ONE of Scotland’s biggest ever archaeology projects has been launched at Stobs Camp near Hawick.

The project is aimed at uncovering information about the best preserved First World War internment camp in the world.

During the 1914-18 conflict, the camp became home to up to 4,500 German prisoners of war, having previously been the main training base for British soldiers in Scotland at the turn of the 20th century.

Dr Chris Bowles, Scottish Borders Council’s archaeologist, started a project proposal several years ago.

Dr Bowles said: “This really is a huge project, and will be one of the biggest archaeology projects in Scotland.

“Stobs Camp is of international significance because of the excellent state of preservation of some of its infrastructure – it is the best preserved First World War internment camp in the world and was the headquarters of the POW camp system in Scotland.

“This project is important as without it there is a real danger that the story of Stobs will be lost and the buildings that remain deteriorate further.

"Our aim is to develop a management plan for the site, improve access for visitors and create the necessary interpretation materials, including an app, to make sure the important role this site played during the First World War is remembered.

"The site has quite a few of stories to tell.”

The Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology project is being led by Archaeology Scotland, with the support of Scottish Borders Council, Historic Environment Scotland, the Hawick Archaeological Society, Borders Family History Society, Live Borders and other local partners.

The site was acquired by the UK Government from the owners of the Stobs Castle Estate in 1902 and the following year it was established as the main training base for British soldiers in Scotland, hosting 20,000 soldiers in its first full year.

A new siding off the former Waverley Line enabled supplies and soldiers to be brought to the camp.

Over the course of the following decade the camp became less used, due to lack of space to carry out all necessary training, and it ended up only being used during the summer by the Army.

The camp’s future was in doubt until the outbreak of war in 1914.

The infrastructure of Stobs made it an obvious choice to hold prisoners of war.

Initially the camp was home to German civilians living in the UK who either voluntarily gave up their liberty or were arrested.

This was followed by an influx of German military and naval prisoners. When the number of POWs at Stobs grew too large the ‘civilian internees’ were moved to the Isle of Man.

Dr Bowles added: “Stobs was used to house POWs for over five years, stretching on until after the war was officially over and during that time around 45 POWs died in the camp from various ailments, despite there being a hospital on site.

“The camp commandant allowed the prisoners to create a cemetery, which still exists, although in the early 1960s the bodies were all exhumed and reburied in a German War Graves cemetery in Staffordshire.

"At Stobs the prisoners were allowed to build a cairn to remember their comrades. They also planted a ring of yew trees behind the memorial. The memorial was destroyed when Stobs was decommissioned by the army in the 1960s.

“As part of the Stobs Camp Project, the Borders Family History Society is tracing the ancestors of those German soldiers and seamen interred at Stobs.

"We also aim to restore the cairn and host a special ceremony on Armistice Day 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. We hope to invite descendants of the German prisoners for the commemoration.”

During investigations into the history of the camp the prisoners were afforded some leeway by the British authorities.

Evidence exists of the POWs putting on plays and recitals and they were allowed to produce a newsletter which was sent back to their families.

They were also permitted to establish camp businesses and many of the prisoners made decorative domestic objects which were sold in Hawick.

Andrew Jepson from Archaeology Scotland said: “Stobs Camp has a fascinating story to tell, and so far we have only just scratched the surface.

“Funding from Scottish Borders LEADER and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation enabled us to carry out work on site in 2014 which included running activities with local schools as part of our Heritage Heroes Project.

“Following a year of HLF funding in 2016 we have been able to develop the wider project.

"We are now very much at the start of what will be an exciting journey of discovery.

"Along with our team of volunteers we will now be able to conduct a detailed survey of the POW camp, record the camp buildings and undertake targeted excavation.

"A significant amount of archival research was completed in 2016 and this will continue in 2017 and in to 2018.

“In some respects this is relatively recent history we are dealing with so as part of the project we will be gathering and recording oral stories of the camp as they passed from one generation to the next.

"We are also fortunate in that there are some amazing photographs of the camp and its infrastructure. These will be invaluable for providing an insight into camp life.”

Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (Scotland), Borders LEADER, Historic Environment Scotland, Fallago Environment Fund and BCCF Environmental has made the large-scale project possible.

Dianne Swift, Archaeology Scotland’s Project Manager, added: “Thanks to the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (Scotland), Scottish Borders LEADER, Historic Environment Scotland, Fallago Environment Fund and BCCF Environmental we are embarking on a project which will bring to life the lost story of Stobs.

“We are now able to take the project forward to record, for the first time, a full story of Stobs Camp. We also aim to establish a management plan that will ensure the remains are appropriately protected and maintained and accessible to a wider audience.

“The support of all the partners in this project is vital, and we are delighted to have already engaged with a range of local organisations and schools and would encourage anyone else keen to be involved to get in touch.

"We would also love to hear from anyone with information about the camp, or stories associated with Stobs to come forward.”