s difficult past of World War Two, suggesting the British and American presenters were being depicted as the good guys in white hats headed for the “wild East” full of bandits and looters.  Indeed, as Poland based archaeological blogger Paul Barford reported, the series was first rescheduled away from a prime slot and then the last programme in the series, which was actually set in Poland, was never broadcast, for reasons which remain unclear, although the programme’s publicist blamed a “local technical fault”.

From the 2015 broadcast by Discovery, a rival to National Geographic and the Fox Network, it now also seems clear that the production company, “ClearStory Productions,” has done a deal whereby, consistent with the press statement quoted earlier, the National Geographic Channel have relinquished any contractual rights they had over the series and the dead horse can now be flogged to anyone with a slot in the schedule to fill and the cash to buy in this content.  Hence it has now also appeared in the schedule of “Five” in the UK.

Of course it is legitimate to ask why all the fuss over a cheap exercise in allowing four big boys to go and play with big boys toys on a minority TV channel averaging just 4% of the TV audience in 2014 and best known for once having been owned by pornographer adult publisher Richard Desmond and hosting “Celebrity Big Brother”.  The channel is now owned by Viacom and co-commissions with Nickelodeon and MTV.

In fact there is increasing evidence that the principle reason metal detectorists from the UK and other European nations such as the Netherlands, visit Latvia is precisely because they can recover the kind of heavy duty military artifacts shown being recovered in the programme.  Artifacts which both come directly from an area of intense combat and which are highly collectible, including material originating from a formation which attracts a premium prices the Waffen SS.  Indeed, the Kurland “Kessel” is probably one of the richest sources of late World War Two Nazi collectibles in the world outside of Russia and parts of Ukraine, and is also an area where collectors can get the macho thrill of recovering  weapons. ammunition and munitions in a way which is no longer possible in most of Western Europe, including on the UK and Western Front and D-Day sites in France.

This is because detectorists and diggers who attempt to recover such material from those jurisdictions are now at risk of arrest increasingly, as the authorities clamp down on the uncontrolled excavation and possession of dangerous militaria and on the disturbance of human remains which all too often is the result of the search for artefacts to feed the demand from the tourist and collector circuit.

For the television company working in Latvia and Poland there is the bonus, if that is what you want to call it,  that they can actually show real human remains from World War Two.  If the programme had been made in France or Belgium, current Commonwealth War Graves Commission policy is that images of a fallen soldier, who might have living relatives, should not be shown in public.  As Peter Francis of the CWGC told the BBC in 2012

“It should be remembered that the two world wars are not out of living memory and it is possible that the casualty may be identified,” Mr Francis added that a funeral for a fallen soldier “would be somewhat compromised if films and pictures of the remains of their relative had been publicly broadcast.”

It should be remembered that this potential proximity of grief is even more true of World War Two than it is of World War One and grieving families of the missing of the Eastern Front do not just live in Germany and Russia but might be found anywhere in the audience catchment for a programme like “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery”.   For example, thanks to the seventy years of peace in Europe since 1945, a relative by marriage of this writer, who is a German from Bavaria, lost seven uncles who served in the German armed forces during World War Two.  Most are listed as missing with no known grave on the Eastern Front.

 

When the series was first scheduled the Executive Producer for ClearStory, Russell Barnes set out the company agenda for what was then still “Nazi War Diggers”;

“ClearStory continues to make its mark as a producer of content that portrays powerful human stories and for series that tackle big ideas in history and science. This series achieves all of those aims. The Eastern Front of WWII saw probably the bloodiest fighting in human history and time is running out for us to capture the historical truths of the conflict that lie literally hidden in the ground. Nazi War Diggers not only tells the lost human stories behind the battles, but it also explores ethical ways to preserve our history and the dignity of the people who made it.”

In the light of what we now know about how “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery” was made, the statement now reads like a dispatch from the other side of the dark mirror which is television production at its most calculating.

However it is branded, edited, spun and rinsed, “Nazi War Diggers”/”Battlefield Recovery” has been shown to be a cynical exercise turning the suffering and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians into a voyeuristic experience of the pornography of death and weapons for a niche audience of conscious or unconscious military fetishists.

Worst of all, the series tries to pretend it is not any of these things by claiming to exist to respect the dead who it actually treats as a commercial commodity to drive audience ratings and which, through its deliberately cheap and unprofessional methods, risks depriving those same victims of war of that most personal possession, their identity and even their name.

 

3 Comments
  1. Catherine Holtham-Oakley

    January 7, 2016 at 17:54

    Sensitively produced????? Are they mad?

  2. Iain Boatman

    January 9, 2016 at 11:16

    If ClearStory want this debacle to go away then all they have to do is to substantiate their claims with evidence. So far, and despite repeated requests on your part, no permits, excavation documentation, reports, or archival details have been forthcoming. And if these are not available to ClearStory then why don’t they release any unused footage which would substantiate their claims? It’s one thing to state something – anyone can do that – but unless it can be supported with quantifiable evidence then their claims are worthless.

  3. Pingback: Battlefield Recovery’s Nazi War Digger ‘notes that the dog tag has no market value’. He should know. He sells dog tags. | conflict antiquities