Dreadnoughts sailing through the Solent.

While public understanding and engagement with the history of the Western Front, trench warfare and archaeological remains on land is relatively well developed, there is a vast, yet less well recognised, historically significant resource lying on the seabed and in the intertidal zone. Intense First World War maritime activities and associated losses have left many shipwrecks, armament remains and crashed aircraft which are now under water, some of which are war graves. These remains, their associated histories and links to other land-based remains are often over-looked as ‘out of sight, out of mind’. 

These underwater memorials are a legacy of the vital maritime component of the First World War, and deserve a higher profile in the public consciousness. One of the key aims of the Forgotten Wrecks project was to remember the forgotten wrecks and the people involved with them for the first time, allowing public audiences to access information on submerged heritage and see the vital role that the conflict at sea (merchant and naval) played during the First World War.

Research and consultation demonstrated there was both a need and a want for a project focusing on this heritage: the development phase of the Forgotten Wrecks project (2013) saw consultation with schools and the general public demonstrate both a lack of understanding of the subject, and yet an interest in learning more about it. The project would also be particularly timely, as July 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War (with Britain declaring war on the 4th August). Many events and activities were being planned at a national, regional, local and community level, and this was a unique, once in a generation opportunity to commemorate the conflict through the stories and sacrifices made by so many during the early years of the 20th century. This project offered the opportunity to highlight a significantly under-represented component of the First World War and the resulting heritage at a particuarly relevant and poignant time.

The sites explored in the project were, and still are, at great risk from degradation of metal components, removal of fixtures, fittings and artefacts by sport divers, and damage from marine industrial and leisure activities. The project also provided the chance to record this fragile heritage before the opportunity was gone forever, lost to time and tide.


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