Archeologists want to share knowledge of First World War

Colin MacLean
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First World War experts David Kenyon (left) and Andrew Robertshaw were at The Rooms in St. John’s last week holding a handful of events related to the war. — Photo by Colin MacLean/The Telegram

As Andrew Robertshaw took in the events of Remembrance Day in St. John’s Friday a man came over to him and said, “It’s odd to see you without your ...”

Robertshaw, whose poppy had fallen off during the morning, thought this stranger was about to comment on his apparent lack of support for the veterans so he mentally prepared to defend himself.

What the person actually said was, “without your construction helmet.”

The comment took Robertshaw by surprise — but it was a pleasant one.

He and colleague David Kenyon are renowned archeologists and historians of the First World War.

Among their combined body of work is the TV show “Trench Detectives,” which portrays their archeological work in France and Belgium.

This stranger had recognized Robert-shaw from the show and merely wanted to say “hello” and to ask a few questions.

“I’m standing there thinking, ‘how on Earth does this happen,’” laughed Robertshaw.

It was a nice introduction to Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Telegram caught up with Robertshaw and Kenyon at The Rooms Saturday. They had been in town for a couple of events last Thursday and a workshop Saturday about battlefield archeology.

Both days were packed with participants, which is always encouraging, said Kenyon.

“What we are looking for is interested audiences. We have a passion for this. We’re trying to find people who share our passion,” he said.

That interest for the First World War is hard to find in such abundance anywhere else in the world as it is in Newfoundland and Labrador, said Robertshaw.

This is because of the famous story of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and its decimation during the war.

It was a shared interest in the regiment that brought the two historians into contact with former lieutenant governor Ed Roberts. Roberts was a member of the advisory council who helped organize last week’s events.

While their talks did not focus specifically on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment it seemed to be what most people wanted to talk about.

Which is understandable, said Robertshaw.

“For somebody in the U.K. it’s just another regiment. For somebody here it’s a world shaping event,” he said.

In fact he could only cite one other case during the war where there was a similar situation to that of the Newfoundland regiment and that was a unit from the Channel Islands just off France.

“(In this province), everybody virtually joined a single battalion and every time it was shot to bits, and it was three times, then people in the community suffered. Everybody has those connections with the past with a more direct way then anywhere else I can think of in what was once The (British) Empire,” said Robertshaw.

Newfoundland and Labrador is also ahead of the curve in terms of interest in the war, he indicated, the rest of the world seems to have only recently developed more of an interest.

“It’s a fairly recent discipline. It’s not been done for a very long time, 10 or 15 years. Until then it wasn’t regarded as archeology, it was treasure hunting,” he said.

Robertshaw is of the opinion that serious First World War archeology will come into it’s own in the next eight years as the world starts to prepare for the centennial of the war’s end.

Kenyon is of a similar opinion. He’s already started to see an upswing in interest in the war.

“(For years) there were memorials and there were cemeteries and that’s what you went to see. That was it,” said Kenyon.

“Now there’s a growing appreciation that the war took place in the landscape. The battlefields are there as well, you can look out of the cemetery gate and look out and there’s still something to learn and appreciate about the war,” he said.

Robertshaw and Kenyon can be contacted through their company, Battlefield Partnerships at


Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, France, Belgium U.K. Channel Islands

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